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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Ultimate Source of Sustenance

The day that we stop counting our blessings is the day we plunge into despair.  For everyone it is not true that “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”  For some the outlook is parched earth.  My wish is that people without hope can sustain themselves by the knowledge that they have within them the divine spark.  They are inherently valuable and stand fully equipped to make valuable contributions even when not expected, ask for, or wanted.  They are never forgotten or forsaken.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just a Saying

There is a saying:  “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”  This is saying that people will no longer care about something to the point of death, or hate something to the point of death.  That would have implications not only for war, but also for daily life.  Not infrequently we are called upon to take risks for these reasons and to this extent and we do them willingly.  A common one is travel.  We take the kids to see grandma but subject our family to all the risks of going 75 miles/hour in heavy interstate traffic.  Our love, our care to support family relationships easily banishes from our minds the stark risks involved.  We do it because we care; clearly experience with human nature shows that war will always exist so long as people feel that they have fundamental stakes in the battle.  It is a way to show symbolically as well as in the flesh the unlimited nature of commitment.  So we had best hope that wars do not end so long as stakes of this sort exist.  Otherwise that would indicate a monumental shift in the nature of man—one in which he no longer could be counted upon to have and affirm in significant ways solid commitment.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Misconstrued as Self-Confidence

Self-Confidence defined: “confidence in yourself and your own abilities” (Encarta Dictionary).

Some Sunday thoughts: A common error is to interpret the confidence of people of faith as self-confidence.  This is a remarkable error since people of faith often have a very dim view of human nature—including their own.  Actually the behavior interpreted as self-confidence is a manifestation of true human freedom deriving from the abandonment of all forms of idol worship.  People are astounded by the quiet assurance of a man of faith often mistaking it for courage when it in fact is simply the result of true freedom and faith.  They mistakenly call it self-confidence when in fact it is the quiet conviction in the validity of the life of Jesus and the absolute nature of God as love.  With this conviction and confidence at the core of their being they are able to withstand any hurricane thrown at them by the passions of the world.  By keeping a holy focus in this sense they are content that all will be well no matter what ensues.  They no longer count as important or significant the desperate transcendent quest to gain or maintain official position or station.  These things are now viewed as a manifestation of fleshly lusts for power.  Ironically, idol worship itself can also give the appearance of self-confidence.  The trust placed in idols emboldens one to act with vigor and earnestness.   The difference between faith in idols and faith in God is the difference between a “short-term only-the-now-matters” focus contrasted with “now only derives significance as it is given meaning and purpose by the Eternal.”  It seems that the world of idols is often the winner—until cut down at the knees by disaster.  A historical perspective clearly indicates that holy ground is the solid ground.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Pain Mystery of the Outer Banks

We are confronted by a mystery.  Why is it that pain (say childhood pain) can bring about two possible reactions?  On the one hand, it can cause a person to have a heightened compassion deriving from empathy for the pain of others thereby calling forth efforts to lessen or prevent it.  On the other, the pain can be transmuted into sadism in which one wants to increase the pain of others for the sole purpose of enjoying it in reverse empathy (“I feel your pain” becomes instead “you feel my pain”).  The first is a reaction of love; the second is a yearning for perverted justice (perverted because pain is gratuitously inflicted upon the innocent).  This mystery has come to mind recently.  I used to view it as mutually exclusive—either a person was of the first order or the second, but not both.  My recent behavior makes me reevaluate this.  Several days ago in my Florida living room as tropical storm Irene was intensifying off the continental United States, several path trajectories were identified.  With time, the paths became more focused and the hurricane clearly threated such atypical sites as Washington DC and New York City.  As I was watching this on TV an uncomplimentary and evil thought crossed my mind.  “It’s about time,” I thought.  “Let them be the ones to suffer the intense and prolonged anxiety that can come from being in the path of a storm.  Let the New Yorkers scatter and evacuate under great stress and anxiety.”  Yes, my thoughts and emotions were enjoying the exhilaration of revenge.  What an exalting feeling of vindication suddenly overcame me!  Then out of self-interest I immediately squelched the thought.  “I can’t think or feel this way or God will send the next hurricane as a direct hit on my doorstep,” I thought.  If God has anything in common with the paparazzi, he has another unflattering photo of me to add to his files.   

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Friday, August 26, 2011

The Turn of Events

Some remember from their youth
The daring acts of war
They remember flying high amid the flak
And dropping bombs below.

My memories of my youth
Are tame in comparison
For when steel prison doors clanked shut
And count time sealed us in
The patriotic cause was joined
By being counted in.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Prayer for Gratitude

Lord, fill me with gratitude
Which it seems so much I lack;
Ingratitude is not my bane
So much as blindness to sacrifices made—
Efforts done on my behalf by countless others
And by God above—
Help me to feel a debt reaching deep
Not to indenture me to drudgery and guilt
But to put me in a frame of mind
That binds me with love to give in kind.

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Plain Vanilla

During the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s people whose names are not household words developed computer networking.  How telling is it that I know the name of Charles Manson but not their names?  Some of the developers no doubt made good money as engineers, but made very little in comparison to the gifts they brought society.  While celebrities of all types during those years may have been famous for a moment, surely true greatness resides with those who serve quietly and make solid contributions.  In a way I think those who developed ARPANET, TCP/IP, Ethernet, emailing, and the internet share the fate of many parents who after bringing their children into the world and nurturing them for years, find their fame and wealth focused teens take them for granted and are a little embarrassed by their normalcy.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

As Surely as Sparks Fly Upward

Job 5:7  (NIV)

Yet man is born to trouble
as surely as sparks fly upward.

Most everything requires some degree of maintenance to continue to function for the purposes designed.   To retain and maintain purpose; energy, intelligent creativity, and effort are required.  When purpose is lost maintenance loses it raison d'ĂȘtre.  The first step to disintegration is loss of the will or resources to maintain purpose—whether it is humanly or providentially supplied.  The aging process and eventually death are examples in which systems no longer have the resources to perform the purposes for which they were designed.  To sustain a lively purpose for his many creations is one of the greatest challenges of man.  The implements of war will disappear only when and if the undergirding purposes for them disappear; provisions for war being seen as a necessity.  The ideal situation is to have lively purposes and abundant resources.  Whereas purposes are a creation of the mind and to a certain extent within man’s control, the supply of resources (in contrast to the exploitation of them) lies largely outside of his control.  Often “creation of” and “exploitation of” are largely confused until resources are exhausted.  Since “man is born to trouble” pessimism and cynicism are constant threats to his high spirits and to his greatest challenge to creativity cultivate purpose.  Man’s abiding spiritual thirst is a clear indication that he has no inclinations for abandoning his search for purpose or for his role to create it.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On the Ubiquity of Cell Phones

The antisocial do not exit
For even the misanthropist
Needs other people to argue with
And loners often find that total isolation
Is not heaven but its antithesis
From birth to death the steady impetuous hum of speech
Brings requisite calm to the human mind
Testifying to a stubborn truth—
That all reach out in self-defense.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Today in Church

Today Pastor David Miller preached a sermon with the theme that “God is able.”  God is an able fortress for us in times of trial.  One of Pastor David’s references was to Daniel 3:16-18 which follows the narrative in which King Nebuchadnezzar orders three young men from Judah to be thrown into the fiery furnace for not bowing down to an idol.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (NIV).  Pastor David said that their faith is called “even if” faith.  Even if their God does not deliver them for whatever reason they still will worship only him. This represents the strongest form of faith in view of the frailest form of evidence.  It is faith based not on inclinations of wishful thinking but on firm intellectual conviction.  This faith is characterized by the lack of defensiveness.  It welcomes all opposition, all adversaries.  For Christians this means that while the love of Jesus need not boast, neither need it be afraid.  All shades, degrees, and manifestations of hate can have their say, but Christians know that the love of God is a solid rock.  Nothing will deter, nothing will sway them from this conviction—from this course set as an inexorable destiny.  If they are successfully charred in the furnace, this proves nothing at all, nothing at all.  All victories of hate are short-term, hollow victories.  Such is “even if” faith in the destiny of God in Christ.

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Our Own Best Jailers

Ever go to a movie and have a growing feeling that you don’t like the movie?  You sit there, minute after minute, tempted with every scene to get up and leave.  Perhaps you sat through the entire film while feeling it was a wasted two hours—or worse.  The movie may have been recommended to you by a friend.  Someone you were planning to report back to with enthusiasm that their recommendation was a good one.  Now you hope that they have forgotten your promise to go and see it.  Why is it sometimes we fail to bail and be free?  Why do we become our own best jailers?  The reasons may include 1) we made a promise—a commitment; 2) validating a relationship—we are doing it for a friend—when all is said and done we are affirming fundamental and regnant values; 3) we made an investment of time and resources (the sunk cost); 4) we don’t want to admit we made a mistake; 5) we don’t want others or ourselves to think that we are a quitter; 6) there is hope things will change for the better—it may turn out to be a good flick after all; 7) there may even be a feeling that God is in control—that if he didn’t want us to be there he would have prevented it—we are showing trust in Him by not leaving; 8) the force of inertia—once we have embarked on a course it is difficult to change direction—we simply do not consider leaving an option; 9) we rationalize our position saying “well it will only last two hours”—potential suffering is limited and is survivable ; 10) the sense that we are participating in fate; 11) the belief that we may derive from the experience a valuable though perhaps unpleasant lesson; 12) we don’t want to appear shallow or foolish; 13) we don’t want to appear snobbish; 14) we don’t want to admit we are different and view things differently from others; 15) conversely, we glory in our difference and seek to confirm it; 16) we feel a need to punish ourselves; 17) we may feel certain we were inspired to commit in the first place, and that inspiration validates and sustains our choice no matter the outcome; 18) we may feel a sense of justice—now that we have made our bed, we must lie in it.  So then, what is the best advice—to get up and leave or sit there and suffer through the movie?  The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Inspiring Trust & Eliciting Hope

Saint Paul comes to mind as someone who inspired trust and elicited hope.  This is so fundamentally important a virtue that its importance cannot be overestimated.  Anyone who has this quality has great influence over others.  It can be a characteristic of children opening the hearts and pocketbooks of their grandparents.  It is an important ingredient of natural leadership that elicits goodwill and support among others.  Of course, this ability to inspire and elicit also is founded in the hearts and minds of others.  It requires a resonance of values, beliefs, principles, and desires—a profound sense of relationship.  This explains why someone can be a pronounced leader in one context while being despised and ridiculed in others.  Jesus was a leader among his disciples, but was crucified by those who did not share his values.  The spiritual climate of a nation is vastly important, for it determines the quality of leadership and the agenda produced.  For while getting everyone on the same page can be a great source of societal strength, if it is the wrong page disaster ensues. 

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

On the Loss of Jimmy Standifer

Today I received notification of the loss of my cousin, Jimmy Standifer.  He died Wednesday at the age of 83.  His funeral will be Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  I remember Jimmy as an unfailingly positive person, always ready with an encouraging smile.  As a youth, I was utterly fascinated by the fact that he could build a room under his house (since the ground was Alabama clay, not Florida sand).  In July 1971, he brought his family for a visit to Bradenton, Florida to visit his Uncle Ed (my father).  Since my dad was getting frail at the time, it was a pilgrimage of sorts—one last time to smile on his Uncle Ed.  The selfsame conveyor belt of time has now brought Jimmy to his demise. I understand he had Alzheimer’s towards the end.  Life can meet with so much tragedy and sadness.  A loss of a family member brings death much closer than hearsay about the death of strangers.  It is impossible for me this evening not to recall the words of John Donne from Meditation 17 (1624):  “No man is an iland, intire of it selfe…  any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee...”

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Essence of Friendship

The essence of friendship is to have the best interest of your friend as a paramount objective.  This flat-out means that you may disagree with, anger and even work counter to the wishes of your friend if doing otherwise would be counter to their best interest.  There is a phrase “you’ve got my back.”   It’s worth considering the implications of this phrase.  Does this mean that one must support their friend in whatever they do—say in committing murder?  Obviously, being a friend sometimes means withholding support and can even mean intervening to prevent the realization of a tragedy.  Of course, it is earnestly hoped that on most all occasions affirming friendship will entail pleasing the friend while coincidentally operating in their best interest.  This is commonly the case and over time results in strong feelings of fondness and bonding often found in kinship.  This all may be obvious, but in practice it can be very difficult to put the best interest of a friend ahead of pleasing them when that proves necessary.  This calls into play the rule of reciprocity.  Say, someone gives me candy—an apparently friendly act.  I am pleased by this and naturally want to repay if I can their obvious efforts to please me.  I can become in a real sense indebted to them—often all out of proportion to the original gift.  This is a very common phenomenon in human behavior and affects gang life as surely as it does national politics.  It is devilishly difficult to run counter to the gravitational force of returning favors.  Yet the greater responsibility called for is not to reciprocate with irrational and misdirected generosity but to loyally adhere under the disciplines of love to the essence of friendship. 

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Two Kinds of Pride

Bloated pride and pride that fasts
Opposites in kind
Opposite in effect
I have seen one fuel a war
I have seen the other cultivate peace
The curse of the first is hidden beneath bombast
The blessings of the second are hidden beneath humility
The power of the first is self-promotion
The power of the second is self-denial
The fruit of the first is decay
The fruit of the second is growth
One is darkness camouflaged in light
The other is light camouflaged in darkness
One delights in weakness misconstrued as strength
The other delights in strength misconstrued as weakness
One day— I’m sure of it—
Delusions will be upended by reality
And tawdry substitutes replaced by the real deal.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

The Right Stuff

Unflappability in the face of life-threatening events; great physical stamina during exceptional stress and physical demands; a passion for challenges; a can-do let’s do it frame of mind; a love of competition; mental acuity; bravery; skill; a sense of humor—all these and more are portrayed as necessary attributes for test pilots and astronauts in the movie The Right Stuff.  Even though the right stuff was shown as essential, there remained ample room for individuality.  Could “the right stuff” be enumerated for each and every job that must be filled?  With the possible exception of unflappability in the face of life-threatening events, I think that the components of the right stuff for astronauts combine to form the right stuff for countless other jobs.  The tendency to underrate the demands of jobs is common.  Some of the lowest paying jobs can be in many ways the most challenging.  There is a predisposition of seeing other people’s jobs as less difficult than our own when in fact complexity and challenge are well-nigh universally present.  Part of the right stuff should be a humility gene that activates when confronted by the roles of others. 

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Today in Sunday School

Often it is said that a defining test of a person is what would happen if his ordinary fortune changed and he became extremely wealthy.  It is a high complement to a person to say that should they become a billionaire overnight, fundamentally they would not change but remain stable in character, deportment, and behavior.  Their humble reaction to good fortune would testify to their inner strength and steady moral compass.  Today in class we read about and discussed people who have suffered trouble or loss.  It became clear that the greater test might be not the one who gains it all in a short time, but one who swiftly loses it all.  Our current economy gives ample illustrations of this more stringent test.  With unemployment hovering at 10% or greater in some areas, it is not unusual to find people who have lost their jobs and with it many factors that normally bring security and a sense of well-being.  To keep one’s head and maintain steady purpose and faith under these conditions indicates a solid strength of character under adversity.  The highest compliment should be saved not for those who retain a level head after experiencing sudden wealth and triumph, but for those who retain it after undergoing abrupt deprivation and trial.  

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Gotchha Time

Today I watched a video biography of Christopher Columbus.  In the late 1400 and early 1500’s he sailed west from Spain hoping to discover new routes to riches.  One of his explicit motives was to help spread Christianity.  In this endeavor, he felt especially called by God.  From our point of view about 600 years later a strange incongruity comes to mind.  Though set on a divine mission, he had no compunctions whatever regarding slavery and assumed that this peculiar institution could be one of the spoils of his endeavors [Reference].  I wonder jumping 600 years into the future, what about our lives today will stand out as a glaring incongruity to our religion or human rights doctrines.  What peculiar blindness do we have that we don’t perceive or even suspect that we do not see?  In 600 years what about our lives today will people simply shake their heads over in incomprehension how we could have been so blind.  Will it involve something about our economic life, our international arrangements, our societal assumptions and acceptances?  Will the people then be shocked at how easily we could tolerate some form of neglect, injustice, or callousness?  It is pointless to guess what that blindness might be for by definition it would involve something obvious to the future but completely hidden from us due to our assumptions and prejudices.  That, I suppose, is why it is always risky business to contemporarily conclude that an individual or the society one lives in is in some sense absolutely good.  Quite understandably, any given society wants to view itself as good while proximity to prejudices makes that determination in fact quite impossible.  That is why even in our triumphs we should maintain a prayerful attitude.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Coming Out of One’s Shell

Once when I was a young man we had a neighbor who told me that I needed to come out of my shell.  I was particularly inhibited most of the time and afraid, I guess, that if someone really got to know me they would be disappointed and reject me.  The man who told me this was Rev. Aldridge—an extrovert by nature who though in his eighties drove a red Ford Mustang and had drawings of chimps about his house playing poker and smoking cigars.  I greatly admired Rev. Aldridge and wished mightily that I had more of what he had.  Tonight I saw a biography of John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943) [Wikipedia] and recognized again that people with often peculiar ideas can have self-confidence as strong as the Rock of Gibraltar, and because of this self-confidence can be very influential—even forming a popular institution where many flock to hear their views.  So tonight I tip my hat to all those strong characters (another neighbor, Mrs. Northcutt, comes to mind) who will be themselves and express their minds no matter what.  Actually, I can’t help but feel that such people are extending compliments to others.  They are saying, in effect, that I’m going to be myself and I know that you can take it—you are strong enough to make up your own mind about me and my ideas.  Their resolute attitude is “I may just be one among many—but I will be one.”

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Blessings of a Good Sense of Humor

A good sense of humor is much like a source of light.  It reveals to the mind amusing aspects of even dire situations.  A person with a good sense of humor displays an attitude exerting mastery over life’s difficulties.  It signals acceptance of all challenges and challengers.  A parent who can recall and laugh at the trying times their children present is a witness to their love for their children, for their willingness to accept and receive them despite imperfections, to laugh even at the predicaments and frustrations that can arise.  The healthy nature of this approach is obvious when contrasted with a parental response of sustained resentment and anger.  The power of humor is illustrated by a politician who uses the cruel characterizations of themselves painted by the opposition to devise in turn a humorous response.  By simply repeating or exaggerating that characterization to humorous effect, the wise politician shows that he can laugh at himself while telegraphing that he is not defensive—indeed has no need to be. Contrast this with a poisoned political dynamic characterized by strident countercharges.  A sense of humor shows an optimistic spirit.  The ordinary, the humdrum is transformed by laughter when conceptual creativity is alive and well.  Nothing says quite so clearly that this morning we’re wide awake and ready for anything that comes down the pike than a willingness to see the humor in the unexpected intrusions of the everyday.

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Abdication of Birthright

This evening I watched the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. “It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, which was attended by more than 700,000 Nazi supporters” (Wikipedia).  It is apparent that mankind can give total, complete, and unreserved allegiance to something other than God.  In Triumph of the Will allegiance is given to Adolf Hitler.  It is a chilling thing to see this, this transfer of complete control to someone other than God.  In the US, there is little danger that a human being will be so worshipped and deified.  On the other hand, we are very susceptible to the deification and worship of ideology.  Most recently, we have come to see the market as the great absolver of all sin.  The market was seen to have even mystical power.  In short, the worship of the market became a religion.  As always, when anything other than God takes his place, disaster is not far behind.  To relinquish one’s mind and soul up to a creation of the flesh invites rank stupidity and a relinquishment of man’s birthright—the retention of the critical eye and the exercise of responsibility to help correct dysfunction brought on by selfishness.  Yet it always proves difficult to give up cherished idols so much is our faith in them, so much are we willing to rationalize for them when they fail. 

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Looting Motivator

There are many causes for the riots occurring in England tonight.  I look for feelings I may share with the rioters—things that with the right conditions could result in my looting shops.  I find frequently lurking beneath the surface of my thought is the tendency to take for granted the immense labor required in producing a simple good.  For example, when I go to a restaurant, Olive Garden for instance, the establishment because of its excellence makes everything look easy from the outside.  In addition to the preparation and presentation of food, the restaurant likewise is the customer of growers and distributors who though immense labor similarly makes their contributions look easy—one might say almost effortless.  This tendency to take excellence for granted even extends to my attending worship services on Sunday.  Great effort is required to perform all the tasks in preparation for a worship service, yet I sit there and take it all in each Sunday with little appreciation for the work required.  And, of course, this goes many times over for many labor and capital intensive things I take for granted such as uninterruptedly enjoying the utilities supplied to my home—gas, water, electricity, refuse collection—with little thought about what’s required to provide it.  This assumption on my part that the plenty of life is a simple, easy matter (as simple as flipping a switch) could lead I believe to a belief that I should be able to enjoy these things by the simple plucking of them from the trees of production where they grow heavily and abundantly.  I keep remembering the face of a shop keeper in London who is standing in her looted store and crying.  She said “Why do people do these things?”  I’m afraid one of the answers is that your efforts in making the store a nice place to shop is taken for granted.  Your shop takes on the appearance of easy excellence.  In appearance it is simply a tree that sprung up naturally—no, with even less effort, magically—and is loaded with fruit for the taking.  I know this is only perhaps one minor factor in looting, but lack of appreciation for the work of others in producing a product—and thus maybe even a resentful envy for the display of plenty—could contribute to the grab-it-now mentality.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Two Types of Conviction

There are two types of conviction—conviction based on principle and conviction based on prejudice.  The conviction based on prejudice is passionate.  The conviction based on principle is cool.  One seeks to extend itself with passionate force; the other seeks to affirm a personal belief characterized by a quiet certitude.  Contention always exists between these two convictions.  Of particular note is the total incomprehension on the part of passion to understand the quiet psychological power of principle.  Passion is confounded by principle’s utter resistance to intimidation—one of the central weapons of passion.  It finds it incomprehensible and infuriating that something so quiescent yet self-assured could so easily resist passion’s presumed overwhelming force.  Passion judges sincerity by the frenzy displayed; principle judges sincerity by simple yet decisive acts of obedience no matter what the cost.  Passion also does not count cost—it provides fuel without measure to fire its inferno.  Passion is often the downfall of nations, while principle remains like diamonds after the great conflagrations have passed.

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Problem with Greatness

From King David to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the freight of greatness is too often the forthright willingness to take hundreds of human lives with little or no regret.  The fact that Jesus is worshipped and yet not called great is significant.  If he and his men had slaughtered scores of their enemies, then they would by this added quality be considered good candidates for greatness.  If I say someone was a great entrepreneur, then it is almost assumed that they were at times ruthless with their competitors or employees.  To be great you’ve got to have a mean streak—willing to hurt countless others in the deployment of self-interest.  While this is the defining character of greatness, it is highly beneficial if psychological complications can be thrown in.  This can add considerable dimension and depth to greatness softening cruelty with complexity and gently mystifying the too obvious picture with tentative judgments and attributions.  King David and Abraham Lincoln demonstrate this complementing the commander-in-chief role with an introspective even poetic nature.  I would caution young people not to aspire to greatness.  Rather seek as much as possible to emulate Jesus.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

At This Juncture

Salute to Utopia
Government by and for the people has always assumed that accommodation is possible.  When accommodation is considered the same as treason, government cannot continue to govern.  If compromise is seen as betrayal, only stalemate is possible.  Somehow the American people have become divided along two political lines.  One would make government an active intervener in economic life; the other would make government a purely political organism with inconsequential economic involvement.  Taxing, spending, and regulating are seen by this side as almost illegitimate acts.  The desire here is for government abstinence from influence in the political economy.  It blames the current downturn in the economy on too much government rather than too little—a debatable position.  Unfortunately there are no ivory towers in which political theory can be tested.  Utopias in the past have been small, short-term rural experiments in which idealists yearned to be free from authority.  Without exception they have neither worked nor lasted.  A utopia based on government’s endless largess is doomed to failure, but so also is a utopia based on the romantic assumption that economics and politics can be separated.

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Confucius Confirms Continuity

Young Confucius

Confucius was born September 28, 551 BC.  The first thing that strikes me on reading some of his quotations is how little observations regarding humanity need to change over diverse cultures or multiple centuries.  Consider the following quotations from Confucius:

·        Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes.
·        Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.
·        Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.
·        He who will not economize will have to agonize.
·        I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.
·        It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.
·        Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.
·        Respect yourself and others will respect you.
·        To be able under all circumstances to practice five things constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness.
·        When anger rises, think of the consequences.
·        By nature, men are nearly alike; by practice, they get to be wide apart.

The basic human predicament seems to be not the lack of savvy wisdom in theory but the want of rigorous application in practice.

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Not a Showroom Car

I have a new car and today I got the first ding on my door.  It’s barely visible, but I know it’s there.  The paint is not missing or anything, just a very slight dint that can be seen if the light hits it just right.  Now that I must put up with the idea that my car is not perfect, I must not let this ding lead to the attitude that since my car is not perfect, therefore anything goes.  I cannot think less of my car because of one glitch.  In a way this resembles my approach to life.  Since my life has not been perfect and there is plenty of evidence of more than one little ding, what should my attitude be?  Since I am damaged goods (for example with several bouts of mental illness) do I do a flip and give up on life and stop striving for betterment?  Since I am damaged goods do I throw in the towel and stop struggling to better myself?  I pray that this not even be a temptation.  If I were to give up now, that would really indicate (since only God is perfect) that I am looking for any old excuse to relinquish responsibility and accountability.  While I regret my car is still not unblemished, the only way to have accomplished perfection in this sense would be to never have used it and to have warehoused it instead.  I must rethink perfection and take into account the need for use.  A perfect car for me is one that helps me encounter the world safely.  It’s one that gets in the fray and takes me on pleasure trips as well as takes me to work and to run untold errands.  The perfect car for me is one that works and is dependable and is acceptably efficient—a car with a skin of quarter inch steel is not practical.  I suppose that leaving my car parked in the garage at all times is an option, but too costly an option and in the end a betrayal of the purposes for which I purchased it.  My car is not a showroom car.  It is a car that fulfills the purposes for which it was designed.  That is the true mark of perfection.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Complete Identification of Property with Person

Fairness: the condition of being just or impartial (Encarta Dictionary).

There is a powerful tendency to view the status quo as reflecting complete fairness.  Coming to terms with life—becoming content with one’s life situation—involves a marked bias to see the world as fair.  To accede that inequality has nothing to do with justice is an essential condition of contentment.  The distribution of wealth is flat out not subject to questions of fairness.  Baldly put—that some are millionaires and others are homeless comes to be seen as fair.  We come to feel that the millionaire has earned every penny and the homeless has earned the lack thereof.  The great force here is to view the possession of property (or the dearth of it) as self-justifying.  Property once it comes in someone’s possession is inviolate and fully wedded to them.  This is similar to marriage in which we extend our family with new relationships.  As we instantly have additional family after a marriage, we instantly have additional property once we take possession of it.  It becomes out of bounds to question the legitimacy of attachment or experience the anger of injustice.  The fact that property is personal begs any question of fairness and makes nugatory any consideration of how one came to be in possession of it.  The complete identification of property with person makes the status quo sacrosanct and relegates to oblivion any former improprieties.  This rule is generally confirmed by an apparent exception.  When property acquisition is strictly illegal it marks a violation of the serenity of the status quo and is hence not tolerated.

Earned Every Penny

Earned the Lack Thereof

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The Curse of Resentment

Resentment defined: aggrieved feelings caused by a sense of having been badly treated.  Aggrieved defined: to cause somebody pain, trouble, or distress (Encarta Dictionary)

Resentment of the father is a curse with dire reckoning.  Nothing can compare to it as a generator of societal evil.  Fathers need to be present in their children’s lives to discipline, show memorable investments of time, and to always be a dependable resource.   Beyond a mother’s love, nothing makes a greater and longer lasting impression on a child.  Nothing comes close to comparing with it when absent as motivator of destructive behavior lasting long term.  Whereas no discipline, no investment of time, no dependability cast a very long shadow of destructiveness, its opposite greatly affirms the offspring and gives deep chords of peace.   Fatherhood properly fulfilled is an essential ingredient for societal health and individual happiness. 

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Purpose As a Decisive Determinant of Potential Variables

The importance of purpose as a determinant of potential variables is a concept that is taken for granted.  It is so much a part of our everyday lives that we sometimes fail to celebrate its significance.  That there can be a large variety of similar things (cars, for example) yet whose particular function is entirely dependent  upon specific purpose (going on a family vacation vs. going to work) reveals one of the distinct roles of mankind.  The principle task of man is to introduce purpose on earth or to identify it in the workings of God.  It is thus that man is made in the image of God.  Creating purpose is a constant delight.  It is man’s principle occupation and vocation and distinguishes him as unique among the many species.  For this reason, nearly everything he touches does double duty as a symbol.

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Thoughts from Sunday School

"The Ancient of Days" by WIlliam Blake
Today we discussed our need for God.  To me this is very much like the long reference of creative people who testify to the need of their muse.  I have heard writers say that when they begin their writing they have no complete idea about what they will say.  Rather they begin their writing and something totally unexpected will emerge—something that came from their muse.  Just so, we need the Lord.  If we don’t feel this need, then perhaps we are not facing life with true creativity.  We are relying too much on our own expertise and knowledge—in other words, too much on past experiences and skills rather than appreciating the unique challenges of the present moment.  Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for? (Robert Browning).  This is only possible when man throws himself from raw need upon the mercy of God.

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