Click Map for Details

Flag Counter

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lost Sheep vs. the Lost Son

This evening I had a conversation with a young man I was like a father to in his early years.  I talked with him on the phone and he was extremely bitter because I have not made more of an effort to keep in touch with him over the intervening years.  This got me to thinking of two parables of Jesus—the Parable of the Lost Sheep and The Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son (Luke 15).  In the first instance, a good shepherd leaves his ninety-nine safe sheep and goes looking for the one lost sheep until he finds it.  In the prodigal son story, the father at home sees his returning lost son “while he was still a long way off.”  The father “was filled with compassion for him, he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”  The son in desperation had returned from “a distant country.”

For the first time this evening I saw the Lost Son story in a new light.  Why didn’t the father—like the good shepherd—leave his other son who was safe at home and travel to distant parts in search of his lost son?  We often view the father as having great love.  But should not this great love have sent him to distant parts looking for his son?  (If he could not go personally, he could have sent a search party.)  Perhaps it’s just a quibble, but on this particular evening I am compelled to ask the question—in what situations is it right for love to be proactive and when is the preferred course to hold back and remain reserved?

Print Page

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beatitudes Brought Home - 2

Tonight I think of my father.  After discussing some of his traits, I will identify the beatitudes I think best fit his approach to life.  But I know before I begin that no one beatitude will best identify him.

Two years ago on a weekend I went to a high school reunion in Hardee County, FL. The First United Methodist Church in Bowling Green invited all those who attended it as youth during the 1960’s to come to a special recognition service and have lunch afterwards.  Kathy & I went.  It was great seeing people that I knew well when my father pastored at that church.  It was great seeing again my peers, but it was also good to see those who were adults at the time.  One was Thelma Albritton (youth leader when I was in high school), Mrs. B.J. Johnson, a friendly, spirited woman, and Joe Jones.  Joe and Gretta Jones wanted to tell me what my Dad meant to them.  Joe said that my father came at an important time in his life and provided just what he needed to know, a man with humility. In addition to humility my father was guided by a deeply held belief about pastoring.  When he came into a new church assignment, his primary objective was to let those in the congregation know that he was concerned about them and loved them. This was important in building trust.  Religion can sometimes divide people over negotiable rather than non-negotiable issues.  Daddy realized that he could not win (in fact no one would win) if members of the congregation were out to get him and were out to split the congregation, looking for anything however small to invite dissention.  Thus, the importance of trust based on the perception of genuine concern and a Christian spirit.  Finally, Dad was not a legalist.  A stern religion based on petty rules, while providing for abundant self-righteousness, was counter to the main drift of Jesus’s teachings which taught that genuineness, candor, humility, truth, and love led to righteousness and a Christ-like life. 

With all this in mind, I have to conclude that my father was gifted with being poor in spirit (he shunned self-pride and its display of independence); by being meek (he was humble and did not seek self-aggrandizement of power); by being a peacemaker (helping keep priorities straight—Christ above all.)  I often wish I could as a grown man revisit his ministries during my childhood and youth.  I am certain I would be very proud of my father.  He was unspeakably brave in a small town in northern Florida when after a truckload of gun toting racist terrorized many, he preached brotherhood the following Sunday.  He was reassigned the next general conference, but his heart never changed.  Once as a teenager he and I were watching the evening news.  The news that evening showed police dogs attacking black demonstrators and the use of fire hoses.  I mentioned the word “nigger.”  My father looked at me a long time, and said “Son, I never want to hear you say that again.”  He said it with firmness and a touch of sadness.  Probably of all my memories, this is the one that I honor most.  He was ahead of his time by worshipping the Ancient of Days.

Print Page

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beatitudes Brought Home

Tonight I would first like to look at all the Beatitudes then choose one to write about—“the pure in heart.”

Matthew 5:1-12 (New International Version, ©2011)
Matthew 5 (NIV)
Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount
 1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
The Beatitudes
    He said:
 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
   11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

I begin with verse 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  This verse is inscribed on my mother’s gravesite marker.  I can write about this easily for I witnessed firsthand during her life how it is true.  First of all, mother was pure in heart.  While continuously of good self-esteem herself, she relied not on being haughty and putting others down nor of shaping others up.  She felt no need to remake others in her own image, and was an encouraging friend to strangers.  She was filled with joy and gratitude and envied not.  Being pure in heart also has implications for being content with what one has materially.  One does not continuously desire to amass more and more and is thereby driven to satiate a troubled heart with a truckload of acquisitions.  The heart is already full of God and need not be filled with an endless accumulation of material things.  But what about the second part of the verse “for they will see God.”  Mother had a faith that was total and sure.  She did not struggle to believe in eternal life, for example.  This was real to her and she believed in life eternal with the same certitude as knowing the family had biscuits for breakfast.  Being pure in heart contains the element of seeing all humanity as equal before God.  Joy was her predominant aspect.  She marveled at God’s creation.  I can remember her counting in amazement the number of birds perched on a telephone wire.  She was open to the wonder evidenced in the everyday.  For her a leap of faith was unnecessary; faith was not an imminent concept just over the horizon but rather a given fact held deeply within.

Print Page

Monday, March 28, 2011

Inexorable Forces

The place of decency in public life
Shall not be preempted by hatred or spite
Even venom will have met its match—
Arising from historic fields of sacrifice
Overwhelming peace and surety jointly conceived
Together acknowledge innumerable taut witnesses
Underscoring the underscored:
On this fleeting cusp of life
What we do is for the Lord.

Print Page

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Today in Sunday School

The scripture today was Psalm 139:1 (NRSV) Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me.  Julia Denton, the writer, wrote …I thought of the people dearest to me and realized that my knowledge of them is the basis of my love for them Upper Room 03/21/11. The challenge of the day was Make an effort to learn more about someone you find annoying. A discussion of this lesson and the issues it raised took the entire hour.  One class member years ago lost his wife and children in a car accident.  He was not with them, working at the time.  But, ever since, he has felt survivor’s guilt.  He would have preferred dying in their place.  He feels guilty even though he had nothing significant to do with their deaths.  This represented an example of where knowing more about a person leads to better understanding.  We discussed how people sometimes rationalize misdirection in their lives rather than dealing with it honestly.  This lack of self-candor can make matters worse.  Addictions, for example to alcohol, can result from feeling unhappy about oneself.  One member of the class has had problems with drinking and discussed how alcohol offers an escape from psychological pain temporarily.  But after a period of drunkenness, the self-loathing if anything gets worse.  Another class member discussed the abuse he received at home and the good care he received later in an orphanage.  The bottom line of the class was that we should attempt to replace anger and judgment with an understanding of the complexities of individual histories.  The closing prayer: Loving God, help us to know others so that we may love them.  Teach us not to judge but to listen.

Print Page

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tunes of Salvation

The songs whose lyrics follow frequently play in my mind.  They are a fitting follow-up to yesterday's blog.

    Standing on the Promises

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
  Standing on the promises of God.

    Standing, standing,
    Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
    Standing, standing,
      I'm standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
  Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
  Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love's strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit's sword,
  Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I shall not fall,
List'ning every moment to the Spirit's call.
Resting in my Savior as my All in all,
  Standing on the promises of God.

                          The Hiding Place

In a time of trouble, in a time forlorn,
There is a hiding place where hope is born.
In a time of danger, when our faith is proved
There is a hiding place where we are loved.

There is a hiding place, a strong protective space,
Where God provides the grace to persevere;
For nothing can remove us from the Father's love,
Tho' all may change, yet nothing changes here.

In a time of sorrow, in a time of grief,
There is a hiding place to give relief.
In a time of weakness, in a time of fear,
There is a hiding place where God is near.

Print Page

Friday, March 25, 2011

Prophesies of a Messiah Duly Validated

I have heard all my life that Jesus saves us from our sins.  We can be “washed in the blood of the lamb” and be made “free from our sins.”  I would like to discuss this in relation to man’s recognition of sin.  When man recognizes that he has sinned, he feels guilty.  The condition of guilt derives from man’s initial blindness, his moral nature, his need for honesty and integrity, and his need to think well of himself.  Man has great difficulty in forgiving himself for being an asshole—for being morally blind and stupid.  He becomes haunted by his sins and filled with the shame of a wet dog.  One option is to deny that he is guilty and go back to sinning with bravado.  This may work for some, but for most it is not an option.  They are too honest with themselves for that.  Yet they understand that the condition of shame is not healthy both internally and externally.

How is it that Jesus sets us free?  An eternal figure—the son of God—died for all current and succeeding generations.  The understanding that he is eternal and the sins he died for are perpetual make it applicable to me personally millennia after his crucifixion.  In a real sense the kinds of sins that haunt everyone living today are exactly the types that nailed him to the cross.  He died because of my sin.  Yet he forgave the ones who tortured him for “they know not what they do.”  In other words, they were blind to their sins.  If someone blind bumps into you, it is difficult and pointless to blame them.  And blindness cannot be corrected simply by willing it.  Remedy depends on sin becoming apparent first to the sinner.  It becomes apparent by grace (or being convicted of one’s sins, or less religiously expressed, by the mystery of perception).

Once sin is perceived it causes consternation and grieving because of the inherent human drive for self-respect and a coincident human need for honesty and integrity.  The grieving is relieved because we know that Christ forgave us for our blindness and the consequent actions.  Because we were blind, we may be held accountable in a court of law for our actions, but in God’s eyes because we were blind we are forgiven the instant we become cognizant of our guilt and acknowledge/confess to it God—owning up to it in the moment of grace.  (Unlike the sinner who does not acknowledge/confess his condition,  but sins even more through bravado;  who seeks to justify himself through denial and escalation of dishonesty and infraction rather than repentance and forgiveness—justification sought through self-righteousness rather than righteousness.  This denial is at base phony for it springs initially from the recognition of personal sin.  Such a person will be discretely miserable because his need for candor and integrity to himself and others will not be met.  He will become shallow, a hollow man who others will grow to distrust.  To deny Christ and God’s provision for forgiveness and redemption at this point and consistently thereafter is to be continually trapped by sin and dishonesty and thus to be eternally damned to self-doubt and loathing.)

Faith in Christ amounts to faith that he has the capacity to forgive us through his eternal nature and standing as our ultimate victim—He is among many things a symbol, and therefore has for humans the efficacious power of a symbol to be sufficient.  As Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34 NIV).  Why do we need to be forgiven in the first place?  It is necessitated by shame which is the result of basic honesty and integrity in considering our sins of thoughts and deeds.  Shame is not a guilt trip created by God, but a condition deeply tied to the nature of man (including his tendency for blindness) and his need for integrity and honesty—his moral nature.  Since its origin is so derived, we need to sadly rejoice in its existence, for without this need in the first place shame would not exist.  The tendency for human blindness combined with his inherent needs (his moral nature, his need for honesty and integrity, and his need to think well of himself) makes God’s provision of forgiveness inevitable assuming (or indeed proving) a loving God.  Prophesies of a Messiah are validated by the inherent nature of God and man.  That Jesus was indeed the Messiah is substantially validated by millennia of efficacious salvation.

Print Page

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Time Travelers

To my son Alton; remember the science project you presented in your sixth grade class.  This project was designed to demonstrate the counter-intuitive nature of the acceleration of falling bodies—objects of different weights accelerated equally as made evident by differently weighted objects descending equally down slanting guywires.  This simple experiment demonstrated a very important truth—in nature what may appear to be a reasonable expectation (in this case different weights accelerate differently) can be false.  For many years, man believed the universe including the sun orbited the earth—all clearly evident from the changes in the sky overhead.  Skepticism regarding the “obvious” that is popularly accepted can be a very good thing.  I want you to imagine that you and I are time travelers and revisit the earth together in say 500 or 1,000 years.  I feel sure that as we toured the planet, we would find that many things we think of as obvious today in the social, political, and natural realms will have been re-evaluated.  People then may look back to our time as being especially primitive in its thinking and understanding.  Sometimes as a fun exercise on a slow day, attempt to predict in what areas the “obvious” of today will be overthrown and not stand the test of time.  Think of things we now take for granted as given, and see them in the light of eternity.  And don’t just think in terms of technology where it can be readily anticipated that much will change, but think also about given assumptions in all areas of human activity.  This is a very difficult exercise to carry out, because almost by definition our most cherished assumptions are neither questioned nor evaluated.  We see them as fact and beyond further inquiry.

Print Page

The Foundations of Happiness

We are happy campers, the saying goes.  But what does it take to make us happy?  We had best be careful in answering that question.  Happiness depends not only on what we can get, but most especially on a healthy self-image brought about by the capacity to give unto others both the tangible and intangible.  Parents feel good about being good providers for their children, as no doubt they should.  But it is not debatable which is more import—wisdom in giving vs. profligacy in giving.  Where there is profligacy in giving, the motive on the part of the parent is essentially selfish.  No matter what harm is done; every whim and desire of the child must be satisfied.  The parent will forgo no efforts to be liked by the child.  Clearly a parent is called upon to give not only the tangible, but also the intangible.  This includes qualities of character unreachable and even thwarted through material indulgence.  Like many Americans, I often think of (not to say am haunted by) the declaration that among the inalienable rights of mankind are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”   These rights are intended to make us happy campers, yet all three concepts are readily open to excesses and perversions that mock the very tone of the Declaration and the self-respect of humanity.  These words are used to defend everything from drunken orgies to church at high tower.  We are vastly reluctant to decide that anything is beyond the pale, but clearly we must so decide in order to endure.  Clearly a considered mix of the tangible and intangible is called for. Clearly a sane and principled approach rests on the responsible and loving foundations of human nature.

Print Page

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Prayerful Attitude

It is said that we should have an attitude of prayer in all of life.  I know someone with such an attitude, although I have no idea of his religion.  Yet this person approaches all tasks with humility and openness to conceptual inspiration and to the suggestions, comments, and questions of others.  Even in the most complex work in which he has invested personally much time and effort, he stands ready at any moment to re-evaluate his approach in the light of the questions and thoughts of those who have made no such investment.  This is remarkable because true openness throws wide the door to additional complexity, work, and perhaps even the introduction of error.  Often, developers lack openness because of this reason—to be open to new ideas can threaten the investment one has already made—even to the legitimacy of one’s approach.  The opposite of quiet consideration is a closed, defensive posture often characterized by prejudice and a dismissive attitude. Finding someone with a truly prayerful attitude is remarkably rare.  It is thus with great appreciation that I honor my co-worker, Ryan Bennett. 


“Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.”

—Saint Augustine

Print Page

Monday, March 21, 2011

Life Is Layered

James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) wrote the following in 1845 protesting America’s war with Mexico.

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

(two stanza’s omitted)

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

These verses form a hymn (tune by Franz J. Haydn, 1797) that I have sung many times, fervently in my youth.  My recent work with Photoshop has brought this again to my mind.  In Photoshop exists an editing feature called layers.  Layers allow one to edit a picture without altering the original image.  Elements of the picture can be removed or added, while the original (now the background layer) remains unaltered.  Any element residing on its own layer can be displayed or made invisible.  The photo with all layers can be saved in a special file (Photoshop document file) that can be saved and reloaded countless times.  The great advantage to this technique is that alterations need not be permanent and offer great flexibility in editing.
 The words of James Russell Lowell state the indelibility of personal decisions: Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide….  I have come to believe that life is largely layered.  Not once, but many times we are given opportunities to decide.  If we decide wrong today, we can make redemptive right decisions in the future. And our decisions today often have several dimensions and complexities—and diverse elements.  Photos give one “take” on a scene.  But this take is not final nor even necessarily true to the original scene.  Life presents us with many opportunities to do the right thing even if we have failed to do so in the past.  So I have come to believe with my cherished friend Allan Burry:  Often and repeatedly to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide.  Considering the fallibility of human nature, this is a very good thing.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Today in Sunday School

The first scripture lesson was Proverbs 2:3-4 (TEV): Yes, beg for knowledge; plead for insight.  Look for it as hard as you would for silver or some hidden treasure. This lesson taught that knowledge and insight are not obvious.  The lesson was a plea for us to turn to scripture: When we seek the treasure in the Bible, God helps us discover it (Upper Room 3/14/11).  We must depend on God and the Bible to guide us to knowledge and insight.  These will assists us as we pan for gold—getting past the debris of life to everlasting truths.  The second scripture lesson was Colossians 3:15 (NRSV): Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. When we look to Christ, peace can fill our souls.  When troubles or situations arise that threated our peace, we can rely on the strength of our relationship with God by calling on God in prayer and choosing to accept God’s peace in place of our anxiety (UR 3/15/11).  The link between these two lessons is that God desires that we be free—free from the bondages of ignorance and anxiety.  To do this, we must look beyond ourselves and be open to divine guidance and inspiration.

Print Page

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Essential Difference between Faith and Agnosticism

Today I watched a movie about the early years of Billy Graham.  A fellow evangelist at the time and friend of Billy Graham was Charles Templeton.  Following the atrocities in the death camps of WWII and other contributing factors, Charles Templeton lost his faith.  How could there be a loving God if the all-powerful allowed this?  He also viewed the Bible as full of stories not facts—Jonah and the big fish that swallowed him being an example. How can one be a realist and still retain faith?  Charles Templeton could not.

I would like to discuss this in relation to the perceived reality as experienced by Christians.  First there is the view that mankind is not fully in control of his own perceptions.  He frequently can be blind to his own faults and sins while seeing perfectly clearly the faults and sins of others—at least in his own eyes.  In addition, man in his affairs can remarkably overlook the obvious until it is too late.  It is by a force outside our will and control—grace—which saves us from our own blindness's.  This is an occurrence so common that if one chooses not to call it grace, he must at least acknowledge the mystery of perception and its being largely outside the willful control of the self.

The essential revelation that Christians experience is that God is love.  In a way, considering natural disasters alone, this is counter-intuitive.  But it is a common experience for human beings to prevail in attitude and spirit despite incredible misfortune, and the enabling force that empowers them is love.  Love is redemptive, and mankind is well aware of the essential role and need of this characteristic.  The bottom line is that love is healthy and promises a better future; hatred does just the opposite.  Love is the only street in human experience without dead ends. To a Christian, human atrocities ironically testify to the decisive limitations of hate and the absolute goodness of love.  But again, this perception is in a sense counter-intuitive. Therefore, it is only by grace that we come to regard the regnant role of love in all of life.

Now the question, do we create an idol for love, God, or is God the ultimate source of all love?  Did God come first “in the beginning” or is God an invention of man?  This is the bedrock question that really comes down to the question could man under his own powers create ultimate, reliable truth and goodness?  There are some who readily answer this “Yes.”  It is in a sense a personal question for we must look at our own lives and ask is our perception this steady, true, reliable, and good?  To a Christian, used to his own tendency to sin willfully through misperception of the good, an affirmative answer is impossible.  His faith in the grace of God is reality based.  He relies on it constantly to be open to redemptive insights not originating in his own will.  Therefore faith is not so much a leap into the unknown as the inevitable conclusion forced from the known.  For the faithful, God is not a supposition but a demonstrated reality. His knowledge of God is rock solid.  The view of agnosticism is experientially foreign to anything he knows or feels about life.

Print Page

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lessons Learned Waiting in Line

Today I was at Sears to have my car serviced.  While waiting in line, I thought of all the lessons we can learn from this everyday simple action (or maybe I should say inaction).  First of all, it can teach us the necessity of patience.  Some things require time to complete, just get used to it.  It teaches us basic fairness; the person ahead of us got there first, so we must understand that it is fair that we wait.  The underlying understanding here is that we are equal to others, not above or more important than they are.  In a sense, they are more equal than us since they got in line first.  If we should ever contemplate butting in line, we can’t help but consider what those behind would be thinking and feeling.  Thus in addition to the other lessons, we learn to put ourselves in others’ places.  It is a lesson in empathy.  This ubiquitous school and these lessons taught are so common and frequent that we can miss the tremendous democratic reinforcement repeatedly and practically experienced in daily life.

Print Page

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lasting Friendships

New acquaintances are great
But old friendships are grand
There’s something about the test of years
That assures a solid reality
Mutual commitment
Defying the odds
Happily abiding
Rest assured
Always firm

Print Page

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Topsy Turvy

When I think back about the vacations I had with my parents and brother as a kid, two distinct classes of memories come to mind.  I will always remember and cherish the simple goodness, generosity, and love offered by our relatives.  This is one class of memories.  In this class is also the majestic sense of family unit experienced as we peered out over the Great Smokies.  All this represents exhibit 1.  Now the mystery and irony begin.  The second class of memoires involves situations such as this.  One time we were traveling through Alabama or Georgia, I forget which, and it came time to spend the night.  Now in the 50’s there were not the numerous chains of hotels with reliable quality that we are used to today.  Lodging establishments were home grown, owned, and operated. Well, we pulled up to a downtown hotel (no interstates then to skirt the cities) and got out of our two-tone 50 green Chevrolet, leaving our car parked on the side of the street.  We got a room on the second or third floor. When we got in the room it smelled like there recently had been a fire in the room.  A sign out front miraculously advertised color TV.  This turned out to be a black & white TV in the lobby with a multi-colored film of plastic over the screen.  When we finally decided to risk our lives spending the night there we went to bed.  The beds were incredibly hard and lumpy.  No one got a good sleep that night.  But this is the strange thing about the second class of memories, though they are painful at the time, looking back we laughed hysterically at the experience and cherished it as deeply as the class one memories.

I have to tell you I’ve had a rough couple weeks at work.  It has not only been rough for me but my co-workers as well.  Yet when I consider all that occurred, I already can’t help but laugh (like our family’s demeanor at breakfast following the night in Hell Hotel) at the very incidents which were most painful at the time.  I’m certain when I look back over my years at Leisure Services, incidents over the past few weeks will be one of the most laughable yet cherished memories.  I feel that I have become much closer to my friends there who shared in these Weeks of Hell.  It is my hope, prayers, and wish, that the wounds of all participants will heal nicely and everyone looking back will even eventually come to brighten up with a smile on some otherwise dreary day.   

Print Page

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Balm of Love

Excerpt from letter received yesterday from my son Alton: 

As of now the unseen hands of your son gives you comfort to cast away all your Hurtful, Stressful, Painful memories and your abyss of fear!!  Beloved father no longer you and mother need to worry or stress about the trials and tribulations from the past days and future tears.

We both know as life and time goes on life will get rougher but such wonderful sweet beloved father should never have to suffer.

Beloved only if you really knew how much I love you and how much you mean to me!

From Alton, Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Print Page

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mixed Motives: Love or Intimidation?

There have been occasions when I have puzzled over love and intimidation.  My parents never once in my life tried to intimidate me, though they loved me without question.  I have come to believe through the years that these concepts are mutually exclusive.  Where there is attempted intimidation there is no love, and where there is love there is no attempted intimidation.  Since this is my belief, what do I say about encounters that involve mixed motives?  Say, someone while professing love and concern does so in a way that can only be judged as intimidating—they have enough official documents on hand to make a lawyer blush; they have a full array of brass seated before you; they do all in their power to create the atmosphere of a disciplinary hearing.  Do we conclude that the expressions of love and concern are trumped by the need to elicit intimidation?  I think in fact we do.  Love gives way to making an indelible impression of power.  This is especially true if the brass in question has the least queasy feeling that insubordination has occurred.  Insubordination defined: refusing to obey orders or to submit to authority.  Insubordination by definition never occurred, but the feeling is enough to elicit a response.

Tonight Kathy and I went by Coney Island for chili dogs. I especially wanted to go this evening to celebrate being in America where intimidation is trumped by love.  We are all equal before God, and we all should act that way.  Staged intimidations in society we repeatedly find are being replaced by the informalities of love.  Informality, because of this very reason, is a keystone of the American character. I now and always will be a little suspicious when in the name of love an atmosphere of intimidation prevails.

Print Page

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Today in Sunday School

Today we considered several lessons from the Upper Room.  We read “Blind Spots,” “Live for Christ,” and “Do Not Lose Heart.”  The scripture for the last mentioned was Isaiah 41:10 (NRSV) “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God.”  In our discussion of this devotion which urged us “not to look back and become preoccupied with mistakes of the past,” Mitch mentioned that we sometimes overlook the time and effort required for development, for example, spiritual development.  This reminded me of our visit to Busch Gardens (see previous blog) and the performance we saw of acrobats doing amazing things, such as balancing on five or six towering layers of items, all unstable.  Watching the show, I was tempted at times to say “ho hum” too easily forgetting the probability that no one in the large audience including me could balance on even one layer nailed down much less the feat being accomplished on stage.  The relevant phrase is that those greatly accomplished can “make it look easy.”  We too often forget the vast amount of skill, talent, and practice required.  This can be true also of spiritual development.  When witnessing saints of the church it can be easy to take their spiritual achievements for granted and assume attaining them was a piece of cake.

Print Page

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fun Day at Busch Gardens

Kathy and I rode with some other park visitors in the back of a truck through the Serengeti at Bush Gardens.  The giraffes which come up to the truck are gentle creatures that enjoy being fed rich green leaves, romaine lettuce we think.  The animals on the Serengeti tend to stick with their own species.  It occurred to me that if I found myself isolated out on the plains, I would seek out other humans; this testifying to my own deep herd instinct.

Print Page

On Natural Disasters

Earth, the blue globe riding in space, looks peaceful from the photos snapped by astronauts.  But, living on the ground, we know that the appearance of a minor event as viewed from outer space can be, when experienced on earth, a major catastrophe.  Many incentives exist for people with ingrained differences to recognize the common benefits of interconnectivity (for example trade or shared discoveries), but nothing like a natural disaster reminds us of so compellingly of our common vulnerabilities to forces beyond human control.  Every disaster reinforces the simple truth that when compared to the awesome powers of nature, we all are truly equal.  All human pretentions and presumptions vanish before this unadorned fact.  Nature clearly and repeatedly shows that it is no respecter of persons.  

Print Page

Thursday, March 10, 2011

To Be, Period.

I’m not much for Hamlets—“To be or not to be’s.”  I much prefer those who are not conflicted. (Conflicted defined: “ambivalent: confused or ambivalent because of competing desires, possibilities, or impulses” Encarta Dictionary.)  A good example is the Mayor of Saint Petersburg who I voted for, Bill Foster.  He is committed, not conflicted.  He is confident of his love for the community and trusts his judgment to reflect this clear, blue flame of spirit and goodwill.  The present governor of Florida, a man I did not vote for, is firm and above board with his agenda.  I may vote against him again next time based on his policies, but I like him as a man for he is full out determined “to be.”  Think of our Presidents.  Without exception, those we think of as great were non-conflicted personalities.  They were strong, sure, confident, and determined.  Jimmy Carter, whom I voted for and loved, nevertheless appeared as conflicted—sometimes unfairly.  This appearance of ambivalence prevented him from having a second term.  And this preference for no ambiguity applies not only to politics but others areas as well—religion, medicine, business, education.  In all these areas, I gravitate towards those who have quiet confidence and firmness of step.  The area where this preference for non-conflicted persons doesn’t apply is when the unambiguity is downright and unquestionably evil.  For example I greatly would have wished the Nazi leadership had been more conflicted regarding their beliefs and subsequent policies.  I wish they had been conflicted to the point of inaction. In religion those who show great ill will towards people with different beliefs is where more inner ambiguity would do some good.  I have always preferred professors who profess—who have theories they can support and believe in.  In medicine and business as well, I appreciate the capable assurance of professionals.  In sum, for all those with hatred and ill will in their hearts, my hope is they will be cursed with incapacitating conflict leading to new insight and eventually repentance and freedom.  For those following the disciplines of love already, proceed directly ahead with all your might till kingdom come.

Print Page

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Slice of Serenity

In the shade of an Australian pine
Gazing out over a glimmering sea
With incoming waves atomizing salt spray through the air
And seagulls pitching to and fro in the wind
I relax in a chair with eyes half-closed
Bathing in a drowsy expanse of eternity
Feeling that it will never end,
Except for one minor thing
My work resumes tomorrow.

Print Page

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Such a Fine Bunch as This

Today I will discuss three concepts: participation, complicity, enabler, and accessory.

First consider the definitions.

Participation: to take part in an event or activity.

Complicity:  involvement with another in doing something illegal or wrong.

Enabler: to provide somebody with the resources, authority, or opportunity to do something.

Accessory: LAW somebody who aids somebody else in committing a crime or avoiding arrest but who does not participate in the crime itself. (Definitions from Encarta Dictionary.)

To see how these terms apply I will use an example.  Let us take the instance of unjust compensation.  Say someone is stealing gas from the maintenance yard of an organization.  This is typically recognized as a serious infraction and a firing offense.  In some cases even security cameras are used to help keep employees honest.  But some have the temerity to steal gas anyway.  If it represents a concerted effort, several people can be involved.  Participants are the direct contributors to the wrongdoing.  The man with his hand on the pump is an obvious participant.  But he may rely on others for support and cover.  All these people are guilty by participation and complicity.   The enabler is one who provides resources, authority or opportunity to enable the commission of the act. The enabler can often be quite self-righteous and respectable while lending authority and opportunity for the crime.  Of all the guilty parties, the accessory is “least guilty” though the law by no means excuses him.  The accessory does not participate in the crime itself, but in some way, perhaps by knowledgeable inaction, ends up aiding and abetting the criminal activity.

Fortunately, running upon such a fine bunch as this is the rare exception.  Few have such flagrant disregard for propriety.  It can be only hoped that they search their souls and find religion.

Print Page

Monday, March 7, 2011

Linguistic Matters

Imagine if you will a certain dynamic.  Imagine the following pairs representing power relationships are engaged in in intense conversation:  a boss and a subordinate, a parent and a child, a prison guard and an inmate.  Now imagine that one person in the suggested pairs suddenly says emphatically: “I won’t argue with you!”  My question, which person in the pairs suggested can best be imagined saying—“I won’t argue with you?”  Clearly the answer is that the source of the statement is the wielder of power.  “I won’t argue with you” is a signal that further discussion won’t be allowed.  The use of the word “argue” is interesting in and of itself.  Cleary the suggestion is YOU are instigating an argument.  YOU are being unreasonable.  YOU are being petulant. YOU are being angry.  YOU are engaging in unacceptable behavior and I (using my authority) am going to stop it.  Perhaps from the subordinate’s point of view, he was engaged not in “argument” but in persuasion.  But “persuasion” is an appellation reserved for the top down, “argument” is adjudged when the disagreement comes from the bottom up.  Finally, take another phrase “Yes sir, whatever you say.”  Clearly this anticipated response can only come from the one with lesser power.  It is the response most preferred and cherished by the powerful.

Print Page

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Today in Sunday School

We discussed the codependency of leaders and followers in the light of their mutual needs.  Leaders sometimes feel they need to appear to be outstanding and competent in every way—nearing perfection itself.  Likewise followers to sense they are in good hands sometimes need to feel they have outstanding and competent leaders in every way—nearing perfection itself. Thus in concert a fabricated leader image is created that resides on a pedestal, in a sense becomes an idol.  This image does not display normal human tendencies to make dumb mistakes, to feel emotions that are not admirable, to fail at tasks now and then.  In short, for mutual comfort, mutual delusion is indulged in.  This leads to the conclusion that we need not remember leaders in our prayers like we do for average mortals.  This leap from reality is not healthy for either follower or leader and needs to be avoided.  The scripture lesson was Hebrews 10:24 (NRSV) Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.  Letting go of perfection idols is a good place to start.   We should always strive to be real. 

Another Upper Room lesson (3/3/11) by William Paulsell concluded: We may ask and expect God to act in spectacular ways, but spiritual maturity sees God at work in the ordinary, the mundane, and the routine aspects of our lives.  When we can see that, we can experience the new life that Christ brings.

Print Page

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Laws of Power (11)

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

Robert Greene’s 11th law of power is: Learn to Keep People Dependent on You.  To maintain your independence you must always be needed and wanted.  The more you are relied on, the more freedom you have.  Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear.  Never teach them enough so that they can do without you.

In the closing of the chapter Mr. Greene writes:  Better to place yourself in a position of mutual dependence…You will not have the unbearable pressure of being on top, and the master above you will in essence be your slave.  This seems to be the constant dream of this author, finding a means to control others to the point of slavery.  But Greene also recognizes that being too greedy for direct control can be disastrous.  Such all-out efforts to gain control are often counterproductive.  A lesson learned time and again is not so much that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but that absolute power is always rendered short-lived and less than absolute through the actions of economic, political, and social forces beyond one’s control.  Mutual dependence and impinging constraints rather than complete independence and absolute freedom is virtually always the way things settle out in the end.  The dream of absolute control to the point of making others your slave is fully realized only in the fantasies of myopic self-interest.

Print Page

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Frank Letter to a Friend Recently Fired

(This letter assumes a longtime acquaintance exists.  In fact it does not.)  It was with sadness that I heard today you lost your job as an administrator in our city.  I have watched your career for many years, and yes I have been sometimes jealous of your high positions.  But when a person loses their job against their wishes, it is especially tough sometimes for those who have been most successful.  I remembered when we first met.  We needed each other then, for both of us wanted to make brotherhood of races work.  I never will forget that when we went places together, you seemed to know people wherever we went.  It was this time together in the early years that made me grow to love you like one of my own family—or maybe it was that I was part of your family.  In any case I want you to know that I will always cherish our friendship.  So it is now as a friend that I want to briefly discuss with you my view of present affairs.

It has long been a contention of mine that all people, without exception, want to feel special.  We want to feel special as individuals and as members of a larger group.  Many things can make a person feel special.  It can be who you know, what you’ve accomplished, the area of town lived in—just a million things.  In any case this need to feel special is a basic human need.  One way that people or a person can feel special is to be in the role of victim.  When a touch of prejudice is added, it quickly becomes highly emotional and, in my view, interferes with a clear perception of the facts.  Remember for a person to be a victim other people or things must be placed in the role of victimizer.  For every victim, there must be a victimizer.

One of your primary duties as a city administrator was, I think you will agree, to play the role of reconciler.  The ability to play this role was one of your major assets for the city.  Your mission was to reconcile different races, but also to reconcile divisions within the black neighborhoods.  It is in this context that I think you made a major mistake by attending the killer’s funeral and not the funeral of the policemen killed.  Of course whether or not I or nameless others attended the funeral didn’t matter.  But in your role as a principal reconciler at a critical time, it did matter.

Now a lot is up to you.  The hate mongers on both sides are trying to get up steam.  Each wants to feel special as a victim and demonize the other side as victimizer.  How, I ask you, can we make the unaligned majority feel special in the reconciliation of this matter?  I will be frank with you, it is a little tough seeing you as a victim.  You are a natural leader.  How will you lead?  What role now will you choose to continue in service to our city?  I remember the story of a boy who caught a little bird.  He clutched and concealed it in his hands. Soon, a man came by and the boy asked the man “Guess, is this bird I’m holding dead or alive?” The man somberly replied, “Son, the answer to that lies in your hands.”

So now, my friend, it is up to you.  How can you help achieve amenable diversity?  Undoubtedly different sides can each gather in towers of victimization and thus feel very special—again a basic human need. Or else they can meet and greet like we did so many years ago under the special banner of brotherhood.  I must relate that Kathy and I had dinner at Chili’s this evening and the racial mix of happy customers there kept reminding me of your news conference today with its undertone of victimization and polarization.  Of course, I can never “walk in your shoes” but I want you to know that a friend is waiting to see which way you lead—the easy way by becoming the commander of the victimization gospel where ready troops await to fall in line, or will you make people (and yourself also) feel special in more challenging and productive pursuits?

Print Page

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Was Nelson Mandela Ever Not Free?

To my son:  Since you are in a state prison, I know you feel down at times.  But I would like to discuss with you another type of prison—spiritual prison.  One can be in this prison in or out of jail.  Likewise, one can be in state prison but still be spiritually free.  What are some of the characteristics of spiritual imprisonment?  At its most rudimentary level, it is manifested in a psychological defensiveness.  This defensiveness further leads to dishonesty and its consequential stress.  Every remark, every action needs to be calculated and viewed in the light of containment of a dark secret—the spiritually imprisoned do not feel good about themselves.  They feel their self-worth is under constant attack by the simple truth.  They sense their imperfections, but dare not admit them.  Sometimes they will be buttoned down and suspicious, others will express their frustration in anger.  In all cases, a degree of anger defines their lives. Anger joins defensiveness to shackle the human spirit.

Compare this to those who are spiritually free.  Rather than anger, their defining emotion is joy.  They are not afraid.  They have no difficulty in admitting mistakes and imperfections.  Honesty is their keynote.  They can laugh, even make fun of themselves.  Their sense of self-worth is beyond any threat by anyone.  Life about them flourishes.  Unlike the spiritually imprisoned, they focus on the task at hand or on others, not on themselves.  I have through the years seen your rising feelings of self-respect and worth.  Now is the time to call upon your inner resources.  Be a positive influence. Create something joyful and good today.  I know the box is confining and somewhat depressing—it was probably meant to be.  But let it also be your hermitage (your place apart).  Let it be your launch pad of spiritual liberty.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

--From: 238. To Althea from Prison
   by Richard Lovelace (1618–1658)

Print Page

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Be Humble, Do the Numbers

A grave error often made is the assumption that people will understand our feelings and intuitions about a matter.  We assume that a strong conviction on our part passionately stated will be overwhelmingly persuasive.  We don’t want to go to the effort to do the numbers to validate (or invalidate) our feelings and intuitions.  Our belief that they are true should be sufficient, or so we believe.  We take offense that people don’t trust our judgment if they insist on evidence to back up our viewpoint.  It is unfortunate that there is a widespread belief that numbers don’t matter—that figures in any case can be bent and molded to support whatever side one is on.  Actually there are good figures that don’t lie.  But it takes humility to get off one’s high horse and to patiently do the drudge work that can be involved in research.  The two significant tasks of detail tracking and cogent numeric summarization are required.  Unless one supports their position with such hard evidence, it is quite valid that their strong conviction be dismissed as insufficient.  Of course, there can be the pleasant surprise that the math supports and strengthens one’s case; thus revealing that the initial reluctance to do the math may have been due in part to doubt regarding the real legitimacy of one’s position.

Print Page

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Snitching vs. Throwing Under the Bus

Snitch is defined as: “inform on somebody: to tell somebody in authority about another person's wrongdoing.  (Friends don’t snitch on each other).”  Encarta Dictionary.

To throw (someone) under the bus is defined as a: “phrase meaning to sacrifice some other person, usually one who is undeserving or at least vulnerable and often a friend or ally, to make personal gain.”  Wikipedia.

Snitch includes the elements of telling authority about another person’s wrongdoing, whereas to throw someone under the bus includes the elements of, for personal gain, sacrificing another (often a friend or ally) who is undeserving or vulnerable.  In some communities there is a strong anti-snitching ethos.  Law enforcement in these cases is made difficult.  No one dare be considered a snitch.  In prison it is readily understood that snitches will often face retaliation from other inmates.  The primary enforcer of the anti-snitch ethos is intimidation and fear.  Throwing someone under the bus does not necessitate the elements of authority or wrongdoing.  Rather, it stems often from the desire not to be embarrassed by a personal blunder.  Rather than taking responsibility ourselves, we instead throw a vulnerable individual under the bus. This practice is for personal gain—it takes the blame or embarrassment off of us and places it on the one tossed under the bus. This practice can also, however, resemble snitching, but the occasion involved does not rise to the level of wrongdoing.  After a largely inconsequential false step, one is gratuitously identified as the source of the blunder. Often this is done to simultaneously put ourselves in a better light (for personal gain).

The term and expression, while at first glance appearing similar in meaning, are in fact quite different.  Nevertheless, as friendship serves to curtail snitching, it also is likely to be anticipated that any friendship will be strained by the habitual practice of throwing one another under the bus. A breach of loyalty is the common thread inherent in both concepts.

Print Page