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Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Brief Continuum of the Religious—Secular State

What are the major points on a brief Religious—Secular State Continuum?  The point on the left end of the continuum line is the Religious State.  The key factor to this arrangement is that it places law outside the purview of discussion and debate.  The law of the state is determined by religious law and authority which in turn is determined by unassailable inspired truth.  The middle point on the continuum is the Mixed State.  Here the people can be religious but the laws of the land are determined by discussion and debate to some extent informed by religious values held by the individual constituents.  Religion here can have great influence but no direct power or authority.  The point on the extreme right of the continuum is the Secular State.  The inhabitants of this state eschew all religion and abhor references to religious inspiration or authority by either institutions or individuals.  Law in this view is no longer tainted by appeals to unassailable authority of any kind but is entirely the creation of humanity.  Humanism here serves as the only unassailable doctrine.  In my view the country of my birth, the United States, is a Mixed State.  The main advantage of this arrangement is that it leaves room for divine inspiration.  It is an arrangement that partially rests on humility before God and helps keep in check inordinate pride.  Change, which is inevitable, is undergirded by arguable but widely accepted eternal values.  However messy this arrangement can be it avoids the rigidity and forced unity of the right and the arrogance and human behavioral fantasies of the left.  In this arrangement no one is either above secular law on the one hand nor divine judgment on the other.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Heaven is for Real

I recently read in one sitting the New York Times Best Seller Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent.  The book jolted me into asking a simple question.  What if it is really true that we will meet Jesus face to face upon our deaths?  I have heard this all my life.  Jesus said And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:3 NIV).  Somehow I always took this in a misty spiritual sense.  It never really occurred to me that it was palpably true that I would meet Jesus in person, and that I and my loved ones—including my family—would also be visible in person.  I always believed “in effect” this was true but had some doubt if it would be true in plain fact.  But this book has confronted me with a real possibility—though thousands are dying every minute, somehow Jesus will greet each believer in heaven individually upon death.  If this is the case, then I cannot guarantee that I will approach my savior—with scars on his hands and feet—without abundant tears.   

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Choose Life

Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV)
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

Death haunts social interaction when God is shunned.  It arises from the human drive to reach the least common denominator, only now beyond the presence of God.  Behavior turns ghastly as the death wish reigns unbounded.  Mankind is then washed in the blood of the jackal contending with earnest passion until vitality is spent.  The smearing of each other’s blood becomes the last supper of this least common denominator observance.   Darkness mercifully descends to hide from sight the free reign of sin, the fruition of misguided liberty.  The light of God transforms from evil to good the human quest for the least common denominator.  It converts a reductive, divisive drive for death and alienation into a drive for life and communion.  This redeeming drive for the least common denominator supplants death games with participation in the joint worship of God and the healing quest for unity in love.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On Selecting the Unseen

It is sometimes suggested that religion involves selecting the unseen rather than the seen.  Actually, it is quite impossible to select the unseen.  Before an object of faith can be selected, it must been seen.  That is why Jesus referred to God as Heavenly Father.  For us to choose God, we must have some image in mind regarding our choice.  Before selecting Jesus as a savior, we must have an image in mind regarding the nature of a savior.  The pushed to the corner nature of that image is Christ the crucified—the image of someone willingly dying for our sins who nevertheless forgives us leading to freedom from enslavement to past ethical blunderings.  Choosing false gods also involves imagery.  If we worship success, we worship not an abstraction but very clear images of what success means for us.  If we worship ourselves, we have a clear understanding of the profile of our own righteousness, or more correctly, self-righteousness.  Therefore, when one questions the object of their worship, they need look no further than the object of their dreams.  We should ask, are these images of heaven or of the evil one?  This involves unearthing the underlying relevance of the images we worship.  In the last analysis, we need ask do they serve divine love or rather serve to undermine it?

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dad, I’m Going Into the Ministry

My son George told me today that he was studying to be an imam—he text-messaged the news over the phone.  I text back—“full speed ahead; may God bless all your endeavors.”  I have full confidence that in America we are going to make plurality work, for America is foremost the land of empathy and love.  Our respect and love for God and for one another comes first and precedes even our doctrines.  Of course, to have such a belief is a risky business.  We may look back years hence and adjudge that diversity began our downfall of peace and unity.  I cannot foresee history, but I do know George.  We are one in a family of trust.  On this trust are shared many tears of sorrow and an everlasting hope and on this I confidently rest my case. Our relationship is not at all extraordinary, but is a natural product of the American experience and a mutual affinity based on the simple fact that in God we trust.

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

On Synergy and Heterosis

Synergy: the working together of two or more people, organizations, or things, especially when the result is greater than the sum of their individual effects or capabilities (Encarta Dictionary).

Heterosis (hybrid vigor) :  Amount by which the average performance for a trait in crossbred calves exceeds the average performance of the two or more purebreds that were mated in that particular cross (

Both terms suggest something exceptionally positive.  The main difference between the two terms is the retention of the individuality of the contributing entities (synergy) and the loss of that individuality in the combined result of a newly created entity (heterosis).  For example, two companies that work in concert with exceptional positive results can be said to have synergy.  On the other hand by extension of the term, if the two companies merge with exceptional positive results, the positive result is not from synergy but from heterosis.

I was introduced to the concept of heterosis today celebrating Christmas at the home of Kathy’s parents.  Her father breeds Angus cattle, but he said that typically in Florida crossbreeds make it to the food market due to heterosis—the performance in terms of pounds of beef produced of the crossbred cattle exceeds that of purebreds.  (Angus, however, is still number one in terms of quality.)

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The Importance of Specificity

Prince of Peace
by Akiane Kramarik
Elemental differences are often overlooked when sufficient specificity is not included in comparisons.  As a rule, we tend to be way too ready to assume a likeness if not identity.  The truth is that subtle differences matter—can even be decisive.  On this Christmas Eve let us not overlook the contrast between Christ and the various pretenders professing a special ranking with God.  The beauty of Jesus is his transparency.  I think this is what his disciples found irresistibly magnetic about his personhood.  He is the bridge, the illuminated pathway to eternity given to us by a loving heavenly father.  This Christmas let us celebrate the simplicity of Jesus regaled in his father’s love now sitting too often in sorrow at his father’s right hand.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Anticipate but Verify

Religions have a big job to do—to help overcome the tendency of man to self-destruct.  Jesus was born to save mankind.  In advent we anticipate his coming.  After anticipation, however, comes the verification.  Has Christ actually helped save mankind?  On an individual level, the answer must be “yes” as many individuals testify and evidence salvation.  But as to society as a whole, to Babylon as a whole as it were, it is more difficult to attest to salvation.  The Christian nations have their ample share of dysfunctions.  And Jesus yearned for righteousness on the societal level as he once looked down upon Jerusalem : “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41-42, ESV).  It seems that especially nationalism gives rise to destructive pride and its sidekick blindness that block insight.  At the national level, abstractions robe gross unrighteousness in glittering garments of patriotism testifying to the fact that we must think well of ourselves.  Christianity focuses on salvation as an individual matter—it doesn’t matter if your mother and dad were saved, this does not automatically obtain to you.  You must be saved individually.  Even with this stress on the individual, we must certainly pray for a time when the spirit of the nation can be more reflective of the spirit of Christ.  We need to anticipate but verify on both an individual and societal level.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Real Deal

This Christmas we celebrate the introduction onto planet earth of the Real Deal; the one who, in three short years of ministry, disclosed God to man in human form.  We are constantly barraged by other offerings that claim to be the real deal.  But we look upon these jaded offerings with skeptical eyes since they all eventually prove to be dead ends despite the fact they are typically dressed in glitter and gold.  We’ve seen all manner of “isms” come, flourish for a time, and perish.  Life is brutally hard on those who claim to bypass and surpass the divinity revealed to us over 2,000 years ago.  Again and again, limping and swaying onward from encounters with brave new worlds, we return to the simple truth revealed by the one whose birth we now celebrate.  One thing that draws us to the Christmas season is its simplicity—born in a manger—and its significance—trumpeted to the shepherds by a heavenly host.  We are to look for the birth of wonder in the disciplines of love.  All other promises of salvation though claiming sanction by principalities and powers are rooted in death and decay.  The Real Deal stands firm surrounded by the debris of broken promises.

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Is There Anything There, There?

Matthew 6:1-4 (NLT)

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.  When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

The question “Is there anything there, there?” arises most often with celebrities.  There is stupendous publicity (the best money can buy) and constant news coverage.  The result is there is plenty evidence of an artfully created character on display for public consumption, but little evidence of quiet ethical character in decision making. There can be highly publicized examples of charity to deepen an otherwise shallow image, but a sustaining suspicion remains that the highly displayed charity is anything other than yet another example of incessant self-aggrandizement.  As a test of sincerity Jesus said in charity one should not let the left hand know what the right is doing.  When the good deed is publicly trumpeted, it is usually strong evidence of primarily selfish motivation.  Particularly troublesome for me is the sight of comedians performing to keep the troops laughing during their killing responsibilities with no thought whatever as to the justifications of the war or even the atrocities being committed.  I would rather, on such occasions, find the celebrity quietly advocating change in the voting booth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Brothers and Sisters In Christ

Today I went to a recreation center and while there had a visit with an employee.  The conversation turned to faith and she shared with me some of her favorite verses from Psalms 37, 27, 91, and 23.  She said she looked forward to heaven and that she was living her life with this goal in mind.  She pulled out a well-worn Bible and read favorite verses from the Psalms—verses highlighted with a yellow marker. I felt honored to share briefly in her faith.  A sharing of  faith is a communion of understanding and kinship. Nothing is quite as rewarding as a kinship based of a common foundation of faith.

An image crossed my mind today of attending a large meeting with many seats in the balcony yet available.  The people on entering the doors can see many empty seats in the balcony so assume there are many seats available downstairs as well and push to enter that room—a place where there is actually no available space at all.  For safety’s sake one is thankful for someone at the podium briefly telling those still entering to use the balcony, no more seats are available downstairs.   

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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Required License Key

On purchasing software licenses the practice frequently is for the software company to provide the purchaser with a license key that must be entered before the software is usable.  This represents for me a similar situation in which we are provided the key for successful human behavior.  Great potentials for optimum behavior exist, but without this key to understanding behavior is erratic and misdirected.  Optimum behavior is indicated by creative goodwill that resolves obstructions and distractions active within the human heart.  Inasmuch as the key to optimum living has been revealed to us, it is especially sad when it is disused and rejected. The answer to a wide array of individual and social difficulties can be best arrived at by application of this key to life—the disciplines of love demonstrated for us in Christ Jesus.  It is up to us to use the key laid out plainly before us.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ready or not—here it comes!

Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.

Today in Sunday school we read as usual from The Upper Room.  Our lesson today regarding advent began this way: “The other day someone asked me if I was ready for Christmas.  My response was, ‘Ready or not—here it comes!’” (Mike Ripski, 12/13/11).  Really when you think about it, this applies to pretty much all of life (and death).  The fact of the matter is despite our best preparations and planning, there remains so much outside our control.  And even when we do our best, much of life is a type of muddling through—a tackling of problems with trial and error.  I guess that’s why we appreciate flawless performances in any field—perfection is rare and fleeting. The beauty of perfection plays upon the heart, often bringing tears.  I applaud perfection, but also the vast exercise of imperfection that normally precedes and eventually succeeds it.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Best Friends

Today Kathy and I watched the 1966 film starring Sidney Poitier, To Sir With Love.  In this film a teacher helps an undisciplined class finally to begin operating in their own best interests.  In the lyrics of the theme song eventually sung in honor of the teacher by a student at a graduation party are these words:

The time has come,
For closing books and long last looks must end,
And as I leave,
I know that I am leaving my best friend,
A friend who taught me right from wrong,
And weak from strong,
That's a lot to learn….

Certainly if one had their choice in a role to play in this life, it would be to be a best friend to mankind demonstrating through teaching and manifesting in life the right path, the truly strong behavior.  As the movie illustrates, a best friend often is not perceived as such until dead ends have been tried and finally abandoned.  Time and again it is through desperation that we finally perceive with some surprise the identities of our best, truest friends.

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Autonomous vs. Ethical Behavior

When I was a youth, a preacher at a revival in Bowling Green said that it’s not a sin to be tempted, but to give in to temptation is sin.  How awesomely important and profound are these words!  We have been recently made aware of a coach at Penn State accused of sexual child abuse.  Would he be disgraced today if he had the words of that visiting preacher to guide him?  The functioning of one’s autonomic nervous system should not be mistaken as a guide to ethical behavior.  The sources of autonomic reactions are in sexual matters deep seated and somewhat mysterious.  We don’t know the full panoply of causes why certain reactions are elicited.  What we do know is that it cannot be God’s will—who guides us to consider the best interest of others—to abuse children.  This distinction between temptation and sin applies equally to a broad swath of life.  The opportunity and possibility of action for short-sighted personal advantage (the temptation) is simply not a reliable guide to ethical behavior.  There must be an explicit disconnect between temptation and behavior.  To not have this insight dooms one to profoundly unethical, antisocial behavior.  It’s worth reiterating the words of the preacher “It’s not a sin to be tempted, but to give in to temptation is sin.”

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Noise and Interference in Effecting Goodwill

Luke 2:8-14 (KJ 2000)
Announcement to Shepherds

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were much afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (emphasis mine).

In human affairs, nothing is truer than that goodwill is not reciprocated unless specific conditions exist.  Take the goodwill from customers coveted by a company.  Several conditions are necessary:

·         The customer pool has a capacity for goodwill arising from its recognition of outstanding service.  Extant in the customers must be a generous spirit that is congruent with the development goodwill.
·          The customers through cynicism do not foreclose the possibility of goodwill.
·            Some sort of transaction with or exposure to the company takes place.
·        The company itself keeps as a priority the creation and maintenance of customer goodwill.        In short, the company must itself demonstrate goodwill.
·           Development of a corporate culture in which conditions for goodwill are met by most employees most of the time.
·           An appreciation on the part of the company of the practical value of abstract, hard to precisely quantify assets.
·       The ability of the company and customer to take risks in relationships.  Even after lawyers hammer down a 30 page contract, it remains a plain fact that spirit not legalize seals deals.
·          Efforts to track customer satisfaction after a transaction.
·           The absence of the noise and interference of religious, racial, class, institutional, etc. prejudices and discrimination.  The anger of resentment destroys goodwill.
·            A commitment to the hard disciplines of tough love—it’s performance that counts.
·        A tolerance for acceptable imperfection.  An understanding that sometimes situational factors can intervene to make performance less than ideal.  In these situations, one must be willing to empathize if goodwill is to be maintained.
·          An absence of spin and a rich supply of information foster goodwill.
·           Adequate resources on both sides are required to maintain a good business relationship.
·           An appreciation of time and space requirements is necessary.
·           An attitude of mutuality during transactions.

The angels at Jesus’ birth declared “good will toward men.”  Since the customer pool in this case was all humanity, it is clear that complete mutuality in this relationship was hampered by the nature of the customer pool.  For some, reciprocal goodwill was and remains simply beyond comprehension—a mystery not worth the effort to puzzle out. 

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Not a Safe Place to Be

James 2:14, 26 (NKJV)

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
…For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

While it is clear that self-righteousness can arise from pride in what one has accomplished, it is nevertheless true that self-righteousness can also arise from grace.  As a child can be self-righteous about the wealthy home he was born into without any credit of achievement on his own, so also can believers be self-righteous about being members of the family of God.  Would that there were some intellectual or spiritual contrivance to insure against the sin of self-centered pride, but there is none.  Essentially righteousness is a matter of honesty.  It is based on a frank admission that each individual has fatal flaws and imperfections.  Jesus asked “Why do you call me good?...No one is good--except God alone” (Mark 10:18 NIV).  The thirst for perfection turns ugly the moment we assume we have attained it, which is on the whole a very disingenuous if not stupid thing to do.  A world populated by self-appointed gods is not a safe place to be.  We have to conclude that it is only by the grace of God and under the exigencies of the spirit that we can be ruthlessly yet charitably honest with ourselves; else our most coveted merit becomes our greatest flaw.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reboot Remnants

The term “reboot” referring to the restart of a computer is used as metaphor for many other occurrences in which we wish to perform a restart.  On rebooting a computer, sometimes difficult to specify and define glitches can be made to disappear as good performance returns following the restart.  Unfortunately, “reboots” in other realms do not share the ability to dump memory so easily and start afresh.  Especially in human affairs (as in US – Russian relations) memory is long and retains its presence and influence well beyond any symbolic reboot.  “Feel good” seminars of many types face this same challenge.  Designed to reboot our attitude and outlook, enthusiasms of the moment cannot be sustained as entrenched memory and habits reassert themselves.  Elections are sometimes thought of as reboots in which an instant and reliable society-wide refresh is deeply yearned for.  But we inevitably find that society’s problems are ingrained and are in part deeply psychological.  They do not simply disappear with dispatch following election of new leadership.  In religious terms salvation is a reboot.  But many find after salvation the tendency to sin does not vanish but recurs to present daily diverse challenges.  Much in human behavior is deeply imprinted in the mind and shares in many respects the characteristics of addiction.  To break free of low self-esteem on the one hand or a strident self-confidence on the other can present a challenge easily extending beyond the ready purview of the will.  We are forced to conclude that reboots of the mind in a computer sense are more than rare; they are in all likelihood impossible.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

A Politician with an Aversion to Public Speaking

Thomas Jefferson is said to have had an aversion to public speaking.  For example, he never appeared before Congress for an annual message, but always sent it in writing.  He gave as one reason the following:

On December 20, 1801, he wrote to Benjamin Rush, "Our winter campaign [the winter session of Congress] has opened with more good humor than I expected. By sending a message, instead of making a speech at the opening of the session, I have prevented the bloody conflict to which the making an answer would have committed them. They consequently were able to set into real business at once, without losing 10. or 12. days in combating an answer…."  Again defending his reason for sending a written message, Jefferson wrote to Thomas Mann Randolph, January 1, 1802, "Congress have not yet done anything, nor passed a vote which has produced a division. The sending a message instead of making a speech to be answered is acknowledged to have had the best effect towards preserving harmony....” (Source

One cannot help but wonder how the present day bias for showmanship might be influencing the ability of our country to arrive at effective policy.  The task to accomplish can be lost in theatrics and public antics.  Take any job where skill, knowledge, and precision are involved.  We can ask ourselves how would public theatrics help or hinder that endeavor.  I like to take the extreme example of brain surgery.  Who in their right minds would submit to brain surgery to be performed in a circus atmosphere where the contending surgeons had to continuously play to an audience and please that audience with heroics, controversy, posturing, and bravado?  Talk about a situation that would bring out the worst rather than conforming to the best interest of the patient!

Of course, controversy is in the nature of politics as various interests vie for recognition.  Even so, we should surely consider what might be done to maintain “the best effect towards preserving harmony.”  Essentially this would entail lowering the level of aggressiveness on the one hand and defensiveness on the other.  We must ask ourselves, are we really ready or able to give up free-for-all entertainment for quiet and low key accomplishment.

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Embracing Realty?

A much easier question than “Can aggression be based in love?” is “Can aggression be based in hate?”  The answer to the latter question is obvious.  Aggression frequently derives from hate.  But aggression can also derive from love.  When we think of a family situation, certainly aggression can arise from the protective or provider efforts both readily sourced in love.  Typically when aggression is based in love, the imagination freely images the desired results.  We can visualize, for example, our family deriving benefits from us being a good provider.  On the other hand, aggression based in hate typically cloaks the final effects of hate in abstractions.  For example, in contributing to feed the hungry, we can readily imagine a youngster enjoying a meal as a result of our contribution. In fact, we might dwell on such images.  On the other hand, when we bomb a city in war, we had rather not picture the results of this action in our imagination.  We may in this case expand our consciousness to take in visuals of destroyed buildings, but generally seal it against visuals of dead or dismembered children.  We can conclude that hatred is best fueled by stereotypes and abstractions, not reality.  Love is best fueled by reality.  Love encourages an active imagination and makes the facts concrete to our minds; hate cloaks the imagination and seeks to cover facts with abstract veneers of unreality.  Therefore hate can be seen to be sourced in selfishness while love is sourced in selflessness.  Selfishness and hate typically seek out and embrace carefully crafted unreality while selflessness and love typically seek out and embrace reality.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Cleansing Effect of Power

Power tends to cleanse all actions regardless the scope of the atrocity.  Therefore, the self-justification of the powerful can typically be anticipated.  This can apply to powerful individuals, to powerful organizations (companies, institutions), to powerful countries, to powerful alliances.  I view this fact with some sorrow, for my country since my birth has been the “most powerful nation on earth.”  I have seen it do terrible things with relative contentment and conceit.  The mystical cleanser of power reliably serves to sanitize the events and imbue them with a sense of righteousness, self-justification, and even prestige.  Power is an elixir to render invisible cankers afflicting the body of the state.  What can be done about this other than the limitation of powers which proves to have imperfect effectiveness?  How can the golden rule be made operative and relevant within the metallic haze of regnant power?  The essential problem is that power is perceived as being tightly congruous with a taunt toughness.  The entity is strong and powerful, and this is proven by toughness, even ruthlessness—thus forming a compelling closed loop satisfying the vestigial reptilian legacy within our brains.  Brutality in action and attitude affirms and justifies power.  To show compassion is to be weak therefore not powerful.  To show ruthlessness is to be strong therefore appropriately powerful.  This is fundamentally axiomatic and is near universally evident wherever serious power exists.

The only cure for the ruthlessness-power identity is to appeal to the mammalian mind in which nurture is the key to survival.  The mission of the powerful then becomes the task of enabling others—to serve instead of to dominate.  I think of the saying from the Knights of Pythagoras “A man never stands as tall as when he kneels to help a child.”  But a goal of cultivation rather than domination requires a servant role whereas those desperately yearning for power are often striving to satisfy a deep psychological need to control—to rule from above.  The paradox of servant leadership is totally foreign to the configuration of their character.  We must look again at the nurturing of youth and learn how the obsession to control becomes fixed in the mind and relieve that obsession thus freeing people to truly serve in nurturing leadership roles.  Power and compassion can then be joined.  The “me-them” dynamic can be transformed into a relationship of mutuality.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Towards an Understanding of True Humility

Before we can understand true humility, we must identify some characteristics of false humility.  Jesus in the beatitudes speaks favorably of the poor in spirit (for theirs is the kingdom of heaven) and of the meek (for they will inherit the earth).  We would have to say that Jesus himself represents these qualities.  We are well aware that Jesus did not shy away from truth-telling regarding the hypocrisy and self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.  But this confrontation did not turn violent on Jesus’s part.  He did not take up arms against them but rather submitted to crucifixion at their hands.   Yet, it bears repeating that during his ministry he never backed down from verbal confrontation and honesty.  Therefore, being poor in spirit and meek together cannot mean ignoring bullies or joining in a complicit conspiracy of silence regarding their attitude and behavior.

So the most essential test of true humility is simple verbal honesty.  This must arise out of a heart of love.  Otherwise, it can turn into the judgmental dismissive attitude and hateful actions of the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus bore no quarter in speaking his mind, but he forbore taking up the violent instruments of hate.  Jesus’s exercise of outspoken discernment without being self-righteously judgmental is confirmed primarily by his willingness to go to the cross.  True humility reflects the paradox of being immensely strong yet totally meek.  Jesus was indeed the Lamb of God.

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The Awesome Mystery of Luck

After I shut the door and started back to the living room, he yelled something at me, but I couldn't exactly hear him. I'm pretty sure he yelled "Good luck!" at me. I hope not. I hope to hell not. I'd never yell "Good luck!" at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it (Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye).

Tuesday Ryan and I were installing new desktop computers at the Mangrove Bay Golf Course.  My assignment was to work on a room with three computers for Dale, Steve, and Ed.  I began working immediately on Dale’s computer.  The installation process can be time consuming as the setup of the old existing computer must be accessed—what devices are used and their configurations, what files must be transferred to the new computer, etc.  After working for a good while on Dale’s computer, I started to gather information from Steve’s old computer configuration.  My intention was to start breaking down Steve’s old computer as soon as possible.  I had in view completing Steve’s installation that day.  But in the middle of the process, Ryan came in and said that he had talked with our boss Mark.  Mark wanted me to immediately begin replacing Peggy’s computer at Cypress Links for she would need it presently.  So I dropped what I was doing and installed Peggy’s computer.  By the time I got back to Mangrove Bay, there was only time to complete Dale’s installation.  Steve’s computer would have to wait until Wednesday.  While I was thus engaged, Steve reported for work around 4:00 pm.  He immediately expressed concerns that I may have disabled his old computer.  Steve has extensive information on a specialized tournament database that must be transferred.  Since Steve is in charge of tournaments, this is unique with his computer.  Steve and I had discussed the challenges for transfer some months ago, but I had forgotten it.  In other words, if it had not been for the requirement to do Peggy’s computer, I would have prematurely replaced Steve’s computer.  Steve and I agreed to take all necessary time to work on and accomplish the transfer the following day. 

The whole experience has me once again musing over the mystery of luck.  If I had started working on Steve’s rather than Dale’s computer, I would have inadvertently geometrically increased the complexity and inconvenience of retrieving tournament data and software.  But by luck I began working on Dale’s setup first.  Then I had immediate plans to break down Steve’s computer, but by luck it turned out I should work on Peggy’s computer replacement instead (though it turned out she did not need the computer that day).  Then when that was complete, it was by luck I still had to complete work on Dale’s installation.  Then by luck Steve was working a split shift (a very unusual thing), so that when he reported for work he reminded me of the tournament issue so we could set aside adequate time to work on it Wednesday.

I began with a quote of the youth Holden Caulfield that wishing someone good luck “sounds terrible.”  Perhaps it hints that someone is substantially limited, not in control in significant ways.  The older I get, the more I perceive the role of luck.  My understanding of so much is severely limited.  Hence my plans stand vulnerable to widely miss the mark of optimality.  So the Holden’s of the world will hate this given their callow stance of superiority, but I sincerely wish them good luck.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Do Your Best Anyway

Monday I came home at noon for lunch and discovered someone had uprooted and stolen the colorful crotons that Kathy and I had planted some time ago by our front porch.  Actually the idea to plant them was Kathy’s.  She had watered and cared for them over many months.  I called her at work to give her the news; I wanted to spare her the wrenching feeling of emptiness on seeing the beautiful plants gone, now only evidenced by gaping holes in the ground.  To be honest I thought of yesterday’s blog where I discussed the sensational freedom of forbidden behavior and the almost sexual exhilaration and high that can accompany it.  I wonder while uprooting our plants if the thief felt a twinge of illicit excitement (or was he now at some addiction phase)?  I only know that when I saw the plants missing and realized they had been stolen, I felt a fleeting but definite sense of violation, almost of the same family as sexual violation.

Today I would like to refer Kathy to the original version of the advice “to do it anyway.”  I love Kathy first for having the dream and then for making the tireless effort to beautify our home—even though part of the dream was destroyed today.

The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith
"The Paradoxical Commandments" were written by Kent M. Keith in 1968 as part of a booklet for student leaders. (Source)

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Monday, December 5, 2011

The Repercussions of Sensational Freedom

In my first years at undergraduate school a required course was called Human Behavior.  One assignment in that course was to undergo a new experience and write a little essay on it.  What I chose to do was to smoke a big, black cigar.  Smoking was prohibited in my home growing up, so this was indulging in behavior that I knew would not be approved of by my parents.  Though in a sense the experience was trivial, I remember well the firm statement of freedom involved.  I was deliberately breaking rules—“the law” so to speak.  I was enjoying the sensational experience of freedom that deliberately violates approved behavior.  I was “letting it all hang out.”  In a way it simulated the experience of prohibited sex.  I remember having an erection during the experience.  This same sensational thrill of breaking the law during the affirmation of self no doubt plays a role in some more serious activities from burglary to taking illegal drugs.  It is the thrill of making a statement of freedom—however negative that statement may be.  It is a clandestine experiential sensation that must have accompanied Adam & Eve’s first indulgence in prohibited fruit.  I would call this indulgence “sensational freedom.”  It is the high that results in deliberately crossing the line of established mores. This exhilarating experience formulates one of the central characteristics and attractions of such behavior, of sin.

The flip side of sensational freedom is the slavery that can result.  What we once indulged in as a lurid act of liberation can end up reprogramming our brains so that addiction results.  Then, rather than having a choice, we have no choice at all as the will is made secondary to compulsion.  Then our past days when freedom was possible are seen as a remote Eden while the present becomes an endless enslavement binding us in shackles and chains.  

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

So That No One Can Boast

Ephesians 2 8-10

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast [emphasis mine]. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

While representing a small minority of Christians I’ve encountered, I have met some who boast—some who are self-righteous.  Receiving something as a gift—not by works—is no guarantee of humility on the part of the recipient.  Surely we will witness this in a few weeks when Christmas arrives.  There will be children and adults who receive gifts Christmas morning who will flaunt them in barefaced one-upmanship.  Gifts received will only serve to fuel hubris and selfishness.  This is much like someone receiving a large inheritance only to have the windfall become the engine of stiff self-righteousness, self-centeredness, and pride. We should be cautious when in comparing Islam to Christianity we arrive at the categorical conclusion that Christian grace is superior in spiritual consequence over Islamic works.  Surely it is possible that a Muslim’s humility before God can be more efficacious in producing humility than a Christian’s penetrating pride of salvation.  Of course, we can say that a person so configured is not really a Christian.  We can also say that a Muslim who is not humble before God is not really a Muslim.  We are forced to conclude that holy wars serve mostly to confirm the delusions and self-justifications of self-appointed holy men.

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Sermons as a Lively Subject of Discussion

John Wesley
In years past the sharing of sermons and discussion of them was a common thing.  Like we discuss movies, TV offerings or books, they would meet in each other’s homes and discuss sermons.  I think this practice was a very good thing.  Good sermons can be helpful in many ways.  They can present striking images, analogies, stories and anecdotes, comedy, tragedy, interesting turns of phrase, commentary, inspiration, practical wisdom, common sense, as well as of course commentary on the central and essential heritage of our civilization—the values, ideas, and avenues of redemption manifested in the Bible.  Sermons celebrate the greatest privilege of humanity; this being the recognition of the spiritual, ethical, and the meaningful and purposeful dimensions necessary for the very viability of mankind. Today’s resources make it easy to experience sermons.  My pastor’s (David Miller's) sermons can be found in text format at the following link:  Moody Bible Institute streams sermons 24/7 at this link: http:\\  If you have an Internet radio, use this URL.  Otherwise, paste it in the address line of your browser or click here.  The schedule of sermons for each day's presentation is posted here:

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Oviedo: Always in Season

FUMC - Oviedo, FL
Yesterday I wrote a letter to a friend and spoke of my days growing up in Oviedo, FL.  The following from that letter recalls some aspects of those days.

By the way, Oviedo has a special meaning for me.  I lived there when I was 6-9 years old (1950-1954), and it floods my mind with golden memories.  That's where we had a spoiled pet squirrel that ate only shelled pecans, where my brother taught me to ride a bike and I thereby learned that exhilarating accomplishment first entails assuming risks, where I learned to tell time and spell "bicycle" and "banana," where I learned that Santa shipped packages complete with canceled stamps still on the box through the US mail--a Christmas morning dawn of skepticism, where we boys hewed out a quiet sunlit chapel in the woods, where I embarrassed mother by asking at the dinner table with the district superintendent as our guest whether the spread she served that day was "real butter"--it wasn't, where I happened upon a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, where dad raised Rhode Island Red chickens in a backyard pen, and where while raking oak leaves in the front yard on Saturdays we heard Big Jon and Sparkie on radio .  The home where we lived is still there, tucked away on the expanded church campus and now used as an education building.  The satin robe azaleas around the front of the house that dad fertilized with chicken manure are now gone--but in fact only, not from my awareness colored heavily by persistent memory.

Theme song introducing Big Jon and Sparkie that would waft over our front yard Saturday mornings………..
(With special thanks to Frank Johnson for discovering this.)


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