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Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Bonds of Love

Friday was the day of the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey.  Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, began his sermon as follows:

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day this is.  Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

(Further on in his sermon he said:)

We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely the power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.  (Source)

It is with such teachings that the common bonds of Christendom become apparent. First, there is the belief that sufficient liberty must abound to allow individuals to “Be who God meant you to be” accompanied closely by the expectation that surprising and beneficent things can result when this condition prevails—when people become “their deepest and truest selves.”  This condition taps simultaneously the creativity of the conscious and subconscious mind as well as the leadings of the Holy Spirit.  The second belief is that creation of things alone can never substitute for their purposeful use. “Loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another” validate creativity in all its forms and serve to ward off blind materialism with its hangover bouts of depression and despair.  A wedding illustrates the great paradox that access to true freedom is preceded by the constraints of commitment undertaken within the bonds of love.   

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Afterthoughts Following an Aids Benefit

Being one who has not had an entirely serene past sexually, I am inclined not to have a heart of stone upon greeting same sex couples.  I know same sex couples who are faithful and committed to one another and have been over many years.  I know a couple that rejoiced upon observing that a maturing youth they cared about proved to be heterosexual.  I believe that the homosexual lifestyle will always constitute a minority, but may always exist.  I do not believe that it is genetic, for clearly sex is fixed at conception.  Yet, there is mystery.  There are ingrained behavioral experiences or the lack thereof that contribute to same sex preference at one time or another during maturation or perhaps more enduringly during adulthood.  We do not clearly understand causes, but most everyone shares personal knowledge of the exigencies of the sexual drive and its peculiar characteristic which demands privacy yet sharing.  In other words, sexuality needs are being met in the best way known to the persons involved.  In this matter it is difficult to fault people for not seeing what they cannot see or not doing what they cannot do.  To be regally judgmental of same sex couples is to lack introspection regarding one’s own history of powerful personal drives and to lack due humility before great unknowns.  

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Proposed: A Secular Unifier for Our Nation

Pastors in the United Methodist Church which I attend generally are not biased politically in the pulpit.  My dad made a rule of not putting political bumper stickers on his car.  He was politically active in the sense that he followed the news closely and never missed voting in an election.  But he held that he was the pastor of all the congregation which was constituted from a wide spectrum of political opinion.  It was his job to preach the gospel and affirm Christian values and it was up to the parishioners to apply this to their own lives.  In his view, it would be a big mistake to suggest that one could not be a Christian and be at the same time a Republican, Democrat, Independent, or politically disinterested.  Sometimes controversy was unavoidable, but my father was not condemnatory.  For example, rather than condemning racism, he preached on love and brotherhood.  He sought not to condemn, but to lift up.  He sought to be inspirational and unifying rather than divisive and argumentative.  One might counter that this was cowardly and of little use.  I disagree completely.  The seeds of brotherhood were sown so that when the trumpet sounded in the sixties, watershed changes took place in a relatively short time.  It is frightful to imagine what would have occurred to our society had hatred instead of love been the regular Sunday diet at churches throughout all ethnic groups.

Viewing the recent news of the royal wedding, I can’t help but consider the salutary function played by ceremonial heads of state.  Sometimes I wonder if it would benefit America if there were a chosen unifier always affirming and uplifting the principles of democracy.  This position would be ceremonial in the sense that it would not be above politics, but would be apart from it and would have the primary function of affirming our values and offering inspiration.  Some of the values it could affirm are liberty, equality, respect of individuals, entrepreneurship, the soundness of a popularly elected government, balanced government, the benefits of the private sector, the importance of families, the sacredness of the creative effort in all fields.  The individual in this secular position would refrain (much like a pastor) from contentious political debate.  The object of the position would be to remind us of and to lift up the many fundamental values and humanity we share in common.  Auxiliary functions of the position could entail affirming various humanitarian causes, offering the nation’s empathy in times of tragedy at home or abroad, making inspirational addresses at schools, public occasions, or even in joint sessions of Congress.  The method of selection of candidates for this position would involve some system of near unanimous consent of a bipartisan council.  The candidates would not be allowed to campaign for the office, but there would be public service forums where they would be exposed to public comparison and evaluation.  Final selection would be by national ballet.  (This is all in an attempt to create a people’s choice candidate without the expense or contentiousness of typical campaigns.)  The elected candidate would not be able to run henceforth for political office. 
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The Abiding “Little Joke”

Once many years ago (in 1980) I had a dear friend who gave me the following drawing on a small scratchpad piece of paper just before we left in his car on an errand one dark and rainy afternoon.  It is not the original drawing, which I lost, but a reproduction to the best of my memory and like the original is drawn with a broad tipped pen in black ink.  It is a very accurate reproduction for I immediately took it seriously though he said it was a “little joke.”  Very early on I took the drawing to have spiritual significance and assumed it was the gift of a divine messenger.  The writing beneath states (and these are the exact words) “A structure like this will please the dogs in muddy rainy weather.”  I take this to mean a holy structure (the thrice divided triangle) with a cantilever extension indicating worship of the Lord and also being and outward extension indicating compassionate involvement in the world—a structure—which will please the dogs in muddy rainy weather—in other words, through our time on earth which is a period of “muddy rainy weather.”  The “dogs” I take to be the Lord and all his minions.  I am led to share this with you tonight praying that all might be inspired to live sturdy, structured, and holy lives.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Righteous Labor

Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations.
I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10 NIV).

How does one be on the side of history?  By being on God’s side.  And what side is that?  It is the side that makes the disciplines of love central to all of its affairs—from government to business to the arts to science to education to religion to the nurture of families. The main question that confronts any society is how to realize the exigencies of love in all its institutions—especially in the tedious or severely exacting disciplines.  Of course, it must also come to an understanding of the manifestations and applications of love—which often cannot be reliably foreseen and predetermined, but sometimes are apparent only after the fact.  On-going developments require re-evaluation and corrective action—the work is never done.  All generations since Eden are summoned to labor.  Therefore, love is not a simple and readily prescribed solution.  It emerges from the matrix of life and involves structure as well as tone. It is also a science of the possible.  For example, it is all well and good to say that the absence of deprivation and shared abundance are products of a loving system, but it is certainly not obvious how this can be achieved even when the will is present.  And love, quite contrary to its sometimes reputation, requires reliable accountability.  The fruits of the spirit are not only abstractions, but also are embodied in concrete procedure and structure.  I believe there are right answers to all our problems, but I also believe that getting there will involve a lengthy process of arduous discovery.  The shinning New Jerusalem is a goal beyond a great divide.  Yet, God made us so that the struggle to get there though challenging is rewarding and full of achievement and happiness offsetting much unavoidable sorrow.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday 2011

The 23rd Psalm says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death….”  That’s right, I walk now (not in some distant future) within the shadow of death.  Perhaps, man is the only organism that can contemplate his own death: “As for man, his days are like grass,/he flourishes like a flower of the field;/the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” Psalm 103:15-16.  In my everyday life, I don’t think about death very much.  Usually, I resemble my dog Stanley who was vitally alive, and as far as I know did not foresee death coming.  I really don’t think I am repressing worry and sorrow over death.  It’s just that life is so full; there is no time to mope about some unidentified future moment when I will breathe my last.  It’s kind of like living in Florida.  I know that someday our town could be devastated by a hurricane.  But most of the time, I don’t think about it much—until there’s a disturbance in the Gulf accompanied by endless updates on the news or some natural catastrophe reported on elsewhere.  Therefore I can’t say definitely that my belief in life after death has much impact on me day to day.  Yet, I do believe in participating today in the long-run and identifying with it by acting as much as possible in accordance with eternal principles—seeking to conform to the algorithms and disciplines of love.  I view this practice as being a witness for Christ.  For me, this is how I overcome death day by day.  I leave the future last breath to the future.

Easter Sunday brings hope that death is not the end for individuals.  To the extent that this hope cast a countervailing light over the shadow of death, I accede to its efficaciousness especially on the occasion of funerals.  But the greater comfort for me is to know that (in my own family’s case) my mother and dad lived as if life were eternal throughout their lives.  This lifelong practicum of faith provided credible momentum that made their continued existence after physical death into spiritual eternity personal and seamless.  Their faith in Jesus Christ played an inherent part in their lives.  Was Christ’s resurrection the ultimate impress of their eternal nature?  As Yeats once wrote: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why Little Things Count (2)

Desmond Tutu's story shown in the article in the previous blog reveals two major reasons why little things count—1) they reflect something that is reasonably within our or someone else’s control and 2) they have an ethical dimension.  The white priest that doffed his hat to Desmond Tutu’s mother could not snap his fingers and end apartheid.  But what he could do, he did.  This included ending it in his own relationships with blacks.  He treated Tutu’s mother with respect and equality (maybe even more than equality).  In Tutu’s eyes this was a defining moment.  It was not accompanied by fireworks and a brass band; it was done quietly and naturally.  There was nothing to distract from the genuineness and sincerity and personal focus of the gesture.  Another example in the article asked you to consider that you have waited six months for a meeting with Mr/Ms Big only to find that in the finally achieved meeting ... "he/she looks at you but doesn’t see you."  Here we find a lack of courtesy, but more than that, we find something seriously troubling within the ethical dimension.  We feel that we have not only been slighted, but we have a deep sense that we have been wronged.  Obviously Mr/Ms Big does not think the Golden Rule applies to them.  Their behavior need not be guided by elemental empathy.  Because of the ethical dimension of Little Things, they can become highly charged symbols that have a lasting influence on attitudes, opinions, and behavior.

The good news in all this is that we do not have to be prominent wielders of power and influence to lead significant lives.  In fact, notoriety or high position can be a hindrance.  Then the behavior may be seen to be tailored for “public consumption” or “official duties” rather than being genuine and personal.  Ironically, sometimes the more humble the positions we occupy (Tutu as a child didn’t know the priest was in fact prominent), the more profound influence we can muster.  By being seriously interested in others and what they have to say, we can help advance conditions on earth as they are in heaven.

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Why Little Things Count

Sometimes it’s not possible to say it better than someone else has already said.  Please click here and read the article about little things that count.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Wild West Mentality

The essential ingredient in the Wild West Mentality is that it is often necessary to take the law into your own hands.  That’s why in the Wild West, the gun was a man’s best friend.  Since the law and the police power of the state were not there to help you achieve justice, you had to determine justice yourself and use the threat of violence to back up your views of it.  What I’ve learned is that people in a civilized society can entertain a severely cynical view of human relationships—“everyone is out to get me and I am the only one who can stand up to protect myself and those I love.”  My most reliable friend, in this case, is the threat of violence in some form or other—often with the suggestion of the ultimate threat “back off or you’re dead” is at least implied.

Such a person becomes a highly difficult person to employ or befriend since their cynical view of others means that one can’t win with them—they become highly sensitive and defensive and suspect that everyone is out to disrespect them.  This person is extremely immature for they never can put themselves in another’s place.  The only point of view they employ is their own.  They never are able to ask “If I were in my boss’s place what would of necessity be guiding my behavior?” or “If I were the store clerk, would I ever have tendencies to question assertions by a customer regarding a sales receipt?”  Every caveat by anyone automatically becomes a sign of profound disrespect and a personal affront worthy of the appeal to physical violence.

That’s how they attempt to get their way—not by persuasion, cooperation, persistence, and negotiation—but by the violence ultimatum.  This is a sad situation, since it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  By assuming bad intentions on the part of others, they employ a “chip on the shoulder” attitude which in fact results in people putting up their guard against them.  The boss, for example, may find the need to threaten termination of employment if the attitude is not changed.  This only fuels the cynical, defensive attitude already in evidence.  This then can result in actual job termination.

One is tempted simply to say to such people, “Grow up.”  But of course in their mind, the tall tough gun slinger of the Wild West is the epitome of a “real man.”  A real man facing an antagonistic world threatens violence at the slightest provocation.  The way out of the dilemma is to somehow instill empathy.  But that quality is viewed as the trait of a weenie to be resisted unto the death.  Thus, such a person can find they are unemployed and unemployable, further justifying in their own mind their cynical view of the world.  All comers become an eternal and ever-present threat to their freedom and liberty.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mail Call

Tonight my son called and asked that I please put his picture and address on this blog.  He would appreciate any cards or letters.  Be assured that any cards or letters sent will be answered with a thoughtful reply.  When someone is charged with a capital crime, it is natural to make a lot of presumptions about the nature of the crime and the disposition of the individual.  I encourage you not to miss this opportunity to get a better understanding of one the court called a “thug” but I find a son after my own heart.

Alton Antwan Brinson
#R47865  I3118                                                        
Hamilton Correctional Main Unit                                            
10650 S.W. 46th Street
Jasper, Florida  32052

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Chili Dogs and Thoughtfulness

Dennis invited me over for lunch today.  There I met James who had also been invited for lunch.  James is a long-time resident in the apartment complex.  After enjoying a  meal of soup followed by chili dogs and sweet pickles, James mentioned that he had been going to the same church since he moved to Florida in 1955—the Bethel AME Church, Saint Petersburg.  We discussed church administration, and it is very similar to that of the United Methodist Church.  Later as we talked, I mentioned that I was going to the doctor tomorrow so that he could take a specimen of my bone marrow to determine if I have bone marrow cancer.  James then said that he is a 16 year survivor of cancer.  He said that he was going to prayer meeting tonight, and that he would add my name to the prayer list.  At this point I can think of nine people and three church groups who have mentioned that they would keep me in their prayers in addition to James and his assembly.  Personally, I have always been careful in my prayers not to ask for the impossible.  In many areas the bottom line seems to be physics at some level or other, and I am not one to suggest that God overturn the rules of the universe just to accommodate me.  Now it seems I might be in a tight spot and a miracle of healing called for to continue on until a ripe old age.  As much as I think of death as a journey, an adventure, still it would be nice to continue on and enjoy life as I know it—this would mean more time with Kathy and more time to do this blog which I greatly enjoy.  Perhaps now is when I should consider that God is the rule giver, and he is in control.  We know that errata apparently can occur in nature, and I hope it will prove that my health will present the opportunity for another miraculous correction should that prove necessary.  The Life Application Study Bible says this about the following scripture which is among the last words of the Old Testament:  This hope for the future becomes ours when we trust God with our lives.

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall”  Malachi 4:2 (NIV).

As hopeful as this is, actually the very last words of the Malachi are a little sobering considering the widespread tendency today for broken homes:  the prophet Elijah “will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”  For reasons not fully explicable or understood, it is a curse on the land when father-child relationships are gratuitously broken asunder.  No doubt a truckload of problems would be assuaged if this scripture’s warning were taken to heart. 

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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Lack of Prayer as a Symptom

Who would I like to pray for today?  If I can think of no one and feel no drive to pray for anyone, that is an indication of total self-contentment and satisfaction.  The self has completely circumscribed itself from anyone else’s challenges, sorrow, pain, or even victories.  There is no one sick, unemployed, facing natural disasters, facing hunger, facing trials, facing temptation; no one needing wisdom, guidance, encouragement; no one deserving of my thoughts and prayers; everyone is assumed to be living on easy street materially, physically, mentally, and spiritually; all that I know personally and through the news, or through simply appreciating the cycle of life and death, all I find totally beyond the tug of empathy or compassion.  Such a lack of prayerfulness is an indication of a loss of touch with reality and an ingrained selfishness tantamount to a frozen Neverland fantasy.  When I reach such a catatonic state, I should pray if for nothing else, for personal warmth and healing.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Today in Sunday School

Today’s first lesson was on temples and baseball stadiums.  The writer “stood in awe in Yankee Stadium where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford all played.”  The writer concludes “As great as it was for me to visit Yankee Standium, the immensity, the enormity of being in the temple in the presence of God is unimaginable and much more moving” (Bill Franz, Upper Room 4/11/11).  Our classroom discussion spanned over several subjects—the grandeur of God; the tendency of our society to have athletic, movie, or rock stars with a dearth of stars in science, medicine, education, or other such creative endeavors—many of which are vital to our health and welfare; the dangers of idolizing others.  For example a local preacher that idolizes mega church preachers may, by trying to immitate them, lose genuiness in his own approach and thus betray his own God given talents. The second lesson began with the following scripture: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him” Lamentations 3:22, 25 (NRSV).  Mitch stressed the importance of persistence in seeking the Lord’s will.  The lesson concluded, “God is always patient and available, always with us.”

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Either Dieing or Moving

Saturday was the first day Bob and Linda (my brother and wife) had in their new home in Georgia.  People back in Florida had so many good things to say about them on leaving that it sounded almost like they were being eulogized.  Bob left the town council having served twice as mayor.  The following tributes were reported in the Clay Today (4/6/11):

Though the atmosphere was relaxed and festive, the mood changed briefly at the end of Tuesday’s meeting when council members addressed Standifer for the first time in eight years as a private citizen.

"I can’t say enough about what a great job you’ve done, especially in these difficult times economically," Morgan said.

"You put your heart into everything you did," added Meeks, who referred to the former mayor as his friend and mentor. "There was no personal agenda in everything you did. It just doesn’t get any better than that."

"I can’t say anything," said Howard, his voice shaking with emotion. "Bob, you know how much you mean to me."

Their church in Jacksonville organized a special tribute for them.  Bob and Linda had been active in many programs of the church.  The sharp emotions remind me of when our family would be moved to a new church when I was a youngster.  Often we would sing (or try to sing) the following hymn (If leaving friends and hometown isn’t death, it makes a pretty good trial run emotionally):

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.

We share each other’s woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.

From sorrow, toil and pain,
And sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.

John Fawcett, Hymns Adapted to the Circumstance of Public Worship (Leeds, England: 1782).

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Friday, April 15, 2011

The Scurvy Factor

Scurvy often presents itself initially as symptoms of malaise and lethargy, followed by formation of spots on the skin, spongy gums, and bleeding from the mucous membranes. Spots are most abundant on the thighs and legs, and a person with the ailment looks pale, feels depressed, and is partially immobilized. As scurvy advances, there can be open, suppurating wounds, loss of teeth, jaundice, fever, neuropathy and death…..

Today scurvy is known to be caused by a nutritional deficiency, but until the isolation of vitamin C and its direct link to scurvy in 1932, numerous theories and treatments were proposed, often on little or no experimental data. This inconsistency is attributed to the lack of vitamin C as a distinct concept….  (Wikipedia)

In a way, mankind is in a bizarre drama where very important nonnegotiable rules and needs exist.  Some of them are known, but many are unknown.  Not knowing the rules or the root causes of undesireable consequences, he finds himself in a vast collection of misery.  The list includes—proverty, unemployment, domestic violence, business cycles, crime, disfunctional behaviors, addictions, national deficits—a continuing list of maladies whose root causes have yet to conceptually crystalize.  We are aware that some things seem to help, but haven’t gotten to the fundamental essence of why they work.  The encouraging thing is that as in scurvey, an extensive collection of miserable consequences may prove to be treatable by one or two distinct concepts once creatively identified and widely appreciated. Likely these solutions will have institutional and philosophical implications.  Unlike in a physical ailment, social maladies often are associated with deeply set vested interests.  Therefore, one can anticipate that the political fallout following the identification of trenchant solutions will be substantial, severe, and long-lasting.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Abiding Still

To my son Alton who daily reads several Psalms, one being the 23rd.  The 23rd Psalm is a poem that speaks of comfort, protection, guidance, death, enemies, favor, goodwill, goodness, love, and eternal life.  It’s a poem that has nourished many throughout their lives—when as children they identified with lambs lying down in green pastures near quiet waters, to later adulthood when they faced occasional enemies, to eventual old age and the approach of death.  Through it all, the Lord shows the psalmist favor, guidance, protection, goodness and love and promises steadfast acceptance into the Lord’s house and eternal life.  The poem is written in the first person, “I”.  This greatly enhances its power and simplicity.  David speaks only for himself and shows no presumption of speaking for others.  He is writing without the pretentious royal “We” and writes with absolute and credible conviction.  The psalm can provide nonbelievers a better understanding of the point of view resulting from a firm and abiding faith, a position some might find enviable even if personally untenable.  As a poem, it is clear that not a single line should be deleted or added.  Its brevity and conciseness only add to its literary perfection.   

23rd Psalm

NIV Version
A psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.
Even though I walk
    through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

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The Externalities of God

J.B. Phillips wrote a book entitled Your God Is Too Small.  It seems that some of my ideas about the mystery of human perception itself could suggest that God is unnecessary.  If we just knew enough about the human brain and the constitution of perception then the need for God would be eliminated or explained away.  The more we learn in the future, the less God is needed to explain it all.  I have no fear that this is the case.  Just as I have no fear that belief in life eternal will be explained away, I have no fear that God will prove to be just a mere construct of the human mind.

The reason for this belief is my conviction that there is a nonmaterial spiritual world forever beyond the probing’s of the human mind.  While impinging upon the mind, it is quite apart from it.  It is in a dimension of creation never to be fully understood by any investigation of the material world.  It is analogous too yet not the same as truth and justice. Though the terms are abstractions and open to endless debate, most have a deep sense in which they are realities which are fully capable of standing on their own.  For example most will subscribe to the assertion that “truth (or justice) is what is so regardless of what we may say about it.”  It has a reality quite outside human perception, opinions, or belief.  Love also fits in this category.  Love has a meaning that can be corrupted by human beings. But love itself is forever beyond sullying by the basest of human lusts, or indeed, any machinations of the physical world itself.  If the universe and all its constituents were to end tomorrow; truth, justice, and love would live on without them.  They are not the product of the physical world but can be reflected in it.  God is from the beginning—beyond the universe itself.  The spiritual world and all its creations flow from the hand of God.  Like God, the spiritual world is outside and beyond any material thing—not subject to any method of laboratory proof.  Yet the human mind can readily assent to the existence of God and the spiritual realm “regardless of what we may say about them."

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Purity and Pleasures of Understanding

There is a certain purity or sacredness in the pursuit of understanding.  Whether it is understanding derived from the study of nature, or understanding derived from the study of human affairs driven by its associated concepts, structures, and needs; the moment of focus, question, and comprehension is a rising from the morass of purblind ignorance and anxieties into the spacious rooms of intellectual and emotional tidiness.  Cleanliness is next to Godliness, the saying goes, and discoveries share this common attribute—they tend to make loose ends ordered and uncluttered.  The moment of creative comprehension when sense is made out of disorder is a special sacred moment of high privilege shared by humanity at its best.  “A place for everything and everything in its place” just about sums up the mission statement for mankind.  This drive for tidiness when graced by love is a form of paranoia gifted to us by our guardian angels sent from above.  Unlike order derived from the contrived suppression that marks evil and ignorance; creative discovery being founded in love has the essential aspect of liberty.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

A Major Advantage of Inexperience

Software can be upgraded many times.  But occasionally the new version of a program is radically different from older versions.  This can mean that old files will not be fully compatible with the new version as many features are added.  For a time, the new version challenges old users with bitter sweet choices.  In a way completely new users are to be envied.  They can enjoy all the benefits of the new software without having ties to the old—a new generation of users eagerly accepting a new generation of software.  This is as we have seen occurring today in revolutionary places; the young fresh on the scene have no investment in the old and great incentives to embrace the new (presenting to them all positives and no negatives).  Being older myself I am reluctant to admit that sometimes progress for the group is best left in the hands of the inexperienced who share no hint of phantom pain.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Today in Sunday School

Today we studied three lessons in the Upper Room.  The first lesson taught us to be kind to people we meet, even strangers.  If possible give them recognition, a smile, and a cordial word.  The lesson recalled the words of Jesus to his disciples, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you” John 20:21 (NRSV). The second lesson emphasized that we are called to serve.  The scripture lesson was Acts 20:35 where Paul wrote, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak; remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (NIV).  Here the lesson pointed out that through hands-on service, we can come to love those that we previously knew only through our prejudice and stereotypes.  Firsthand knowledge can give us a perspective unavailable any other way; so through service we are served as well—freed from our slavery to ignorance.  The final lesson referenced scripture from Ephesians 1:4.  God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (NRSV). This lesson dealt with the human need of acceptance and the gnawing doubt that we are inherently worthy.  Deeds done and applause and trophies won can be inadequate to meet this basic inner need.  The key to a feeling of worthiness is the understanding that “Out of love and boundless grace—and regardless of our past, our failures, and our sins—God accepts us” (Alicea Jones).  

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wanting Laughter

Today a friend called me up and said he wasn’t sure how he felt, but it wasn’t good.  I invited him over and we worked in Photoshop Elements on some photos he took the previous evening at a concert.  Then we watched a raucous comedy, Billy Madison.  I was trying to help him feel better, even to feel happy.  He laughed a lot during the movie, and I think he went home later in the evening feeling better.

The Bible tells us that Jesus once wept.  I often wonder how it would have affected Christendom if there were also scripture that said Jesus often laughed.  Can the joy that is a byproduct of spiritual fullness be devoid of abundant laughter?  Is it possible that the twelve apostles and Jesus formed a group of joyful somber heavies?  Somehow it just doesn’t seem plausible.  Nevertheless, the inspired scripture of the Gospel never shows us a single glimpse of Jesus having a hearty laugh or telling a funny story.  Sometimes I think some of the good parts were left out.  Nothing could be truer than that serious business is sometimes validated and enhanced by a good sense of humor.  It is quite simply one aspect of grace under pressure.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Reflection on Raked Leaves and Power

First I want to reference in context a well-known phrase by Lord Acton:  “I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it” (Lord Acton, 1887).

In my neighborhood there are two kinds of trash containers.  Some homes, without alleys in back, have small containers for each residence.  For homes with an alley, several homes share a much larger receptacle.  The City Utilities Department uses trucks with hydraulic lifts to empty both types of containers twice a week.  This arrangement works fine on a typical week.  But sometimes events increase the trash that must be disposed of.  Say, someone is doing heavy spring cleaning or preparing to move.  Then extra trash must be disposed of and in these cases it is sometimes necessary to put trash in several alley containers—not just the one assigned to your house.  This of course can be a serious inconvenience for innocent parties.  The space allotted to them is used by others.

I am especially principled in this area.  I will typically hoard my trash if necessary until the container assigned to me is emptied.  Occasionally, when I have put my garbage in another container down the alley, I walk gingerly and hope no one will see—my conscience bothering me the whole time.  But this week I learned something surprising about myself.

James, an excellent yardman, came by my house looking to see if I had any work to do.  Actually, the situation was obvious—a thick layer of leaves covered my yard, many, many barrels full.  The leaves were far too numerous for any one alley container.  James and I reached a working agreement for him to rake the leaves, and I asked him what he intended to do with the many leaves.  He said he would use the containers up and down the alley and said not too convincingly that he would pack them down leaving room for rightful users to dispose of their trash.  In short, what I personally dreaded and avoided doing, he would do for me.

And what I found was, and this came as a surprise, that I had no compunctions whatever as long as HE was doing it.  My economic power—my ability to hire others to do the dirty work—completely served to assuage my conscience.  It became clear to me that this is one of the essential reasons that power corrupts.  Those in power can insulate themselves from the reality of what is being done on their behalf—much like the wife who hires a hit man to do in her husband without once using the word “murder.”  This has operated on a personal level for years though I never took cognizance of it.  In terms of meat in my diet, my economic power relieves me of any bloody slaughterhouse acts.  Perhaps what separates vegetarians from meat eaters is the former’s exacting imagination.  The insulation that power offers applies also, of course, in the execution of wars.  WWI and its horrors immediately come to mind.  The powerbrokers back home were far from the mauling trenches.  Yet, the same dynamic can be found in any situation of power.  The powerful, and we all are in some way or other, should ask what our power is enabling that we might have moral scruples about had we to accomplish the deed with our own hands. Power loves to abstract and generalize—to insulate itself from hard reality. In fact we occasionally admire this about powerful people.  They can facilely verbalize any harsh reality that would be otherwise unacceptable, lifting it to a plane of high nobility, exquisite tranquility, and innocuous pabulum.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Mark of Cain

In Christianity and Judaism, the curse of Cain and the mark of Cain refer to the passages in the Biblical Book of Genesis where God declared that Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, was cursed for murdering his brother, and placed a mark upon him to warn others that killing Cain would provoke the vengeance of God. Wikipedia.

I had lunch today with a son of mine who was sentenced for murder (with some mitigating circumstances) when he was a teenager.  Today he is 39.  He applied the other day for a job at a well-known grocery store. He was going to work stocking grocery items.  The local manager liked him and recommended him for the position, writing an email to his superiors.  But the company refused to hire him due to his criminal record—a crime that occurred more than twenty years ago and for which he has duly served his sentence—the sentence ending some 9 years ago.  He is now married to a gracious wife who is six months pregnant.  I understand today’s job climate.  For every job there is a surplus of candidates.  One must eliminate most of the candidates from serious and final consideration.  A criminal record is a ready disqualifier.  My only concern is: “When can it be said that justice has been served?”  Background checks today are readily available and mercilessly complete.  Today more than ever in the job market the mark of Cain is indelible and an everlasting curse—making this aspect of justice forever devoid of mercy or forgiveness.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Fitting Start

My son Alton and I spoke by phone this evening and upon Alton’s suggestion have decided to study Psalm 51 (NIV translation).  We both recently got the same edition study Bible to coordinate our readings.  In my first review of the psalm, it is clear that it is filled with verses repeated so often that reading it is like hearing the familiar voice of an old friend.  Examples are: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” and the verse,”Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Two needed characteristics of mankind are shown—confessional honesty regarding his sins and acknowledgement that renewal will require divine help.  Humility is the first step towards positive change.  To decide that in the future divine help will not be necessary is to hold that man’s perception is completely reliable—this is a position (through experience) most find a stretch to accept.  This psalm proves to be a fitting start to a study of the truths revealed throughout scripture. 

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hidden Properties

Using Photoshop has revealed to me that photo files contain much more information than just the picture.  The files also contain detail information regarding date taken and a long list of camera information including make and model, speed and aperture settings.  I have a phone at work that I have used for over twenty years.  When I moved from Bayfront Center to Leisure Services, it moved with me.  I often think of that phone as having hidden properties filled with dates and times and people and circumstances.  I remember the afternoon I received a call from a long-time friend telling me he had good news and to stop by and see him that afternoon.  I was the last person he talked to.  After hanging up he committed suicide after having murdered two stepchildren.  I have been several times to his grave site in Bushnell, once with his son and brother.  I also remember calls from my extended family members—then children, now adults with children of their own. Life has a way of being kind, then not so kind.  Buildings are that way too.  They have lots of hidden properties.  My home was built in 1925 and has had several owners.  I like to think that there are people with a special place in their heart for the place where I live—where once they grew up in a dwelling filled with love, incidents, and action.  And, of course, people have many hidden properties too carried in heart and mind and soul.  Everyone is due a certain reverence in part because of their hidden properties.  Fortunately, no program can lay bare a heart, mind, or soul.  This is holy ground shared only by God and the invited.  

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Monday, April 4, 2011

The Better Forces of Happiness

Kathy went to a church retreat last weekend and brought back a gift for me.  It is a burnished red plaque that has the following message inscribed on it in gold lettering.  “Happiness is a grateful spirit; an optimistic attitude; and a heart full of love.”  Certainly these are essential aspects of a profile of happiness.  Think of the opposite extreme, and the truth of the matter becomes readily apparentWe know intuitively the benefits of happiness could not possibly result from an ungrateful spirit, a pessimistic attitude, and a heart full of hate.  These qualities would rather guarantee continual confinement to one’s misery.  An ungrateful spirit indicates that one always feels that he is getting the short end of the stick.  No matter what good things may be bestowed, they are never enough.  He will ensconce himself in the role of taker, and never give or experience the pleasures of generosity.  A pessimistic attitude always looks on the bleak, cynical side of things.  And the truth of the matter is if one insists on looking for it; one can surely find it.  Finally a heart full of hate is continually dousing itself in sulfuric acid.  It fulminates in resentment at everything good.

As in a multiple choice test, it is sometimes easier to get to the right answer by first eliminating the wrong.  When we see the wretched foundations of unhappiness, it is with conviction that we can join the better forces of happiness.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Today in Sunday School

The lesson today was on Daily Prayer (Upper Room, 3/28/11).  The scripture lesson was Colossians 4:2 (NIV).  Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  The lesson asks what continuous prayer would be like “….those of us in the secular world find the idea of continual prayer a bit daunting.”  Mitch said he thought that a prayerful attitude means that we live with compassion and empathy and that we are not judgmental.  He asked how are we to be judgmental when we know so little about the background and complexities facing another—not to mention the full supply of our own faults and limitations.  Remembering my blog of 03/22/11, I said that I thought a spirit of humility was important in achieving a prayerful attitude as it bears on tasks as well as people.  The discussion of ideas related to the lesson’s theme took the entire class.  One thing mentioned by Kunte (as we discussed how the constant desire for more material possessions can negatively affect a prayerful attitude) was that he thought many of the advertisements we see are directed not at our minds but at our souls.  The ads promise to heal our brokenness.  

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Devising an Exit Strategy

I’m assuming a false positive until I hear otherwise.  And I will hear again this month.  Last Wednesday I went to my doctor for a routine checkup.  As usual, the visit was preceded by blood and urine tests.  In my visit, the doctor said that the tests revealed indications of a chemical that can signal the presence of bone marrow cancer.  He referred me to a hematologist for a bone marrow biopsy.  My appointment with that doctor is the 11th.  There will be an initial consultation appointment followed by an appointment for the procedure.  Needless to say, after having gone to my doctor expecting a routine checkup, the visit turned out to be anything but.  I have to admit on my way home from his office, the world suddenly took on a new cast.  I was thinking, what if I should leave all this soon?  I began to devise an exit strategy.  First on the agenda is attitude.  I decided that even if it proves that I am facing an imminent and painful death, I will die with God’s help with a good attitude. 

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Philosophy Break

Today I participated in a discussion that reflected on different concepts of decision models and views of human nature and how man best operates within organizations.  The decision models addressed which is the better course—a rational decision model vs. a muddling through model using trial and error?  Also discussed was the nature of man.  Are the majority of people lazy and must be directed at work, or are they individuals who enjoy challenges, display self-intuitive and a sense of generosity, and gain satisfaction from being trustworthy. Associated questions regarded how insights and creativity are best developed.  We work in a parks and recreation department one of whose assumptions is that mankind functions best with breaks from the constant pressures of life.  Some of his best ideas occur during moments of restoration and find their development during or after a break from the routine.

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