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Thursday, September 29, 2011


Charity is based upon a strong commitment born of generosity of spirit to maintain goodwill even with those with whom one strongly disagrees.  It is the virtue most in conflict with the innate drive to get even with and even to escalate ill feelings.  It stops bitter incrimination and retaliation at its source arising from one’s own instinct for retributive justice.  Charity in this sense requires an operative forgiving spirit.  Charity never presupposes that the opposition was or is right or that one must hide one’s true beliefs and feelings that happen to be in conflict.  Charity cannot be a product of deceit or hypocrisy.  Charity proceeds on the assumption that the opposition was (is) guided by their best lights, and that they must be so respected for their innate integrity.  Ending wars of tit for tat start with a deep approval of the person while maintaining disapproval of their positions.  This is not a subtle or overly fine point.  It is readily possible to love the person while disputing their positions.  A trivial example comes to mind.  Anytime one brings a puppy home for a pet, one is in for great aggravation and unpleasantness—but this does not stop one from loving the pet.  When one has a generous spirit, it is possible to love the opposition in the midst of heated disputes.  A dispute in which goodwill is present sticks to the issues and does not sling personal attacks.  Mutual respect and cordiality are maintained by assiduous commitment to the charity principle.  Conflict so defined will always contrast greatly from the demonic dramatics of professional wrestling.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011


1 John 4:16    [New International Version (NIV)]

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

Whereas hope energizes and faith is validation from transcendental powers, love is the contagion of tone deriving from validation by a specific transcendental power—that of God.  The tone of love dramatically colors hope and faith for the things we hope for are regulated by love and the faith that validates us originates in the divinity of love.  When faith, hope, and love are conjoined it is referred to as worship. Love, as hate, has multifarious manifestations.  Gradations of identity, however, should not mislead us to misjudge ultimate sources.  Generally speaking that which originates from truthfulness is based in love, and that which originates from falsehood is based in hate.  

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Faith is assurance and trust that even if our dreams fail, the pursuit of them is worthwhile.  Faith is an endorsement of ends regardless of successful (or unsuccessful) means.  James Earl Ray had hopes that he could assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr., but even if he did not, he had faith that what he intended to do was the right thing to do.  Martin Luther King hoped to realize dreams of brotherhood, but even if the he did not, he knew his dreams were validated by the Eternal.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had hopes that God would protect them, but even if he did not this would not diminish their faith in him nor diminish their conviction in the rectitude of their actions.  Humankind does what it can or will energized by hope, but looks for fundamental and ultimate validation from transcendental powers.  Thus in human affairs, hope is always of necessity buttressed by faith.         

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Monday, September 26, 2011


The Lorraine Motel where King was assassinated
To have hope concerning the future one must be blessed with compelling images picturing the overcoming of present limitations.  Slim probability of success is concurrent with profound longing.  At the base of hope is defiance in the face of the improbable.  It is born from a sense of deprivation.  Hope is the flat-out denial of overwhelming statistics.  Often we think of hope as being uplifting and moral, but it can be just as well degrading and immoral.  Both James Earl Ray and Martin Luther King, Jr. had hope, and these hopes met in Memphis.

Hope is never fully realized for hope, unlike accomplished fact, is characterized by the visualization of all positives with no negatives.  Hope develops a relationship, a kinship, with those who experience it.  As one would defend a family member, one defends their cherished object of hope.  People often say they are hopeful when in fact they do not experience compelling images or vision.  Thus, hope is often the subject of insincere cant.  We hear, “I hope for peace” when in fact these are mere words.  That is why we hear “peace, peace, but there is no peace.”  Sincere hope, for better or worse, is often quite effective and can have significant impact though frequently with unintended and unexpected results.

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Pastor David’s Sermon – How we should treat others

Today’s sermon by Pastor David Miller was on humility.  He referred to the scripture which cautioned us not to judge others, seeing the speck in their eyes while not seeing the log in our own eyes. (Matthew 7:3 NIV “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”)  Pastor David spoke on how we should treat others.  Not as they treat us, not as we want to be treated, but treat them as God has treated us.  For some, that is not a conflicted directive for they have been blessed richly throughout life.  But for those who have had a miserable past, what does that mean for them?  The love of God is not measured in earthly blessings alone, but in the gift of Jesus and the grace of salvation.  Really, all have had a miserable past in one sense; they have sinned and been blind to the love of the Heavenly Father.  It is only through grace that spiritual salvation is possible.  Thus all mankind finds itself in the same boat in the end.  That we should treat others as God has treated us is a call to love and grace.  (For a Wesleyan understanding of grace click here.) 

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Season of Satire

Satire defined: use of wit to criticize behavior.  The use of wit, especially irony, sarcasm, and ridicule, to criticize faults (Encarta Dictionary).  My mother, from my memory, never once used satire.  It was not that she was lacking in intelligence, she was lacking in the underlying sense of superiority that leads to a sustained attitude of judgment and criticism.  When young I greatly admired my peers who had a biting tongue and maintained an attitude of superiority—I thought of this as an indication of brainy self-confidence and astute realism.  As the years have passed, I have come increasingly to appreciate the humility of my mother and father.  I appreciate less and less literature that is written from the stance of a perfect being peering down upon contemptible caricatures of humanity.  Gone is the heady sense I had once in some college literature classes that by right of intelligence I could look down on bumbling people portrayed essentially as idiotic.

Now it is political season and it’s time for a steady stream of criticism and satire.  Opponents constantly will be targeted for ridicule and defeat.  There is a pandering to the electorate complete with a wink from the podium and shared insinuations that we are superior and vastly more intelligent than the ridiculed opposition.  We are encouraged to act on convictions based upon feelings of superiority and disdain.  This spirit poisons the political climate.  I am waiting for the rebirth of wonder—for a candidate that appeals to our better nature and who views the opposition as no less worthy than themselves.  I am waiting for a candidate who shuns Ad Hominem arguments and rather shows reliable, genuine regard and respect for those in the loyal opposition.  It is truly sad when an attitude based on empathy, belief, courage, and goodwill is counted as unrealistic and weak.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Joy in Capacity

Naomie gathering wood
On gaining access to the interstate from a side ramp, I always want plenty of power to merge smoothly into speeding traffic.  Having adequate, even excess power at such times allays anxiety and even stirs within a feeling of joy.  I delight in witnessing people who in their daily lives have adequate, even excess capacity to function joyfully in their undertaken activities.  The gift to flourish is a dispensation broadly disseminated in the human family.  And mastery by an individual in one area of life has repercussions throughout the self-confidence spectrum.  It is not necessary to be bionic to be beatific.  All that’s required is a sense of worth arising from a single pronounced talent that is solidly one’s own.

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Excluding the Riffraff

If you don’t measure up to my standards, I will have nothing to do with you.  Such a statement represents a unified approach to life.  It is based on the assumption that such exclusion is possible.  Exclusion in this view has no serious repercussions or very few of them.  The excluder feels insulated and isolated from any ill effects of exclusion.  The only person exclusion hurts, so the thinking goes, is the person excluded.  And the person who does the excluding has no ownership in that pain.  The excluded person brought it upon themselves.  The concept of exclusion is thus very neat and tidy and allows for a sense of immense self-righteousness on the part of the excluder and a profile of great rectitude.  At base of this view is the denial that people are extensively and inherently interconnected.  Hurt can be easily contained and externalized is the fundamental assumption.  That very little in history or human experience supports this view is conveniently forgotten.  The far more realistic assumption is that pain is always shared in one way or another.  Inclusion rather than exclusion turns out to be the enduring dynamic in the end.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Voice Behind

Today I received a letter from my son Alton.  As he often does, he began his letter with a referenced Bible verse for me to look up.  The verse was Isaiah 30:21.  It reads (NIV): Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  And verse 22 follows: Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”  As I (and many others) frequently do, I often look at Bible verses in the context of my life or of current affairs, not the Bible context.  While this may lead one astray, I think it is sometimes helpful and in any case inevitable.  For me this verse speaks to our current political climate.  The right and left have idols of ideology that have frozen us in stalemate.  It is time to end old matches and seek new perspectives.  It is time to turn whether to the right or the left, but above all to hear a voice behind saying “This is the way; walk in it.”  U.S. citizens have entitlements grounded in the Bill of Rights.  They have obligations grounded in a vision of “We the People” with individual responsibility and a shared destiny.  What we need now is divine grace to give us renewed vision and insight to penetrate the current darkness.  But we must stop evil-eyeing each other and rather lift our eyes to the heavens from which inspiration will by faith surely come.  With a generous spirit prevalent, a generous heavenly father will without question assist in developing practical solutions.  With a mean spirit's poison soaking public life we will miserably damn ourselves.  Let each man attend to destroying his own idols and be less concerned with those of his neighbor.

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Three Ideas of Noam Chomsky

Today I heard an interview with Noam Chomsky.  He expressed three ideas that I want to set down for safekeeping.

·        *  We are constantly inculcated by doctrines and ideology (sets of fixed ideas) that can misdirect us in understanding the world.  One purpose of higher education, for example, is to over several years “finish” students and have them buy into ideological maps to consistently thereafter channel thought.  This can be unfortunate, as these set ways of seeing phenomena may prejudice us against perceiving things as they actually occur—often contrary even to what otherwise would be obvious.

·       *   Intellectual study includes not only university pursuits but the work of craftsmen and tradesmen.  They intellectualize seemingly intractable problems on a regular basis and use fresh insights to solve them.

·        *  In attacking difficult problems, it is often not fruitful to attack them at their most difficult and problematic center.  It can be more productive to attack problems on their periphery where there is greater possibility of successful insight.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Devoutly Believed

A cautionary lesson of the Civil War is the spectacle of belief.  Both sides in this conflict were comprised in part of deeply religious, God-fearing souls.  And both sides felt sure that God was on their side.  This arises from a need for certain validation, for justification of the atrocities of war.  Faith in God also provides sustenance and strength undergirding the courage required and the deprivations encountered.  It arises from the experience of mortality on the battlefield, the knowledge that all are called to ultimate commitment offering up their lives to become repulsive blackened corpses in an instant for the sake of glorious eternal verities.  Something as momentous as war requires divine co-conspirators.  As in the assassination of a beloved public figure, we find it hard to believe that it is the work only of one deranged individual.  We know that it must arise from a vast conspiracy.  War is something like this.  We simply know a conspiracy of heaven and hell must mirror mortal combat.  Our enemy becomes an opposition of evil, thus any atrocities against them become easier and divinely justified bringing us shinning glory.  Suffering to be endured must be redeemed by divine purposes.  Thus we find that God validates not only our ends, but also all our means.  The feeling that God is on our side becomes sorely needed, devoutly believed, and well-nigh universal.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

The Right to Rule Assumption

We (especially since at the moment the U.S. is “the most powerful nation on earth”) must guard against a disastrous assumption—the “Right to Rule” assumption.  Before the Civil War there was a set belief among the aristocracy of the South that they had a right to rule over slaves as well as dispossessed southern whites.  This was a grand assumption taught to privileged children and youth so that by early adulthood airs of command were firmly established.  We should never let power go to our heads and imbue us with arrogance and its misplaced sense of destiny.  We should remember in human affairs no one has a “Right to Rule” based upon some sort of inheritance.   Sunday’s should remind us that only God has the right to rule.  We must learn to acquiesce to him and his laws.  And, of course, “being Christian or religious” is also not a “Right to Rule.”  All mankind—including the faithful—is humbled before the ways of God.  “The Right to Rule” as an inherent human aspect is based upon fantasy, not fact. 

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

What is meant by Economic Justice?

Some would hold that economic justice poses no issues at all.  Economic justice for them is whatever is determined by the market.  If the CEO makes $100 million a year and the shipping clerk makes $10/hour, that’s all determined by the market so thus represents economic justice.  For those holding this view the status quo is virtually always equivalent to the realization and actualization of economic justice.  This week it was reported by the U.S. Census Bureau that poverty is on the increase:
·        --The official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent — up from 14.3 percent in 2009. This was the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. Since 2007, the poverty rate has increased by 2.6 percentage points, from 12.5 percent to 15.1 percent.
·        --In 2010, 46.2 million people were in poverty, up from 43.6 million in 2009—the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty. (U.S Census Bureau)

The views held on economic justice depend greatly upon the experience presented to one over the course of their lifetime.  One of my earliest memories is reading an elementary book about migrant workers in Florida. (I was reading in the back seat of our car with my parents in front.  We were returning home from a Florida Methodist Annual Conference.)  Living in rural areas, I have seen migrants working in the fields with barely a subsistence level of income.  I have seen them living in camps and have empathized with their children in raggedly clothes who are constantly on the move and out of regular school.  Since food is a necessity for everyone, the lesson this has always impressed on me is that income distribution is not always just however much it may be “determined by the market.”  While migrant labor is deemed essential, a wage adequate to maintain and advance their families is not.  I am cognizant of many “low end” jobs all around me.  These are extremely low paying jobs with few or no benefits.  When the business cycle takes a downturn, they are the first to feel the impact, not infrequently being laid off.  My life has also touched the lives of people who through no fault of their own—because of disabilities, for example—cannot work but obviously must have an income of some sort.  In my view, economic justice cannot be whatever the market determines for “the market” is made up of individuals with prejudices and vested interests and is inherently colored by its political cocoon.  One important lesson for me has arisen from an indelible fact—I was a witness to economic discrimination against blacks.  There is no point in trying to convince me that market forces are pristinely mechanical and outside the influence of attitudes, opinions, prejudices, assumptions, vested interests, and—in short-hand—politics.  There is a very real reason for calling it a “political economy” and not merely “economy.”  One cannot be truly free until one is free from the want and fear of poverty.

Today I heard Andrew Young mention a phrase that I cannot shake: “the evolution of freedom….”  To me, providing a laboratory for that is what America is all about.  No one will ever have all the answers.  But hopefully we will never sacrifice our freedom, our responsibilities, and our sacred destiny on the altar of a mechanical incarnation of “the market.”

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An Attitude of Acceptance

There can be those who demand people bow down to them based on their purported accomplishments or position.  Their attitude is fundamentally judgmental—in comparison to me, they seem to say, you don’t rate very much.  The proper role, they seem to say, is that based on who I am or what I’ve done, I am more worthy than you.  The wise person knows that no one can be adequately informed to make such a judgment, and, because of this, the question in any interaction of who has superior worth is never entertained.  Because of this attitude, great energies (that otherwise would be employed in maintaining a status advantage) are released to creatively engage the world.  These people are free, have democratic predispositions, and maintain wide intellectual interests free from defensiveness.  Such people are open to insights offered by anyone at any time.  Coincident with this people perspective is place perspective.  As with people, environments are found acceptable.  No one environment is considered more worthy than another.  It is taken for granted that important insights can arise from backwater villages as well as cosmopolitan cities, from small churches or big churches, from the halls of prisons to the halls of academia.  Life is a ceremony and a celebration.  Creativity and intelligence are always called for and are always welcome.  This is the entrepreneurial spirit at its best.  The Bible says “Judge not, that you be not judged.”  Actually, when the inordinate amount of energy required to allay status anxiety is considered, one might just as well say “Judge not, that you be not weak.”  

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Ultimate Test of Any System of Belief

The ultimate test of any system of belief is does that system provide reliable encouragement to humanity.  We have ample sources of discouragement from relatively trivial ones to death itself.  The central challenge is to maintain the feeling of significance in the face of forces that have no regard whatever for mankind.  Just this year, for example, I have witnessed floods and fires that destroyed the life work of people—all their significant memorabilia—without any regard at all; events that through their utter indifference mocked the noblest aspects of man and all that is most dear to him.  The fragility of health presents a similar challenge.  Mocking forces not only are constituted by natural disasters but forces systemic of societies—like widespread unemployment, poverty, and crime.  A successful belief system must not only give encouragement, but reliable encouragement in the face of these forces that would lead to deadening nihilism.

A successful belief system must be ruthlessly realistic and not paper over the challenges we face.  Without this characteristic it will be seen as little more than useless, fanciful thinking—a cheap and unhelpful form of escapism.  The belief system must have access to man’s sense of meaning.  In other words, it must involve not only facts, but symbolism that resonates in the subconscious; for it is not only facts that must be understood, but feelings and images that must be mapped.  I am, of course, crafted by my own experience.  I have found Christianity unblinking in its assessment of human nature and the world yet offering a profound sense of hope and purpose.  It is completely understandable to me that some regard my faith as out of sync with modern man.  But from my point of view the need for salvation is an old yet ongoing fact of life.    

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The Psychologically Permissible

"There's a sucker born every minute" is a phrase often credited to P. T. Barnum (1810–1891), an American showman. It is generally taken to mean that there will always be many gullible people in the world.  (Wikipedia

Bernard Lawrence "Bernie" Madoff (pronounced /ˈmeɪdɒf/;[3] born April 29, 1938) is a former American stockbroker, businessman, investor, investment advisor, money manager, and former non-executive chairman of the NASDAQ stock market, and the admitted operator of what has been described as the largest Ponzi scheme in history….

Concerns about Madoff's business surfaced as early as 1999, when financial analyst Harry Markopolos informed the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that he believed it was legally and mathematically impossible to achieve the gains Madoff claimed to deliver. According to Markopolos, he knew within five minutes that Madoff's numbers didn't add up, and it took four hours of failed attempts to replicate them to conclude Madoff was a fraud.[57] He was ignored by the Boston SEC in 2000 and 2001, as well as by Meaghan Cheung at the New York SEC in 2005 and 2007 when he presented further evidence. He has since published a book, No One Would Listen, about the frustrating efforts he and his team made over a ten-year period to alert the government, the industry, and the press about the Madoff fraud.

Although Madoff's wealth management business ultimately grew into a multi-billion-dollar operation, none of the major derivatives firms traded with him because they didn't think his numbers were real. None of the major Wall Street firms invested with him either, and several high-ranking executives at those firms suspected he wasn't legitimate.[57]

Others also contended it was inconceivable that the growing volume of Madoff accounts could be competently and legitimately serviced by his documented accounting/auditing firm, a three-person firm with only one active accountant.       (Wikipedia)

The willingness to believe the improbable is a striking aspect of human nature.  Especially is this true when we are willing to romanticize the capacities of an individual.  We have the ability to turn someone into an idol and dutifully worship them.  Politics frequently witnesses this type of deification.  We vote for one believing that they will turn heaven and earth and realize all our even transcendental expectations within a few years.  We can do this with movie stars as well, greatly expanding their acting roles into silver screen mastery of all of life.  Decision makers in government are themselves often willing to believe that an outside stranger, a little-known entrepreneur will be able to perform miracles in growth and development.  In this case, it is the magic, the charisma, the iridescent chutzpah flowing from a confident developer that will certainly achieve where no one else has or could be successful.  This faith is inevitably eroded by the iconoclastic action of time. That which can be “pulled off” when an eagerness to believe is present (together with tightly controlled theatrical conditions) becomes dissipated upon the larger less controlled canvas of life.  On the downside of great expectations we often feel like suckers—taken in not only by others, but by ourselves as well.  The capacity to dream unrealistic dreams every now and then will present a winner—the product of a very desperate long shot.  But on the other hand, realistic dreams if psychologically permissible are generally the most rewarding.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

We Should Not Be Amazed

From the beginning of Genesis God is concerned with the structure of the material world and all that’s in it.  The question arises—are there structures appropriate to the love of Christ? In what sense, for example, is forgiveness a structure?  This involves the structure of the dynamic of human relationships. In this dynamic Jesus asserts the importance and necessity of a non-countervailing response to be in harmony with God’s law of love.  Another aspect of appropriate structure is the lack of pretense and selfish pride.  The architecture of Jesus has little use for grandiose facades.  Truth and beauty are indeed fundamentally linked as is a reliance on God and not ourselves.  When considering Gothic cathedrals vis-à-vis the simplicity of the Quakers’ meeting house—both are harmonious since both are based on this reliance on God.  The validity of these contrasting structures gives us a warning however, diversity of expression and structure is readily possible within the realms of the true and beautiful.  In short, secular structures are justified by their source in the worship of God.  Both cathedral and meeting house would phony if not based in such worship. The soundness of the structure is in this sense alive and derivative. Thus we come to one of Jesus’s ultimate insights—there must be congruity between structure and allegiance to God.  When this link is severed, weak structures result. 

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Monday, September 12, 2011

A Future Birthday

What if when science drills down to the core,
It finds an abstract force after all, nothing material at all?
The smallest tiniest things pushed aside revealing the strongest widest force,
Identified in the end as simple meaning undressed and unadorned,
Staring up with tranquil eyes,
Within the ken of the human mind.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

On Self-Reliance

A mantra of the political right is self-reliance.  Common sayings associated with this include “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him to fish and feed him always,” and “the smaller and weaker the government the better.”  The focus is from beginning to end on self-reliance.  It reminds me of the three-year-old child who petulantly refuses help from a parent insisting “I want to do it!”  We don’t want or need help from anyone—we are self-reliant.  But a moment’s reflection indicates how myopic and immature this view is—and how to the contrary the high degree to which we are always and inseparably connected.  Virtually nothing about our circumstances points to self-reliance as the modus operandi of our lives.  From the electricity and other utilities we consume daily in our homes; to the refrigerators, washing machines and other appliances that enrich our lives; to the services we receive sourced within a wide spectrum of skilled providers from doctors to mechanics; from the roads and bridges we travel over, to the houses we live in, to the well-stocked stores we shop in, to the vitality of our governance—none of these are the result of our sole achievement or self-reliance, but to the contrary testify to our vulnerability and perpetual need for others.  They indicate the degree to which we are part of a tightly knit social nexus with larger interests that can only be characterized as familial in nature.  Self-reliance is a myth whose raison d'être arises from selfishness and a fictionalized, romanticized view of reality.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Tie that Binds

Friday Kathy and I traveled 240 miles to the north Florida town of Jasper.  A state prison is located there in which our son Alton is incarcerated.  He is currently serving (though appealing) a life sentence.  Alton is not our son by birth, but by destiny.  I have known him since he was born September 26, 1980.  We were neighbors in a community that I felt directed by God to move to.  I became acquainted with Alton because his brother Jerome, about nine years his elder, had along with this playmates first befriended me.

Like in the song lyric we turn around only to find years receding fast into the past; Alton and me—our life together—is founded on many shared memories and experiences.  When does mutual commitment begin?  Is it a sudden thing—sometime founded at the outset—or is it more gradually built brick by brick over the years?  Perhaps it is both; perhaps it is neither.  I think the father-son relationship we share rests on holy ground.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Making an Impact Whatever the Cost

There can be a great inner urge to matter, to make an impact, no matter what the cost.  This can be a highly useful and positive motivation.  It can elicit great personal sacrifice and effort and hugely benefit society.  Where this urge turns destructive is when the cost willing to be incurred is transferred from self to others.  Obviously there is a great difference and great divide between a willingness to push oneself beyond measure, and a willingness to hurt others beyond measure in order to make one’s mark.  Examples of the latter are unfortunately not hard to find—from devisors of Ponzi schemes to mass murderers to chief executives willing to do whatever it takes to be successful no matter whom it hurts.  An inordinate drive to success can be a philosopher’s stone turning base metal into gold and achieving a degree of immortality while greatly augmenting society—or it can become a curse and long-lasting blight.  9/11 comes to mind and the driven men in the cockpits of the airplanes that crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  Their limitless and burning drive could have been the source of much good, but became instead the source of evil and suffering.  When deep feelings to make our mark arise within us, let us always take care that this is a call to self-sacrifice and achievement—not a call to a destructive willingness to inflict pain and suffering on others to elevate ourselves.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why I Like College

A primary reason I like college is my view of myself which is kind of like being a sponge.  I want to absorb my surroundings.  Therefore I felt the need early on to choose my surroundings intentionally.  Even during times in which I was not a good student, I was surrounded by an environment that was involved in research and study.  There was a nod to disciplined intellectual pursuits.  I have found this disciplined atmosphere on all campuses I have attended.  There are always assignments that are demanding of thought as well as tests of character.  Do I have what it takes to get the work done—the persistence, the optimism, the realism, the ingenuity and inventiveness, the love of adventure, the stamina, the willingness to overcome false starts and setbacks?  And of course there is the communal nature of the enterprise.  There are peers and instructors studying the subject, but also revealing much about themselves.  I have never found the university to be an ivory tower—cloistered from the world.  Even when dealing with abstractions, the objective was always to better cope with reality.  This goes for all the subjects I have studied.  With online universities the question arises if the days of the campus are numbered?  As inefficient and expensive as the campus experience is, I think there is no substitute for it.  Even extracurricular activities can be extremely valuable—I think of my experience with the Wesley Foundation for example.  Now I occasionally take courses at a community college—Saint Petersburg College.  It is a fine college with exceptional teachers and courageous, bright students.  I think of it like other colleges I have attended—it provides an unabashed sacred and disciplined pursuit of truth, a very practical humility before the vast known and unknown complexities that confront us.  The energy and effort required to insightfully simplify are grounded in deep commitment and faith.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Of Facts and Opinions

Defensiveness and irrationality are highly charged parts of any contentious religious or political discourse.  The reason for this is that at the core of religion is faith, and at the core of politics is theory.  Neither religious faith nor political theory can be conclusively demonstrated by facts.  Since those with a strong often ingrained allegiance to a religion or political theory realize their own deep sense of commitment coincident with a dearth of simple facts to prove beyond question their position, they assume a defensive posture ready in a moment to discount and dismiss the opposition as merely assailants with malignant intent.  Thus, when politics and religion are mixed the result (as in 9 /11) can be explosive.

If two people are friends and one knows the other is defensive about their eyeglasses, the least desirable subject of conversation would be glasses.  Just so, friends particularly if they suspect some degree of disagreement typically do not broach subjects of politics or religion because neither wants to arouse or experience profound anxieties and feelings of vulnerability.  On the other hand, if they are enemies and want to inflict pain on each other, they will rant on the subjects until the wee hours of the morning.

Human beings in the nature of things are obliged to deal with both topics.  The challenge is to bring this about and yet maintain a steady and healthy level of goodwill. To accomplish this we spend a considerable portion of our time with those who agree with us and coincidentally affirm those in opposition by respecting their right to thoughts and opinions arising from their own experience and beliefs.  Whether we consider their politics or religion as legitimate may be open to question, but their role and responsibility to decide for themselves on these matters is not.  

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Monday, September 5, 2011

The Nature and Mystery of the Labor Exchange

Today is Labor Day—a day to honor and celebrate work.  Sometimes the opportunity to work is most appreciated when one is unemployed.  In 1980 I was unemployed.  I still can remember walking around Bartlett Park with a desperate feeling that I must have a job.  The need was not primarily for money but for a need to have my sense of self-worth endorsed.  How could it be possible that a relatively young man in his thirties could not find one organization—not one person within an organization—who could say “Yes, we can use you?”  The conclusion is unavoidable—if not a soul needs me I must be pretty worthless.  I had a burning desire to be needed, to be useful, and to be worth somebody’s time and money.  I had a deep conviction that I was worthy, how could it be possible that no one else found me so?  Soon I was blessed with a job.  The sense of joy and relief was profound.  I counted after all—I could be of some use after all.  And there was an objective measure—someone was willing to pay me for my services.  It was an entry level job—a file clerk, the pay was not great, but in a sense that did not matter nearly as much as the fact that someone needed me.  Now, years later, I have advanced to a good paying job.  I have become accustomed to a comfortable life.  But even now, once I scratch the surface of material equanimity, close beneath the outer skin is the elemental need to matter, to be able to make a difference.

Soon (in a couple years) I will retire at age 70.  I will have the satisfaction of knowing I have mattered; I have made contributions in the line of work.  But it will not be time to quit work—to quit being useful.  I will not be paid for my labor.  But that will not be the first time.  Like most everyone, I have volunteered my services for years outside of paid employment.  Now that will become my link to significance.  Eventually, of course, with enough time under my belt, I will become of little service.  I will be a taker much more than a giver.  But when I consider it in totality over time that has been the position I have always held.  My blessings have always far exceeded my earnings.  Nothing will have changed really. I came into this world and will leave this world being a debtor.  But, like with my parents who gave me life, the debt was cancelled from the beginning—from the first time they held me lovingly in their arms.  I owe, but I do not owe.  I was found worthy from the beginning.  As a smelly, enfeebled old man in diapers I suppose the same will hold true.  I will represent a need that must be fulfilled.  I will need others, and they God grant will need me not only from the income they will receive but from the sense of service given.  I owe, but I will not owe; an immeasurable debt will be covered by immeasurable generosity.  Such is the common nature and mystery of the labor exchange—by being a taker one becomes a giver, and by being a giver one becomes a taker.

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Necessity of Christ

Today in Sunday school I was making a plea for non-Christians whose lives nevertheless simulate the lives of Christians.  If they believe in and live by the disciplines of love in all aspects of life that is certainly more meaningful than if people claim to be Christians yet are devoid of these attributes.  After all, it is easy to say “I believe in Christ” yet live the life of a scoundrel.  An apparent dangerous question arises—if one can live like a Christian yet not be a Christian where lies the necessity of Christ?  My teacher Mitch Marsh immediately provided the answer.  Humanity alone lacks the perception and strength to sanctify life—only the costly grace of Christ can provide that.  Without the intervention of the Holy Spirit provided to us by divine grace, we lack the essential ingredient to live a Christian life.  Courage alone, intelligence alone, conviction alone, even love alone cannot prevail without the spirit of Christ.  An inescapable test faces all of us—what do we do in the face of persecution and temptation?  For it is in the nature of the world that evil (both within ourselves and starkly threatening us from without) makes hash of human commitment.  Only the grace of God gives us strength, intelligence, direction, and faith to hold fast.  There is no other option; we must derive strength from outside ourselves or surely fail.  The conclusion is unavoidable—in the final analysis one cannot live like a Christian without Christ.  This is made plainly evident under conditions of severe stress when we share in the passion of Christ.

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The Age for Immediate Answers Has Begun

The age of anxiety is past,
What will the next age be?
Will it be an age of scarcity?
Or will abundance set the scene?
Will internationalism finally gain legal clout?
Or will nationalism be the next dead end?
Will the promise of technology bring widespread freedom at last?
Or will it like stone, copper, bronze, iron, and steel
Become shaped into addictive weapons of conquest?
Will chemical intoxicants assuage the soul of man?
Or will honesty, freedom, and commitment nourish tranquility?
And what shall be the invisible hand that guides our political economy—
Selfishness blended with greed or generosity blended with sacrifice?
And will we define ourselves as self-sustaining units or part of a larger family?
And will modern medicine make us healthier physically
While killing us spiritually?
Will wisdom be prostituted to the smugness of mysticism?
Will religion lose divinity and its raison d'être?
Will sacrifice become antiquated?
And loyalty dispersed as a venting mist?
Will gamesmanship determine reality?
Will thought be displaced by many words?
And effective action by moving shadows?
Will courage succumb to ambition?
And ambition succumb to darkness?
Short of eschatological concerns the age of anxiety is past
The age for immediate answers has begun.
Communication barriers are falling fast
And with this brings hope if not for concord
At least for better outcomes. 

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Christ Killers

John 19:14-15 (NIV)
It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.  “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.  But they shouted, “Take him away!  Take him away!  Crucify him!”  “Shall I crucify your king?”  Pilate asked.  “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

Tonight I watched a video, The Cross and the Star (1997) that reviewed some of the lethal prejudice that Christians throughout history have had towards the Jews—basically seeing the Jews as Christ killers.  This perspective of the Jews is entirely foreign to anything I have ever experienced in my lifetime in the United Methodist Church.  Since my father was a minister in the church and since I occasionally attended church annual conferences with him and then in later years on my own (as well as retreats, seminars, and student conferences), it is remarkable in the light of the history reviewed in the film that I never heard one word of racial or religious prejudice during my years of association with the church.  Of course, I’ve heard and read the above scripture (John 19:14-15); but I always understood that Jesus and his disciples were Jews—and, of course, in this sense we worshipped a Jew.  Never was the target of criticism the Jews per se, but the hypocrisy and pride of the “scribes and Pharisees.”  And this was never mentioned to denigrate any religion, but to focus on our own behavior and tendencies towards hypocrisy and pride.  Of course, the unfortunate aspects of human nature were the subject of countless sermons and were seen as inherent in everyone.  The example and spirit of Christ was to help us overcome the “natural man” in ourselves, not to look with prejudice towards others.  I can’t fathom why this point of view so obvious to me was turned into racial prejudice throughout the centuries.  As for me and the fellow Christians I know, when we look for “Christ killers” we search for the frailties and foibles within our own nature—we start with ourselves. As I’ve heard throughout my life, “our sins put Jesus on the cross.”
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Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Remedy Certain of Itself

In upholding such laws, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered the opinion of the Court, infamously asserting:
"It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts197 U.S. 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

I have watched one of a two part series on Nazi medicine.  A central feature of their approach involved eugenics: selective breeding as proposed human improvement: the proposed improvement of the human species by encouraging or permitting reproduction of only those people with genetic characteristics judged desirable.  It has been regarded with disfavor since the Nazi period” (Encarta Dictionary).  Prior to the Nazi period, there were respectable and earnest implementations of the practice in several countries including the United States.  Eugenics promised the eradication of crime, the mentally ill and generally unpleasant people through selective breeding and sterilization of deviates as defined by the eugenicists.  If ever there were a practice proving that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” this was it.  The foundation of eugenics was an overweening pride in one’s own rectitude and quality gene set.  It served to greatly oversimplify complex matters struggled with since Genesis and thus became an insidious crime in itself.  It sat in exalted judgment of those guilty of being less than perfect—unlike the eugenicists who took themselves to be the epitome of perfection itself.  Thankfully, we have given up on selective breeding as a means to human betterment.  Certainly helpful approaches to man’s many chronic issues will be characterized by humility, a sense of limitations, and respect even for those who do not dress up in our style.  The answer is not in the genes so much as the dreams of man.  How to influence and cultivate these dreams becomes the central challenge.  But like the dangers presented by the arrogance of the “gene police,” we must also be wary lest we become latter-day “dream police” with a stringent agenda that transmutes into something grotesquely inhumane. 

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School Begins

It’s September and schools are in session.  What should we wish for the students of all ages?  I wish that they may learn the joy, adventure, and the rewarding nature of learning.  I wish that they may learn skills exceling in those in which they are gifted.  For those subjects that are challenging, I wish that may learn as much about themselves as the subject learned.  May they find that they have determination, persistence, and humility effectively combined.  Somehow in the course of study, I hope they come to the appreciation that life and the learning process for most all of us is not like a direct route as the bird flies, but is more like negotiating a maze.  We start out only to run into dead ends.  We must start over and try again, sometimes repeatedly, before finding the right course.  May they come to see this as typical and natural, rather than representing a failure and something to be ashamed of and to hide.  May education be enabling and liberating; a means to share and serve our common humanity—never a reason for snobbery or selfish pride.  May it be an endeavor based on the drive to garner intellectual power in order to give, not just to get.

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