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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Laws of Power

My son Alton is in a state prison in Florida.  He recently requested that I order two books for him: The 48 Laws of Power and Seduction, both by Robert Greene.  I agreed to get the books on one condition.  That I would also order a set for myself and that we would coordinate our readings and share our thoughts.  Alton chose to begin with The 48 Laws starting with the Preface and Chapter One.  The Preface proves Robert Greene is an excellent writer—his writing flows and develops anticipation.  The subject of the Preface is power—how the presence of it is a basic human need.  Some people want to deny that they would ever think of wanting to wield power.  This is (since power is a basic human need) always disingenuous and can be seen as a devious attempt to exercise it indirectly.  I would add only one thing to the Preface—a distinction between power and influence.  To use the aristocratic court as an example (as Greene does), the King in my view has power but the courtier has influence.  Of course, influence is a form of power, but it is not structurally enforced.  In other words, on an organizational chart one can be in a lower position (or not shown at all) and still wield influence greater than the structural power position would suggest.  Alton is in prison and as such lacks structural power—in the prison organizational chart “prisoner” may be excluded entirely.  But nevertheless he continues to have the basic human need for power.  This need can be met by sublimating his power needs into the exercise of influence.  He can exercise influence over his organizational equals—other prisoners—and even the prison staff.  I am not ignoring the informal organizations that prisoners can form; I am just saying that even in the formal organization of a prison system, power can be exercised at all levels through the exercise of influence.

Chapter One deals with the first law: Never Outshine the Master.  “Always make those above you feel comfortably superior.  In your desire to please and impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite—inspire fear and insecurity.  Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.”  I call this the “damper down law,” and thank goodness it has limited application. The chapter gave examples of those who violated this law (and failed) and those that abided by it (and succeeded).  The key is not to make your boss feel insecure.  Of course, no boss wants to hire an individual and the next day feel that the fresh hire is already eyeing the bosses own job and is presuming to replace him at first opportunity.  It’s obvious that the new hire lacks necessary empathy and therefore has a fundamental flaw in his intelligence.  However, I cannot agree totally with Greene’s assumption that this law applies to all bosses. Organizational structure greatly influences the need to dampen brilliance.  It is often the case that we work in teams.  When the team excels, all get credit, recognition, and sometimes concrete rewards.  Therefore, a team captain or coach delights in exceptional talent and individual achievement.  Teams tie fates together and can thus release great energy and creativity in geometric proportions.  When one excels, all excel.  My suggestion is that if you find yourself in a “damper down” environment that you evaluate the value you place on freedom and individual expression.  A change of environment (even if it means less money) may be necessary.  A prison, while it cannot tolerate challenges to structural authority, may nevertheless wish that inmates excel.  Nothing would make the evening news faster than a prison that could accomplish this—high rates of achievement in education, outstanding creativity, low recidivism, etc.  As the Miranda rights requirement places the officer and arrestee on the same team of human dignity; so, in a larger context, prisoner and staff can be seen on the same team as children of God.

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Oracle Matters

My dream today
Is of professionalism without arrogance
It primarily requires an admission of guilt
That all can succumb to arrogance
Of a desire deep down to be in control
Of having unquestioned authority
To speak and act and have one’s say
Whatever the subject or time of day.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010


Any success worth the name,
And any failure worth the name
Are founded on human determination,
It builds bridges on rock solid will,
It loses wars only after utter exhaustion;
Determination is the sine qua non of human existence
Choreographed from the human heart
The rhetorical question challenges the soul—being or nothingness?
The resounding answer—“Being!”—till the death...and then some.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Malcolm X

Tonight I saw the film Malcolm X (1992).  The film raised my class consciousness and my race consciousness.  I guess I will always compare Malcolm X with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Since MLK was Christian and the son of a minister while Malcolm X entered life through the school of hard knocks and eventually became a Muslim, I share a greater identity with MLK.  Since I cannot put myself in Malcolm X’s shoes, I have no grounds to judge him.  While MLK always attempted to draw a circle that included me, I think that Malcolm X was content to draw a circle that excluded me—at least until his trip to Mecca.  It could be said that the circle that excluded me was in direct response to the circle drawn by whites that had excluded blacks for centuries.  Malcolm X seemed to say, “OK, if that’s the way you want it, we will survive, flourish, and prevail in our own circle—we don’t need you, we don’t want you, you have hurt us.”  He represented an acknowledgment of considerable unvarnished truth coincident with an assumption of personal and racial responsibility. Of course, many whites (including me) resented being lumped in with the Klu Klux Klan.   But I keep returning in my mind to his early years and the pain and sadness that it represented—when he so much desired to be part of the white circle as evidenced by straightening his hair and dating white women.  The way things stood in America; all attempts at crossing the divide were doomed.  Do I wish I could say that all exclusive circles have disappeared and now only one circle exits?  Somehow I don’t like the sound of that—“now only one circle exists.”  It sounds stifling and even threatening.  The answer perhaps is to have many circles all within a larger circle of freedom characterized by goodwill and charity for all.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

A Victim of Oneself

Tonight I was listening to Moody radio and heard a taped interview with John Wooden.  The interview was taped several years ago when Coach Wooden (October 14, 1910 – June 4, 2010) was already in his 90’s.  Even at this age, he retained all his mental acuity.  After listening to the interview, I googled for some of his quotes.  The one that most drew my attention was: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming” (Click for additional quotes.)  It seems that fundamental to happiness is the confident belief that “you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”  Likewise, much unhappiness and regret derives from the feeling that in this one life granted to us we did not rise up to make the effort to do our best.  Of course, doers are not uniformly perfect.  Another Wooden quote found at the same site: “If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes.”  It is not mistakes or even failure that bring the deepest gloom, but the feeling that we did not do our best—we neglected to make the earnest attempt in the first place.  I’ve heard it said that people can go through life and never finish anything.  They start out at something maybe several times, say a course of study, but just lack the grit to finish.  The resulting depression and self-loathing, again not primarily from failure itself but from the absence of self-directed sustained effort, is surely the base of many addictions.  The pain of self-inflicted loss—when one is primarily a victim of oneself—is too great to face.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

Dr. Bill Smalling delivered the sermon today on the Impossible Dream - Matt. 2:1-12.  The sermon topic concerned the Magi who visited Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth.  King Herod had asked them to report back to him when they found Jesus.  After finding him, the Magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod but rather to return to their country by a different route.  The third point of the sermon was that God protects those who serve him. Despite a record of Christian martyrs, God’s protection for those who serve him is something in which I deeply believe based on my own experience with dicey and dangerous situations.  Many times I could have been easily killed (as in prison when an inmate held a machete to my throat), but God has been my protection and shield.  There is a power to God’s love that protects those who love and serve him.  While martyrdom can be in God’s will, the continuation of life and witnessing is often the more joyous sacrifice required.  There is a saying, “God is not through with me yet.”  It’s natural to hope that he will not be until after a long and full lifetime.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Stark Contrasts

This morning I awoke early and decided to watch something on Netflix.  There were many serious movies and documentaries, but I wanted to watch something funny and that would not require overmuch thinking on my part.  I enjoyed Romancing the Stone earlier, so I decided to watch its sequel, The Jewel of the Nile.  I got just what I was looking for—adventure and comedy.  Yet, even in a comic adventure, I can find something serious to observe.  The main antagonist was Omar, ruler of Kadir, who pretended to be good and benevolent but was actually a power crazed megalomaniac. He desired to be considered a heavyweight personage formed from an admixture of exalted politics and religion.  Images of him at a rally were reminiscent of Nazi political rallies.  What he really wanted was to be deified, ruthless, and worshipped.  He was, to put it mildly, not a Christian ruler.  Christian rulers do not want to be worshipped (only the Trinity is to be worshipped); they do not want to be considered heavyweights and self-important (humility is considered a virtue); they do not admire mean ruthless behavior (Jesus taught love and forgiveness); they do not strive to do evil (rather they strive to encourage righteousness, goodwill, and mutual respect).  This movie had an especially bad, “bad guy.”  But sometimes stereotypes of evil men and governments can help reveal elements constituting good government.

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Payback is Heaven

Tonight Kathy & I attended the Christmas Eve service at First United Methodist Church.  It began with joyful Christmas carols and included communion recognizing Jesus’ death and the ultimate extent of God’s love.  This is the great contribution of Christianity regarding the full dominion of love—love inherently entails joy and at the same time sacrificial living without measure.  Christians do not count themselves worthy by keeping track of their good deeds, but are worthy rather by the grace and love of God which is open to everyone. Self-centeredly keeping score on one’s sacrifices is counter to the nature of love—it flies in the face of love to even contemplate doing such a thing.  Love is our response to God’s love—who first loved us.  We want to bless for we were first blessed.  There is a saying: payback is hell.  This is not true in the case of our response to God’s love.  Payback then is the only route to happiness and freedom.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Recounting Childhood Regrets

Beware of self-pity
For you then will see
All of the bad and none of the good
Remember that your parents were under great pressures
You were not always the center of their universe
Sometimes the laundry had to be done
Sometimes the livelihood earned
Even as a child you sometimes felt abandoned, alone
In some desert place between lunch and dinner
Between the daily meals that somehow were never missed
A regularity of sustenance to be remembered when counting regrets.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Ten Foot Tall Fact

Today my brother Bob and his wife Linda traveled to Saint Petersburg to have a Christmas visit.  They brought their dog, Shannon.  Earlier in the day they had visited my nephew Mike, Mindy and family in Leesburg.  To visit us required four extra hours of traveling.  We had dinner together at our house and the conversation at one point turned to politics.  Though Bob and I were raised in a home where neither mother or dad seldom if ever talked politics, both parents were faithful voters at election time.  Both parents were Democrats, and now both Bob and I are Democrats.  I don’t ever remember us being politically indoctrinated as youngsters.  My father, a Methodist minister, felt strongly that it was his duty not to push his view of politics on anyone, and that attitude included his political deportment at home.  My mother also was anything but doctrinaire or strident in politics.  So I wonder how it is that both Bob and I are so in harmony politically.  We both are way more outspoken along this line than our parents ever were.  We have a degree of impatience with Republicans that we never saw at home growing up.  Despite my blog yesterday cautioning about any manner of compassion being helpful, I am led to believe that its tradition of compassion is what draws my brother and me to the Democratic Party.  The Democratic Party is for the underdog; the Republican Party is for the advantaged.  At least that’s how we sometimes perceive it. 

Maybe it does all go back to Social Security and the history of mother’s side of the family.  My mother’s father, a carpenter, died when she was twelve leaving the family without an income.  Mother had three siblings—two sisters and a brother.  People at the time encouraged my grandmother to split up the family, but she refused to do so.  As there was no Social Security, she took in laundry to eke out a living.  Times were desperately hard.  Mother, as the oldest child, had to drop out of school to get a job and help support the family. This history was not an oft repeated theme in our family, but both Bob and I knew about it.  It did not require repeating; it stood as a simple fact.  A Democratic president, Franklin Roosevelt, remembered the plight of the poor.  All these years later, we feel at home in the Democratic Party and view it as the party of compassion—sometimes enlightened, sometimes indulgent. The indulgent component has been sometimes tragic, at times disastrous. But the lodestar of the party remains empathy for those in deprivation for no cause of their own—the very existence of which is often denied by the advantaged. For example, “if they are down they should move to a better neighborhood,” seems to be the proffered solution. But such fast, simple answers derive from prejudice; not from understanding, love, and compassion. I will stick with the party that appreciates and accepts the complexities and difficulties of attaining a more just union—the party that moves towards (not away from) the underprivileged.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Need for Enlightened Compassion

Nothing is truer than the old saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”   Feeling sorry for someone is often not a virtue, especially if it derives from patronization.   In this case “good intentions” are really a cloak for ill will.  It is remarkably easy to keep one’s distance by tossing money at the needy.   As “tough love” recognizes the fact that “indulgent love” is actually not love at all, so we also have “tough compassion” and its polar opposite “indulgent compassion” which is not compassion at all.  Indulgent love and indulgent compassion spoil a child.  What does it mean to spoil a child?  It means that the child will always expect and demand more, no matter what you do.  In other words, the child comes to have unlimited wants and desires.  The child comes to recognize no limits and constantly feels he is a victim since he is being constantly denied ever more.  Of course this becomes a very serious problem, for a fundamental aspect of life is that we must operate within limits, and the psychological perspective of victimization undermines generosity and creativity.

Common sense that arises from a sober reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of human nature is the first requirement of government.  The US Constitution began there, and it resulted in checks and balances and the Bill of Rights.  Social Security established a new role for government—insuring that those in old age have a measure of financial independence.  This and other safety nets are attempts to institutionalize compassion.  I at 66 am glad that when I retire I will be able to draw a social security check.  I have seen the projection of my social security income, and it doesn’t seem exorbitant or in danger of spoiling me.  Those who wish to privatize social security largely from ideological motivations—governments should govern and not be in any business—have a point.  It always should cause pause when government seeks to engage in activities normally assigned to the private sector.  Is it really beneficial for citizens to receive goods such as electric or phones from government monopolies?  Does government really want to be blamed every time there is a disruption in one of these services?    Doesn’t government ownership and its responsibilities take the focus off of government’s essential role—government itself?  And of course there is the danger that the central authority figure—government—will be perceived as never doing enough, especially in the publically owned governments of democracies as was mentioned in yesterday’s blog.  Hell hath no fury like a spoiled citizen denied his wishes and perceived dues.  

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Monday, December 20, 2010

A Time for Prayer

Today my friend Jeff Boreman sent me a link from the CBS investigative news program 60 Minutes.  This segment reported on the financial bind that municipal and state governments are increasingly encountering.  Many private companies who have provided goods or services to these government entities are not getting paid in a timely manner.  This tends to have a negative domino effect in the economy as hardship is passed along or as borrowing increases to provide float to the governments. The stimulus package advocated by President Obama and passed by Congress is reported not to have helped solve this problem but only delayed the day of reckoning which is predicted to come this year.  Click here to view the report.

Jeff views the problem as a fundamental flaw in the current configuration of government.  The oversight of Congress is limited to the periodic election of senators and representatives by citizens in the various states.  This (along with the action of the other two branches of government) is seen as not a sufficient or effective check on Congress.  Jeff writes:

Perhaps a third elected body who's only job is to hold congress accountable. The only bills they could pass would be congress regulations. Congress would no longer create their own rules. They could no longer pass a pay raise for themselves. This third body would have the power to impeach members of congress or enforce other means of punishment. This would have to be party neutral as well.  

There may be several difficulties with this approach.  How party neutrality could be assured is difficult to envision.  While voting pay raises for themselves can be extremely irritating, the greater issue is the ability to run up public debt to unrealistic and unsustainable levels.  The fundamental flaw of democracy may well be that human nature induces unrestrained consumption or investment when not checked by what is realistically feasible. The public indirectly through its elected representatives give themselves all sorts of unlimited benefits and pay raises. God’s corrective tool for such misbehavior is bankruptcy or hyperinflation.    

Somehow I hear a Constitutional phrase: “Congress shall make no law…..”  If we only knew how to complete that sentence to effectively curtail the human tendency for limitless self-indulgence, we would be much better off.  Now I see our situation as analogous to a starship in the vacuum of space that has developed a hole in its skin.  Unless we can somehow patch that hole the whole democratic experiment is in jeopardy. My current thinking centers on a Constitutional Amendment that would limit the deficit to a percentage of the GDP.  This in a way flies in the face of Keynesian economics.  That view holds that in the depths of a business cycle extensive government investment will be rewarded eventually by a return to prosperity and economic health.  This outcome justifies and pays for the earlier investment by the government.  Such investment in dark times brings with it unavoidably an element of risk and its constant companion hope.  But what if the hope is unjustified?  What if, despite the heavy investment, the economy does not improve for various reasons—such as if actions primarily stimulate the economies of trading partners who have economic advantages.  If the hoped for results do not materialize, then the results are devastating as the deficit grows exponentially.

In a sense, I see this as a religious problem.  Part of the concept of God is that man is not in control, God is.  There are objective rules that govern society even if they are not identified or acknowledged.  In the long run, these eternal verities will always prevail.  I think one of these rules is becoming clearer—no society can increase debt or print money fast enough to satisfy the human appetite for more.  More can come, but it must be earned.  It is time to pray for Divine guidance in further crafting the mechanism of democracy.  It is becoming clearer every day that deficiencies exist.  The US Constitution has done well to put checks and balances within government.  It is time to somehow include a measure of financial realism to this hallowed experiment.  The government is in a sense outside and above the market.  This should never be forgotten. 

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Today in Sunday School

Our lesson today was from John 15:16 (NRSV) Jesus said, “You did not choose me but I chose you.”  These were “Jesus’ welcoming words about choosing his team of disciples” (Upper Room, 12/15/10).  Often in life, we can find ourselves the last chosen, or not chosen at all.  Certainly now, with high unemployment, too many job seekers encounter the discouraging feeling of rejection.  Rejection is a tough thing to handle.  But Jesus holds out an invitation to be a member of his team.  As stated in the Thought for the Day, “God chooses each of us—first!”  In this most important of all teams—the team giving each of us a meaningful and purposeful life, all are extended a special invitation to serve:  “You did not choose me but I chose you.”  Each one has an invitation to serve Jesus: "Only one life, 'twill soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last."

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Goodwill—Accept No Substitutes

Today Kathy and I had a Christmas lunch at Olive Garden with Tu Tu and his wife and baby girl.  They are a young couple in their early 20’s.  I have known Tu Tu all his life.  When Kathy and I arrived home, we viewed the film Gandhi (1982).  In a sense, this film had a Christmas message.  A memorable quote of Gandhi’s is “When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always.”  For Christians, this is indication that the Lord Almighty reigneth; Jesus personifies eternal truth and love.  A sobering aspect of the film was the religious violence in India arising after independence from Britain was won.  The hatred between Hindus and Muslims resulted in widespread bloodshed.  Gandhi related his good fortune to have been raised in a community in India where there was great religious tolerance.  In fact “tolerance” seems to have a tinge of unwarranted negativity.  The comity between the various religions (including Christianity) in the community where he grew up was based on deeply rooted goodwill.  The religious prejudice that resulted in conflict after independence was unfortunately also deeply rooted and had all kinds of political and economic implications.  The United States, with its emphasis on religious freedom, attempts to thwart economic or political discrimination due to one’s religion.  Does that make religion irrelevant to public life?  Hardly.  But it does attempt to blunt any manifestations of ill will by outlawing discrimination in employment or housing, for example.  Therefore religious differences are just that—religious.  Hence, one’s view of heaven (especially if it contains a portion of venom) has limited impact on earth.  Believe what you like, the law says, just so that does not result in harm to others.  Sports are always a good analogy in America.  If one can hit the ball and obey the rules of the game (have good sportsmanship), it doesn’t matter one’s creed or color; anyone can be a hero.  In more routine work, this means that every day we can work alongside each other, accomplish productive creativity, joke a lot, have fun, share human celebrations and sorrows and still have different religions.  There’s something essentially good about this; something which God will favor.  At least that what most Americans deeply believe.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Greasing the Skids

Sometimes it’s scary how much I enjoy my job working with IT for the Department of Leisure Services for the City of Saint Petersburg.  Ryan, our new employee, and I worked together today and slayed the dragon—we took to the ICS Warehouse old servers no longer used that were cluttering up the server room.  After this, we went to Enoch Davis Center to install a Xerox copier as a network printer.  Everywhere we went people were kind and helpful.  Sometimes people complain about government being unnecessarily bureaucratic.  This is not the case here.  For example, the old servers (along with some nonworking card printers) could have taken days if not weeks to dispose of had asset disposition paperwork been followed to a “T”.  Skip, at the ICS Warehouse, agreed to take the old hardware and help process the disposition on their end, while we simultaneously completed our paper work on our end.  But these necessary accounting requirements did not delay unnecessarily equipment transfer. This, of course, is possible due to trust.  There has to be mutual trust that no one is trying to “pull a fast one” and circumvent the spirit of relevant policies and procedures.  There is confidence that requirements will be processed in due time while not unnecessarily holding up progress.  While this may seem to be a minor matter, trust actually underlies much of the interaction between and within departments.  Trust is what often greases the skids.  Since trust is so valuable, people work assiduously hard not to undermine it.  This gives a great sense of freedom coincident with responsibility. It significantly enhances creativity and energizes human effort.  It nourishes esteem and contributes to happiness.  It minimizes the need to defensively and forever spend time and energy “covering one’s ass.”  True, to a certain extent it is risky.  Once in awhile, someone is bound to prove untrustworthy.  And when this happens the organization must treat it with utmost seriousness and dispatch.  That’s the other side of trust—a firmness and even harshness on the part of the organization showing an intolerance of perfidy.

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The Floodgates Are Opened

Today Kathy & I made the plunge and switched our internet and phone provider to Bright House.  At the same time we became a subscriber to HD cable.  Before, we used indoor antennas.  The speed of our reception on the internet is now remarkably faster (actually, it is about 10 times faster).  The package for phone, internet, and cable costs $100/month.  This will not be all new cost as we were paying to a different company for phone & internet.  This sudden move to Bright House occurred when our past internet provider said it would take 11 days to provide us needed service.  I must admit a degree of anger at this delay helped move the decision—it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  We have justified the $100/month expense because of the increasing need for the internet (my understanding is that even the tax form will not be mailed this year but by default we will file taxes online) and because of the cornucopia of free resources the internet provides.  The phone will provide unlimited long distance without extra charge.  And, cable television has a ready justification—TV provides most of our news and entertainment.  The high definition provides a remarkably crisp picture and enhanced sound.  I’m sure it will take us awhile to absorb the great diversity of programming now available. It will be awesome not to be left out of some special event programming that we previously could not receive.  Gone are the days (which I can remember from the 60’s) when a $5.00 monthly local phone bill represented all your “online” costs.  Come to think of it, however, comparatively speaking you got a lot less for your money then.

PS:   Click here for joyful Christmas video.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From the Throes of Disappointment

This evening I was to take Kunte to a Christmas party.  The party was to begin at 6 pm.  I arrived at Kunte’s house late due to my doctor’s appointment.  Because the doctor’s office was overcrowded, my 4 o’clock appointment was delayed and I did not get out of the office until 5:40.  I arrived at Kunte’s house about 10 till 6.  Kunte came to the car all dressed up and carrying a beautifully wrapped Christmas present that was to be submitted at the party for a gift exchange.  He was in high spirits.  He dug in his pockets and brought out the address where the party would be held.  It turned out to be an address in Seminole with a named rather than numbered street.  I knew immediately that since it was in Seminole, it would take about 45 minutes of travel time.  Since I was completely unfamiliar with Seminole, I quickly added the house located on Kay Court into my GPS.  The GPS did not recognize the address.  We headed south for my house about 15 minutes away to go on my computer to look up and print out directions and a map.  It was getting dark, so I did not favor the prospect of trying to follow written directions in a strange location.  We arrived at my house and began to search for the address.  My internet connection was not working properly, so it took about 30 minutes to finally print out a map, but the written directions did not following the route located on the map.  I tried two more map sites, but because of the bad connection, neither worked.  At this point I told Kunte that I had decided not to try to make the trip for by the time we could possibly get there, the party would be in its eclipse.  Kunte became extremely frustrated and disappointed.  Something he had dearly set his heart on and carefully prepared for would not be realized or enjoyed.  He pathetically asked what he would do with the beautiful present.

On our way back to his house, he phoned his counselor and communicated his deep frustration and disappointment. On my way back home, he phoned me and continued to express his sadness and regret.  It was clear to me that this would be an instance of distress that only time could heal.  The intellectual and emotional regret must run its course and be totally spent. Indeed, his attempts to reach out and express his feelings were part of the process.   I thought that perhaps later in the evening, Kunte may garner enough detachment to become resigned to expectations and plans gone awry.  New plans and anticipations, and old resurrected ones, could then revive his spirits.  The bad experience of despair and disappointment then could be relegated to a chapter that has passed.  In this new phase, hurts would be seen as past hurts; and even would be looked back upon with some fondness as they helped contribute to a sense of a strong and prevailing character that can take hits and yet survive.  Kunte is an invaluable and indispensible friend gifting me with his indomitable spirit; never letting pain or disappointments triumph in his life.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Second Thoughts

This evening I planned to qualify my comments on yesterday’s blog.  I thought maybe I had gone too far.  The crucifixion of our Lord was real.  In my remarks regarding the lilies of the field was I attempting to avoid realty?—a great sin in my book.  Am I going out of my way to resist realty—as a man trying to be a woman or a woman trying to be a man?  At first I thought some retraction might be in order.  But on second thought, I have changed my mind.  While reality must not be avoided, neither should death be romanticized nor martyrdom used as a lever for conformance or compliance.  It is relatively easy to create guilt by saying that someone died for you.  It’s a greater challenge when it’s said that someone lived for you.  The first suggest sacrifice while the second suggests that someone by choice was intentionally generous.  Generosity, we all know, makes the giver feel good.  It often helps overcome sadness.  Yet, at the core of living for another is immense discipline and self-sacrifice.  It just doesn’t show for it is done graciously and with a happy heart.  This intense discipline of love and generosity was the foundation of Jesus’ ministry—he brought the Word of Life.  I think of a modern martyr, Martin Luther King, Jr.  What absurdity it would be to celebrate his death rather than his life.  No, in my book I won’t recant my remarks yesterday.  “Religion” tends to greatly oversell Jesus’ death in my thinking for dubious, sometimes exploitive ends.  We would all be better off celebrating his life, and yes, resurrection.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

A Living Sacrifice

Jesus died on the cross for my sins.  This is called the ultimate sacrifice.  It is what should convince me of God’s love for me—that he gave his only son.  It should motivate me to repent of my sins—to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.  But like in some other matters, I find myself a contrarian.  I much prefer a living sacrifice.  While I can imagine, for example, a scenario in which my mother and father could have died for me, I am thankful that neither did nor had to.  Instead, they lived to bring me up and I was in the continual benefit of their love, of their living sacrifice.  Just so with Jesus; Herod could have killed him as a baby and that could have constituted a sacrificial death.  But I am grateful that Jesus lived—that he became the living, demonstrative Word of Life.  It is through Jesus’s life and ministry that I understand what love is, just as I have a much fuller understanding of parental love since my parents lived to raise me day in and day out.  When Jesus told the truth in the face of falsehood, he showed his love. When he endured ridicule and hatred, he showed his love.  When he preached the Sermon of the Mount, he showed his love.  When he revealed the nature of the Father and the nature of man through parables, he showed his love.  When he healed the sick, he showed his love.  When he raised the dead and gave sight to the blind, he showed his love. In other words, his life and actions are for me the Living Word.  His death on the cross reveals more about the ignorant cruelty of the world—“they know not what they do”—than the nature of love.  Hatred is what is blind and brings death.  Love is insightful and brings life.  Death is not the climax of Jesus’s life on earth; rather the highpoints of his life were among the lilies of the field when he was shepherd of his flock.  I do not wish to be washed in the blood.  I want to witness the courage of love as exemplified in his daily life.  Eternal life is a matter of overcoming daily death.  The ultimate sacrifice is not to die, but to live each day with faith, love, and conviction.  “Don’t die for me,” Jesus seemed to say, “Rather, live for me and bear much fruit.”

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Inexorable Rule

This afternoon we went to a Christmas Cantata at church and heard the prophesy of Isaiah 9:6 (NIV) “…and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  We sang Joy to the World “He rules the world with truth and grace,/And makes the nations prove/The glories of His righteousness,/And wonders of His love,/And wonders of His love,/And wonders, wonders, of His love.”  All this got me to thinking about the rule of the Almighty.

The inexorable rule of God and his only son Jesus Christ is made manifest as all lesser forms of rule become hollow and make evident the bankruptcy of all human endeavors based on anything other than the love of God.  People sometimes seem to be endlessly gullible. They convince themselves for a night that gods of their own choosing will suffice and triumph.  Great pomp and circumstance give life to all forms of illusions for brief periods, but all fail in the end.  All nations prove sooner or later “The glories of His righteousness…, And the wonders, wonders, of His love.”  Christmas is a reminder that truth and grace arising from the love of God always outlast chimeras born from the lusts of man—and the staying power of the Eternal is what sets it apart as the only real option to save us from the curse of rank superficiality and despair.  Hope, after all, is a human emotion and concept that requires much more than a flash in the pan, it requires meaning and a sense of permanence.  The gift of Christ shows us “the way, the truth, and the life.”  Anything can seem to work for a day, but it takes the love of God to endure a lifetime.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Requirements of Conscience


Thank you for the email regarding the debt we owe veterans and current military personnel (Email Video).  I had three uncles who were of age to be of service during WWII.  Two (Uncle Monroe and Uncle Joe) were in the Navy.  I can never remember either one of them saying one word about the war.  I always attributed this to a reluctance to relive verbally a terrifying time.  My third uncle (Uncle Calhoun) was a conscientious objector.  He served in a mental hospital during the war.  He refused to fight because he could not imagine Jesus killing anyone.  I personally resisted the Vietnam War.  I hold that for God and Country I went to prison during that war.  You may well consider this an untenable position.  I am reassured by the fact that my mother, a God fearing and patriotic woman, gave me loving support during that time.  She too felt the justifications for the war were highly dubious.  “My Country, Right or Wrong” is a position I do not think an individual from any country should hold.  Countries, like individuals, can make mistakes and occasionally should be discouraged from questionable actions.  During the Vietnam War, one must not forget that young men were being asked to kill or be killed for a highly debatable cause.  Fifty-eight thousand Americans were killed.  Two million Vietnamese were killed.  As someone who tries to be a Christian, I do not agree with my Uncle Calhoun that participating in a war is never justified.  Nevertheless, I must agree with him; it’s very hard to imagine Jesus (who taught that we should love our enemies) bayonetting a soldier or even dropping napalm from a high altitude.  As a Christian the most I can do is assert that war is sometimes a necessary evil rather than a commendable good.  I look to my uncles who fought; yet neither one expected nor sought after eternal glory or guilt induced gratitude.  All three of my uncles followed the call of conscience.  Why should we view this as extraordinary?  It’s what every human being is designed to do.  If we honor one, we should honor all who do so.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting to Know You

My new co-worker was faced with many challenges today.  Though I asked him to assist me, when he did complications arose which could be seen as the result of his own actions.  I got to see him perform under considerable pressure when he was placed “on the spot.”  He showed great qualities of persistence, calm in what well could have been a stressful situation, skill, intelligence, and a willingness to laugh at himself.  He laughed when I mentioned that anyone can mess up a computer, but it takes a computer engineer to really do it right.  (His degree is in computer engineering.)  Now I like him more than ever.  It’s one thing to see people gracious in the glow of success; it is something else again to see them graceful when things are dicey. 

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ring of Identification

When I returned from prison in the Vietnam War era, my father remarked (perhaps hopefully, perhaps encouragingly) that I had not changed.  I was the same old Wayne.  I was in my twenties then.  Today I’m 66 and I wonder what my father would say to me today.  Am I still the same old Wayne?  What would he be looking for?  What constituted the same old Wayne?  I think what daddy saw in me was what he would say was a goodness defined by respect for others—perhaps even viewing others as better than myself.  This has always certainly been a part of my character.  I view everyone as authority figures.  Everyone (including children) by the power they exercise over themselves can confound my best efforts at extending friendship.  Perhaps, in the end, the reason I refused to fight in Vietnam was that I refused to be inducted into the “us—them” mindset.  I have never believed in exclusion, in drawing a circle that leaves someone out of the human family.  I see too much of myself in others, even the disgraced.  I can worship Jesus and try to follow him and simultaneously identify with the darker side of Judas. The saying always recurs in such cases, "but for the grace of God go I."

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Immodest Needs

Today our new heat pump was installed by Eddy and his assistant from SUB ZERO Air Conditioning.  I stayed home from work in case any issue was to arise.  Nothing of moment came up.  I thought electric might be a problem, since it is a slightly larger model, but this was not the case—it pulls the same amperage (20) as the old heat pump.  Eddy introduced us to Pandora (the internet music site) and proved himself to be an honorable man.  They made a nick in the plaster removing the old inside air handler, and Eddy made an appointment for Thursday of next week to fix it.  All in all, the two installers did an admirable job.  I remember Paul’s description of the church members being part of the body of Christ.

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.  But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (I Corinthians 12:14-26  NIV).

Rightly or wrongly, I have always taken this passage to refer to multiple organizations; even to society has a whole.  Its stress on equality of worth and concern coincident with specialized skills means that we are all part of what must be viewed as a family.  We all need each other.  I am struck (especially when things break down) at how little I know, at how little I can accomplish alone.  I have come to view all jobs rightly seen and appreciated as complex and requiring skills that only ignorance or arrogance discounts.  The need for warmth brought this lesson home again.  It is a simple thing (this need for warmth) invoking vast complexities, myriad skills, and even multiple companies to accomplish.  Kathy and I have been given a huge gift this Christmas—our home will be warm in winter and cool in summer thanks to the family of man and to the universal laws and resources of creation itself.  We have a modest home with deceptively simple but actually vast and immodest needs.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Fun of Procurement

Occasionally I am asked to provide something for a friend or relative or to solve a problem.  This item or challenge may be something that does not interest me or for something which I am personally opposed.  Nevertheless the fun of procurement and providing a service makes irrelevant the fact that this is something that I personally would not seek.  The fun is in the pursuit, the hunt. This can be a sobering endeavor, however.  The desire for approval and commendation for creativity in procurement has led no doubt to the realization of somber even, ghastly results.  Who, I wonder, felt good about ingeniously devising the gas chambers in Nazi death camps?  Who felt good about formulating the final solution or developing soap from human remains?  No doubt someone received commendation for all of these things and a sense of a job well done.  The thrill of the hunt, the gratification of appreciation can have a force that blinds one to consequences and the moral dimension.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Say What You Need to Say

Last night I saw the The Bucket List and was struck by the contrast in the lives of the two men who are terminally ill.  The starkest contrast came when Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) was having dinner (an archetypical family Thanksgiving dinner with adults and children around a table fellowshipping at a sumptuous feast) and the companion scene of Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson)  eating alone and in desperation striking and crushing a clear plastic take out container with his fist.  After this low point, Edward faced his isolation and amended relations with his long alienated daughter.

During the running of the credits a moving song was played:  Say what you need to say.  Some of the lyrics by John Mayer are:  “Even if your hands are shaking/And your faith is broken/Even as the eyes are closing/Do it with a heart wide open/Why?/Say what you need to say ……………”  There is a repetitive refrain: “Say what you need to say/Say what you need to say/Say what you need to say/Say what you need to say/Say what you need to say/Say what you need to say/Say what you need to say/Say what you need to say.”

What excellent advice.  Too often we assume that there will be plenty of opportunities to say what we need to say.  In fact there are no guarantees that the opportunity that presents itself will ever come again.  We should make it a habit of saying what we need to say in everyday situations.  We need to be faithful to others and ourselves in expressing our minds and hearts.  We need to say what we need to say, be it serious, humorous, small, or great.  We need to understand the simple fact that there are some things that must be said in order to retain integrity, follow conscience, and fulfill destiny in the present moment.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Today in Sunday School

Today Mitch was out due to mouth surgery last week.  He asked if I would teach the class.  I decided to use this opportunity to share some of my blogs.  We had an excellent class discussion and the readings were well received.  Following is what was covered.  First I read the following scriptures:

New International Version (©1984)

[Psalm 96:1]  Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
[1 Chronicles 16:23]  Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.

[Psalm 13:6]  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.

[Psalm 33:3]  Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

[Psalm 40:3]  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.

[Psalm 105:2]  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.

Next the readings followed.  After an introduction (When Turkey Is Served) we discussed who you can sin against.  People answered “Jesus,” “God,” “Others.”  I mentioned that we could also sin through hatred, sloth, or laziness against the task at hand and indirectly to God.  Notes to Teico on the Essential Character of Love makes clear that we can sin against the task we are doing.  You Are Driving Me up the Wall also deals with love but in terms of human relationships.  I shared Family Portrait for we have prayed in class at one time or another for Alton.  Suck It Up challenges us to emulate Christ.  The remaining readings I chose for their appropriateness to the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.

Selections used:

1st [Blog] Reading:  When Turkey Is Served (8/10/10)
2nd Reading: Notes to Teico on the Essential Character of Love (7/17/10)
3rd Reading: You Are Driving Me up the Wall (8/18/10)
4th Selection:  Family Portrait (7/17/10)
5th Reading: Suck It Up (8/28/10)
6th Reading: The Ethical Implications of Self-Confidence (8/20/10)
7th Reading: Christmas Rocks (11/26/10)
8th Reading: Doing Well by Your Children (10/11/10)
9th Reading: The Essential Role of Mankind (10/9/10)
10th Reading:  Holiday Fare (11/25/10)
11th Reading:  Will It Last? (7/29/10)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jinxing It

My great hope for the present is that the temperature will not plunge.  Today it was a low of 59 degrees—something we could handle.  The new heat pump is scheduled to be installed Wednesday.  Until then we feel exposed to the whims of father winter.  In a way this is like one’s continued exposure to possible ill health.  One is healthy now, but no one knows tomorrow.  Lives of peace and contentment can be quickly overthrown.  Sometimes it is something of a mid-course correction to be reminded of one’s vulnerabilities.  It puts perspective on all good things (and the list seems to be endless) taken for granted.  Every year I witness around the world people suffering calamities and feel somehow exempted—like one watching a movie on TV.  Sometimes I even feel a little superior and above it all.  Such an attitude, I feel deep within, could well jinx my good fortune.  There is a deep sense that justice will reign and that my complacency and feelings of superiority will be met by inexorable retribution.  Living in Florida, this could well come in a killer hurricane.  Then my neighbors and I could be the suffering actors to be seen by millions distantly secure as mere vanishing ghosts on a midweek newscast. 

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Loyalty is a Two-Way Street

To me loyalty is a big thing.  Today I was torn between whether to buy a new air conditioner/heat pump from the dealer who had installed my last unit seven years ago (and has serviced it since) or to do business with another.  The dealer gave me a quote on a new Mitsubishi Electric 2 ton unit for $4,000.  The dealer was the first to introduce me to this brand.  The other option was a 2 ton Friedrich at $100 less.  (The type unit I like is a ductless split heat pump.)  My previous unit had been a Friedrich 2 ton.  This time I wanted a 2 ½ ton.  Friedrich does not make such a model but Mitsubishi does.  I called Mitsubishi USA and they gave me dealers in the area.  They did not mention the dealer that gave me a quote, but did mention another.  I called him and explained what I wanted (and what I now had—this was important since copper & electric are already installed) and then went to the web and got specs on the appropriate unit he identified—the 2 ½ ton unit.  After doing this research, I called him back and he gave me a price of $3,500 on the 2 ½ ton Mitsubishi.  Since my other quote was $4,000 for 2 ton, I decided to proceed further and asked the new dealer to come by my house, look at the situation, confirm that electric and copper are compatible with the new unit, and give me an official proposal.  (I noted that a 2 ½ ton would probably be about $300 more than a 2 ton.  Thus, the difference between the two dealers was about $800.)

The new dealer came to the house.  I was very impressed by his knowledge and attitude.  I looked up his company on the web, and customers gave him 5 stars and many kind words.  The company’s own site was professional and informative.  The terms he detailed included “This is an exact quote, not an estimate” with payment due on completion.  Besides the manufacturer’s warranties of 5 and 7 years on parts and compressor, the dealer warranties labor for 2 years.  He emphasized that I could call and cancel any time before the job is projected to be done next Wednesday.  The original dealer called while I was in the yard in this discussion.  I told him to send me a bill for the service call that found my current unit had a bad reversing valve.  I told him that I had decided to go with another dealer.  He asked for the price, and I told him $3,500 for a 2 ½ ton Mitsubishi.  He said that he would get with the distributor and call me back Monday.  My intention is to stay with the new dealer.  I feel I owe loyalty to the old dealer (last year he did not bill me for a repair job that was problematic), but nevertheless I feel he should have been loyal to me as well and not pad the job extensively.  Loyalty is a two-way street.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Sense of Worth

A greeting card company (Hallmark) has a motto: “When you care enough to send the very best.”  There is a lot of wisdom in that, especially if one can understand that the “very best” is not always the “most expensive.”  Unions have long gone by the philosophy of answering the query “What do you want?” with the liturgical response “more, we want more.”  Organizational climates in which people feel victimized give such a philosophy legs.  An organization that manages to cultivate a sense that it keeps employees best interests at heart makes nugatory the psychological drive for the eternal quest for more.  “The very best” does not always mean more money, it can mean more consideration.  I would much prefer working as a worthy contributor in one organization rather than a highly paid victim in another.  In terms of spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and attitudinal rewards, the benefits of the former far outweigh the latter.  Sometimes youth find themselves away from home and alone.  A letter now and then from home including money is greatly appreciated, but a letter now and then expressing love and concern is essential.  To be loved and thought after away from home is far preferable in my book to being a reject receiving a get lost allowance.  A sense of worth in its most reliable sense does not depend on cash.  

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Thoughts after Election Day

The day after November’s election I wrote my friend Jeff Boreman to congratulate him on the Republican victories.  I was surprised by what he wrote back.  Following is our correspondence.  (Jeff recently gave me permission to include his comments on this blog.)


Election aftermath.  Just wanted to let you know that I'm as Democratic than ever.
However, "I told you so" from a certain Republican is certainly in order.

(Just wait till next year.)



I would love to tell you, "I told you so!" But, I am not very happy with Dems or Republicans. I can honestly say, I really did not feel like voting this year. I was really turned off by the campaigning from all parties. I believe that most of the candidates were in it for the game and power. None of them really talked about real issues or real solutions. There was a lot of smearing, lies, or flat out distortion from all.

All great societies eventually come to end. Ours is heading that direction and there is no turning it around. Socialism, Capitalism, Communism, and all others forms of societies sound great. Eventually though they all collapse. Each one is flawed with the same problem. That problem is man's greed. We have reached a level in our society where the greed is out of control from the rich, middle class, and the poor.

Look at the real issues that has caused our current situation. Some want to blame it on Bush. Others will blame it on Clinton, Obama, Reagan or who know who else. The fact is we all played a part. Housing pricing were out of control. The government did not set the prices on the homes. Man's greed did this. We want to blame the banks since they gave out the loans. Which they did due to their greed. People were spending more money than they could afford. Eventually this will catch up with you. Another problem is everyone is looking for more hand me outs from the government. 

Jeff W. Boreman
Network Systems Analyst
City of St. Petersburg
Information and Communication Services

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Maia and Macey

Two little girls at play
Made my day—
Their creativity and intelligence
Precursors to intuition and benevolence—
Time waited patiently in the room
While the girls found colorful markers
And approached with sweet diffidence the whiteboard
Quietly drawing along the bottom edge flowers and waves of green
Portraits of peace and gentle ministrations,
Transcending tired masculine boasts
With fresh minted touches of feminine grace—
Art and artists by beauty bound
A theme of piercing loveliness
Lace-like enhancing a day of chores.

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