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Monday, January 30, 2012

Zeal as an Instrument

Today I attended a meeting whose purpose is to help smokers quit.  I am not a smoker myself, but my wife is.  There are six or seven women in the class.  At the conclusion of each class meeting, going around the table each participant states their goal for the following week. Today a participant made an important observation—she didn’t know why, but somehow she could not find the zeal (she stressed the word several times) within her to quit smoking cigarettes.  This I found to be a thought-provoking observation.  I began trying to come up with my own definition and observations regarding zeal.

I began to think of people characterized by positive zeal—in my view a very helpful attribute.  Zeal to me is quite different from being hyper—which is nervous, unfocused energy.  Zeal suggests focused energy, discipline, commitment, a purpose driven life and the energy and drive to carry it out.  When I think of examples of people who display zeal I think of Saint Paul, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King in the church; Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan in politics; Steve Jobs in business.  It is wrong to think one must be an extrovert to encompass zeal.  There can be a quiet commitment that nevertheless beelines to get things done.

Now I’m on a diet to lose significant weight.  I have been on diets before, but this time I feel zeal to accomplish my goal.  Honestly, I can’t say where the zeal comes from.  I’ve understood during many failed attempts to lose weight that it would be beneficial for my health.  In a sense, and I hope I’m not being overdramatic, this time I feel the Holy Spirit is guiding me—that it is God’s earnest desire that I succeed in my diet and that he is assisting me to do so.

Certainly some other factors help—imaging myself with less weight, a new eating ritual that is working, steady evidence of success, a doctor that provides encouragement and warnings.  Nevertheless, I feel it is something outside myself—something way beyond typical self-motivation and rah-rah pep talks that is different this time.  Beneficial zeal, I have finally come to believe, is divinely inspired and driven.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Light at the End of the Tunnel

What helps you to see light at the end of the tunnel? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.1295).

The first response to this question probably is:  It all depends on which tunnel you are referring to.  But there is a useful sense in which the question can be addressed generically.  From this perspective there can be several responses.  The first is the regularity in which many things occur cyclically having a high and low point.  If you find yourself in at a low point, just hang on, chances are there will be a turn around. The next thing to observe about this cyclic curve is frequency.  Nearly all things involve process.  It took a process to get us to the low point, and its reversal probably will not be instant but will also require a process.  Yet, to be realistic we must always be mindful that miracles can occur.  What our perspective tells us will take a good bit of time can in actuality take much less.  This is so generally because we lack encyclopedic knowledge and encounter forces acting within the situation that we have discounted or overlooked.  But optimism is warranted even in depressing times because of the human element.  I think of William Faulkner’s comment:

It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. (Speech at the Nobel Banquet)

As a believer in divine providence and in a loving God, I believe in redemption through repentance and faith.  We cannot and do not in the end pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps—earthly enterprise and creativity are not solely or even fundamentally humanity based.  Since divine intervention is continually present, there is hope despite inherent human limitations.  This for the believer is where hope ultimately resides.  This point of view holds that human hubris is the greatest challenge to a realistic perspective and to maintaining genuine optimism, constituting an overwhelming darkness without the light and grace of providence.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Birthday Afterglow

In many ways this year’s birthday celebration was one of the best I’ve ever had.  In fact, it was so good that the thought occurred to me that maybe this was the last I’ll live to celebrate—in a way a fitting climax.  It began several weeks ago when at work there was a celebration for all January birthdays.  Mark put festive notices on our office door that it was the birthdays of two in our office—Ryan and myself.  People stopping in since have wished us happy birthday.  Then my brother Bob called on Skype and we had a warm visit.  I received a birthday card from Helen (now no longer in Saint Petersburg) though it has been many years since we attended together at Trinity.  Next, cards from my in-laws arrived saying how much they loved me—listing my good qualities—and expressing appreciation for me being part of the family.  Aunt Ginny called from Illinois to give her best wishes.  Kathy’s mom sent me gifts including dinner at Olive Garden.  Kathy presented me with a cross pendant necklace.  My son Alton remembered my birthday and so did Ramon.  Alton in his own hand drew a birthday card and included a moving letter. I received numerous birthday wishes on Facebook some recalling years of friendship.  Kathy and I had lunch at Outback using a gift card.  It was an elevating pleasure to witness friends and families of all races enjoying each other’s company.  My “younger brother” Kunte gifted me with a Kindle, dinner together, and a personalized cake with candles.  I even was warmly greeted by Puff Puff, a well-trained and loving dog.  In short, I came away from the day feeling the love of all and realizing I am truly rich.  This may not be my last birthday, but surely in raw significance none could ever be better.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

My 68th Birthday

Today I ask two self-directed questions.  1) What major project have I completed in the last five years?  2) What major project would I like to accomplish in the next five years?  
1)   In the last five years I have gone from living the single life to married life.  I suppose five years ago I would not have identified this as a project.  Perhaps then marriage was not on my agenda.  But then I met Kathy and everything changed.  For one thing my home was the proverbial “man cave”—cluttered, disorganized, and packed full of books and papers from college days that I was holding on to not to read or review but, deep down I think, to keep time from passing.  To celebrate this change I would like to share the song of Etta James, At Last:

2) At the end of the next five years, I would like to have consistently and faithfully added to this blog.  I like doing this blog for two reasons:  it is an avenue for expression and contemplation helping me to formulate writings reflecting my deepest opinions and beliefs—and, two, it is not simply a journal that is stashed away in some bottom drawer, but a way to potentially communicate with others.  This second element is helpful for it serves to drive me from indiscipline to discipline, from mediocrity to the pursuit of excellence.  In a way this is a marriage too—making me accountable to some potential reader.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Feeling Needed

John Milton (1608-74)
On His Blindness
(John Milton)

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Commentary:  I believe that this is a poem of encouragement, saying to those who feel themselves useless because of some personal impediment, "God does have a job for you--in HIS time he will reveal it to you. Until then, trust Me and be patient" (Source).
Meaning: We all have a place in this world and we all perform a function, regardless of our ability or disability (Source).

Today I was assisting with a network issue at Frank Pierce Recreation Center.  Roger, the city’s expert in networking, was on site configuring a new router and switch.  It was my role to assist him in whatever way he needed.  Configuring routers and switches can be a time consuming process.  There are literally thousands of lines of code to get right.  So while Roger was doing the programming, I was standing by.  At the conclusion of the job when throughput was successfully raised from 1 to 5 megs, I remarked to Roger attributing Milton: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  Actually I was only half-way kidding.  There was a sense in which I felt useful even while standing by and assisting only intermittently.  My role today is pretty much a metaphor for my entire life.  It seems I have served my Maker only intermittently.  Yet, for most of that time, I have felt the presence of purpose even during dry spells when patience was wearing thin.  I thank God for this sustaining state of mind that gives a sense of purpose even at times when evidence for one’s significance can seem lacking.  In a way, such assurance is contrary to all immediate evidence especially during lapses in direct engagement.  In such times it is good to remember that God’s understanding is greater than our own, that his timing is not our timing, that desperation and the agony over felt meaninglessness reveals the state of our faith as much as the state of reality, that patience is essential, and that God appreciates our faith especially during those times when feeling sorry for ourselves is most tempting.  The Great Redeemer is a specialist at redeeming time, but our trust is required to benefit from this assurance.   

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Amazing but True

Never in my life did I see my father or mother angry.  Some may question my honesty here, or that I suffer from a very selective memory.  As incredible as it may seem, it remains simply true.  So I ask, how did my parents respond when the natural expectation would be anger?  They would respond with patience, wonderment, concern, and perhaps a little sadness.  Once, as teenagers two friends and I went quail hunting using our family car to travel to the fields.  In route, a shotgun accidentally discharged and the buckshot went through the front floorboard, deflected off the frame, and destroyed the radiator.  Of course, I had to tell dad.  It’s odd, but even then I did not anticipate anger.  What did I expect to see but wonderment, concern, and appreciation that none of us were hurt?  That’s exactly the way he reacted.  I never had to anticipate or fear anger on the part of my father.  My dad never once whipped me.  I asked mother if she ever did.  She said that once when I was a small child she got a small bush branch and swatted my legs when I was running and not looking where I was going—perhaps it involved a street.  Yet, never having seen her angry, I can only presume that even then each swat was directed with love and concern rather than anger.  I have been in public places and seen parents yelling in anger at their children.  I find it impossible to understand how a child would feel being the recipient of intense outbursts of parental anger.  Of course, in life I have had people angry at me.  My response to anger too often is reciprocal anger.  It comes so automatically and naturally, I can only be amazed at the lack of it in my parents.  It strikes me that the ultimate source of their equanimity was humility—something in which I too often suffer profound deficiencies.

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No Facile Answers

If you had to choose between being (a) prosperous and wicked, or (b) poverty-stricken and pure in heart, what would you be?  Why?  (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, 818).  I would like to expand this to related questions.  If you had to choose between being born into a prosperous and wicked country (or family) and one that is poverty-stricken and righteous, which would you choose?   I think it is much too easy to give the “correct” Christian answer to these questions without really imagining the horrors of abject poverty—say that encountered by all citizens in a poverty ridden state or members of a poverty ridden family.  This level of poverty in such a state would include malnourishment, lack of all economic opportunity, lack of health care, persistent disease and affliction, no economic safety nets, no modern conveniences, no educational opportunities, constant hunger—being ill-clothed, ill-housed, ill-fed.  With this stark prospect in view, reconsider the questions again.  Is it so easy to choose the “correct” answer of righteous and purity of heart over the bleak alternative?  Is it so easy to choose true happiness over ever-present misery?  To the extent that there is a hierarchy of needs, which is more fundamental in the end, physical health or spiritual health?  In Luke 12 Jesus utters the following:  “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”  Does inexorable poverty make a mockery of faith?  Is it so easy to affirm this tenet of the Christian faith when viewing the bloated belly of an infant with eyes covered with flies?   

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Writing People Off

Humans tend to simplify, and a great way to simplify is to come to set conclusions about individuals—conclusions that they are falling short in some way, shape, or form; and then to summarily write them off or discount them significantly.  This is a heavy temptation with troubled youth.  Yet nothing is more predictable than that there will be late bloomers—high school dropouts that later come to master a field of even academic accomplishment.  On the other side of the life span are senior citizens. How easy it is to write them off as “has-beens” even though they can expect many productive years before them—perhaps even their best years.  Another example is someone who is overweight and out of shape.  There is a tendency to see them forever thus etched in stone—as if they cannot change.  Blessed is the doctor who realizes the health risks involved and gives counsel for change.  We also tend to pigeonhole people in career positions never envisioning them in other roles or responsibilities much to their detriment and that of the organization.  It is worth asking why we jump to these set conclusions.  Part of it is that our brains prefer an ordered world—even if that means we pigeonhole people and force them to fit our mental molds.  Another is the oft mentioned idea that we prefer stability to change—whatever “is” is right and should not be disturbed else unsettling questions might surface.  A final reason is not so complimentary—we like to think of ourselves as superior to others and making unfounded and summary judgments insulates us from our own self-oriented anxieties.  Let us return to the troubled youth.  He will never excel so long as he buys into society’s penchant for discarding him as a difficult case less promising for the investment of time and energy than that proffered to promising stars.  He must deliberately disagree, perhaps with anger, surely with determination, and assert that they are profoundly wrong and at once set about, even if in unconventional ways, achieving his own agenda with or without assistance or even encouragement.  In all cases, what is called for in response to pigeonholing is the will and desire to fight.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Simple Tribute or Show and Tell?

The world is impressed by achievement and success.  Achievement and success are viewed in terms that invite no subtlety or debate.  From this point of view it is inconceivable that someone marginally employed in a low paying job is a success.  In short, it is fruitless to argue that one in that position may be following a divine calling.  Divine callings carry little or no weight in terms of worldly judgment.  I have sympathy for those persons who avoid reunions of any type out of discomfort that they have no glittering trophies to bring to the table and may thus face social opprobrium—when in fact God may be leading them in paths that yield heavenly rather than earthly acclaim.  The simple fact is that no one is qualified to judge success or failure.  Variables include the obvious one that warns against judging others when you have not walked in their shoes to the simple fact that only God is omniscient and is ultimately qualified to judge success and failure or faithfulness and unfaithfulness.  Even though I avoided reunions earlier in life, I go to them now.  Is it because at long last I wish to honor and pay tribute to all for living under the leading of their best lights?  Or rather is it because I have now a collection of toys to bring to the table for show and tell?    

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Call for a Pastor President

In this election season some have said we need a businessman to be president.  It is worth asking what do we mean by this?  What are the characteristics of a businessman?  It becomes clear that this is an impossible question to answer for all types of people have proven to be good businessmen.  They all have strengths and weaknesses and a key factor for success is their ability to use the skills and knowledge of others to augment their own talents no matter how modest or impressive.  But, of course, this goes not only for businessmen but for all possible professions.

Much in the order of suggesting we need a businessman for president, I would like to suggest we need (whatever their career role) someone with the qualities of a pastor.  Note I did not say preacher or one with an arm full of doctrines.  I mean someone who meets the people where they are; someone who loves them and desires for them wholeness; someone who has outreach to others—a visiting pastor, so to speak; someone with humility that appreciates his own limitations; someone who realizes the itinerate nature of political office—understanding that someone soon with different strengths and weaknesses will be taking his place; someone with a kind sense of humor; someone who exercises compassion;  someone who is a peacemaker and earnestly desires and works for reconciliation; someone deeply understanding of human nature yet not hardened by this knowledge; someone who will reach out to our best drives, instincts, and ideas and encourage development of character; someone who will appeal to the foundational values of our institutions; someone who loves children and always desires the best for them; someone who honors the family; someone willing to put service before wealth, fame, or fortune; someone with tangible respect for all people no matter their class or social standing; someone who has no judgmental arrogance; someone always willing to seek and appeal to the good in others; someone willing to risk their lives for eternal verities.  But, you may say, the President is Commander in Chief, unfitting the role of a pastor.  Maybe, maybe not.  What I have essentially argued for is a righteous man—someone who does not look kindly upon injustice, neglectful treatment of the innocent, crimes against humanity of any sort.  It reminds me in a way of the use of profanity.  If a person speaks profanely all the time, the effect and force of the practice is diminished.  However, if someone who seldom if ever utters a cuss word suddenly does so, typically it carries great force and effect.  I would not bet on the blind indulgence of the righteous man nor of his yielding to the temptation to view life as cheap.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mother’s Slice of Tomato

One of my most cherished memories as a youngster was founded when our family was on vacation.  In the 50’s we traveled to Tuscaloosa, Alabama from Florida on two-lane roads going through many farming areas.  Sometimes we would stop at a roadside stand for local fruits or vegetables.  We would also stop at stores selling bread, sodas, and luncheon meat.  We would park under the shade of tree.  Mother would be on the passenger side in the front seat with daddy.  She would make sandwiches and pass them around.  She would turn towards the back and ask us boys what we wanted on our sandwich.  I recall vividly her cutting a thick tomato slice and looking inquisitively at me asking if I wanted tomato.  Years later on a trip to North Carolina I wanted mother to reestablish this mental snapshot.  We were at a rest area and I asked mother to please cut me a slice of tomato we had just purchased at a roadside stand.  I took the photo above at that time.  This particular image means much to me for the loving focus and solicitation shown typified her approach to family—indeed, to everything.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Uncanny defined: 1. eerie: too strange or unlikely to seem merely natural or human
2. keen: unexpectedly accurate or precise  • an uncanny resemblance to the president
(Encarta Dictionary)

Was it eeire or was it keen,
Just exactly what did he mean
That day so many years ago
When a friend in private said “That’s uncanny!”
When I pose this question now many years later,
Are the gods laughing at me or crying
Filled with ridicule, admiration, or pity?
Only God knows for sure,
But I in faith believe
Inexorable fate will honor me.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Condensation of Meaning

Sometimes I enjoy perusing the Serendipity Bible for stimulating questions.  In a study of the book of Psalms it poses the following question: “Are you a ‘detail person’ or a ‘big picture thinker’?  What evidence do you have to support this claim?” (10th Anniversary Edition, 845).  In response to this question I think of how we view children who are in some ways less than ideally situated.  When we view the face of a child in this circumstance we may be moved to tears.  Such sadness derives from seeing simultaneously the detail—the face of the child—and the big picture—the deadening hand of fate.  Joy also arises from perceiving detail and the big picture simultaneously.  On witnessing the birth of a baby, we shed tears of joy for both welcoming a fresh individual into the world and at the same moment sensing our own transience and mortality.  When we are transfixed observing the performance of excellence in music, we focus on individual mastery in concert with the fleeting nature of perfection.  While we can focus on detail or draw sweeping global views, the merging of the two gives us the fullest of perceptions—the sudden emergence of synoptic meaning coincident with stark detail.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK Day 2012

Crossing the Jordan

Like most everything worthwhile
Crossing the Jordan is a process
Requiring the efforts of you and me
Realizing Martin’s dream with the simplest immediacy
A smile, a greeting, a handshake
Or a determined subduing of vestigial emotions
Flashing at the sight of skin color, not character
Hinting that the fight is not over,
Nor merely a political external
But inwardly spiritual
Bringing encouragement are children
At play doing amazing things
Unconscious of the beast
That preyed on adults and children
In the twilight days before Martin crossed the Jordan.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Importance of Simple Friendship

Today in Sunday school we discussed the importance of friendship as a fundamental need.  It is common to find human behavior seeking this elemental relationship often in circuitous ways.  For example, the base of the desire to be rich, famous, or powerful is often ultimately a desire to have close friends and admirers.  The irony is that once becoming rich, famous or powerful; the doubts about who are truly one’s friends become more problematic as then all comers can be suspected of having mixed or hidden motives directed at gaining access in one way or another to one’s wealth, fame, or power.  One then becomes conflicted—even despairing—fearing they are liked not for who they are but what they have—their “friendships” thus becoming distasteful conspiracies of mutual exploitation.  More direct routes to friendship are indicated.  Invite someone over for simple things—like conversation or to watch a movie.  To build friendship in this more direct way can avert addictive, deceitful fantasies and misdirected activities.

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The Highest Quality of a Leader

Evelyn M Burry
The highest quality of a leader is the one I mentioned yesterday in relation to Allan Burry—this highlights a remarkable fact:  when one challenges you to do the right thing that constitutes one of the highest compliments available.  Credibility is essential for this quality to exist.  In other words, the one who challenges us must walk the walk themselves.  All other qualities of a leader are secondary.  An awesome realization is that not even attainment of success approaches the importance of this essential.  Thus, pragmatism—does it work?—is less important than moral purpose.  The quality of the vision always is more important than arguments of pragmatism.  This is so because even though the right thing to do is always most pragmatic in the long-run, short-run pragmatism is founded in short-run self-interest and is always self-justifying.  This means the highest compliment a leader can give to those he leads is to appeal to long-term best interests.  It is in this sense that a leader must in the end assume the dubious mantle of idealism sometimes much to the discomfort of those he leads.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Remembrance of Allan Burry

See Below
When I was an undergraduate at the University of South Florida in the years around 1963-64, I was blessed with a counselor and Chaplain named Allan J. Burry.  I have previously written regarding some of the events that happened during our fellowship.  Tonight I just want to try and distill the essence of what Allan meant to me.  He continually challenged us students to be courageous and free Christians.  I think of Paul’s reference to being “slaves of Christ” (1 Corinthians 7:22) so maybe “free Christian” is an oxymoron in one sense.  But there is also a sense in which to become a slave of Christ one must be free from a multitude of lesser callings.  I will name but one example—that of the civil rights movement in progress at the time.  To affirm loving race relations required a freedom from many restraints and traditions of a well-established culture.  Allan flat-out challenged us to welcome a new day in race relations. This highlights a remarkable fact:  when one challenges you to do the right thing that constitutes one of the highest compliments available.  He was continually complimenting us in this way.  He was in the words of Zorba (from the movie with the same name) asking us to acquire “a little madness”—to take some crazy risks in the name of the Lord.  I will always be thankful to Allan for thinking so highly of us.    

[Photo (1963):  Frank Johnson, James Hood, Wayne Standifer.  On June 11 James Hood and Vivian Malone were stopped from entering the University of Alabama by Governor George Wallace.  Later that day, James and Vivian broke the color barrier at the University.  At a student conference held shortly thereafter at Lake Junaluska, Allan instructed Frank and Wayne to make James feel welcome.]

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Who Are Our Ancestors?

If you have on your hands a pedigree, then ancestry is an important and major issue.  If you have on your hands a mixed breed, a stray with little emphasis on purity of line, then ancestry is much less important.  As a kid, I knew my grandmother, and had some sense of her parents and siblings, but for the most part that was the extent of my interest in a family tree.  Ancestry was seldom an issue of discussion in our home.  The characters in the Bible populated our ever-present world of ancestors.  We heard about these people regularly and with the interest of observing our closest relatives.  And in a sense they were.  For our inheritance was not of a single clan.  It was evident we were a throwback to no one family, but to the human family.  The important lessons about character and its strengths and weaknesses were continually highlighted as we studied people who shared our traits in the Bible.  And they were not my kin only, but evidence of a shared kinship in the larger community.  I have come to think that this is the strongest relationship; and that in many ways Biblical times most closely reflect current times.  From this viewpoint, pride of ancestry is not as important as persistent humility before perennial challenges best tracked in scripture from Adam and Eve to present times.

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Why “Wiener World?”

The name for this blog, “Wiener World,” comes from my nickname as a young boy.  I was called “Wiener” by my brother (four years my senior) and his friends when I was about eight years old.  The name was not consistently applied and did not last long.  But to me “wiener” like “peanuts” has many good qualities, and I like the sound of it.  It suggests a refreshing lack of formality, a lack of presumption.  A high recommendation for the term is that wieners are the choice menu item for ball games and golf course concessions and are served grilled at picnics.  Wieners are fun food and even viewed with a certain degree of patriotism—they capture the informality and how-you-doing equality of America at its best.  Wieners go well with condiments like mustard, relish, and onions.  They have a fine aroma when on the grille, in many ways more preferable and compellingly than fancier foods.  And to be honest, I like the word as part of a blog title because it tends to lessen expectations.  If I had named the blog “Profound Philosophic Meditations”—well, whatever I wrote would not measure up.  But by calling the blog “Wiener World” if I should get lucky and write something half-way good, well, it kind of comes as a pleasant surprise.  “Wiener” was born January 27, 1944 and has always enjoyed being invited to the family of man’s picnics.  Rainy days do not spoil the fun as in his corner of the world there are many grand pavilions. 

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lost Directions

Nothing is quite as useless as having a universal TV remote without having the accompanying instructions on how to individualize the remote to one’s particular device.  This was the situation today when I went by Kunte’s house to help set up his remote for use with his used TV purchased today at a pawn shop.  His remote had been used with his previous TV, but now the remote’s manual was lost making the remote useless.  Is this predicament not pretty much the case with our own bodies?  We are born with many more circuits than a TV remote.  Yet, it is largely a mystery how we are to apply ourselves optimally to fully cope with life.  There are many codes, and most remain unknown.  In plain fact, no one really knows enough to write a definitive instruction manual.  Perhaps in time, such a manual will be developed.  In the meantime if we should Google for the human instruction manual, we can take our pick from a large array of approaches to fill this need—everything from scientific, to philosophic, to religious attempts to help us successfully meet the challenges of life.  Perhaps no one approach will ever suffice.  For man is more than circuits, he is analogue and digital—he not only images, but ascribes to those images meaning and symbolic significance.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

The Backstage Lounge

Once I worked at an entertainment complex which included an arena and a theater.  It was called Bayfront Center.  The center also included a lounge called the Backstage Lounge where alcoholic drinks were served.  The lounge was decorated with features one might see if one were backstage of a theater—bare ropes, utilitarian light fixtures and exposed ceiling beams painted a dull black.  It was a funky place and suggested that here one was “off stage.”  Here, one did not have to appear in perfect “presentation quality” as if one were performing before an audience. Of course, I’m sure some of the lounge guests could put on quite a performance there.  But the idea of a place where one didn’t have to perform—to appear “presentation perfect”—had a fundamental appeal to me.  It is literally true that I have known male individuals who never use a public urinal.  To urinate is not presentation quality.  One is on stage even in the bathroom.  I have to wonder how healthy this unrelieved performance pressure is on the psyche, even on the fundamental need to be real. So I tip my hat to those places backstage where even political candidates can leave off their public personas of seamless perfection and bear witness to fellow human beings of their vulnerable, fallible nature.    

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Today in Sunday School

Today we discussed lessons that had to do with fear, the importance of being introduced to faith as a child, and self-control as the fruit of the Spirit.  Fear while at certain levels and in reaction to real threats can be helpful.  But probably more often than not we find that fear is disruptive to optimum performance.  For example, on learning to swim children often show great fear even though the instructor is there to support and protect them.  Someone just learning to drive can have a thousand fears not felt by an experienced driver.  Another typical creator of fear is public speaking.  The speaker freezes up and can’t think straight just when he needs to do the opposite.  Yet another frequent source of fear is when we feel we will not display approved behavior—when we feel out of our element.  An example is when people unused to formal dinners find themselves at one, or vice-versa, when people used to formal affairs find themselves in a strange and freewheeling environment.  Fear is relieved by gaining experience, by assuming you are in friendly territory—not in a den of critics, by concentrating on main objectives, such as connecting with the audience in public speaking.  Our lesson pointed out that as we approach the challenges of everyday life, we can be helped by leaving our “cares and problems in Jesus’ hands” (Upper Room, 1/2/12).

The second lesson dealt with the importance of introducing children to the Christian faith.  As our teacher, Mitch, pointed out it is not unusual for young adults for a time to place some distance between themselves and the church, only to return later on.  In a way this is good, for then church attendance is clearly intentional and by active choice, not a mere matter of habit or inappropriate lack of independence.

The final lesson dealt with self-control—especially of anger.  The lesson’s scripture reading was in part Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)—But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  The essential difference between the fruit of the Holy Spirit and the automated reaction of the natural man is that the latter is tit for tat while the former is redemptive.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Was Jesus a Doofus at Anything?

Somehow I like to think that my savior was not always at the top of every game in town.  Perhaps he was not always the best carpenter’s assistant that Joseph could have asked for.  We have no record of the folks in his hometown saying—“Oh, of course, we always knew Jesus would be special, just look at the masterful works of art he churned out at this father’s shop!”  Perhaps Jesus was not the ideal handyman.  I have special reason for thinking this way, for I am surely not.  I like to imagine Jesus in a situation where even when he does his best, he is outshined by others.  What would be his attitude and approach to this situation?  This is another way of asking how a Christian acts when at a job but humbled by the talents of others?  The answer, I suspect, is that Jesus in such a situation would humbly do his best and work to maintain a helpful, “good,” attitude.  Unrelieved competence, leadership, and perfection are not always the best tests of character.

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But Why?

Quotations of Stephen Hawking

What I have done is to show that it is possible for the way the universe began to be determined by the laws of science. In that case, it would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began. This doesn't prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary.

My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.

If I could talk with Stephen Hawking I would ask:  Is the conception of purpose, especially ultimate purpose, the invention of the human mind?  I would ask are the concepts of mercy and justice and the desire to attain them derived from us.  I would ask, what is the role of such purposes within the facts of science?  The Bible says, “God is love.”  Does this type of love begin and end in the mind of organic beings.  Are the sources of such purposes beyond scientific explanations?  Finally, I would ask, if science has determined the way the universe began through scientific laws will it also help us understand the spiritual dimension of man—can it explain the nature and workings of good and evil.  I appreciate that Stephen Hawking is a physicist and as such has no obligation to answer any of these questions—all in a sense beyond astrophysics.  He might direct me to the offices of neuroscience.  Fair enough.  But even a three year old child will ask after the final explanation of physics is given—“But why?”  Are we really just to reply “Because I said so”?

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On Symbol and Subject

As children are in part symbol, so likewise are parents.  I remember mother telling me when I was just this side of being a toddler, our family had recently been moved to another church and both mother and dad were feeling discouraged.  She said they were sitting in the parsonage and heard me circling the house singing refrains of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  This offered great encouragement to them.  In this case, I had become more than child, I had become the fresh air that a child can represent.  Likewise my parents became symbols.  Not only did they stoke the necessary fires of the home, they came to represent foremost the meaning of sacrificial love. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Anyone who has been generously accepted into the love proffered by a child knows what Jesus is getting at. So it is clear that while an individual is something upon which a strict physiological description can be given, that same individual inescapably for better or worse becomes a symbol of qualities good or ill.  The inescapable role of mankind as a deriver of symbols is evidenced by his turning the energy engines of stars into abiding symbols.  A “black hole” is subsumed into symbol almost from the moment it is identified.  I am reminded of Yeats phrase “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”  Perhaps this is a doctor’s role—to abstract the purely physical aspects of a patient.  Not being a doctor, I cannot know the challenges here, but surely even an emergency room physician must face them.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Are Fairy Tale Endings True?

In fairy tale endings rapacity and greed, though temporarily successful in their attempts to exploit, in the end succumb to the organized effort of humbler beings.  This ever present theme in storytelling reflects upon the tendencies of the imagination and subconscious of humanity.  The question is:  is this pure fantasy or does it point to a realizable reality?  This yearning for justice is deeply seated and strongly desired.  Therefore, its continual presence and influence upon human history cannot be dismissed.  The simple fact is that we are inspired and deeply moved by good and happy endings.  This is bound to produce a bias in behavior that tends to create the desired reality.  We often see the march for justice as a function of sheer force and power.  In some aspects this may be true, but it is surprisingly sourced within the tender realms of imagination and deepest intimacy.  The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Is The Hand That Rules The World is certainly true.  But so also is the fountain of life known as REM sleep: “REM sleep ... adds creativity by allowing neocortical structures to reorganise associative hierarchies…’”(Source).   In our tendency to align might with power, we may well be overlooking the mightiest yet most humble forces of all.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Both Flesh and Spirit

This picture displays fairly well the condition of man—coolly in control of a very narrow field—much like being on a cruise aboard the Titanic.  At any moment the forces of nature could sweep one away.  It is from this perspective that things of lasting value become palpable and real.  If man and all his creations were swept away this moment, if he lived for truth, beauty, justice, mercy, and love; then through faith he can rest assure that his time and efforts will not be wasted.  He has invested in eternal life and spiritual significance.  “In the long-term we will all be dead” is true only if you finally believe in death.  Faith in eternity is necessary to make life bearable and replete with conviction and courage—not subsumed in despair and addictions.  Keeping one’s head in this situation is largely a matter of cultivating one’s soul—one’s eternal nature.  “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” could represent the inscription over the maternity ward as surely as hell itself.  Faith in matters of ultimate significance stands ready to redress the agonies of human existence.  Invest in the eternal concurrently as you invest in the secular.  Both are necessary for health and well-being.  On this earth both flesh and spirit are necessary for happiness.

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Good Cops Are on the Beat

In time of dicey trouble, it’s reassuring to know that there are good cops on the beat.  They wear no special uniforms.  In a sense, they are undercover cops, but carry in their deportment commitment, courage, and a certain flavor of righteousness.  They do not inhabit special buildings, but span out to our own neighborhoods and workplaces.  Sometimes for want of a better description they are called angels.  Whether they are or not, I do not know.  I only know them by their works and words.  They begin right away, so to speak, to put on new coats of paint.  They make a real difference in our world, and like a new year’s day, help make for fresh starts.  Unfortunately there must always be caution—some angels answer to an evil authority. But in these cases, time (usually a short time) reveals their true master as they work counter to our long-term best interests.

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