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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Today at Church

Today David Miller preached the first in a series of sermons entitled “Finding Hope.”  The ultimate hope for a Christian is found in John 3:16 (NIV): "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  It’s important to realize that though faith is one of the Christian virtues (faith, hope, and charity), hope is not exclusively a Christian phenomenon.  It is also possible to have faith in the devil--in hatred and all its manifestations.  One can hope for evil things as well as holy. This is essential to understanding much that plagues society.  People need--must have--hope. This is a basic need.  (Maslow's hierarchy of needs makes a fundamental error here.) If they can’t see their way to get it positively, they default back to original sin and get it that way.  The feeling of the need for redemption—in one way or another—is absolute.  The high of twisted hope is behind much criminal activity and societal dysfunctions resulting from unrealistic worldly expectations. The drug wars that we now observe are based on hope.  The real estate bubble was based on hope.  As Christians, we believe that this hope is delusional and destructive.  Twisted hope is based on sin.  The seven deadly sins are: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.  When we place our hope in any of these things, we are denying Christ and eternal life.  The truth of Christ will set us free for even though things may be dark as Golgotha on Good Friday, it is followed by eternal life on Easter Sunday.  In Sunday school we developed our Christmas wish list.  The Deborah Methodist Women’s Circle every year gets our class (The Good Shepherd Class) Christmas presents.  They also provide a hearty breakfast the Sunday of the Christmas party.  Our first lesson today dealt with trusting God: “Not knowing what’s ahead can be as source of great anxiety.  But Christ assures us that we can find peace in trusting God and in being open to God’s will” (Upper Room 10/24/10).  Our second lesson concluded that “We can never outrun God, who has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  Like the prodigal, when we come home we will always be welcome” (UR 10/25/10).

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Warnings from a Friend

Yesterday Mark my supervisor at work said that he thought it was no big deal that he and I can have remarkably different political views and still remain friends.  But, for us, we are not trying to control one another, he observed.  Since we are not movers and shakers in a political sense, our differences are not operative in our relationship.  I got to wondering, instead of being colleagues at work what if we were colleagues in the US Senate.  We would frequently be voting on issues against one another.  What would our relationship be like then?  I think of a football game.  Both teams respect one another but that does not make them any less earnest players when they get on the field.  Each side seriously wants to win.  Each side can earnestly play while respecting the rules of the game.  Dirty play (when fair play rules of the game are intentionally violated) occurs only when we become consumed with winning and lose respect for the rules of the game and for one another.  In other words, I think in Washington we could continue to hold different beliefs politically and work hard to implement our side of the issues while still respecting one another and even be cordial on a personal level.  But there would be few referees in the political game.  There would be no whistle blowers if we started sniping at one another and treating each other with a lack of respect.  In fact, there would sometimes be political incentives (cheers from the stands) if we did so.

Mark thinks government is too big, that taxes are too high, and that the national debt is out of control.  He is of the opinion that even when conservatives get in office, they tend to continue to grow government and the debt.  They say one thing, but when they get to Washington they do another. Mark holds the belief that government, rather than helping us cope with reality, panders to the public selling indulgencies (indulging our lack of discipline) to avoid dealing with reality.  To the extent that he is correct time is without question on his side.  Sooner or later, attempts to paper over basic realties certainly will fail.

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Getting a Fundamental Sense of the Candidate

Today we were discussing questions that could be appropriate for asking job candidates to get a basic understanding of them and to see if they would be a good “fit” for our workgroup.  On my own I made a list of several “approach to life” questions that I would like to choose from if I were giving the job interviews.  I would even like to select some of these questions to ask politicians now running for public office.  The hackneyed liberal and conservative queries are basically unenlightening for in most cases one knows in advance the reliable responses for each side. 

Approach to life questions for candidates

·        How would you characterize a positive person?

·        Laughter is the best medicine.  Why is a sense of humor important in the workplace?

·        How do you balance “attitude is everything” with the need for job skills?

·        How do you arrive at a required tolerance for complexity and the concurrent need for simplicity?

·        What is your typical response to frustrating situations (emotionally and intellectually)?

·        What is damaging about holding a grudge?

·        The customer is always right.  Do you agree or disagree?

·        Which is more important, the letter of the law (policy & regulations) or the spirit of the law (policy and regulations)?

·        We agree to disagree—explain what this means?

·        Define character and integrity.

·        Is it ever ok to break a promise?

·        Why do people tend to overpromise?

·        Which is more important: imagination or facts?

·        How is empathy fundamental to intelligence?

·        Controversy should be avoided.  Under what circumstances do you agree?

·        Someone is expressing an opinion that you strongly disagree with.  Under what circumstances would you turn this into an issue and make your disagreement known?

·        When solving a problem what is the interplay of intelligence and emotion?

·        In your estimation, what makes a good supervisor; a good subordinate?

·        Do you consider yourself an assertive person?  Explain.

·        Are you more of a leader or more of a follower?  Explain.

·        Name a few of your ultimate allegiances.

·        What are some of your greatest personal fears?

·        One should not take themselves too seriously.  In what sense is this true and not true?

·        Overall, do you feel blessed?  Why or why not?

·        What is your greatest gift?

·        Considering people that you most admire, what do you admire about them?

·        When you make an embarrassing mistake or fail at a task, how do you handle it?

·        Pretentiousness vs. simple honesty: What in your view motivates people to be pretentious?

·        List some of your greatest motivators.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Quiet and Content

All my life in social situations I have been the quiet one.  Today a group of us from work lunched at 4th Street Shrimp Store.  (There were eight of us.)  Doing most of the time, several conversations were going on at once.  Until the very end I sat quietly.  Then I had a rather intense conversation with the person sitting next to me regarding Netflix which I had just subscribed to last evening.  It developed that she too was a subscriber, so we had a subject interesting to both of us.  But again, for 95% of the time I was speechless.  This doesn’t mean that I was fearful or uncomfortable.  I just had nothing to say.  I sat quietly and listened to others and soaked in the Florida cracker atmosphere of the restaurant.  I was relaxed and enjoying the occasion.  When I was young, I felt defensive about being the quiet one.  I was and am now seldom gifted in repartee—thinking of something witty to say in return only long after the beckoning pause has passed.  Again, this caused some consternation in my youth, but now I willingly and non-defensively accept it as just being my temperament. It doesn’t mean that I am intellectually dumb or slow (just as being gregarious doesn’t mean that one is intellectually the superior).  I am now comfortable with myself and don’t feel I am in any way inferior for being the quiet one.  I am confident that I can hold my own anytime there is a subject I feel strongly about while at other times being content with being a listener.

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Trinity Supper

For many years beginning in the late 70’s I attended Trinity United Methodist Church in Saint Petersburg.  It was a church that embodied I John 4: 7 & 8 :(KJV)  Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.  The song IN THIS VIDEO reminds me of our Sunday school assemblies where all ages gathered and occasionally sang this song.  Even though Trinity church has since been sold, a group of us still meet quarterly for supper.  We met Wednesday evening.  Trinity represented a laboratory of love, and it provided an experience I will always cherish.  I am grateful for Andy Hines (my Trinity Sunday school teacher) for mentioning this song and reminding me what was the essence of the Trinity experience.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

God’s Calling

Raised in a Christian home, I was introduced early to the idea that everyone has a calling.  Everyone has a role in life that they can play if they follow God’s leading.  This calling could be a profession or a broader role.  A very familiar construction to this idea is that one can be “called into the ministry.”  Often this involves a particular time and place where one has felt clearly led into the ministry by the Holy Spirit.  My father mentioned a time when he was in France while serving in the First World War.  He was led into an isolated area of the woods where he surrendered his vocation to the will of God.  My brother attended a chapel service at the Methodist retreat at Leesburg and was called into the ministry there.  But while the calling is often mentioned in relation to ministry, it can also be a calling to many other professions and roles.  If you are called by God into a vocation, then you will be led by the spirit in that vocation.  Your job, in a sense, becomes your real and continuous expression of worship.  You worship God by fulfilling his desired vocation for your life.  While being “called into the ministry” sounds right, it can be a little jarring to hear that one has felt “called to be a shoe salesman.”  But actually the latter leading can be just as real and important for the plan of God as the former.  While someone called into the ministry may yearn to be a Billy Graham, actually success as viewed by the world is irrelevant to being faithful.  You are called to be faithful, not necessarily highly profiled in the world or successful in that sense.  Success will be defined by God.

Following the leading of the spirit in whatever decision is at hand, especially watershed decisions, is fundamental to worship.  Sometimes the wisdom of these decisions can be highly debatable, but to one who has the assurance of the Holy Spirit, the way to proceed is clear and is simply something that must be done—on the order of deciding firmly to make an important purchase. What answering a call essentially does is posit great present certainty against great future uncertainty.  Even the broad outlines of the future can be totally a mystery—the wherewithal entirely unknown.  One launches out in faith.  In a sense, it is a test of faith.  Looking back in life, if one has led their life under the call of God, then deep satisfaction is actualized and haunting self-doubts and regrets are nil.         

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Monday, October 25, 2010

In Praise of Objectivity

“In Praise of Objectivity” from: Fall Sailing: Poems on Life, Death, and Other Occasions (1972).

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Can See Clearly Now

Two versions of "I Can See Clearly Now" follow (the version of Johnny Nash followed by my own):

Johnny Nash lyrics (released 1972):

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin’ for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Look all around, there’s nothin’ but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin’ but blue skies

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way                  
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.


My version (today):

I can see clearly now, the rain must fall,
There are many unseen obstacles, in my way
But Lord I am often oh so blind
It’s gonna be muddy (muddy) rainy weather
It's gonna be muddy (muddy) rainy weather

With your help I can make it through the pain
You turn my sadness into joy
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin’ for
Daily redemption (redemption) is on the way

Look all around, there’s nothing but challenges
Look straight ahead, nothing but challenges

I can see clearly now, the rain must fall
There are many unseen obstacles, in my way
But Lord I am often oh so blind
It’s gonna be muddy (muddy) rainy weather
It's gonna be muddy (muddy) rainy weather.

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Today in Church

David Miller’s sermon today was on the basic nature of true stewardship.  We ought not to give when we feel that we shouldn’t, he said in conclusion.  The Lord loves a cheerful giver.  This comes from a feeling of being blessed. It comes from an overflow of appreciation.  We want to give when we consider what Jesus has done for us.  David asked us to look upon generosity as today’s evangelism.  It’s how we can witness for Christ in effective ways.  In Sunday school the first lesson dealt with the mazes of life—when we come upon dead ends and feel lost.  God’s perspective is above ours. Sometimes dead ends are for our good.  God can lead us out of dead ends and redeem us.  The second lesson challenged us to be a source of hope.  “A little love, a touch, a smile, and compassion from us can wipe away many tears” (The Upper Room, 10/19/10).  The third lesson was written by a medical doctor in Russia who had grown up as an atheist receiving an atheist education “at home, school, and college.”  Galina Vyugova “was firmly convinced that God was an invention of uneducated people’ (UR, 10/22/10).  But she met a Christian at work who led her to faith.  Since most of us in class had been raised with at least some appreciation for the Christian religion, we wondered how being raised from childhood in atheism would change our view of life.  Today in church the children’s choir sang “Jesus Loves Me.”  It’s hard to imagine being at that age and receiving the indoctrination that Christianity is a superstition and that we are part of an indifferent universe.  How dissimilar one’s world view and approach to life would develop under this alternative view of reality.  Kunte closed Sunday school with prayer.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Christmas Scene

Yesterday Kathy & I were at the Tampa Christian Bookstore in Saint Petersburg to purchase a birthday gift for Kathy’s mother.  Since there was a special on, we also looked around for something for our home.  We found a Christmas setting of statues (all fixed on a common base) that includes Mary with Jesus on her lap and Joseph standing by.  The statue of Joseph is a little less than a foot high.  Mary and Joseph both are looking down at Jesus.  It is remarkable that once a year the Christian world celebrates this scene and the birth of a baby.  As far as I know, this is the only birthday of a child that is celebrated so universally.  The image of Mary, Joseph, and the babe sets aside for a glorious season the steady and uninterrupted tribute to worldly power and adult sophistication and focuses on a baby—the essence of humility and vulnerability.  Softness and gentleness and new beginnings are recognized in millions of homes making it a special and memorable occasion.  

From: Fall Sailing: Poems on Life, Death, and Other Occasions (1972).

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Friday, October 22, 2010

My Song

Lord I know that one day my body will have to be disposed of
I know that one day my body will be burned
It will leave no trace as the ashes are spread to the winds
In one sense it will be as if I have never been
And any memory of me will quickly fade
People will be busy with their own lives as they should be

But I sing praises to you for your great gifts to me
My parents, my brother, my wife, my children in heart and spirit
Thank you for the blessing in all the towns where I have lived
All the schools I’ve attended, all the places that I’ve worked
All the churches that fed me, all the stores where I’ve shopped
And for all the people in them and for your spirit with them
Thank you for abundant food, clothing, and shelter,
For health care and medicine
For skilled surgeons and primary physicians,
For good roads and gifts of communication
And all the people in them and for your spirit with them
Thank you for the United States and its system of government
Thank you for politicians that must make unpopular compromises
Just so affairs can proceed
Thank you for the ideas that nourish us
Thank you for discipline that makes persistence possible
Thank you for all the people of the world that teach us more about each of us
And for all the people present and past and for your spirit with them

Father I am stunned by the gift of life
I am stunned by your faithfulness, love, and forgiveness.
I rejoice in your son and the everlasting life and light that he brought
I am grateful for a central message—don’t wear religion on your sleeve
Wear it in your heart.
Father at my last breath and heartbeat,
I will praise you.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spooks at the Door

This evening Kathy and I were at Publix and got candy for Halloween. The other day I purchased a pumpkin from a fundraiser at work.  We are getting ready for spooks at the door.  The following poem is from Fall Sailing: Poems on Life, Death, and Other Occasions (1972).

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ethical Choices when Facing Sincerity

Often in life we are faced with people with great sincerity in their beliefs.  This sincerity can either be regarding alternative facts or alternative realities.  Alternative facts refer to those issues which are not debatable, such as the earth is round.  Alternative realities refer to those issues which are debatable such as, Resolved: religions in America have too little influence on public policy.  Both issues require ethical decisions on how to respond to sincerity in these matters.  No matter if the discussion regards alternative facts or alternative realities one fundamental thing is true:  we must accept that sincere holders of views contrary to ours should be viewed as fully equal with ourselves in terms of human worth—personal worth as human beings is not the issue.  Beyond that, there are marked differences in how we address the sincere believer.

In regards to alternative facts—I sincerely believe that the world is flat—is not debatable at this point in time.  There is overwhelming evidence that the earth is round.  After receiving the required respect as an equal human being, I must be told the facts.  After I am shown proof that the world is round, there is no further obligation to feel uncomfortable in the face of my confirmed belief.  The issue is proven beyond doubt and my sincere belief to the contrary can be accepted as an individual quirk which nevertheless does not jeopardize my worth as a human being.  Even when quirky beliefs lead to unlawful behavior, the arrested individual does not lose his worth as a human being. 

In regards to alternative realities—Resolved, religions in America have too little influence on public policy—we are faced with a debatable issue which cannot in fact be decided by this or that debate.   It is an issue which is open to question.  The debate goes on, it is never ended.  Matters of this sort are most demanding ethically for we are tempted to view the opposition essentially of less human worth than ourselves.  We are more right and therefore (as the fallacy goes) of more worth than the opposition. This can quickly degenerate into denigration, stereotyping with its prejudices, and even demonization.  There must be a fundamental ethical choice made not to let this happen.  (This of course assumes that the issue is in fact debatable and not beyond the pale—such as whether genocide is acceptable.)  There must be a fundamental ethical choice made to honor the worth of the opposition—the loyal opposition in which our fundamental goodwill informs the nevertheless heated debate.  This is our obligation, whatever the other side may do.

Of course the political season brings on a different creature entirely.  The underlying fear here is that we will look weak if we do not retaliate when the flak from the other side turns disrespectful.  We feel that by continuing to be respectful we will be seen as too good for the fray—even prissy.  We feel that it is only just to return disrespect for disrespect.  The winner of the debate becomes the one who can throw the most dirt.  It is enjoyed as a dirty wrestling match where sensation and demonization become a thrill.  It becomes entertainment with broad appeal to those not open to persuasion rather than discourse where serious persuasion is the goal.  We may even come to feel that we honor the opposition by our response that says we are not too good for you (we are not above you), we can get down and dirty too, we can be your equal no matter how low you go.  This is difficult to counter essentially because when this happens sincerity is lost.  We are no longer serious debaters but serious entertainers.  We are having fun in a mud fight in which fairness is shunned and we paradoxically honor and respect the opposition through flagrant disrespect and abuse.  Enlightenment and fairness are thrown out the window—we find ourselves delighting in a typical political season where the objective is to consolidate the true believers rather than to convince the opposition.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Trip to the Hospital

Today Kathy had shoulder surgery at Northside Hospital.  I was impressed by the careful exactitude by which she was admitted.  The admission took over three hours.  Everything was investigated from when she had last eaten or drank to a detailed listing of all allergies and of medicines recently taken.  The staff also carefully noted medical history, prior surgery, and smoking and alcoholic beverage habits.  Some questions were asked repeatedly by different questioners--the nurses or the anesthesiologist team.  Witnessing this, I could not help but think of another room in the hospital—the emergency room.  Patients may arrive in comparative chaos.  All the careful questions normally painstakingly covered, must be done in a rush or in the case of unconsciousness—not at all.  The unknowns, demands and risks escalate tremendously.  I got to thinking of other “accidents” in society and how different institutions must deal with them—schools, social services, police, churches.  These human catastrophes must be handled quite differently from situations where problems can be fleshed out in calm detail.  Most importantly, emergency situations must be frankly acknowledged in the first place and the temptation avoided to treat them as if time were on our side.

One other observation of today, I have truly become a family man.  Kathy’s surgery required setting the alarm for 4:30 am, a trip to the hospital, six hours of waiting, and a trip to the pharmacy.  I did not view any of this as an imposition or something to be commended.  It was just something that had to be done—on the order of having to tie my shoes.  I feel now that I have been totally captured by the family motif, and I rejoice in it. 

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Snob Regrets

Tonight I would like to apologize to all the people I have been a snob to in my life (a snobbery ironically based on a deep feeling of inadequacy).  Mainly, this is towards people who I have underestimated particularly as a youth, but also later.  When I was young I looked especially at cities, and people with prestigious jobs in the city, as being superior to rural folk.  The sad part is that I often lived in rural areas.  I can now only shake my head at my presumption and arrogance.  Take farmers for example.  Two stand out in my mind particularly—Lewis Hamilton (a tomato farmer) and Clarence Smith (who had orange groves).  I had no conception (and still don’t) of all the business and agricultural acumen that is necessary to succeed in these occupations.  I looked at it from the outside, and thought there must be not much to it.  (I have later come to believe that all jobs require skills and mastery of complexity.)  Lewis and Clarence were good men—now I understand great men.  Both had families; Lewis adopted a troubled youth.  They were kind to me and extraordinarily modest.  Their humility came from their Christian faith, but I think also from the uncertainty that farmers face in many areas, but especially from the threats of pests and contrary weather.  If I had the privilege of meeting these men today, I would love them for their acceptance of me when I was far inferior to them because of my stupid presumptions.  It’s an odd thing, but I still take an abundance of food for granted, and seldom if ever, when giving a blessing, express thanks for the people involved in its production.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fall Sailing (Selected Poems)

These five poems ("Lady in a Box," "Little Maelstrom," "Sonnet for a Catholic Boy," "The Last Leaf," and "The Utopian Drain") were submitted in the fall of 1972 for an English course assignment at FSU.  The collection of which they are a part included 44 poems in all.  The title for the collection is:  Fall Sailing: Poems on Life, Death, and Other Occasions.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Election Season Morality Play

The great moderate middle of the American political debate owes a great debt to the contrasting extremes in American politics.  Like one sitting for an eye vision exam while looking at the letter chart, we are asked by the optometrist who is constantly changing lenses for us in the exam room, “Which is better--this or this?”  The best glass prescription involves a process of contrast, elimination, and finally selection—we moderate to the best choice.  In politics the extremes help us moderate to the middle.  In American politics the two extremes contrast most pronouncedly on the role of government.  The extreme right tends to view government as the devil; the extreme left tends to worship government as a god.  The right sees government as essentially threatening to rob man of his birthright of choice and free will; the left sees government as the final guarantor of human liberty and happiness.  The attribution of devil or god is not overstated.  The passions elicited on both sides indicate the depth and sincerity of positions held.  The contest is truly of mythic proportion and the operative truth becomes the sincerity of the passions expressed.  The extremes function as the abysmal depths surrounding the political field.  They tend to be beneficial for the great middle for they offer stark contrasts and a means to open more moderate discussion and debate.  As in the eye exam, we can say “Not this, more like this.”  

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Fall Sailing (Selected Poems)

These two poems ("South" and "Indian Mound") were submitted in the fall of 1972 for an English course assignment at FSU.  The collection of which they are a part included 44 poems in all.  The title for the collection is:  Fall Sailing: Poems on Life, Death, and Other Occasions.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Flotsam and Jetsam of the Mind

Today my boss was looking for a phone number on a phone listing sheet.  He asked me about the number and I told him where it was on my listing.  He immediately found the number on his sheet and said, “Thanks for showing me the obvious.”  He meant it as a gibe at himself, but I immediately thought of it privately in regards to my blog and I answered, “That’s my specialty!”  I’m neither a mystic nor a rocket scientist, so everything I write about comes from daily life and is no different from what anyone else could readily observe.  At 66, however, I still run across ideas new to me.  It comes back to the wonder of perception and how things can simmer for years subconsciously and suddenly configure and surface into an intelligible pattern.  I’m thankful for every year that I’ve lived and every experience I’ve encountered (and I do mean that—even going to the dentist) and I’m grateful for each experience today that is added to the mix.  I recall a phrase by Henry James: "Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost."  The way that human beings are configured mentally, I think that “being one on whom nothing is lost” is literally true for everyone—everyone is a testimony to and record of their experiences.  We encounter the manifestation of that truth everyday—sometimes triumphantly, sometimes tragically.  We need to be grateful for the insights that are uniquely ours and should stand ready to turn them into practical uses such as voting on Election Day and contributing to social discourse.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The God Advantage

I’ve heard it said that belief in God is much like a bet.  If you bet wrong and your belief is groundless; you nevertheless have been better off because you have lived your life positively and hopefully believing in a loving God.  If you bet right and he does exist, you have all eternity to reap the reward.  Today when the last of the 33 Chilean miners was rescued, I thought of this bet, especially the first part.  Trapped beneath 2,000 feet of rock for 69 days, there are many places you don’t want your mind to go for your own safety and health as well as your fellow miners.  Thinking positively and hopefully is simply requisite to keeping sane and keeping your head on straight.  Many of the miners cited their faith in God as a great assist during their ordeal.  It can be argued that they were functionally better off because of their belief—even if their belief can be viewed patronizingly by nonbelievers as an opiate of the working class.  The deeper wisdom in the face of vast uncertainties is to believe in a loving God.  That gives one room to make calm and deliberate choices while fundamentally respecting your own worth and that of your fellows during unfathomable and stressful times.  Alternate realities—all readily conceivable—create fundamentally different approaches to life.  The better choice is to accept the God advantage and to shun stark spiritual isolation.  

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Testing Field

A phrase that begins “it sounded good in theory” frequently ends with “but it didn’t work in practice.”  A theory before it is tried is like a person without experience.  As people are by necessity shaped by experience, so must theories be recast and modified.  It should not be considered a failure if a theory does not meet initial expectations. As a person needs to adjust to life, so must theories be modified and adjusted.  Pristinely pure and unmodified theories are virtually always relegated to the archive bin.  Capitalism because of necessity has lost its totally free enterprise purity; and so has every surviving “ism” met modifications in one way or another.  With people as with theories, adaptation is an indicator of viability. 

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Doing Well by Your Children

What is the point of giving good things to your children, or to anyone else for that matter?  The ultimate objective of giving a provision or gift should be to create within the receiver a sense of being blessed—not just for the occasion, but to have that transcend into a comprehensive long-lived belief.  Feeling blessed is the key to having a positive attitude, and being a friendly affirming person.  This bears fruit where self-exertion is required, such as studying or work or any creative endeavor that requires discipline—where one must give now in order to receive later.  When a person does not feel blessed, the attitude becomes a constant constraining search for getting theirs (a begrudging give-me attitude), rather than for giving in order to grow.  Our primary object in life should be to help others feel blessed.  In the case of children, for example, does this mean withholding discipline and to give free reign?  Obviously not.  That is a curse.  It is not always obvious what constitutes a helpful contribution.  One must leave room for the dynamic ironies of life.  Wisdom is required.  But the right provision, the right gift, is one that contributes to the ultimate reward—a deep conviction that one is abundantly blessed.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Today at Church

Within a sermon theme of “Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity,” David Miller today challenged us to look at material assets in the light of eternity.  What is rational in terms of our decisions given that we are mortal and everything we own will eventually slip through our fingers?  We should live simply and give intentionally while we have the opportunity.  He pointed out that 1% of the world’s population has an income of $45,000 or more.  When the Bible encourages the rich to be generous, it is talking to nearly all of us.  In Sunday school our first lesson from The Upper Room was about giving—we should give to help others, not to garner praise for ourselves.  Often it is preferable to give privately.  The second lesson made the point that “God loves the world….God’s love makes the human community one family.”  The third lesson taught that “scripture assures us that nothing is too hard for God…No matter our struggle, God’s promises sustain us.”  Before studying the lessons we discussed giving and saving.  Mitch made the point that saving is not always selfish hoarding.  For example, some people save for old age because they don’t want to be a burden on others when that time comes.  Since they don’t usually know how long they will live or the circumstances thereof, it is difficult to set an exact amount on how much should be saved.  Mitch said that he could understand and appreciate the financial behavior of people faced with this dilemma.  Sometimes saving derives not from being a selfishness Scrooge but the exact opposite.  The same can also be said for people who want to establish a contingency fund to provide for unexpected expenses.  A desire to avoid getting hopelessly in debt cannot be faulted.  In short, selfishness is not good, but it is not always obvious what constitutes the concept.

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Essential Role of Mankind

Today I’ve thought about the main, essential role of mankind.  This role must be accessible to all.  It makes no sense to ask the question if the answer could only be answered by identifying roles available to a small group of people in the most developed countries, for example.  Everyone, from the most physically fit to the least must qualify.  Even the brain dead must be able to share in this purpose.  Even the universally hated, the Hitler’s of history, must also qualify.  In the end, it can be seen that the main role of mankind is to be the recipient of God’s love.  Even when healing and redemption are not forthcoming, the love of God is.  Take away God’s love, and you inevitably diminish the inherent value of mankind.  His value becomes utilitarian—what he can do or provide or how good he can be.  Anyone without societal use or esteem is expendable.  This acidic view of man is at base evil, for it reduces man to being a mere tool of society.  It is at heart selfish and devoid of generosity.  Essential respect and universal equality—the foundations of democracy—are lost.  God’s love ensures the dignity of man, as the dignity of man provides logic for the existence of God’s love.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

The Main Advantage of a Considered Response

Today I went to a facility and found an upset employee.  The employee felt that our IT Department had not been responding to their needs in a timely manner.  Basically there are two ways to respond to criticism—one way is to smile, be cordial in behavior, but do nothing; the second way is to smile, be cordial in behavior, and follow up with actions to address voiced concerns.  In the first case one resists and rejects criticism adding to the frustration already expressed (the phony smile being an added irritant); in the second case one accepts and responds to criticism demonstrating in actuality that one takes the expressed concerns seriously.  Certainly the second approach is preferable assuming one is dealing with a person who is not a chronic and irrational (essentially unstable) complainer.  In that case, further action is not called for except to go about one’s business under fire.  I’m glad to say that our department today specifically addressed the concerns expressed in several ways.  It is my experience that stressful issues when dealt with thoughtfully can paradoxically result in a stronger bond between once contending parties.  After being critical, the one broaching the issues at hand tends to expect a reflexive countervailing response—criticism met with criticism.  When the response is not countervailing; genuine surprise, appreciation, and finally trust results.  The big lesson made evident today: Profoundly Great Things (in many spheres of conflict) can happen when push out is not followed by shove back.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Uncensored Video

Today I got to thinking, what if all our lives were recorded in an uncensored video—from the time we were born, until ongoing today.  It had recorded all our best days, and all our worst; all our acts of meanness, all our acts of kindness; when we were our most selfish, when we our most selfless; when we were hateful, when we were loving; when we were making life count, when we were frittering away hours; when we acted wisely, when we acted foolishly; when we were disciplined, when we were slothful; when we were hopeful, when we were discouraged; when we succeeded, when we failed; when we were most skilled and creative, when we were most unskilled and destructive; when we were brave, when we were cowardly; when we acted intelligently, when we acted stupidly.  The movie would show all—including sexual activity and those times when we were trying to impress others by appearing to be above all bodily functions.  When we were asleep, it would video our dreams; when we had fantasies and daydreams; it would video these.  These lifetime videos would be available for all to see and would have a fast forward that automatically passed over completely monotonous or meaningless times.  A video would be available on all persons—the pretentious and the humble, the hopeful and the discouraged; the high and the mighty, the low and downcast.  Everybody’s video would be universally available to everyone without any restrictions.  I may be wrong, but I think the existence of these videos would have a highly salutary effect on mankind.  It would reveal pretension and (on today’s TV) self-righteous political ads.  It would be everyone’s confessional--everyone’s claim to shame, everyone’s claim to merit.  It would help bring about an appreciation of our common humanity and greatly moderate pride and self-righteousness. 

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Human Accommodations

Today I had the privilege of transcending a purely business relationship and enjoying insights into the personal likes, dislikes, and insights of an employee at a recreation center.  Business relationships are well and good, but they are heavily influenced by organizational structure.  It’s good to occasionally have the opportunity to be introduced to the basic values, ideas, concerns, and family life of employees  Likewise it’s good to be able to give information about oneself—some of one’s own handicaps, experiences, and achievements.  Communication at this level indicates a mutual appreciation of the fact that we are not only employees with titles and duties, but human beings with broad areas of interests, concerns, and even vulnerabilities.  When I was on vacation last week, Jim, my brother-in-law, said that the trouble with America now is that people engage in pro forma communication and do not get beyond the shallow and superficial.  Certainly it is depressing and impoverishing to always deal at the surface level when the central fact of human nature is the existence of a full array of intellectual, spiritual, and emotional dimensions.  Thriving organizations accommodate within their structures the renaissance proclivities of mankind.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Enjoying the Best

Carole will be returning to Chicago tomorrow, so this evening she treated Kathy & me to dinner at Olive Garden Italian Restaurant in Pinellas Park.  The food and service were second to none.  In addition to salad or soup served with fresh baked bread, we had the following entrĂ©es: Carole ordered Lasagna Classico, Kathy ordered Five Cheese Ziti al Forno, and I ordered Venetian Apricot Chicken—grilled chicken breasts in an apricot citrus sauce, served with broccoli, asparagus and diced tomatoes.  After dinner, sipping on peach ice tea, I mused that even kings and queens in the past did not have a higher quality meal (prepared from produce and meats kept fresh when necessary by refrigeration) and served in an air conditioned environment.  Too often I neglect to appreciate the advantages that modern society provides.  Surely our heavenly father is justified in expecting a lot from us.  “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48 (NIV)).  My we remember that while it’s nice to be served, it is a greater gift to be given opportunities to serve. 

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Monday, October 4, 2010


I think a basic human need must be
To savor the likeness of permanence
Whether it’s to the sea we return
Or to the mountains tall and firm
Whether to buildings of marble and stone
Or to a childhood grasp for mom and dad
Whether to the leader that gives a sense of solidity
Or to an institution that gives a sense of immortality
Whether to a principle that emerges from flux
Or to a universal law that grounds diversity
Whether to the love of God that is eternal
Or to shortcut simulations found in addictions
It can be a sad pursuit
This looking for permanence
This looking for a rock on which to build
To place our hope
To place our trust
Through countless generations
The search endures
Uniting simplicity to eternity
Where is the likeness of permanence?
Finally perhaps in the abiding search
That marries choice to basic need.

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Timeless Retreat

Sunday Kathy, Carole, and I traveled to Lake Wales, FL to see Bok Tower Gardens.  This was their first visit, but a return of several visits for me.  When I was a teen living in Bowling Green, FL our church youth group on several occasions and my parents and I on others visited the tower.  In the 90’s I took Kim, George, and Alton to see the tower.  It is a surprising site when approaching Lake Wales to see the tower suddenly rising from Iron Mountain (one of the highest points in Florida). The Tower is made of pink and gray marble and coquina stone.  It is one of those places that when you visit the grounds you remember it as a haven of unchanging peace, beauty, and tranquility. Edward Bok’s quotation is included in the photo above.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Interstate Space

Today Kathy & I traveled to Oviedo near Orlando and returned to Saint Petersburg with Carole, Kathy’s mother.  If there is any engineering marvel I typically take for granted it is the interstate system.  Earlier in the week Kathy & I returned to Saint Petersburg from Palm Coast in northeast Florida, driving on interstates virtually the entire distance.  The network of limited access roads, bridges, overpasses, underpasses, and divided highway all without a single traffic light or dangerous curve is a great gift that has no doubt saved the lives of many travelers.  This afternoon I was getting a little dozy coming back from Oviedo (after a foot long sub) and found a convenient interstate rest stop, got an energy drink, and was alert the rest of the way home.  I remember the days of my childhood, when a trip for the entire distance was nearly always two lane roads with oncoming traffic.  Passing slower traffic (cars, trucks, tractors, or an occasional horse drawn wagon), or being passed by faster traffic was a continuing source of anxiety.  The roads led through the heart of cities with many traffic lights and congestion.  When I consider the engineering feats accomplished during my lifetime, the interstate system has to rank among the top achievements.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

What is tragedy?

Tonight I was watching the news and saw reports of armed conflict throughout the world.  I thought what a tragedy that the intellectual capacity and gifts of man are applied to devising war—where the bottom line is to kill or be killed.  Then I thought of police in domestic society who have to turn intellectual capacity and gifts to maintaining order against crime, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, illegal firearms, robbery, murder, even in comparison less serious matters as enforcing traffic laws and answering disturbing the peace calls.  Surely the necessity of expending intellectual capacity and gifts on such domestic societal failures is also a tragedy.  Then I thought of dead end or monotonous jobs, and said to myself surely that is a tragedy too.  All of the potential skills, intellectual capacity and gifts directed at mundane tasks.  Surely any kind of work that does not require constant creative challenge is a misuse of human potential.  But even creativity is subject to tragedy—where tons of effort and creativity are directed to less than momentous (even frivolous) ends.  And even “serious” creative efforts can be seen to have empty and tragic elements.  I am reminded of Edison’s comment: “None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration” ( Even creativity is 99% trial and error, setbacks, and failure.  What we see is that human tragedy is in the end redeemed by a positive social purpose.  Virtually every activity that is not starkly antisocial is so redeemed.  In the willful human context, tragedy is when intellectual capacity and gifts are turned to antisocial purposes.  It is a tragedy that man can have these drives to harm others and simultaneously self-destruct.  The ultimate tragedy may well be an ethical fissure somewhere deep within the brain.   

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