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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dangerous Speculations

Historically, what I intend to do this evening has resulted in unspeakable cruelty and arrogance.  Nevertheless I feel the need to address what I think are reasonable possibilities.  I wish to speculate on human breeding and intellectual traits.  Is it not possible that the search for marital compatibility is an important factor in breeding and in the reinforcement of selected personality traits?  Today we watched the movie Babe originally released in 1995.  My wife and I agreed that this was a very good movie.  Somehow, the fact that we agreed about this movie brought us closer together—confirmed that we had made the right choice in selecting a mate.  Certainly on one level the movie can appear silly.  But somehow this movie based largely on talking animals touches a profoundly fundamental nerve—the themes find as commendable assets a solid preference for mutual respect; the preference of persuasion and love over intimidation, fear, and force; and the importance of openness to innovation.  We found ourselves crying in joy over the triumph of these qualities.  If either my wife or I had been cynical and ridiculed and trashed the film, then we would have felt more separated and alienated from one another.  From ancient times storytelling has been an important aspect of the human experience.  Could not affinity for the themes of these stories be a way for couples to find each other and to propagate and favor the tendencies affirmed in the stories?  They would prefer mates who found that the same cords resonated within their souls.  Could not the predominant tone and character of the society—the traits of the society—have been in large matter genetically self-selected based on appreciation of the mythology of the culture?

The Russian experiment (began in 1959) with foxes demonstrates that domestication of wild animals can occur very rapidly (decisive results showing in 50 years).  Foxes though breeding selection quickly demonstrate preference for affection rather than aggression: The result is that Russian scientists now have a number of domesticated foxes that are fundamentally different in temperament and behavior from their wild forebears. Some important changes in physiology and morphology are now visible…” (Source).

It may well be that mythology selects for predilections that touch on many bases—from emotional and intellectual to political and religious.  I joked with my wife that only democrats should be allowed to breed.  This, of course, would quickly result in everyone being democrat—in name only.  I make no plea for “planned parenthood,” but I do wonder often about the influential dimensions of romantic love.  Under this custom people engage in the self-selection of mates during which ideological preferences and temperaments are often key considerations.  After all, the beginning of my own happy marriage began in Sunday school—among a self-selected group of people sharing many deeply held prejudices and beliefs.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Is It Rational to be Rational?

Rational defined: 1) governed by, or showing evidence of, clear and sensible thinking and judgment, based on reason rather than emotion or prejudice 2)  able to think clearly and sensibly, unimpaired by physical or mental condition, strong emotion, or prejudice (Encarta Dictionary).

Of necessity, man is a social animal.  This means that he cannot totally pursue his own selfish interest.  Several layers of rationality are required.  While in a narrow sense individual selfishness is good and rational, he finds that if he pursues it to the total exclusion of the welfare of others, his self-centeredness will soon prove counterproductive.  He will discover that his own welfare is inescapably tied up and has competitive elements with the general welfare.  Likewise the general welfare cannot assert its claims with total disregard for the welfare of individuals.  The arrangement is clearly a mutual enterprise of accommodation, adjustment, and sacrifice.

This means that living arrangements must continuously be made. There is no elixir that once and for all settles all matters.  Because of this government is necessary.  Since government must mediate egocentric viewpoints, it is often an exercise that is neither serene nor stately.  But we must understand that its necessity originates out of the dual nature of man as an individual and as a social being.  It is only right that the individual pursue his selfish interest even while the larger society concurrently pursues its selfish interest.  Because of its inevitable intrusion upon personal life, government will always be more or less resented.

Some have attempted to argue that since the animal of reason—man—is rational, government is unnecessary.  Left alone, he will navigate rationally and justly since these attributes serve his selfish interest.  He will reliably choose the immediate as well as the greater good.  Unfortunately, every honest person must admit that this does not always accurately describe his own behavior.  He will admit that he occasionally has been blinded by passionate emotions or simple stupidity that brought him to grief or would have without the intervention of others.  Finally, it must be understood that rationality is not the foundation of man.  Rationality always is launched from and has its base in ethical values.  Everyone sees their own behavior as rational because their behavior is founded on their own value systems.  Thus, both Hitler and Gandhi were rational men.  And the social movements they led were also rational in this sense.  It is hopeless to appeal to rationality alone as a touchstone of rectitude or as a sanctuary from ordinary evaluation and, if necessary, intervention.

This evening I watched a documentary (Mind over Money) from the Nova series on the 2006 financial crash.  It was very interesting and asked the fundamental question—when faced with financial decisions, do humans act rationally or irrationally—from cool calculation (either consciously or unconsciously) or from emotion?  From my point of view, many basic decisions (not just those of a financial nature) are not made with cool reason but from emotion in one way or another.  We as humans do a lot of stupid things from envy or greed for example.  We see other people feeling good and making lots of easy cash, and we want to fully share that feeling and do likewise and completely overlook any risk or ethical aspects involved.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Universalization of Experience

Over the last few evenings, I have watched the three-part National Geographic documentary series Guns, Germs and Steel.  The series, based on the work of Prof. Jared Diamond, seeks to explain the causes of inequality among nations.  At the conclusion of the third and final episode, Prof. Jared finds himself in an area of Africa infested by malaria.  In a hospital where seven children can die per day from the disease, he visits some of those in deep stages of the illness.  He becomes distraught over what he sees.  He says simply in explanation that there’s a difference between knowing something intellectually and experiencing it firsthand.  It seems to me that this has been an important side effect of mass communication for a long time.  From radio, film, TV, surround sound, and computers—all strive to make the communication experience direct and increase its focus and impact.  That is why it is a safe prediction that one day 3D will be perfected.  Beyond entertainment lies a much more serious outcome of communication development.  It will serve to bring into our presence wherever we may be the full reality of a situation no matter how distant or far away.  If the sights, smells, and sounds of a remote malaria hospital could actually exist in my living room, would my attitudes and even priorities be affected by this holistic experience?  The universalization of experience promises to greatly diminish the room for callous excuses.  Far from being an avenue of escape, mass communication will eventually paint us into a corner and make flights from responsibility more difficult and reprehensible.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Under Cover of Light

Exacting the Will of God
Rationalization defined: in psychoanalytic theory, a defense mechanism whereby people attempt to hide their true motivations and emotions by providing reasonable or self-justifying explanations for irrational or unacceptable behavior  (Encarta Dictionary).  Rationalization is an ever-present part of human behavior.  It is so prevalent that there is scarcely an evil, selfish, brutal, or hurtful deed done without it.  Rationalization ironically testifies to the conscience of human beings—the fundamental awareness of good and evil.  The first requirement of acting out evil deeds is to rationalize it.  The recent killings in Norway reveal this necessity.  The killer, who shot down 76 people, claims (according to his lawyer) “he is in a war and he believes that when you are in a war you can do things like that without pleading guilty” (Source).  War has always been a reliable justification for atrocities.  Another all-time favorite rationalization is the concept of self-interest (which stands regally erect as a concept far removed from his hunched-over brother, selfishness).  By far, the most frequent use of rationalization is to radically transform dark deeds to their polar opposite—to deeds of light.  We do not just excuse our wrongdoings; rather we actively affirm their positive goodness.  There is a downright righteousness, a holiness, about our deeds.  The furthest reaches of perversity for the rationalization inclination is saved for declarations of the ultimate cleanser— religion itself.  Apparently, there is no evil so atrocious that it cannot be done in the name of God.  This is a particularly reprehensible rationalization for it illustrates not only the plundering of the holy and the yearning to be forever beyond ordinary accountability, but reveals as well the coincident lust for public acclaim and approval.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mixed Blessings

Often there is the assumption that more is better.  A surplus of all resources of whatever type is greatly to be desired.  Paradoxically, surpluses can require more willful discipline and sacrifice.  The example obvious to most of us is food.  We are blessed with great surpluses of food.  Yet this abundance results in a population that has chronic issues with being overweight and the health problems that ensue.  The discipline once exacted by food scarcity must now be maintained by intentional measures of abstinence.  What applies to food applies to many other areas.  A surplus of free time challenges us to put that time to productive use; else we find that “idle hands are the devil's workshop.”  So what is our greatest blessing can become our greatest curse.  Here it becomes obvious that ethical direction is a necessary condition for societal health.  The character of the information age explosion and the opportunities made available through abundant media resources will surely be an indicator of the spiritual health of a society.  Yet, censorship of the press we have long learned is an artificial and useless endeavor—it is a brown leaf tossed about on the surface of a rushing stream.  Censorship would ensconce by law staid respectability upon the spiritual dynamics driving a living society.  One of the greatest gifts of physical surpluses is that it provides time for spiritual reflection.  The Sermon on the Mount would not be possible had Jesus had to spend all his time hunting or gathering food.  We need to be thankful for direct and derived blessings and accept the challenges they represent.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

The Winning Edge

The other day my co-worker pointed out a concept often overlooked.  Frequently we become discouraged when we exaggerate out of proportion the tasks that lie before us.  Somehow we get caught in the trap of thinking that overwhelming force, perfection, and achievement are required for success.  Such unattainable performance measures make us faint of heart for we know only too well our shortcomings and limitations.  Fear and discouragement can thus paralyze us.  The liberating concept my co-worker introduced is that, as we find in many sports, total domination is not necessary to win.  Success requires only being marginally better than the competition—even just a tiny margin of advantage can be enough to be decisive in determining outcome.  I’m not a biologist, but I think advantageous variation at the margin has been a contributing factor in evolution making it possible for adapting organisms to thrive.  Sometimes minor, even subtle, differences can signal a significant advantage and make all the difference. Therefore, we should take heart.  We don’t need to be supermen achieving the impossible to prevail.  The efforts required of us are not gargantuan.  Rather, very ordinary efforts well within our capacity when persistently applied often suffice to overcome adversity.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

On Discounted Experiences

Too often people tend to discount the importance or significance of their own experiences.  With this comes a tendency to romanticize and elevate the experience encountered by others.  They consider their own experiences of little or no importance and less worthy than that of others which they feel reside on some unreachable star.  Often this unreachable star is set apart by prestige enhanced by remoteness.  A great deal of human effort can go into creating this air of untouchable inaccessibility.  Automatic assent to prestige alone is quite valuable in all types of social settings.  A key purpose becomes through elevated status to create an automated response of acquiescence to the predilections of the privileged.  Let us take an example.  One can graduate from an Ivy League university while another is released from incarceration at a prison.  The natural tendency is to enshrine the experiences garnered at the first institution, while demeaning and dismissing the experiences encountered at the second.  In actuality, the life lessons learned from prison experiences can rival the wisdom from prestigious universities.  The main difference is that society tends to bow down to the first while dismissing the second.  Credibility is far too often related to reputation rather than reality.  Worship at the altars of “the best and brightest” has always caused incessant mischief and great societal-induced foolishness.  I look forward to the day when a prison record (or being raised in the back country sticks) is a cause for preferential treatment in employment.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Making a Difference

Tonight we saw Babe: Pig in the City.  Babe found himself on the mean streets of a metropolis.  It was an environment where most everyone was looking out for themselves.  Babe, under vicious attack by a bull terrier, ran many blocks until making a narrow escape.  In the pursuit, the bull terrier became entangled and found himself drowning headfirst in a body of water.  Babe, seeing the dog’s plight, got a boat and saved his former pursuer from drowning.  The stray animals on the street witnessed this act of courage and kindness and found it remarkable, even hopeful.  So too did the saved bull terrier.  The moral of this aspect of the story was simple—show kindness where least expected and it can—will—have an impact, even winning over former enemies.   While a work of fiction proves nothing, it can resonate within us and give us courage and hope.  We can be inspired to do the kind thing while deeply yearning for some fatherly affirmation like that offered to Babe by Farmer Hoggett.  As the film closes he says to Babe, “That'll do Pig. That'll do.”

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Friday, July 22, 2011

What is Success?

[Questions today from Ramon:]  A Wayne i got a question for you........ What's the difference between a Job and a career ?????  And is a person considered successful because they  have a job????  And last Q. What do you consider a successful person????     Have a good day at work......

[Response]  First off, I’m glad you asked the question about success.  I guess I would ask, “How many people do you know who earnestly desire to be losers?”  Clearly most everyone wants to be a success—a winner.  My view of success has changed over time.  Once I wanted to be President.  I wanted some kind of ultimate, showy symbol of success.  Look at my list of jobs—an orange tree hoer, a student, a teacher, a clerk, a blender, a clerk typist, a clerk again, and finally a computer person.  Surely, if I defined myself as a success or not by these jobs, the verdict would not be all that breathtaking.  On the other hand, I have come to feel that I have been very successful in life because I have lived what I think is a meaningful life.  What do I mean by this?  I mean that whatever job I held or more broadly the values that I lived for were Christian values.  This fundamentally is a view that the disciplines of love as they are related to people and to the physical world are paramount.  Please refer to the Teico paper I mailed to you. [See blog]  In my view if Ramon Green exercises the disciplines of love to the best of his ability wherever he may find himself or in whatever he may undertake, then he is a resounding success.  When he gets to be 67 and looks back over his life, he will not feel regret, but rather a deep, gratifying feeling that he has been blessed.  I know this is not the usual definition of a career, but for me this is it.  In other words, you can affirm this career playing basketball at Coleman or being President of the United States or repairing air conditioners or being a rocket scientist.  A person could do all these things and essentially have one career as a disciple of Jesus—as an apostle of objective love.  You are in this career affirming the long-term, even participating in the eternal.  My acquaintance with you, Teico, George, Alton, and all the rest was a very big thing in my life.  I viewed our relationship as part of my career—something that contributed immensely to meaning in my life.

Now the common understanding of job and career is that career is long-term and job is short-term.  That is, I can have a career in computers, but in that career at one time or another hold many specific jobs—desktop support, networks, servers, programming .  The frequent career question is “What field are you in?”  See this quite literally and envision yourself standing in a field perhaps surrounded by a fence.  This field is like your career.  The specific work in which you engage in this field is your job.  You can change jobs while remaining in the same field.

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Streams in the Desert

Today I learned that a friend wagered all the past, present, and future on a wild scheme—and lost.  In the severe chaos that followed, he stood isolated and alone.  The fear of being alone is surely one of the most elemental fears of mankind, and lasting from childhood to adulthood.  That which we most struggle against eventually finds us—a specter arising from our deepest anxieties and dread.  Now that the door is locked and the four walls closing in, is it possible that he will find what some others have found in like circumstances; a feeling that though alone, yet not alone; though isolated, inexplicably loved.  That, at least, is my fervent prayer.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tired with All These

Tonight I find myself in rebellion at the notion that since persons and nations sometimes must choose between the lesser evil (or choose between evils) that they are no longer accountable or culpable for their actions or the evil done.  I rebel at the notion that ethical complexity can be an excuse for cruelty—or that official remoteness from evil deeds done is a free ride to respectability.  I rebel at the arrogance that thinks that verbal abstractions and intellectual aloofness can expunge the record of spilled innocent blood.  I rebel at sophistication that is no more than sophistry dressed up in chic regalia. I rebel at exceptionalism that pumps up the idiosyncratic self and finds any proffered criticism no matter how humbly presented stupid and dumb.  I find self-infatuation a fierce addiction as surely enticing as heroine but a trillion times more delusional and dangerous—and as subject to group indulgence.  Given human nature, is self-righteousness an inevitability?  Are its stupidities inescapable?  Is there no wisdom free from harlotry?  Pray to Jesus that it be otherwise; reveal to us how sanity is possible for ourselves and for the nations.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On Seeing

Exhibit 1:

Even after you see it, it is still hard to believe!

This is a channel-bridge over the River Elbe and joins the former East and West Germany, as part of the unification project.  It is located in the city of Magdeburg, near Berlin… The Magdeburg Water Bridge is a navigable aqueduct in Germany that connects the Elbe-Havel Canal to the Mittelland Canal, and allows ships to cross over the Elbe River. At 918 meters, it is the longest navigable aqueduct in the world.

Exhibit 2:

"Goodbye," said the fox.  "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly--what is essential is invisible to the eye."  From The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.


The Magdeburg Water Bridge stands in magnificence not because of what can be seen, but what cannot be seen.  It is not the concrete, but rather the abstractions that make it feasible.  The abstract, the intangibles are the great facilitators, the great enablers of all things tangible.  One day the Magdeburg Water Bridge will exist no more, but the abstractions, the intangibles that made it possible will exist forever—forever vital, forever young.


Just so, we should structure our lives conforming to eternal verities.  And the most important of these is the disciplines of objective love, the ever vital facilitator by which we participate in the long-run.

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We Are United

This evening I would like to share one of my favorite songs.  The lyrics are by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  The title is We Are United.  Here’s a lively rendition of the song.


By Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
Written by Manuel and Joeline McGregor
Arranged by Carol Cymbala
From CD: High And Lifted Up

[Chorus x2:]
We are united in Jesus Christ
We are the soldiers of the light
We don't wrestle flesh and blood
But principalities of the dark
We do our marching to one beat
Crushing the enemy under our feet
We are mighty in our stand
With God's word in our hand

[Verse 1:]
In our hearts we have a vision
We have made our decision
To show the Father's love
With great power from above


[Verse 2:]
Let us reach this generation
Every tribe and every nation
For we've overcome the world
By the blood of Christ The Lamb


The Lord our God is a sword and shield
We fight our battles on our knees [x3]

[To end Repeat:]
We do our marching to one beat
Crushing the enemy under our feet
We are mighty in our stand
With God's word in our hand [x3]
We are mighty!!

Thanks to Dylan Charpentier for these lyrics (Source:

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Liberal and Conservative a la Carte

The internet radio makes it readily possible to extensively mainline on your political views 24 hours per day.  I have two stations on presets—KRXA-AM 540 (Liberal) and WORL-AM 660 (Conservative).  It strikes me as a bizarre thing to want constant and total affirmation of one’s own prejudices.  Though total balance is an ideal hard to achieve, nevertheless stations that attempt to achieve it are healthier for one’s psyche in the long run.  The media that attempts to achieve balance are angrily derogated by both sides of the political and cultural purity divide as being hopelessly biased.  This is surely a strange accusation considering the source.

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Saturday I saw Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980) which star Christopher Reeve as Superman.  Superman is a hero that tells a lot about us.  Superman is who most would like to be—someone who takes seriously “truth, justice, and the American way.”  Someone who (like Obery Hendricks, Jr. describes Jesus in The Politics of Jesus) “treat[s] the people’s needs as holy;” someone who empathizes with people in trouble. He is also someone who “give[s] a voice to the voiceless; expose[s] the workings of oppression; calls[s] the demon by name; saves…anger for the mistreatment of others, [doesn’t] just explain the alternative, [but] show[s] it.” He wants to relieve pain and suffering—both that caused by man and that resulting from unfortunate predicament or natural disaster.  Most especially he hates evil exploiters and bullies.  I’m certain that his extraordinary ability to do good is the desire of many who often feel deeply their own ineffectiveness to help much.  The acclaim Superman receives is not hero worship so much as the simple feeling that “I wish I could be more like that.”  The one area that Superman strays off from Obery Hendricks' seven strategies of Jesus is strategy six: “take blows without returning them.”  In Superman II surely all rejoice when Superman in the concluding scenes of the film returns to the diner to settle scores with a town bully.  Superman doesn’t leave it to God to make amends, he does it personally.  He not only bleeds as a man, as Superman he sheds blood as well.  Because of this trait to get even, we do not worship Superman as divine.  Despite his super abilities, he is very much a secular hero.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

The American Ruling Class

This evening I watched The American Ruling Class (2007) a dramatic documentary film written by Lewis H. Lapham.  The tone of the movie is perfect for a subject that is debatable.  I guess it is a tautology that we are ruled by rulers.  But, of course, the basic issue is access to power.  I think most Americans prefer to think that whatever wealth and power exits, it can be accessed by others—a meritocracy is graciously extant.  We see this often on less than a national stage.  In our local work assignments we witness high achievers being rewarded.  We tend to assume if that’s the case where we work, then that can also be the case on a broader stage.  And on the broader stage of politics nothing is more certain than that relative unknowns in one election cycle will emerge and triumph in another.  Personally, I refuse to identify wealth and power as exclusionary concepts.  Virtually everyone has possession in some measure of wealth and power.  To deny that is to deny the responsibility that is inherent in daily situations.  Of course, wealth and power take many forms.  And that is why most Americans are fairly disinterested in class divisiveness and brinkmanship.  Money while very useful has limited clout in meaningfulness.  Happiness is only tangentially related to it.  The ability to have some sense of control is essential to happiness.  In a democracy with guaranteed rights, there is always a foundational measure of it.  Also the self-disciplines of school, work, or play give a meaningful sense of control.  The “American Ruling Class” as a concept is not that interesting.  Far more important to the American mind is issues closer to home—self-mastery, self-rule.  In fact, that’s what the movie made clear.  In the end, the principal actors had a choice and they made it.  I might argue that I would not have made their choices—but that is me.  We all in fact participate in our destinies—however bleak or privileged our upbringing.  We can choose our attitude and our objectives, even to a vow not to cultivate greed or envy.  The wise choice is not class consciousness but self-consciousness, not parsimoniousness but generosity especially in reciprocal goodwill.  We are all poor mortals in the end searching for a little happiness and meaning.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Fog of War

Tonight I saw the documentary (The Fog of War (2003)) about Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense during the Cuban Missile Crisis and much of the Vietnam War.  He discusses eleven lessons he has learned from his war experiences.  They are:
1.    Empathize with your enemy
2.    Rationality will not save us
3.    There's something beyond one's self
4.    Maximize efficiency
5.    Proportionality should be a guideline in war
6.    Get the data
7.    Belief and seeing are often both wrong
8.    Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning
9.    In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
10. Never say never
11. You can't change human nature

He provides us with a great service in enunciating these lessons.  Lesson 1 derives from the Biblical injunction to love your enemies.  As McNamara observes, it’s possible that tremendous tragedy can be averted through such empathy—from seeing the conflict from the point of view of one’s antagonist.  Lesson 2 is a cold shower warning us that neat and tidy rationality is only one facet of what can be a highly messy situation.  Lesson 3 again invites us to get outside our skins and see the world from different perspectives.  Being able to laugh at one’s own foibles is important here.  Lesson 4 when taken alone can be disastrous.  Yet, it is certainly a desirable objective that waste when it exists should be understood and avoided.  Willful waste that doesn’t count the cost (typically indicated by unlimited budgets) is too often associated with war.  Lesson 5 is easily forgotten in war as the drive is often the opposite—to proceed onward at a profligate pace undertaken with full emotional abandon.  Lesson 6 reminds us that like empathy, objectively ascertaining the facts—sometimes an exacting, unpleasant, and extremely humble pursuit—is an expression of the disciplines of love.  Lesson 7 is dramatically counter to the human inclination to take sheer belief as a guarantor of doubtless future accomplishment with the associated tendency to view perception as uncolored by our prejudices.  Lesson 8 recognizes the fact that gargantuan resistance to re-evaluation occurs once we have committed to a course of action.  Lesson 9 challenges us to identify and commit to priorities sometimes with deeply conflicting results—we sometimes must choose the lesser evil.  Lesson 10 reminds us that our knowledge is often vastly incomplete.  Events occur that even the wisest did not nor could not predict.  Lesson 11 concedes that the mile high fact to consider is that human nature is deeply flawed and yet susceptible to redemption.                                                                                                                                         
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New Internet Radio

I have spent several hours playing with my new internet radio—an Innovator III by Grace Digital.  This little radio when connected to external speakers gives a big sound.  It is able to access Pandora—the major reason I got it.  But it also pulls in podcasts and many other stations including streaming specific URL sites.  Now I am listening under Live365 to an all Christmas station in Missouri.  Earlier I have listened to NPR, classical, NOAA, WeatherBug, college, and podcasts of market news.  The experience leapfrogs all legacy experiences of radio broadcasting.  The sudden flood of accessible resources makes for a hesitating thought that I was born too soon.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Building Memories

Like I cannot fully explain why fathers (as they partake of symbol) are so important in the lives of children, I cannot explain how it is that building favorable childhood memories is decisively important; but surely it is.  Today I discussed with a co-worker the many memories she had of family get-togethers at her family’s cabins in Michigan.  Another co-worker is taking his family to SeaWorld tomorrow.  Again, without knowing fully why, we know that providing this experience for his children is well worth the effort.  There are many types of deprivation, but surely one price of poverty is the limited arsenal of rich images of special moments experienced in childhood and youth to buttress one in later adulthood.  A memory that I find particularly encouraging is when in the Great Smoky Mountains our family stopped our car by the road and viewed a wide stream rushing over rocks.  Why that particular image (and sound) stuck, while others have been forgotten, I don’t know.  It must have met some deep need in me in my childhood and still does today. Somehow my identity is tied up in these special moments.  They help provide me with a mysterious sense that I have been introduced to and understand beyond words something about the meaning of existence.  Wordsworth again comes to mind.

                              The Prelude

There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence–depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse–our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Moody Programming

Strains of music
Streaming from earliest memories,
An overwhelming sense of continuity
From generation to generation,
Yearnings mixed with contentment
Sharing in eternity.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Today in Sunday School

A lesson from the Upper Room (7/5/11) quotes Mark 1:10 (NIV) “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”  Our teacher Mitch discussed several miracles in the Bible, such as this, and pondered about the possibility of such Biblical miracles happening today.  I said that probably the worst thing that could happen to the United States is for the heavens to be torn open with shafts of light descending and the voice of God thundering to the entire world “This is my chosen country—America!”  Think for a moment what would be the consequences of such a dramatic and heavy revelation.  I think we are kidding ourselves if we think they would be all positive.  Much of the negative produce would be home grown.  Now, even without such a demonstration, we see people proposing disastrous policies all the while wrapping themselves up in the American flag or lifting up the Bible.  One can only guess what wild and foolish flights human pride would take following an official and miraculous endorsement of the American state by God.  We would, I think, in short order find ourselves in a seething nest of vipers.  Militaristic jingoism aboard and vicious internecine strife at home would be the certain result.  This is not to say that we should not have or don’t need conviction.  Indeed we do—but only the right kind of conviction.  And the only conviction that is trustworthy is that based on the disciplines of tough love.   All good things derive from it.  It is interesting to track the historical philosophical grounding for the Bill of Rights.  But it comes down to love and respect for the individual in the end—a committed humility before the basic needs of man.  An unqualified spiritual endorsement of any organization including a state would require the existence of a homogenized harmony of commitments, experiences, and perceptions.  This is simply not the experience of humanity.  We are far better off under a lovingly exploratory rather than a set- in-stone self-righteous state.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Truth of the Matter

A Shakespearian character (York in Henry VI Part 2) says “Say as you think, and speak it from your souls….”  This is a sentiment that is very admirable…most of the time.  Certainly on essential matters, being diplomatic must give way to earnest and honest expression.  But sometimes we’d rather not hear sharp opinion.  Today I was removing an old toilet seat in our bathroom and replacing it with a new one.  I was on my hands and knees while a long-time friend (some thirteen years my junior) was looking on along with my wife Kathy, who is also younger than me.  While I was struggling some to screw the new seat in place, my wife on viewing the scene blithely described me as being “elderly.”  She meant it in a funny way, but I suddenly felt kinship with the toilet.  I asked Kathy to please not call me that again until I get white hair.  And, with the help of Youthair, that day may never come.  So, “say as you think, and speak it from your souls”—just remember in the process to be kind to old farts. 

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Trouble on the Way to the Presidency

All my life I have wanted to the President.  I have suddenly come to realize a major hindrance to fulfilling this ambition—I hate going to meetings.  Nothing drives me nuts faster than sitting down at an hour-long meeting where events are reviewed that have transpired since Christmas.  To make matters worse, I hate networking where a pretense is made at studying some subject matter when the true end is getting to know the “right” people in case one needs to call on them someday to further one’s career.  Lastly, I hate crowds.  I had much rather stay home than be one of a thousand stuck in a traffic jam.  I prefer rather brief “non-meetings” where throughout the day one cogently addresses issues; I prefer practical networking where in the daily pursuit of one’s work one meets people and establishes friendships; I prefer to think of desirable crowds as no larger than a typical church meeting. With these aversions and these preferences it is clear I am best employed exactly as I am.

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In Praise of Sexual Attraction

There may be a few Venus’s and Adonis’s in the world who always are self-assured sexually based on their striking good looks.  But probably most of us have multiple reasons to feel less than a very hot article.  Most men I know remember only too well being snotty-nosed boys with a negative attraction potential.  It is frequently a continuing surprising marvel to them that a female possibly could be genuinely attracted to them.  I was at a recreation center yesterday going about my work.  I noticed peripherally a young man in his twenties talking to the female associate at the desk.  He was seated and obviously taking care of some business matter.  When he eventually left, the associate said, “Whew, I’m glad he’s gone.  I was beginning to forget that I am a married woman.  I said as little to him as I possibly could.  Lord, he was something else.  Help me Lord; the devil is sure active today.”  My bet is the young man hadn’t a clue that in addressing some problematic business matter he was having quite an effect on the associate at the desk.  He had too deeply ingrained in his head that only yesterday he was a snotty-nosed kid and that this morning he had bad breath.  So today I sing praise to sexual attraction so that, as in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream, one can fall in love even with a jackass.     

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Set Apart

A holiday is a day designated as having special significance for which individuals, a government, or a religious group have deemed that observation is warranted. It is generally an official (more common) or unofficial observance of religious, national, or cultural significance, often accompanied by celebrations or festivities…. The word holiday derived from the notion of "Holy Day", and gradually evolved to its current form.  The word holiday comes from the Old English word hāligdæg. The word originally referred only to special religious days. In modern use, it means any special day of rest or relaxation…. (Wikipedia

Thank goodness for holidays.  Coming off the 4th of July it is possible to feel reinvigorated after a day of rest, relaxation, and observance.  Imagine what it would be like to have no holidays; to have no days sanctified with special significance; to have no days marked as holy.  What kind of religion, what type of nation would have nothing worth celebration or observance?  To say “humbug” to holidays says “nix” to life and human needs.  It makes the fatal mistake of ingratitude; it assumes all good things came down to us on a silver platter of indifference and ease.  It discounts the gifts to us from our predecessors and would make callous our posterity.  In view of this, I would like to propose a holiday in celebration of holidays—but rather than Thanksgiving’s two days off, there would be a week off for special observance, rest, and relaxation.  It would be a “floating event” and occur on everyone’s birthday.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

July 4th

Today, July 4th, was a restful holiday.  I read as much as I’m going to in The Politics of Jesus (Hendricks). Dr. Hendricks’ insistence on a political interpretation of Mathew 20:1-16 ( the story of a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard and then hired others throughout the day—paying all the same wage) got me to thinking he was stretching the interpretation a bit.  Also, I resisted his interspersion of American politics within a discussion of scripture.  I rejoiced when MLK used the common experience of religion and scripture in the cause of civil rights and found his allusions powerful and convincing.  But to excoriate Republican positions repeatedly as irreligious is contrary to what I think of as an introspective application of scripture.  No doubt Dr. Hendricks observed some Republicans claiming that God endorsed their agenda in detail and decided to return tit for tat.  Generally, I guess, I am suspicious when anybody wraps themselves in the leaves of scripture implying they are beyond the normal critiques of reason and their cause beyond debate.

I watched two documentaries:  In Search of Beethoven  (2009) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony (1999).  The documentary of Beethoven discussed his political and religious philosophy.  I understood for the first time the kinship we hold in this area.  Now I am moved by his message as well as his music.  The Stanton/Anthony video reminds me of the deeply conservative aspects of American politics.  Long after much of the world gave women the right to vote, finally the US did too.  Though the movement for equal rights for women began officially in 1849 in a conference held in a Methodist Church, it was not until 1920 (just 24 short years before my birth) that women finally received the right to vote in the 19th Amendment.  Like in so many political issues, religion was used passionately on both sides of the argument.  

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Room for Reform

Tonight I watched a video that explored the contrast between wealth and poverty: The One Percent.  “In this eye-opening documentary, filmmaker Jamie Johnson examines the gap that exists between America's poor and the 1 percent of the population that controls half the country's wealth” (Netflix). The Director was Jamie Johnson (an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune). The poverty-wealth conundrum has no simple answer, or it would have been solved long ago.  I suppose that if one could snap one’s finger and make everyone wealthy that’s something most of us would be willing to do.  The creation and distribution of wealth is an emotional subject, and where one stands on the issues raised depends to a great extent on where one sits.  I keep thinking of my father who as a Methodist minister encountered unhappy situations that had no simple answers.  Some members were in poverty, some were in chronic ill health.  Growing up in this environment ingrained in me the lesson of the importance of atmosphere or tone.  That is, though there were no simple answers, a culture of love, brotherhood, equality, and compassion prevailed.  One may ask, “But what good is that if it provides no ready solutions.”  The answer is that it provides a climate where coping mechanisms can be established in the short term and when the time is right for new human insight and perception a facilitating atmosphere prevails to bring solutions to fruition.  I feel that as long as “God Bless America” is asked with a spirit of brotherhood and empathy then eventually God in his time will reveal a light that will bring a solution to poverty.  When the time is right, this could occur quite rapidly.  Certainly without this foundation, no progress is possible.  Class warfare is a dead-end.  Self-righteousness on the part of anyone is a dead-end.  Poverty at any time in any place makes for compelling conditions especially when children and the aged are affected.  But with a prayerful attitude a climate of insight can be cultivated providing avenues for immediate action and hope for more complete actions in the future.  The precondition for any solutions is essentially spiritual.

For it does make a difference how I'm treated and the faces I meet,
And the sense of a purpose etched from the beginning of history,
A Promised Land, a place where people council in prayer,
To do better than exist and just get by,
But to trust and triumph in a Divine Will.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Two Keillor Conclusions

Today we watched a documentary entitled Garrison Keillor: Man on Radio in Red Shoes.  In this video Garrison Keillor, creator and host of the popular "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show, comes to two conclusions that definitely resound within my own experience.  First, when he was young he did not want to be ordinary.  Certainly this is a widespread feeling.  Who on youthful graduation from high school has the burning ambition and desire to be ordinary?  No, the contrary feeling arises—not to be merely equal but to be special and to rise above the ordinary.  Then, as we grow older, we come to appreciate a fundamental paradox of life—being ordinary is perhaps the hardest yet most rewarding achievement possible.  We come to appreciate that people who strive to be extraordinary at any cost frequently have the saddest and most unsuccessful lives.  Like a true leader who focuses not on achieving leadership status, but rather on doing a job they feel compelled to do; the ordinary originates from passion and authenticity which focuses on immediate needs.  Here, urgent fulfillment falls within the doable rather than the remote and dubious.  I often think of what my Sunday school teacher was fond of repeating—“Bloom where you’re planted.”  It is just too much of a gamble to never serve now hoping to bear better fruit in the uncertain future.  Too strong a hopeful ambition can really come down to the selfish denial of life.  

The second conclusion Keillor came to in the video is that the American people have a deep commitment to kindness.  This kindness is something I have been blessed with all my life.  Even when I have taken positions which were controversial, I have found kindness on every side despite disagreements.  This deep-seated goodwill arises from a common belief that we are to be true to ourselves—and if points of views clash, better honest disagreement in which we are true to our own lights rather than feign harmony which inevitably would bring about a destructive cynicism.  This quality of compassion is based on empathy well-grounded in the values of democracy.

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Take Time to Plant the Flowers

Today Kathy & I went to a nursery and purchased a crepe myrtle ('Tonto' (red)).  We want to put a splash of color beside our front porch.  The mover and shaker of this project is Kathy, who wants our home to have beauty.  Saturday morning we will plant and water it.  

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