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Monday, October 31, 2011

Faith Is: To see purpose in the tragic

To see purpose in the tragic:  the second faith characteristic listed in Alton’s letter is a clear indication that faith is a survival mechanism.  The prerequisites to see purpose in the tragic is the ability to forgive even great injustices and to face them with humility—accepting that purposes may be set beyond immediate human understanding.  When one looks at the development of man over many thousands of years one characteristic would seem to gain marked ascendancy.  Those who reacted to extreme hardship feeling they have all the bitter answers, victimized, resentful, cynical, discouraged, and as destined losers would seem to be greatly disadvantaged by those people willing to forgive and move forward.  Those people who are determined to live optimistically, generously, filled with hope and happiness and as destined winners are not exempt from tragedy.  But they have faith (you may unkindly call it rationalizations or conjured fictions) that out of tragedy good can come if not immediately in the long run.  That they cannot personally see what purpose that might be is accepted in humility. In many ways the approach to tragedy is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Embittered losers seldom out-perform hopeful winners.  The opposite of faith is disbelief.  The inability to suspend disbelief is a handicap of major proportions.  Belief that there can be redeeming purpose to even tragic circumstances turns out to be the surest path to practical positive outcomes and the ability to thrive.  Starkly put, one is given the choice of either seeing tragedy as dead-end and one-dimensional or as an occasion to exercise forgiveness, humility, and an appreciation of mystery within the spaciousness of hope. 

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Faith Is: To believe when there is no answer

To believe when there is no answer: the first faith characteristic listed in Alton’s faith letter is perhaps the most essential one for mankind who dwells in a perpetual state of being the endless questioner.  We want ready answers and can even impatiently dismiss as irrelevant those questions that do not have them.  Certainly a key to human progress is the ability to tolerate and continue to ask open questions.  This is the heart of discovery—the ability to sustain effort even in the face of uncertainty, even mystery.  I have sometimes fantasized about being the “answer man” and have speculated on what such a talent would be worth.  In the endless, costly trouble shooting in all manner of activities what if someone could say upfront “I have the answer to that” and be right?  This would make the power of superman seem trivial.  Before almost any activity and part of any speculation is a host of questions many of them implying great effort and patience in attaining final answers.  To be effective and sustain effort it is necessary to believe even when there is no ready answer—to continue searching with an open mind in the face of mystery.  To believe when there is no answer is another way of saying we have energizing trust and assurance that there will be eventual answers.  Some questions remain open for a few hours, some for many generations.  The essential characteristic of man is to believe when there is no answer and thus continue in the pursuit.

I have seen on bumper stickers all my life that “Jesus is the answer.”  The question that produces that answer is “what would a savior look like?”  But before this answer can be appreciated one must first be posing a personal question “how can I be saved?” and a related host of other spiritual questions that only seem relevant after a certain state of mind is reached.  So while Jesus is the answer, prerequisite questions appear.  And a final question will remain open:  why ultimately is man interested in the ethical and spiritual dimension at all?  Faith is to believe when there is no answer.

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In a Letter From My Son Alton

         Faith Is

·         To believe when there is no answer
·         To see purpose in the tragic
·         To keep the vision even in darkness
·         To envision the possibility of God

·         To endure as pain demands
·         To accept unwanted loss
·         To affirm life fully
·         To flee not death

·         To see treasures in each moment of being
·         To shut all doors to despair
·         To unite the broken pieces of life

·         To dare to live again
                                 Sincerely your son
                                              Love you Dad

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Friday, October 28, 2011

49th High School Reunion

Our Basketball Court - Bowling Green
Today Kathy and I attended my 49th high school reunion.  (I graduated in 1962 from Hardee County High School in Wauchula, Florida.  My parents and I were living in Bowling Green at the time, a town about six miles north of Wauchula.)  Today as we approached the area from Saint Petersburg, we could either turn left to Bowling Green or right to Wauchula.  The burden to turn first to Bowling Green was irresistible.  Bowling Green brought back memories, but the urgency to go there was based on far more than nostalgia or the sense of lost youth.  It was a demand of the subconscious to pay tribute to the roots of my mental landscape.  We went by the house our family lived in and the tennis court where we boys doubled its use as a basketball court.  It became increasingly apparent to me that these were far more than memories; they continue today as part of the active matrix of my mind only lying just below the surface.  On the way to Wauchula for the reunion, I felt the experience of riding the bus every morning the eight or so miles to the high school.  I especially remembered my first trip after we recently moved to town.  There was a measure of anxiety and unease.  What would I find at my new school?  What I found was a sense of equality that has never left me.  It was a gift that has continued to bless.  Yvonne Albritton Lyons, after I took my turn saying a few words at the reunion, related to the group how my father had been a minster at Bowling Green, and how she still appreciates my parent’s sweetness and humility. I responded blithely that like teenagers do, I felt my parents were somewhat dumb at the time but have since grown to appreciate them more and more.  This was only partially true.  Actually I respected my parents deeply and greatly benefited from their goodwill and love for me.  It is the memory of their religion that undergirds mine.  It is impossible for me to comprehend an atheist’s hatred of religion—something that was the source of so much wisdom, goodness, and blessings in my life then and ongoing today.  

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Deceitfulness of Wealth

Mark 4:19 (NIV)

“…but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Wealth is not only of money, but there can be a wealth of knowledge, a wealth of power, a wealth of status, a wealth of influence, a wealth of friends, a wealth of compassion.  The pursuit of wealth is a desire for a safe number.  It is a search for security founded in numbers.  We keep score and know we will be content eventually when the safe number is reached.  Too often in this pursuit we are willing to sacrifice the real best interest of others. The deceitfulness of wealth referred to by Jesus is when we make a false god of security.  While security is a basic human need, it is corrupting to view it as an ultimate need and object of worship.  That is, even in the instance of compassion, if the focus becomes on acquiring a full tank of compassion rather exercising even a little of it in love, then we have been won over by the deceitfulness of riches.  For security is not found in wealth and excess but in the smallest acts deriving from the disciplines of love.    

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Salvation Perspective

Salvation is often portrayed as a train getting ready to leave the station.  Climb aboard now for this opportunity may never come again.  Act now and you will be able to recall the exact moment that you left the station.  That is how salvation is often portrayed, but that’s not my experience.  My salvation was more like standing on planet earth unaware of movement while the ground that I stood on was revolving at 900 miles per hour.  My salvation was an evolutionary process characterized by moments of despair alternating with moments of near ecstasy; of moments feeling alienated from God with moments feeling his best friend.  In a recent blog I characterized it as a process whereby I was granted permission to be truly free.  Life ceased to be a burden and became an opportunity to serve the Lord.  There is no unease in my salvation, no fear of ejection.  The Eternal sustains my soul on solid ground with such force that it will carry me through anything even if I am personally unaware—as in the dementia of old age.  I did not claim God, he claimed me—and that is the source of my security.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Real Popularity

When we say chocolate cake is popular, we mean that many people like it.  When we say that someone is popular in high school, we mean that an individual because of their attributes or accomplishments is well liked.  When we say that a certain manager is popular, we mean the same.  There is an obvious difference from being popular and being famous or infamous.  Again, popularity attests to approval.  And, in terms of a manager, approval need not mean total agreement with the manager in all their decisions.  The staff can understand that there are hard decisions to make and some outcomes may go against their preferences.  These same individuals however can continue to like the manager—to approve of his attributes or accomplishments.  Indeed that is a fundamental requirement of a good manager—to be able to make unpopular decision yet remain popular.

I think back to when we had the bathroom redone in our house.  The company did a good job and we strongly approved of their work.  But part of doing a good job was invading our home with equipment, noise, and inconvenience.  If they had not done these things, they could not have done a good job and they would not have earned our approval.  In short, though we did not like the invasion of our home, we knew it was necessary given the nature of the situation.

I think most people would like to be popular in this sense.  Not superficially so, where it is based on being unbelievably sweet, nice, and indulgent.  But by doing a good job and all that entails.  The analogies in this regard are many.  For example, we don’t like the idea of having our body cut open, however if necessary we know that this is essential for a surgeon to receive our accolades and approval.

Only politics seems to be the exception.  We like indulgent political leaders and will vote them out of office if they require any sort of sacrifice (other than, of course, going to war).  We will bear any burden so long as it does not jeopardize our theater-size flat screen TV with surround sound.  This gives to politics an eerie cast, a bizarre glimmer of a dreamscape filled with row upon row of one-dimensional standing promises.  Consider what it would do to the manager mentioned in the opening paragraph if he had to study every decision in the light of getting reelected by staff.  Not only would it affect his decisions but also the inclinations of staff.  The fantasy world through mutual collusion could thus threaten to subsume reality.  The answer comes down to an inveterate preference for practical common sense (good results require tolerance of some unpleasantness) similar to our uncompromising dealing with reality in everyday life.  

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Craft of Writing Poetry

The Only Conclusion
I enjoy writing poetry.  Some may not call what I write poetry, or only superficially so.  How I know it is poetry is the sense that there is a right way to say something, and a wrong way.  When the words are on the page, the sound and sense together clearly are acceptable or not.  If not acceptable, trial and error iterations must continue until is all is well.  Sometimes I will return to a poem that I have thought complete, only to discover a glaring error.  Then iterations must continue again until there is peace of soul.  There is a Shakespearian play, All’s Well that Ends Well.  This has been called a problem play, an uneasy blend of tragedy and comedy.  After much study, this play brought upon me psychosis or insight.  The only way I could make it work poetically was through plot transformation.  In this case the language was set and unalterable (in the folio edition).  Interpretation of plot and reevaluation of tone were the only conceivable variables.  This brought upon me the realization that blindness in human nature is serious and pervasive—a good lesson to learn however dubious the occasion.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Permission Granted

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In Sunday school every Sunday we have cookies (baked by Kathy) and glasses of water all round.  This takes two pitchers of water with ice and several stacks of drinking glasses.  It is my job to get the water and glasses.  This summer at church, that was no problem as the kitchen was not staffed for Sunday morning breakfast.  The kitchen was largely vacant.  I would go in, locate the pitcher and glasses and retrieve them.  I would scoop ice into the pitchers, fill them up with water, and carry them (usually in two trips) to the classroom.  But now that summer is over, breakfast for the church is being prepared and served from a bay facing the social hall.  Now I do not feel free to enter the kitchen.  It is now forbidden territory in my own mind.  It is a busy place and I am committing some sort of violation by intruding for the selfish task of getting our class water.  Today, I had the task to do and so approached the kitchen area with some apprehension.  I asked the lady serving a fruit medley what I should do.  Is the water something I can get on my own or does staff need to get it?  She said she didn’t know as this was her first Sunday serving.  She turned and asked a man towards the back of the kitchen what should be done.  In a loud welcoming voice he asked me to come on in, motioning with his hands.  Instantly all my inhibitions left me and I went into the kitchen to get the water pitchers and glasses.  After getting the water, the man said with a helpful voice, don’t you want a cart to carry that with, and produced a cart.

The feeling of inhibition I had on first going up to the kitchen was a familiar old feeling.  I can remember it well from my general approach to life until I was well into adult years.  It was during those awkward years that I always seemed to be seeking permission.  The only time I didn’t feel it was during special times, such as playing basketball after school on a court next to our home (the court doubled as a tennis court).  Then, for the game with the boys, I was invited to not be inhibited but to play hard and excel.

What was it during those stressful years that made me so tentative?  Why did I usually portray the stance of someone not sure of what was appropriate, of needing permission to be?  Why were the traffic lights most always yellow and seldom green?  Why did I need permission to take care of even elemental needs not only for myself but for others?  I really don’t have the answer to that.  I only know that now unease occurs only rarely under clearly identifiable circumstances rather than being a pervasive ambient feeling.  Something happened somewhere; at some time I was given spiritual freedom.  Now I know that I belong.  I was given guideposts and with them permission and freedom to enter the kitchen.

(For a related blog click here.)

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cast Out Your Nets

John 21:6 (NASB)
And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.

Matthew 4:19 (NIV)
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."

This morning my wife Kathy set out a few things in the front lawn for a small yard sell.  She said the scripture kept coming to her mind to “cast out your nets.”  She had an assortment of things out most of the morning and made four transactions—only one of which had the return she expected.  That was a sell of $3.25.  The other transactions were defined thusly: a communication or activity between two or more people that influences and affects all of them (Encarta Dictionary).  On this chilly morning she gave a sweater to a neighbor who passed by confined to her motorized wheelchair.  She visited at length with another neighbor, a young man named Aaron who is taking marine science at the University of South Florida.  A finally she gave a bathroom scale to the neighbor on our immediate right, a young man sporting dreadlocks.  Despite the fact that only one transaction transpired as she had anticipated resulting in a little cash, the remaining transactions left her in a glow of accomplishment and good feeling.  In fact, Kathy decided next week she would set up tables in the yard and would anticipate only transactions of the second order.  When we feel compelled to cast out our nets we should not anticipate too narrowly and thus limit too precisely the nature of the returns received. 

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A Controversial Figure

Sometimes I have a yearning for absolute proof that Jesus walked on water and did every miracle mentioned in the Gospels including rising from the dead.  But I have no confidence that should such evidence be forthcoming that it would make Jesus any less a controversial figure.  For what makes Jesus controversial is what he represents.  The more you could prove he was who he said he was, the more the tempest would rage.  It remains the message that wrangles. For starters, he affirms the virtue of humility.  I can think of powerful people who would fire him on the spot from any leadership role based on that preference alone.  His stance that legalisms arise from a motivation of self-righteousness would inflame many confident in their rectitude. His refusal to embrace worldly power and position would confirm many in their belief that he is unfit for the world of realpolitik and the dirty things that must be done to succeed. To forgive your enemies and pray for them rather than destroying them sounds like something from an alien planet.  His belief that hypocrisy is not a given to be lived down to seems to be affirmed only by hypocrites.  Insisting that love should have something to do with public life and that everyone should be considered a neighbor would offend those with a high level of status consciousness.  Jesus would be controversial today for the same reason he was controversial two thousand years ago.  Considering his locale, he had the misfortune of taking holiness seriously.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Surest Pathway to Freedom

An essential quality for human behavior is the ability to morph the structure of self-presentation to the requirements of the situation.  Some might disparagingly call this being a chameleon or lacking individual integrity.  Consider the words of Saint Paul: 1 Corinthians 9:22 (NIV) “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”  Surely Saint Paul is not suggesting that we become a person without a moral anchor, but he is suggesting that we must concentrate on essentials.  I went to prison in 1968 over the Vietnam War.  Obviously, during my time in prison I was confronted by the question “What is essential in maintaining moral fiber and integrity?”  It is quite unwise to maintain in prison a milquetoast persona.  One must have a spine and be ready at any time to stand up to attempted coercion from prison politics.  Luckily, I did not get into any fights, but this result was something I did not have absolute control over.  I had to count on the final goodwill of even those who would be bullies.

Getting down to essentials usually involves a clipping of excesses.  We think at the outset, “How can we do without this or that?”  By just clipping it back a third or so, we often find what is left will outperform our greatest expectations.  Paradoxically, ridding ourselves of excesses greatly increases our effectiveness and options.  Increased efficiencies make possible the seeming impossible.  However counterintuitive the gains from cutbacks may seem, sometimes it is the only way out.  Self-control remains the surest pathway to freedom.

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Passionate about Property

When I was about 5 years old our family lived in New Port Richey, Florida.  While there, we had a visit from my Aunt Virgie and Uncle Calhoun.  They had young children of their own.  I had a wood rocking chair at the time that I was probably fast outgrowing.  Nevertheless, when without consulting me my parents gave the rocker to Aunt Virgie’s family to take back with them to Jacksonville, I had a major meltdown.  In fact, after all these years, this stands out as one of my most impassioned moments.  That this passion arose over property is perhaps a sad commentary on human nature or, at least, my nature.  I suppose I had become deeply identified with the rocker—it had imprinted itself upon my mind that the rocker and I were one.  I came to believe that I belonged to the rocker and the rocker belonged to me.  This brings to mind a scripture passage as well as other sayings:

First Epistle to Timothy in the New Testament (1 Timothy 6:10), which contains the phrase, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (Often misquoted as 'Money is the root of all evil')
Greed, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, the excessive love of money and other possessions
Radix malorum est cupiditas, Latin for "Greed is the root of all evil" (Wikipedia)

Through identifying with the rocker excessively, it no longer was simply a material object, but it became an object of love.  I assumed I had ownership rights and that I was in control of our destiny together.  I pitched such a fuss over the matter that all involved in the separation decision quickly relented and I did not see my rocker toted off to faraway and distant places.  But the incident was a flag indicating the deep seated and passionate character that ownership arouses (whether something is in one’s current possession or assumed that it rightfully should be).  How many fights, how much anger, how much dejection and resentment, how much self-righteousness, how many killings have resulted over property?  The property or real estate comes to take on intense symbolic value one is willing to die for.  The involved players affirm that whether or not it amounts to greed depends entirely upon one’s point of view.  In fact, the other’s perceived greed is the very bone of contention.  This seems to be an area where people never entirely grow up.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Not a Unity of Nature Religion

I’ve heard Christianity criticized for not being a unity of nature religion.  These critics view it disparagingly as a religion that does not appreciate the rhythms and processes of nature in which we are deified through identity with the cycle of life.  I fully accept the truth of what they say but strongly disagree that this should be thought of as criticism rather than a compliment.  Christianity holds that within nature are forces of love and hate, life and death, good and evil.  We should hold fast to the forces of love, life, and goodness and eschew the forces of hate, death, and evil.  Christianity views man as not being inherently good with his only challenge to harmonize with his inner subconscious and thus reach blessedness.  Christianity holds that such a transcendental view of self is essentially arrogant.  For within the human heart lies both love and hate, life and death, good and evil.  Man cannot overcome the forces of darkness alone, but requires the grace of a loving God.   The only mystery in Christianity is why God so loved the world that he gave his only son to save humanity.  Some criticize Christianity for fixating on sin.  This is a misunderstanding.  Christians do not fixate on sin, but they do frankly recognize it as an undeniable realty of human experience.  The mystery of perception is that blindness regarding one’s own sin (selfish pride, hypocrisy, arrogance, selfishness) is a reigning condition only shattered by divine grace.  The focus of Christianity is forward looking focusing on life after salvation and celebrating the fruit of the spirit.  A Christian finds it frankly difficult to understand how considerate individuals could deny the preference of these affirmations—of love, life, and goodness—or to deny our tendency to supplant them with forces of darkness.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

By Far the Best Goodnight

Getting old
No longer a player
The object of patronization
A “has been”
A soon “no longer will be”
Not to be taken seriously
A trap of dependency
A compilation of deepening hassles
A collection of physical complaints
Repulsive to the young
An affront to the middle-aged,
A used up story of little interest
Dreams and visions no longer relevant
Sitting on the sidelines
A player nevermore?
No way!!!
I reject getting old as out of hand
Positive potential I vow to keep
I will leave with a toss of the head
And a defiant measure of resistance
A healthy portion of attitude
Holding on to love as the life force
Filling with light the valley of shadows
By far the best goodnight.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Optimistic about America

Today I feel optimistic about America’s future.  I feel this way when I see that historically the country has done what it was important to do.  This applies to regulations regarding economic matters—such as the regulation of railroads.  It always relates to social matters such as civil rights.

In the late 1800’s the railroads found it cost-effective to sacrifice employees rather than invest in safe equipment:  The following is from The Scientific American; June 6, 1896; page 359.  Those who yearn for a free market unfettered by regulation have a short memory and a rosy, romantic view of corporate responsibility in the face of lower cost.

Compulsory Introduction of Coupling Devices.  Sixteen thousand railroad employees were killed in the discharge of their duties in the seven years from 1888 to 1894.  The awful record of the killed and injured seems incredible.  During those seven years the exact figures are 16,257 killed and 172,180 crippled, maimed and injured.  Few battles in history show so ghastly a fatality.

This slaughter of American workmen is about ended, says the Evening Telegram.  A national law, the expression of the Congress of the United States, has called a halt to the heartlessness or heedlessness of railroad companies, and it has been decreed that an army of men shall no longer be offered up as an annual sacrifice to corporate greed.

I am optimistic for even though the railroad industry had a powerful lobby and raised all sorts of fuss regarding free enterprise and dire threats to capitalism, in the end compassion won the day.

Also today the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial was dedicated in Washington DC.  It is very significant who a society chooses to honor.  Dr. King who fought lovingly for social and economic justice has a memorial on the National Mall not far from the Lincoln Memorial.  This means to me that America is guided by conscience.  Lags in the social conscience are really understandable and quite natural stages in the process of human perception.  Issues seen as properly framed in American values by transformative leaders and the pace of events will eventually win out in the end.  America has never finally cast its fate with the forces of darkness and I believe never will.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Basic Unfairness

A basic unfairness is that the big idea generators receive the lion’s share of compensation.  For every big idea there are necessary battalions of support staff who must actualize the big idea supplementing the big idea with good judgment, good sense, and creativity.  In other words, actualization of any idea requires a multitude of additional big ideas to bring about realization (not to mention sometimes hazarding life and limb).

Management and labor are categories that have little distinction in reality.  The need for creativity in management and labor are equal.  The need for intellectual resourcefulness and integrity are equal.  The broader responsibilities of management are met equally by the essential responsibilities of labor.  What is fair compensation is complicated by the equity market.   The organizers of successful companies can enjoy huge increases in wealth by appreciation of stock value.  The wealthiest often get the lion’s share of their wealth in this way even though it is, of course, derivative of a successful company and all that entails in terms of human resources.  The more common situation is where the owner/manager of a local business pays themselves many times what the typical employee earns.  These disparities are harder to justify.  

The trend is increasingly towards a democratization of information.  Closed minds, closed doors, and closed hearts are becoming harder to secure.  With this will come a new sense of what comprises economic justice.  In a few centuries people may well shake their heads at the unfairness of the twenty-first century.  Because economic unfairness has extensive implications for quality of life and psychological health, the judgment upon us may be stark.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Civilian’s View of the Military

One must begin with the ultimate task one can be called upon to do in the armed services.  Under the extreme stress of conflict with one’s life on the line, one must be willing at a moment’s notice to die; willing to die for others; if an officer, willing to send others to their deaths; and, of course; willing to kill.  Considering these essentials it is necessary to instill beforehand the appropriateness and necessity of the action and a behavior that has become almost reflexive under conditions of incessant hazard.  I say “almost” because the specific situation will always require judgment.  The ability to make good snap judgments under pressure and the reflexive willingness to carry them out is called for.  This goes for all, not just the officers.  The withering nature of boot camp where the recruit is constantly under physical and psychological attack is designed not only to hone one to follow orders, but to paradoxically elicit an inner strength when all self-dignity has been stripped away.  One’s survivor instinct is tapped.  There is a new dignity based on “I can do this…I have done this…I have survived this” coupled with a primordial will to win.  Viewed from civilian life, there appear to be way too many rules and restrictions in the military and unnecessary recruit debasement.  This judgment made from civilian safety, security, and tranquility has questionable value.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Alcohol Buzz vs Spiritual Joy

Aunt Vivian & Uncle Monroe (1978)

When my mother died in October 2002 my cousin Patsy and husband Wes traveled from Jacksonville to attend the service in Bradenton—well over 400 miles round trip. I have always appreciated the special effort and affection shown.  Today some 9 years later my wife Kathy and I returned the favor.  The funeral service for my Aunt Vivian was held today in Jacksonville and we traveled from Saint Petersburg to attend.  My Aunt Vivian and Uncle Monroe overcame a major challenge earlier in their lives.  It was mentioned in today’s service.  That challenge was a strong affinity for alcohol.  For a time, it largely filled their spiritual hunger displacing even the worship of God.  But this all changed as time passed and they developed a strong faith and the joy of salvation.  It was refreshing to hear a funeral address that mentioned an unpleasant fact in the life of the deceased and did not paint over real challenges met and overcome.  [Aunt Vivian as you dance in heaven say a prayer for me that I may likewise overcome the idols and addictions that always seem to threaten joy and happiness on earth.]

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Will to Win

The will to win or an acquiescence to lose can each on their own become a closely held self-concept that is forever unassailable.  In a process of learning the self-concept is formed—one sees themselves as either a winner and potential winner or a loser and potential loser.  Once formed the reigning concept is highly resistant to change.

It is possible to equate quality of character with a winning attitude.  We say that a person has character if they do extraordinary things even in the presence of fear.  Their will to win overcomes all fear revealing inner strength.  Often we equate a strong will to win as an admirable characteristic.  But we must remember a famous Nazi propaganda film was entitled The Triumph of the Will.  It is clear that a winning attitude while essential for character is not is not a sufficient condition.

The obvious question that must be answered is what ultimate ends does a particular will to win strive to accomplish.  In sports, motivation often comes down to identity with a team.  Perhaps it’s our school team, our community team, or simply the team on which we’ve placed a bet.  In war a not infrequent attitude is “my country right or wrong, my country.”  That is, one needs look no further for justification than that it involves the motherland.  Yet, even so, there is the haunting feeling that there must be complex psychological reasons yet to be identified.

My own will to win was applied in attaining extensive education and training.  I can remember well the desire to do extraordinary things even in the presence of fear.  In a sense, there was a blind defiance of misgivings that my objectives could be realized.  But the real character test is not whether I persevered in education; but for what purpose did I persevere.  When I consider this, I’m afraid I can come up with less than stellar reasons—fundamentally there is a possibility it was to prove to myself and others that I could do it.  Beyond that, I really doubt that I had noble ends.  I did feel if I were successful, this would somehow honor my parents.  In the end, like in most such things, my final motives were mixed and largely unexamined.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Not Being a Rhodes Scholar

I think of my mother especially who never graduated from high school.  She had to drop out of school when her father died and help support the family.  Many fields of study were forever closed to her, but one thing she knew—and that was the Bible.  This became her window on the world.  One could do worse.  I can remember her explaining to me what it meant when Pontius Pilate washed his hands of responsibility for Jesus’ death.  Could there be a better lesson anywhere for the human tendency to seek to absolve itself of responsibility, the transparent nature of the attempt, and the sheer futility of it?  Yet the practice of self-justification is kept handy in the toolbox of excuses and rationalizations fully recognizable to both young and old.  It is the ability of the Bible to thus powerfully affix upon the mind images of human strengths and weaknesses that has served many well during their lives upon the rugged frontiers of experience.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

A Safe Baseline of Acceptance

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
(Robert Frost)

I would modify Robert Frost’s statement.  I think instead “Home is the place, when you go there, they take you in.”  The essential ingredient of family life from my point of view is acceptance.  This acceptance yields over time a deepening love.  Knowing that one has acceptance is a tremendously freeing state of mind.  With acceptance assured, one no longer has to be perfect.  One is free to take risks.  This means that in the most intimate family settings one can fart proudly.  In a family gathering at Thanksgiving one can spill a glass of tea without rejection. In an extended family setting one finds it safe to be creative (inherently a risky thing to do).  This evening I watched a Nova program on the rescue of the Hubble Space Telescope.  Many workgroups of engineers, scientists, technicians, and astronauts participated.  A member of the effort described the work climate as an extended family. It was clear in the video how this family atmosphere greatly facilitated the various creative tasks that had to be done.  By no means did everything work smoothly or perfectly.  But through it all was the supportive undergirding that derives only from the acceptance found in family.  The contrasting atmosphere suggesting unpleasant duty coupled with a judgmental attitude clearly reveals the overwhelming preference and necessity for a safe baseline of acceptance in the completion of challenging and critical tasks.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

No Lock on Compassion

In my recent blog “Viewing American Politics in Three-Dimension” I contrast two major emphases in American Politics—individual responsibility and communal responsibility.  Let me state flat-out that neither approach has a lock on compassion.

Those who emphasize individual responsibility typically hold three views.  One view is that government is most compassionate that creates an environment for free markets to work.  There are basically two markets—an economic market and a compassion market.  We are all familiar with the economic market where supply and demand resolve needs for goods and services based on a striking price.  The compassion market is the supply and demand apparatus developed to overcome the limitations of the economic market.  The compassion market includes individual acts of kindness as well as actions by non-profits to meet those needs unmet by the economic market. Here, demand always seems to be greater than supply.  Supply is determined not by demand but by conscience and choice. This market so based seeks to appeal to individual responsibility.  The second view held is that government though the legitimate regulator (referee) in society, government should be minimalist in character.  This means most importantly that it should not seek to replace the compassion marketplace which replacement appears to directly undermine individual responsibility.  It also means that the regulative nature of government should be proportional.  Obviously a large complex society will require a bigger government than a government for a small remote island.  Nevertheless, to use the referee analogy, never should marketplaces be confounded by too many referees.  While for the sake of the game no one wants to see weak referees, no one wants to see a football game where the referees outnumber the players.  Thirdly, those who emphasize individual responsibility rile at the suggestion that they lack in compassion.  They consider such a charge unfair and a cheap shot.

Those who emphasize communal responsibility typically hold three views.  While appreciative of the economic market and the compassion market, they hold that free markets alone cannot sufficiently meet the needs of the community.  The economic market must be regulated to maintain a market unfettered by monopolies and trusts and not driven to reduce cost at the expense of the health and welfare of society.  In other words, they maintain that public goods are inevitably affected by the consumption of private goods.  They view the compassion market as highly unpredictable in providing goods and services since it always depends upon the willingness of individuals to give based upon conscience and intangible benefits.  Second, they hold that compassion recipients should share with others a level of dignity and independence like that provided by Social Security and Medicare.  They hold the independence thus provided beneficial to the elderly, for example, as well as their families and communities.  Thirdly, they rile at the suggestion that because of their emphasis on communal responsibility that they are socialist or communist.  These evil systems maintain that government should usurp the creative role of the private sector.  Those with a communal responsibility bias deny seeking government ownership of production.

Since reality is ambiguous and political theory in the end remains political theory, there will always be an element of defensiveness in political discussions.  Each side knows only too well that they cannot prove beyond a shadow of doubt the rectitude of their particular perspective.  The right mix of individual responsibility and communal responsibility can only be met in public debate, discussion, and negotiation.
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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Forever Unassailable

I overheard a comment the other day.  The person speaking in a loud impassioned voice lamented how today’s children are taught that there are no such things as losers.  Every child is taught they are a winner.  Here are my thoughts on the subject.

For those children who live in poverty; for those children whose parents lost their jobs; for those children who lost their homes through foreclosures—how dare anyone suggest to them that there are no such things as losers.

For those children who live in broken homes; for those children whose father, mother or both abandoned them; for those children who have a parent in jail or mental institution—how dare anyone suggest to them that there are no such things as losers.

For those children who were born slow because their mother was addicted during pregnancy; for those children uprooted and on the move continuously from one tenement to another; for those children who live in high crime areas and bad neighborhoods—how dare anyone suggest to them that there are no such things as losers.

For those children who suffer from handicaps since birth; for those children who never had parents who tried hard to make them feel like winners; for those children with an alcoholic parent; for those children abused physically, even sexually, and mentally—how dare anyone suggest to them that there are no such things as losers.

For those children born in an atmosphere of hopelessness; for those children without ethical training or loving disciple; for those children who witness their parents in low esteem jobs and rebuffed by the best families—how dare anyone suggest to them that there are no such things as losers.

For those children who were never read to or encouraged to learn; for those children with disenfranchised parents who never vote or show a public spirit; for those children with arrogant parents who set impossibly high goals; for those children whose parents are rank materialists and show no interest in character or the spiritual life—how dare anyone suggest to them that there are no such things as losers.

For those children who are not good at an activity and are always chosen last; for those children who can never afford the “right” clothes or live in the “right” neighborhoods; for those children forced to live on the mean streets and fend for themselves; for those children who hate to see Christmas come because they never get anything nice or special like the hot toy they can brag to their friends about—how dare anyone suggest to them that there are no such things as losers.

My proposal is that all such children in school be informed immediately of the heretofore unknown fact that there are such things as losers.  Otherwise they will surely be engulfed in a plush fantasy world unrelated to reality in which their winning status is forever unassailable.

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Viewing American Politics in Three-Dimension

There are two views of America and together they yield a three-dimensional image of the landscape.  Each view is considered sacrosanct by their separate holders.  Each view sees both perspectives, but they see the contending perspective through their own given lenses.  (And the reality itself, like a 3-D movie image, is ambivalent.)   One view holds fast the essential character of individual responsibility while the other maintains the essential character of communal responsibility.  If they happen to be Christian, one view focuses on the individual and free will while the other focuses on the Good Samaritan question considered almost rhetorical by Jesus—who is my neighbor?  Both views can be righteous at times, and both self-righteous at times.  When self-righteous, both can consider their views “holier than thou.”  When righteousness (when humility) rules both can be cognizant of the essential need for each other.  When self-righteousness ensues, a political season of stalemate exists.  When righteousness prevails, accommodation and compromise are the order of the day. 

The Myopia of the Political Right:  A strong bias for individual rights and responsibilities can overlook the inherent communal fabric of our country.  Attainments are viewed as personal triumphs and personal wealth the result of individual labor.  If one legally becomes a billionaire, then that person “earned every penny.”  The contribution of society at large to make possible this development is overlooked.  If someone is destitute, then that person is entirely to blame.  The contribution of society to this sad development is likewise overlooked.

The Myopia of the Political Left:  A strong bias for communal responsibility can discount individual achievement.  Attainments are viewed as society-based and personal wealth the result of the largesse of the larger community.  If one legally becomes a billionaire, then that person owes it to the circumstances proffered by society.  The contribution of the individual to make possible this development is overlooked.  If someone is destitute, that person is entirely blameless. The contribution of the individual to this sad development is likewise overlooked.

Why We Need Each Other:  The way humans are made a predilection based on indoctrination and experience tends to bias one in the views they hold.  We simply cannot (in this duality of individual and communal responsibilities) count on ourselves to maintain equanimity of judgment.  That is why we need each other.  A three-dimensional view (however adamant we may feel to the contrary) negotiated when necessary in the political arena is the only road to the promised land.

(For related blog see No Lock on Compassion)

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Thursday, October 6, 2011


Today I was at a meeting that addressed in a momentary snapshot the current state of an organization.  It sought first of all a listing of those things the organization does well.  Then a list of opportunities was developed (those areas that need improvement).  It occurred to me that this dual view of listed achievements and areas of needed improvement if applied regularly to the individual would be a helpful exercise.  What if once a quarter every individual listed their current status in this way?  If these evaluations were kept in a journal, it would be most interesting to see developments and changing perspectives over time.  Of interest would not only be quarterly goals and achievements, but the shifting ground of the elements of evaluation and prioritization as insights and views changed with impinging realty and experience.  For example, there could be radical shifts in what one considered success as well as worthy goals.  I think many of us would be amazed at what we once viewed as facts and certainties eventually being viewed in retrospect as assumptions made from prejudice or perceptual blindness.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bipolar Behavior and the Final Death of Self-Denial

To some bipolar manic behavior is bizarre.  But to the one undergoing the experience, it is not bizarre at all; it is merely the consequential celebration arising from the final death of self-denial.  When bipolar, all wishes, hopes, and dreams are brought to realization.  The self is fully and totally affirmed.  The repressed self, the repressed private dreams and ambitions become actualized.  The mind steps in and removes all difficulties and hindrances presented by the old reality.  The belief in the new reality is total and transformative.  The great energy provided by mania is generated from the joy of deepest yearnings being fully realized.  The actualized dreams can be the assurance of attaining worldly position or they can be dreams of having an intimate relationship with the Eternal.  One projects self totally upon the world, and as a screen it reflects back to the self the self-image projected.  Thus, there is an exponential effect, as stimuli emanate from both self and screen.  The reinforcements are escalating, expanding, and universal. One operates in a tailored world—in a perfect world of one’s own choosing.  I look upon the bipolar person with pity and envy.  With pity because self-denial has finally come to this tragic pass, and envy because the experience of total fulfillment is one glorious trip.

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Birthday Wishes for a Friend

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NIV)

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.

Margin: the measure over and above what something minimally needs to be.  My birthday wish for you is that you develop and maintain a healthy margin in strength of character—in integrity, in endurance, in discernment, in generosity, in love, in faith, in conviction.  May you find God's abundant help in the design and fulfillment of your life.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Running Wires and Cables

Tonight I would like to honor all those who run wires and cables.  Now with the many homes and buildings with cable TV and internet not to mention electrical wiring itself, the challenges of running wires and cables are frequently overlooked.  When the Twin Towers fell, I could not help but think of the huge investment that had gone into those buildings in terms of putting in place Ethernet cabling alone.  It was stunning to think all those man-hours of work could be destroyed so quickly.  (Not to mention all the other systems such as plumbing and air conditioning also destroyed.)  The challenges of running wire and cable not only involve overall planning and design, but endless adaptation to troubling details and tight spots.  Wire management involves not only getting the job done, but doing it as esthetically pleasing and nonintrusive as possible.   So the next time you settle into your easy chair to enjoy a TV program on cable, I suggest you give a moment’s thought to the installer who worked the minor miracle of making the cable link well-nigh invisible.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

For Puff-Puff

Sometimes all we can do is
Stop, Look, Listen,
At the site of naked pain,
Sometimes it seems so little can be done
Even prayer is stymied
And angels turn away
Cruelty born of cruelty
The tragedy is non-stop—
An eternal curse,
An endless inheritance,
Hell’s very essence applied on earth.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Some Useful Terms

Parsimony – “…the principle of endorsing the simplest explanation that covers a case” Encarta Dictionary.

Misguided parsimony – cases in which the simplest explanation neglects to take into account the complexities involved.  For example, John is unemployed because he is lazy (the simple explanation) vs. John is unemployed because of the current economy (a more complex explanation).  Misguided parsimony can be an instance of the fundamental attribution error.

Another helpful concept is high self-monitor—someone who feels compelled to craft every response weighing and measuring everything they say tweaking it for the response of their current audience—a response in any case largely outside the self-monitor’s control.  A high degree of self-monitoring gives one an air of being forced, defensive, and lacking in frank spontaneity.  In dealing with a high self-monitoring individual one senses a level of difficulty much like that sensed when watching a relative novice struggling to find the right strings on a cello during a recital.  For example, if asked how they liked a movie, a spontaneous self-confident person without a moment’s hesitation might say it was a great (or lousy) movie.  A high self-monitoring individual when asked will have a flash of stage fright carefully weighing the impact of their evaluation and come across as struggling and forced and lacking in frank spontaneity.  Conversing with a high self-monitor can be a painful experience for everyone.

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fundamental Attribution Error

In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error (also known as correspondence bias or attribution effect) describes the tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors. The fundamental attribution error is most visible when people explain the behavior of others. It does not explain interpretations of one's own behavior—where situational factors are often taken into consideration. This discrepancy is called the actor–observer bias.

As a simple example, if Alice saw Bob trip over a rock and fall, Alice might consider Bob to be clumsy or careless (dispositional). If Alice later tripped over the same rock herself, she would be more likely to blame the placement of the rock (situational).

The term was coined by Lee Ross[1] some years after a now-classic experiment by Edward E. Jones and Victor Harris (1967).[2] Ross argued in a popular paper that the fundamental attribution error forms the conceptual bedrock for the field of social psychology. (Wikipedia
This brings to mind Jesus’s warning regarding judging others:

New International Version (NIV)
Matthew 7: 1-5

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“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?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The first point Jesus makes is that personality-based judgments frequently results in an almost reflexive countercharge—you accuse me of being clumsy or careless, you are the one who is clumsy or careless.  The person who just stumbled over a rock feels the injustice of the accuser overlooking any situational causes (the rock was misplaced in the first place) and so responds with a personality-based judgment of their own.  And, indeed, when one jumps to blaming character flaws in total disregard of situational causes one is being negligent in accessing the facts.  While carelessness is certainly a possible cause, it tells more about the observer than the observed if one jumps willy-nilly to judgmental responses rather than situational explanations.  In fact, if one loved others as they loved themselves, there would be a tendency to withhold personality-based judgments in favor of situational assessments.

What is “the plank…in your own eye” but a blind inclination to reflexively put others down—to seek to feel superior over your brother?  Hence the hypocrisy—you are not really interested in your brother at all (as you claim to be) but instead wish only to enhance your own reputation for rectitude.  Jesus flat-out judges people with this selfish tendency—a tendency of one-upmanship ingrained in the human heart and something to be overcome.

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