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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Trey Standifer
Today I looked at several photos sent to us by relatives.  Trey’s photo was enclosed in his high school graduation announcement. The other is of Matt as he was headed to a dance with his best friends.  They were celebrating graduating from the eighth grade.  It is a wonderful thing to be reminded that though I sometimes get cornered into thinking this is a tired old world, new generations filed with hope and promise are invigorating the planet.  Do I envy them their youth?  Not at all.  But their youth does bring back fond memories.  I wish them well, and sincerely hope that they meet with success and happiness.  I know only too well that the tapestry of life is not without imperfections.  But most things worthwhile do not require perfection, only doing our best as God gives us light at the time to see it.  I would rather new generations follow their divine leadings and land somewhere short of traveling a perfectly straight path than perfectly fulfilling a conceptual goal not true to themselves.  Heaven makes a way for earnest and truthful players, this I adamantly believe. 

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Monday, May 30, 2011

No Serene Nazarene

Today I read the first 147 pages of an interesting book, The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted by Obery Hendricks, Jr.  I admit I have too often accepted at face value the world Jesus was born into picturing it too blithely as in the Christmas favorite: “Silent night, holy night!/All is calm, all is bright…/Sleep in heavenly peace/Sleep in heavenly peace.”  Assuming that “Your kingdom come/Your will be done/On earth as it is in heaven” was already a fully accomplished fact that required no further faith or effort.  The book pointed out several stark facts about the world Jesus was born into:  The Romans were ruthless in “keeping the peace” in one instance in a town a half-day’s journey from where Jesus lived as a child crucifying 2,000 insurgents; the psychological impact of oppression was evident in various physical and mental disorders; poverty was everywhere; crimes such as banditry were widespread; taxation was oppressive and entirely unrewarding for the taxed; there was widespread indebtedness with literal enslavement a common result; the religious institutions in Jerusalem had become under the protection and influence of the Roman authorities and the religious elite were a privileged class with exceptionally high income and property holdings; 95% of the country was poor so that “give us this day our daily bread” was an earnest prayer; the people from the country—the Galileans—were looked down on with prejudice by city folk who disparaged their accent, manner of livelihood, and poverty; Jesus (unlike Paul) was not a Roman citizen and so did not have resort to this appeal should he run into conflict with authorities.  With all this and much more to consider, the high profile ministry of Jesus had serious political implications on all fronts.  His movement was seen as quite distinct from the establishment and the status quo until several factors intervened—in a somewhat small way by some of the teachings of Paul, and in a much greater way in the partially successful attempt by Constantine to co-opt the Christian religion in 312 AD and thereafter make it hierarchical rank and status centered rather than as it had been in the past a hierarchy of roles and function with all followers being equal servants under God.

When the reading is done I will report on Part Two which explores “seven of Jesus’ discourses and deeds as political strategies.”

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Today in Church

Today’s sermon was on the last words of the Apostles’ Creed—“the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.”  Pastor David Miller pointed out the “the resurrection of the body” is an important part of the creed for by its inclusion we are guided not to discount our physical world.  Since our bodies will be raised, we must not think that only the spiritual is important; but so also is the physical, and we are guided to respect the material as well as the spiritual.  Bad things have happened historically, such as torture in an attempt to save souls, when this was forgotten.  We are to be concerned not only about souls, but also about the quality of physical life.    

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Unassailable Hope

Today a confluence of factors including a movie and scripture readings bring me to the theme of man’s need for a sense of significance.  As in the movie City Slickers, we find it especially arising in midlife crises.  At a certain point a sense of mortality combines with a sense that whatever we have done or are doing does not amount to a hill of beans.  Our attempts to build up our daily jobs and lives into something of significance gives way to quiet desperation. Hope is lost that we will ever amount to much.  And this quiet despair goes for everyone, even those with high status jobs or social positions.  Vanity, all is vanity becomes the feeling on all fronts.  This is where religion rides to the rescue.  We each have a life-long role to play that is pervasive and supersedes all other accomplishments and tasks.  It is a fundamental task open to those of all social and marital statuses, occupations, incomes, races, sexes, ages, and mental and physical abilities.  We are to fulfill our individual callings to become ambassadors of Christ in our own way using our best gifts.  Nothing is more important and more accessible to all.  Nothing puts us more on an equal footing while imbuing each of us with eternal significance. Nothing depends less on external conditions or advantages.  We can be ambassadors no matter what jobs we hold or don’t hold, where we live or don’t live, how many our resources or how little.  Is there any wonder that religion has outlived thousands of years of skepticism and unbelief?  We cannot prevail without an unassailable hope, and that comes only from a spiritual rather than a material perspective.

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Life Is a Gift Card

This week I printed barcodes on the backs of gift cards for the City golf courses.  The front sides of the plastic cards (the size of a credit card) are printed by the manufacturer and have a colored background and the logos of the City’s three golf courses.  There are several editions of the cards—a happy holiday edition, a merchandise only edition, and standard edition.  The standard edition allows the purchase of merchandise and rounds of golf.  The merchandise only card is restricted to the purchase of merchandise, and the holiday card is used at Christmastime for the special purpose of holiday gift giving—this card like the standard edition allows the purchase of merchandise and rounds of golf.  None of the cards can be redeemed for cash.

In my view life is much like a gift card.  There is a standard edition that comes with few restrictions.  We are encouraged to range freely and strive without limits for happiness and fulfillment.  The more limited edition reminds of us that not all is possible.  We have limitations built in as does the universe itself; there are laws to conform to physically and behaviorally.  Finally there is a Christmas gift card that invites us to be generous with our resources and to spread hope and joy to others.  When receiving gifts, we are reminded that we are the constant recipient of many gifts and blessings. Finally redemption cannot be made in cash—in the exact manner obtained.  We are required to transform the gift with the stamp of our own personality.  We cannot go backwards to common tender, but are forced to buy something thoughtful and unique to which we may not otherwise have treated ourselves.  Cherish your gift cards, they are precious.  The establishment is not responsible for cards lost or stolen.   

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Eternally Gray – A Memorial Day Remembrance

Untimely remembrances of untimely deaths,
Giving expression in the end,
To hallowed causes self-determined
And the tragedy of inescapable human conflict
And the spiritual demons that divided us,
In the parlors and on the battlefields—
Is there any doubt that in death
Victory is not denied to anyone
So long as memories obligate the living
To the voices of the fallen.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Position on the Bible

As a lay Christian without credentials, I will nevertheless be honest with you where I stand on the authority of the Bible.  Even though I am in no way a Bible scholar, I think it is a reasonable expectation that as a professing Christian I should have an opinion—even if largely uninformed—about a book that continues to play a huge role in my life.  My earliest memories as a child include learning Bible stories, and my latest activity this weekend was reading extensively in the Bible.  No other book, nor no other influence, can be compared to it—its impact being so fundamental and pervasive.

I refuse to be tangled into knots about technicalities.  There is no doubt a zillion “problem verses” that I would be totally ignorant about in terms of historical scholarship.  To be honest, if today I were offered free tutelage at the most prestigious divinity schools so I could learn exhaustedly about all the lively issues in exegesis, I would quickly turn the opportunity down for what is riveting to others I am well aware I would likely find excruciating, exasperating, and dry as dust.  For me, the Bible has never been an opportunity for argumentation and debate. When I turn to the Bible, I always want to skip to “the good stuff” that has significant implications in my daily life.

Of course, what is often the question that everyone wants to know is does one consider the Bible factually true in all its parts.  Was the earth created in a few days along with everything that dwells within it; and then, what about a long list of miracles, stringent laws, and cruel acts of God?  Is the Bible best understood as mythology—not in the sense that it’s not true, but in the sense that it superbly captures truth as life confronts mankind on the levels of meaning and significance?  Does the Bible successfully enunciate spiritual reality and eternity as it impacts the faithful?  Is it experientially authentic and accurate, if on a starker more superficial level incorrect?

Of course, my faithful readers know me by now, and know that it is not my nature to sow dissention and discord.  I truly think it displeases God for us to become fixated on the speck that divides us while ignoring the spanning skies that unite us.  My position is clear, I will discuss any Bible truth one wants to discuss, but I will not play the devil’s tool and eviscerate love on a cross of intellectual pride. 

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Quirky People

Today, without mentioning names, I ran into several quirky people.  In fact, when I think of it, most people I know are quirky in one way or another.  I can remember as a child taking piano lessons from a teacher that always smelled of bananas.  Of course some religious people are quirky.  They can be greatly exercised about matters that are not even contemplated by others.  I have known store clerks that one gingerly did business with, the customer not wanting to get berated for having the temerity of trying to buy something at the store.  I have known teachers in advanced university programs whose minds in some particular areas were as closed as any person’s living or dead.  I have kinships that I have grown to cherish because of their peculiar quirkiness witnessed from the intimate perch of family relations.  Yes, I have found it far better to assume that everyone I meet is going to be quirky in one way or another.  In fact, it can be a source of unease to run across a person who in some vaguely disturbing way is striving to be too conventionally uniform.  A politically correct emphasis now is to “affirm diversity.”  That’s odd and peculiar in a way—to imagine that diversity does not grow on its own but must be cultivated.  On the contrary, it is uniformity that requires constant cultivation and fussiness—even to the fanatical devising of tons of laws and codes.  So in the end, excessive tidiness shows itself as just another obdurate instance of quirkiness all decked out in a business suit.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

An Open Letter to All My Sons

Today I got a call from one of my sons who mentioned four or five brothers.  He gave me the phone number of one them who wanted me to call.  I called and left a brief message. Tonight I would like to write an open letter to all my sons—some of whom I haven’t seen for awhile.

Hi to all my sons.  I want to thank you for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers over the years.  I would like to reminisce with you a bit—you know, going in the truck to the lagoon in Bowling Green, Celebration Station, Bok Tower, the circus, picnics at Anna Maria beach, Sunday outings after church, and high adventure in restaurants or at the mall.  You remember much of this better than I do.  But one thing I want to make clear—whatever I may have done for you, you gave back far more.  And as you remember me, let me assure you I always remember you.  What is my hope and prayer?—that you are all living positive, productive lives.  I hope you have found happiness—in the right way, for the right reasons—in other words true happiness based on courage, conviction, love, compassion, and kindness.  Knowing you like I do, I know you are on that journey.  You were quite simply a gift to me from God.  When I look back over my life, and feel that I have lived a full life, you are one of the major reasons.  Let us always remember Aaron.  Thank you eternally and God bless us all.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Today at Church

Pastor David Miller spoke on “the forgiveness of sins” as part of what we believe as expressed for centuries in the Apostles’ Creed.  He mentioned that forgiveness follows if we truly repent and are heartedly sorry for our sins.  In Sunday school we studied three lessons from the Upper Room.  The scripture from the first lesson (05/16/11) was Zephaniah 3:17 (NRSV): “The Lord, your God,…will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” The core of the lesson dealt with the “noise” we can encounter while trying to live as God has called us.  We must “learn to tune out negative voices and to listen to the voice of God, who loves us and always cheers us on.”  We must distinguish between constructive criticism and simple negative disparagement, an important skill being the ability to filter out the latter and to not let it intimidate us.  The second lesson’s (05/17/11) scripture was Psalm 119:173 (NIV): “May your hand [O Lord] be ready to help me.”  This lesson dealt with those times in which details are obscured; a time when we “may see the broad outlines of the path but not the potholes, loose stones, or muddy patches.” In short, we must understand that under certain conditions a degree of stumbling and failure are virtually unavoidable.  Even so, we are to keep our eyes on the prize and understand “God holds our hand or carries us over the rough and treacherous places.”  The final lesson (05/18/11) began with the following scripture: Romans 8:38-39 (NIV).  Paul wrote, “I am convinced that neither death nor life…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  This lesson taught that even in life with all its vast uncertainties, “we can retain faith and hope if we remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love.”  We may have to endure pain and affliction, but we need to maintain perspective.  The scripture helps us remember that God has not forgotten us.

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The Splendors of Narnia


Saturday Kathy & I watched The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  As with the other Narnia stories I’ve seen, the movie begins with a glimpse of real world England during WWII.  Then the children transition from this world to Narnia—a world just on the other side of an intermediary access, this time being a sea painting hanging in a bedroom.  The children are engulfed by Narnia and taken over into the realm of fantasy.  In this world, like in the real world, evil and fear lurk both within and without the human heart.  A great presence in Narnia is the mighty lion, Aslan—even though his actual appearance is limited.  In the end Aslan says “But there [in the real world]  I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason you were brought into Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you might know me better there.”

The realm of Narnia is very similar to my bouts of mental illness.  This world too was magical—full of hopes and fears and many unrealistic imaginings.  Yet, at its core was the palpable presence of Aslan—Jesus Christ.  He was real and tangible—the bridge between the present and eternity.  Though I have long left my own crazy version of Narnia, I will never forget the encounters I found there—the spiritual Lordship of Jesus Christ.  I have experienced firsthand the absolute reality and primacy of the spiritual dimension.  This is a lesson I will never forget even after returning to the real world and its many transient delusions.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Memorable Sermon

Today I heard for the first time this memorable 2 minute excerpt from a sermon (The Grace Factor) by Pastor RA Vernon from Cleveland.  I would like to share it with you.  I think you will agree it gets to one of the central messages of Christianity.  I would like to thank Jeff Boreman for making me aware of this video.

Text of sermon excerpt:

Since we have been forgiven, what should be our corresponding action?  I’m glad you asked.  We should forgive and extend grace to everybody else.  No wonder Matthew says, “and when you start praying if you hold anything against anyone forgive him so your father in heaven may forgive your sins for if you do not forgive, neither will your father who’s in heaven forgive your transgressions. “  As a Christian you’ve got to forgive.  Now that said, and please don’t get offended, the new F-word in “The Word” church is forgive.  I’m going to say it again:  the new F-word in this church is forgive; now that said, do me a favor, touch your neighbor and say F-you.  God I wish I had, God I wish I had 25 people that say I forgive you for whatever you said about me.  Not just your neighbor look down your whole row saying F-y’all too.  Go ahead and tell em.  You know y’all looking at me crazy.  Would you do me a favor?  Take your phone out, text all your x’s and say I’m at church F-you—forgive you for lying on me and talking about me.  Pastor, my mama don’t like you, well F your mama.  My family don’t like you, F your family too.  You know what,  jump on your feet, snap your fingers, say F everybody in here.  God I wish I had 5 people that would jump on your feet, and high-five six people and say F-you, go ahead and tell em F-you, go ahead.  High-five somebody else,  say F-you, ya F-you, ya F-you, F all ya’all.  F-you.  God I wish I had somebody that would have a little church with me, and thank God that he forgave you for all your sins, and now you can forgive everybody else.   

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Saying Yes Saying No

USF St Pete Campus
An interesting aspect of individual choice is that in order to say ‘Yes” to a few things, we must say “No” to many things.  One of the reasons I have a sympathetic feeling when I pass by the University of South Florida Saint Pete campus is the realization that nearly every student finds themselves in this predicament.  In order to say “Yes” to one career, they must say “No” to all the others—and they must do so at a young age while lacking much of the experience that would make the decision easier.  The decision often comes down to what do you most enjoy?  Hopefully, if one likes a certain curriculum then one is well suited for it.  I pity the person who hates what they are doing now but dreams they will be happy eventually when finally entering the field professionally.  Often the present is dismissed as largely irrelevant to the eventual job requirements.  The university experience almost by definition is meant to be a broadening experience that studies context and background in addition to more narrowly defined practices.  This is done on the faith that perception can be blinded by too narrow a focus. There is an attempt to hold in abeyance the ignorance of hasty conclusions; this all done within a job market that requires early commitment.  The university experience is thus characterized by deep crosscurrents. 

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On Camera

Today Kathy & I went to Pep Boys in Bradenton to have installed a rear view camera on our car.  As luck would have it a Cracker Barrel Restaurant was next door to Pep Boys, so while the camera was being installed, we enjoyed dinner.  I have had a growing apprehension in parking in some areas especially, for example, at Publix where pedestrians going to and from the grocery store, some contemplating things other than traffic, combine with congested vehicular traffic to make for a dangerous mix.  I especially have a fear of injuring children who because of their smaller height are particularly vulnerable.  The camera will make more likely the effective exercise of due diligence.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Summer Camp

The image to the left is the nametag I wore in summer camp when I was twelve years old.  The camp at the Warren Willis Youth Camp in Leesburg began every morning with toast, peanut butter, and apple butter.  The day was filled with activities—arts and crafts, discussion groups, plenty of recreation time—swimming, boating, and a perennial favorite—tetherball.  In the evening we gathered for songfests and inspirational messages.  The experience was useful also because being away from my parents for a week came with an implicit message that I was growing towards independence.  My parents saw this as an opportunity for me, and were always glad that I could participate.  Now I understand that they probably delighted in getting a little break from the kids.  Of course, the idea that they might desire such a thing was inconceivable to me at the time.  

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Trade-in Time

Today I made a purchased that will hopefully keep on giving for at least six years.  I purchased a Mazda CX9 2011 crossover.  My primary reason for the purchase of a new vehicle is dependability.  I simply had lost confidence in going on long trips with my 2005 Mazda MPV.  Having purchased it new, in the past several months I began to hear and see changes that I did not like.  As in human affairs, a loss in confidence is a serious matter.  It can happen rather quickly yet have fundamental influences on ones decisions.  I began to imagine Kathy and I stranded on the side of the highway in some remote area.  I know that can happen in a new car, but it is less likely.  Long gone are the days when a tap on the distributor cap can make things right.  The CX9 is not a hybrid.  It uses gas at the tune of 17 to 24 miles per gallon.  It is a larger car, allowing room to convey computer equipment at work.  Yet it looks sporty, which is important to me.  Features that I have already played with are phone Bluetooth (just say the name and the number is dialed), side mirrors with blind spot indicators, and dual control air conditioning. 

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Monday, May 16, 2011

A Little Monday Morning Heresy

Yesterday, stepping out of the shower I slipped on a towel on the tile floor and crash landed on the narrow metal ridge that the shower door slides on, landing just about in the area of the right kidney.  I’m stiff now, but have not as yet had it medically examined.  I found myself in a very personal way asking the age old question asked by many who have suffered far greater misfortune—if there is a loving God who is in complete control, why do bad things happen?  There is no doubt in my mind that God is a loving God, but I have come to question his complete control.  My understanding now is that God is in complete authority and will with time bring about the full realization of his kingdom, but he does not have control in the sense that he can suspend gravity, cancel tsunamis, redirect hurricanes and tornados or supernaturally zap Nazis who contemplate death camps.  I guess I have believed this for a long time.  To me it is far preferable to understand God’s power and influence in this way—it removes culpability.  I view him as the Creator, but not in complete control of his creation.  God’s power is primarily directed on the life and mind of mankind.  Its primary purpose is to instill the disciplines and creativity of love.  I feel a certain loss in this view.  No longer do I have access in prayer to someone in complete control.  No longer do I ask God to direct the hurricane to simply dissipate in the Gulf—however much I may earnestly hope for that result.  As a weak analogy I realize that the United States government has complete authority in its territories.  It seeks to establish liberty, justice, happiness.  But this complete authority does not mean that it has complete control; within its borders can be found various types of slavery, injustice, and unhappiness.  There is a profoundly unsettling feeling to hold that though God is in complete charge, He is not in complete control.  Humans greatly need to feel that a power is in control in order to maintain a basic sense of security.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Use of Deadly Force from a Christian Perspective

The first enunciated value of the Police Department of the City of Saint Petersburg is “Respect:  We respect the rule of law and the rights of individuals.  We respect human life and consider its protection our highest priority.  We respect the dignity and worth of all persons, regardless of the level of respect we receive.” Source

Today I would like to address the place of deadly force in a society with Christian values.  If one becomes a police officer at least implied is that someday he/she might have to use deadly force.  As a Christian under the directive to “love my enemies” how does the officer thoughtfully resolve this?

I will bring in my wife to deal with this.  Let us say that in the home environment my wife notices significant changes in my attitude and behavior.  I become fascinated by hate groups and espouse some of their points of view.  Further, I begin to amass weapons and ammunition.  One day in a hateful rage, I load up my guns and pack them in the car declaring that I’m going to Tyrone Square Mall “to kill all the bastards.” 

Now my wife loves me and is a devoted Christian.  But there is no doubt in my mind what she would do after I drove away.  She would call the police, supplying them with as much information as possible.  She would do this even though she loves me, even because she loves me, even though she could not help but recognize that I might be killed in the police efforts to stop me.  In other words, her love for me gave her no options.

I feel for police officers and soldiers in the military who sometimes must resolve the necessity of killing with lifelong religious training demanding empathy.  Can we “love our enemy” and yet kill them?  I have to answer affirmatively.  As strong discipline is a sometimes paradoxical requisite of love, so also is the ultimate intervention of killing. 

Jesus Christ offered himself up in the ultimate sacrifice to save all mankind.  No other death can achieve this.  Therefore when we are proactive for life at the outer limit, it will look different from that of our Lord.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Private Places of the Heart

Walter Cronkite - 2004

Today Kathy & I saw The King’s Speech.  This movie (about Britain’s King George VI (Colin Firth) and his Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush)) treats of the importance of the private places of the heart.  These are impressionable and vulnerable places where seeds germinate and later flourish for good or ill in the light of day.  It could be the way a child was treated at five years old, or could be the way a man is treated at forty-five.  When it really matters—when one is addressed as a human being and not as the holder of any position—one creates in one’s mind an incorrigible view of reality with the unavoidable conclusion—this must be true.  Walter Cronkite the news anchor known as “the most trusted man in America” followed each day’s newscast with the departing phrase “And that’s the way it is, [date aired].”  In the private places of the heart, these words, this assurance, gets annealed and hardened into a self-concept with wondrous durability.  With this is mind, to the maximum extent allowed by circumstances, we should be personable in interaction with human equality understood showing in concert a decisive and considered kindness.  We should do this in such a way as to imprint a healthy snapshot upon the private places of the heart.  Thus, we can become a friend to all.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

The Drive to Requite

Today the mayor of Saint Petersburg released the new organization chart for the City.  My name is not on it, though I am there somewhere deep down in the structure by implication. This brought to my mind my desire in my youth to have my name in a prominent place on such a chart.  I have analyzed my drive to be discernably prominent and have concluded a major factor was a drive to requite my parents (who loved me unconditionally, and I understood this aspect of their love).  It is important to remark that I was not trying to earn their love.  I just wanted to honor them.  This was one way I could dress my unconditional love for them.  The definition of “requite” is “to return in kind a kindness or hurt that somebody has done” (Encarta Dictionary).  This makes me wonder if sometimes unproductive human behavior may be also an attempt to requite—either from paradoxical exercise of the good or deliberate choice of the bad.  To what extent is juvenile delinquency, for example, an attempt by the juvenile to requite their parents?  The juvenile attempts to honor (from parental kindness shown) or dishonor (from parental hurt felt).  I am convinced that a large part of delinquency is an attempt to honor the parent, the child sensing an antisocial aspect on the part of at least one parent and acting this out in honor of the parent.  There are occasions where a parent can be deeply if inexplicitly appreciative of their child’s delinquency.  As I wanted to excel in work to honor my parents, it is entirely conceivable to me that under different dynamics I could have desired not to work but to remain unemployed to honor my parents.  When we come across what seem to be intractable problems, I have no doubt that the drive to requite (driven often by the force of unconditional love) is at the heart of them.

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Tonight I’ve had a dream that recurs again and again,
It has become my closest friend,
I try to dream of other things,
But it hangs around and hems me in.
I finally have made accommodations with the dream,
Just let me sleep a troubled sleep
And tomorrow I will live for love and peace,
To edit turmoil is no disgrace.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hardcore Self-Interest

Today I had to get my car serviced so went to the local Mazda dealer.  I drive a Mazda, so obviously that’s one reason I went to this dealership.  Another reason is that last year I purchased an extended bumper-to-bumper warranty.  The repairs when they are completed next Monday (a part had to be ordered) will cost about $600, but the warranty will cover all but a $100 deductible.  My experience today would have been a lot less pleasant had I not out of self-interest purchased a warranty last year.  That is one reason why I like doing things out of self-interest—it makes me feel good.  While I was there, I witnessed a salesman try to get a couple in for car service into a new car.  Their car was in good shape, so they did not buy.  But I saw the operation of self-interest on the part of the customers and salesman leading to happy outcomes.  The salesman finally offered to get them into a new car with no money down.  Had they really needed a car, their need could have been met.

While I and the other customers sat in the pleasant waiting area surrounded by new cars, I could easily imagine guests who would be unwelcome from the dealership's point of view—say, a gathering of penniless vagrants. Generally, I suspect all persons unwilling or unable to pay for services provided would be unwelcomed by the dealership.  This is an area of dealership self-interest I can fully appreciate.  It is extremely unpleasant to find oneself in a situation where self-interest is expected to be sacrificed to the unworkable; where business cannot be done—where the gratification of self-interest has no chance of being a mutual exchange.  To expect otherwise really has the feel of disrespect—asking others to deliberately act in contradiction of their self-interest.  I really have a problem with this in terms of Christianity where the ethos is selflessness.  I guess I come down in the end to identifying the deserving in contrast to the undeserving needy; between those facing hardships from no fault of their own, and those who chronically bring it upon themselves and then expect others, as Christians, to always stand ready to bail them out.  I hold that we can be complicit in addicting others by letting them tread over our self-interest.  Helping the deserving needy, to the contrary, bolsters our self-interest by allowing us to be generous while helping the self-interest of others.  Indulging the undeserving robs the self-interest of all and results in mutual exploitation.  An obvious challenge for the welfare state is how to assist the deserving without encouraging flaccidity and venality among its citizenry.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Coney Island of the Heart

Today Kathy & I had lunch at Coney Island Grill.  This is becoming our standard place of celebration—as in celebrating my recovery from an illness yesterday.  I really enjoy the fast service, delicious loaded chili dogs, and far from obsequious ambiance.  The restaurant tends to lighten the step of all ages—the restaurant (dating from 1926) gives even older younger folk the obdurate sense of being a competent survivor.  “The business of life is celebrated here” is the resilient feeling bestowed.

As incongruous as this may be, I am reminded of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s book of poemsA Coney Island of the Mind (A New Directions Book, Copyright 1958).  A friend of mine in undergraduate school, Ray Towler, read a selection (“Christ Climbed Down”) from this book during an internship high school class and landed in serious trouble.  Ray later joined the armed services, but was killed while still in his youth in a car accident.

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Monday, May 9, 2011


For the past day and a half I’ve been waylaid by an intestinal condition that involved nausea and diarrhea.  The most likely cause—food poisoning contracted from dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet Saturday afternoon. I have promised never to eat there again though this could be mere association and not genuine cause and effect.  Had I thought that wearing blue was the cause, I would never wear blue again.  Complete fairness in such cases becomes of secondary importance.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Laughable Dreams

Today Kathy & I saw the latest movie in the Focker Series, Little Fockers.  The series is full of strongly drawn characters, but the one I find especially interesting is Kevin Rawley (Owen Wilson).  He is drawn as the ideal young man who one would most want their daughter to marry.  He is a fabulously wealthy investment banker who travels the world on a yacht, lives in a mansion, is accomplished in any field one could imagine from woodworking to acrobatics.  Though he drives the hottest cars, he reportedly spends 40% of his time in soup kitchens feeding the poor, thus proving his unsurpassed empathy and compassion.  He is soft spoken and unassuming—yet manages to compare himself favorably to Jesus Christ whom he calls with familiarity JC.  Though avowedly a Christian, he has intimate knowledge of many eastern religions, spiritual dietitians, and mystic philosophers currently in vogue.  He is a deep thinker, yet exceptionally personable and unfailingly noble.  He is considerate of and adored by little children.  He is completely reliable in his perfect consideration of others, flaunting his perfection in total innocence of any adverse effect it may cause.  He always stands ready to help—which can include assistance to get things done by using his close ties with those who share his high level of power and influence.

When I was in my youth I’m afraid I greatly desired to be a Kevin Rawley. This ideal seemed to have it all—talent, material wealth, worldly skill and knowledge, mental breadth, spiritual depth, yielding women, numerous friends, and on the surface at least, the ability in an elevated way to make all lesser guys eat their hearts out in envy.  It's perhaps a sad commentary, since I no doubt felt deep down with considerable anxiety that I was his polar opposite—a poor, awkward, and incompetent dumb ass.  I have come to belatedly understand that it is often good that we do not realize our dreams; for indeed, some of our most cherished dreams are best viewed (as portrayed in the Focker Series) as downright laughable.

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Cherished Friendships

Today Kathy & I traveled to Winter Park to visit friends that I have known since meeting them in 1962 at USF where we were undergraduates together.  Frank and Patricia Johnson have been good enough to keep tabs on me during the intervening years, visiting off and on, and Friday it was high time to visit them on their home turf where they have lived since 1978.  We had a great visit and lunch.  Afterwards, Frank drove us around Winter Park allowing Kathy to direct us to where she lived as a youth, the home she lived in, where her father had an office, the schools she attended, many of her old haunts.  We also visited a lakeside park, beautiful neighborhoods, Rollins College, and the new development that now sits where once a large naval facility was based.  The new development includes residences, businesses and services—a whole new city within a city developed within the past seven years.  Frank and Patricia showed us where they plan to live in a year or two—Winter Park Towers.

Of course, we have changed much physically over the years, but Frank retains a quality that he has always had—a great enthusiasm for life down to the details.  He cheerfully takes on the task of realistic planning.  While building on the past, he certainly does not live there but has a deep interest in the present and future.  Frank and Patricia demonstrate willingness and courage to take on all that life offers covering all bets with planning and perseverance.  They have two children (David and Carol) and two grandchildren.  Their children make their homes in Texas and Maryland.

I would like to make just one note about Frank’s penchant for responsible planning.  In the 60’s we attended a church youth conference in Lake Junaluska, NC.  Our living quarters were in an older facility that had an old fashion bathtub for bathing.  Frank immediately surmised the situation and, noting the scouring powder nearby, stipulated that each person would be responsible for cleaning the tub after their bath. Today he continues to confront head-on unpleasant facts.  As his imagination could not repress the sight of bathtub scum, today he cannot neatly compartmentalize and dismiss the bloody mauling’s inherent in abortion.  One can't help but admire a mental integrity that does not turn away from significant facts however unpleasant.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Photos and Facts of Life

Porter, Rollin, Ed (my father) Standifer

Victoria Peake Standifer (my mother)
Me & brother Bobby
Since the advent of photography we have the opportunity to see ourselves and acquaintances grow from childhood to adulthood.  As children we can see our parents as children and youth.  Sometimes when viewing old photographs, I feel like an animal that sees itself in a mirror and can’t quite figure out what it all means.  It means one thing for sure—change is a constant in our lives.  As I get older, viewing photographs taken in years gone by brings on a wistfulness that is revisionist in nature.  I image it is a feeling many felt in the South following the Civil War—a feeling that the past is irretrievable yet somehow to be preferred over the present.  The main thing, I guess, is that we were all younger then.  We had a relatively clean slate not yet mussed up and written upon with many strikethroughs and corrections.  It’s funny; I seldom feel a photo just taken of me is a good shot.  But just give it some time; it will look better as the years go by.  It is said that aging is not for sissies.  Old photographs can provide us with yet another reproach.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Three Course Meal

Jerome Mathews
Today I had lunch with one of my sons, Jerome Mathews.  (Blog of Sunday, May 1, “Proud Father” was written on the occasion of the birth of his daughter.)  While we waited to be served, he wrote three terms on a scrap piece of paper.  He challenged me to follow each term with a one-word definition.  This I could not do.  He then re-wrote the terms in two sets and defined them with one word.  Here’s what we wrote:

Here’s how I defined them.

Knowledge  —  An accumulation of understanding
Understanding —  Mental comprehension of the way stuff works
Wisdom  —  A deep understanding of human nature & in the world the need for process
--(Then I added a 4th term…)
Truth  —  Man is spiritual & God is love

Here’s how he defined them.

Knowledge  —  Sight
Understanding  —  Insight
Wisdom  —  Foresight

Knowledge  —  Father
Understanding  —  Son
Wisdom  —  Holy Spirit

I had to admit his one-word definitions packed a lot of meaning in a concise form.  I was most impressed with his definitions of “Understanding.”  “Insight” pierces through a lot of fodder and gets to the essential meaning.  “Son” gets to a key function of Jesus Christ—to add to the Godhead a complete understanding of what it means to be human.  Since he was a child, Jerome has always had the knack for asking penetrating questions.

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Conquering Fear

Tuesday I was called upon to meet someone on their own turf.  Something about the invitation made me nervous.  I began to think I may be in personal danger.  Yet, I felt that the meeting was in God’s will and that what transpired would also be in his will.  Driving to the rendezvous, I was thinking what if this should be my last trip?  What if I had only moments to live?  When I actually arrived on the scene, all my fears were quickly allayed.  The tone of the meeting immediately dispelled all my irrational fears.  This was a lesson for me that I must not forget.  I must not live by fear, but by faith.  While trusting in mankind can sometimes lead to disappointment, trusting in God is mandatory.  As a Christian, personal safety or survival is not the utmost concern.  Many risks from my point of view are best left in God’s hands.  Risk therefore becomes psychologically manageable as I place myself in the will of God.  Obedience rather than fear becomes the immediate and reliable source of action.  Acting on eternal principles carries certain risks, but nowhere near the risks involved in acting on temporal anxieties.  And surmounting nervous angsts can have a calming and cumulative effect, attaining a gradual sense of survivorship as trust in the Lord is validated by positive and productive outcomes.  The bottom line: evaluate the source of fear—is its source temporal or eternal?  Opt to err on side of the eternal.  As the saying goes, aim for heaven and earth will be thrown in.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Thanksgiving Day in May

This is Thanksgiving Day for me.  I saw Dr. Diaz today to get the results of my bone marrow biopsy upon which a very thorough analysis had been undertaken.  Result—no cancer of any kind.  I had braced myself for the worse news only to find out the best.  It has been roughly a month since I was told it was possible that I had cancer.   A period in which I have had to shape an attitude that would supplant a feeling of victimization should I have only six months to live, or that would entail the cheerful acceptance of an extensive prolonged fight should that prove necessary. My appointment was at 2 pm, and I could not help but wonder what would be contained in my calls to friends and family an hour later.  When I made those calls, instead of offering earnest encouragement for me to join the fight for life everyone simply said “Hallelujah!”

Kindly Faces

Osama bin Laden
Sometimes I watch TV programs that follow inmates in high security prisons.  I am often struck by the incongruity of the pleasant visage of those who have done heinous crimes.  Some with innocent faces pose grave danger to fellow prisoners.  Their faces often seem to offer hope that they can be reached—that they can be taught empathy and kindness. With just a little can-do effort they can be made mentally and spiritually whole.  But, it is pointless to study the face in search of a good heart.  The smile and sparkle in the eye can derive from hatred as surely as it can derive from love.  Perhaps, one thinks, if only they had experienced a different childhood, then they could be happily and lawfully enjoying freedom in society—forming an example of an ideal citizen.  Lost opportunities be what they may, today’s realities are denied at one’s peril.      

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Proud Father

A child was born today,
But so was a father;
The father gathers round him
New responsibilities
And envisions future years
When she will grow to be
His special star,
His daughter.

Jerusalem, General J
And all the rest,
Redeemed today,
After thirty-nine of troubled seas
Upon the soles of tiny feet
And tiny fingers outstretched wide
The captive sailor gazes homeward
Freed at last by filial bonds.

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Courage Under Pressure

Corrie ten Boom
Saturday evening I watched The Hiding Place.  This is a film (1975, after the book, 1971) telling the true story of Corrie ten Boom and her family who lived in Holland when it was occupied by the Nazis during WWII.  In their home, the Ten Booms sheltered many Jews from the SS.  But the family’s activities were eventually discovered by the Nazis.   The family ended up in concentration camps with several family members dying there.  A main point of the film is that efficiency and effectiveness as means must always remain secondary to the purposes served, and that faith in the love of God (no matter what adversities encountered) sets the ultimate purpose for Christian believers.  (The Corrie ten Boom story)

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