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Saturday, March 31, 2012

What a Blessed Boss Has

Lone Ranger and Tonto

A blessed boss has a right hand man (or woman).  This is a person who is intelligent, knows much of the job the boss does, has discretion and judgment, is creative, works hard, is cool under pressure, “clicks” with the boss, has aptitude, and is reliable and steady.  The right hand man is a good match for the boss and can interplay with him on solving daily issues.  Having such a person greatly lightens the load on the boss since he now has someone he can intuitively and confidentially trust to be loyal and genuinely helpful no matter what comes down the pike.  The right hand man is no sycophant and can disagree with the boss.  He can ask for and take help and instruction.  Treachery is far from his heart and service is his hallmark.  Greatly blessed is the boss with a steadfast right hand man. 

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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Barebones Message of Christianity

First United Methodist Church
Lakeland, FL
The barebones message of Christianity is fairly simple in the end—worship God and love your neighbor as yourself.  Add to this that Jesus is our example and redeemer and sent the Holy Spirit to guide us in daily living and you have pretty much described the weightier part of the Gospel.  The church puts living flesh on this barebones message.  It is a wonderful fact that the complex organization and vitality of the church derives from such simplicity and sparseness.  I will never forget attending the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and being impressed by the extent and vitality of the organization.  If I were to take one moment that encapsulates the magnitude I sensed at these conferences, it would be when an organist played Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d Minor on an impressive pipe organ as an introduction to a bustling session.  I have come to appreciate this strong signification of the church as it must operate at times in a contrarian position to the world’s countering message of selfishness, pride, and self-sufficiency.  The church will have its voice no matter what other voices strive to propagate.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Disruptive Callings

What would God have to do to get your attention and commitment to take on a new mission in life?  How would you likely respond if he called you by name?  (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.137).

The above discussion questions appear in the study Bible at the point where God calls out to Moses from the burning bush.  My first response to the question is that my fundamental mission in life will never change—to be a faithful disciple of Christ.  One can be in a multitude of places and circumstances and still seek to fulfill such a mission.  But here clearly God gives Moses a specific assignment, not some overall mission—an assignment that he could not achieve while living in Midian tending the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law.  So the more difficult question is: what if God were to give me a new specific assignment—one that calls for dramatic changes?  Since I am a “home body” and value tremendously stability in my affairs, what if of a sudden God should ask me to make striking and drastic changes in my life?  In this light it is clear that I also like Moses would require something as dramatic as a burning bush.  Otherwise, I would tend to question the validity of subtle leadings so markedly different from my basic patterns of behavior.  While such a calling cannot be ruled out as impossible, in its absence it is necessary to rely on a pale substitute, namely compelling situations and circumstances that are intensely felt.  Certainly in this world, one need only watch the evening news to know that multiple compelling circumstances always exist.  It’s just that I feel no compulsion to take personal ownership regarding them.  If I were to feel moved to action by some such circumstance, then I would have to conclude that since this is so foreign from my usual practices and habits, that the leadings of the Holy Spirit may well be evidenced.  A low-profile example comes to mind.  Some weeks ago Kathy and I watched two documentaries on the meat industry (Forks over Knives and Food Inc.).  We found the documentaries so compelling, we became vegetarians on the spot.  Our awareness of the subject was heightened, we determined that it had a moral aspect, and that new behavior was clearly indicated, exigent, and doable.  In the absence of a burning bush, something on this order of magnitude is necessary (if in fact not something of greater magnitude since major disruptions in life might be called for).  

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Straight Man

When you die, which would you most like to have perform at your funeral: (a) 76 trombones? (b) An electric guitar? (c) A simple banjo? (d) A full orchestra in tails?  What does your choice say about how you hope to live? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.130).

The most important thing about a funeral from my point of view is that the essence of the person be reflected in the tone of the occasion.  The question is: what tone do I wish to predominate at my funeral?  In a way the question becomes:  if I could attend my own funeral, what atmosphere would make me feel most comfortable?  I encapsulate this by seeing the face of my brother.  Like Standifer men generally, he can become sentimental and shed a tear or two, but the overwhelming aspect on his face is one of happiness.  At my funeral if tears are shed, I want people to smile through their tears.  If they don’t cry (and, of course, those not of immediate family typically do not), I would want them to pay tribute not by displaying only but by experiencing genuine happiness.  I love a good sense of humor and during my life have thrived best when graced by it.  The biggest joke of all is life itself.  Look at it; we spend a lifetime gaining experience, skill, and knowledge, only to have it culminate in death.  This certainly qualifies as either comedy or tragedy.  Which one depends largely on one’s sense of humor, but then also a smidgen on a firm and confident belief in the eternal nature of love.  Thus, I would like my funeral to be accompanied with wit and humor and the tangible presence of love.  I would like to get up some momentum and with a little help from my friends summersault through the swinging doors of eternal life.    

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Throwing in the Towel

Today I was working on setting up a wireless adapter—a job that should take about 10 minutes.  I spent three hours on it before “throwing in the towel” and purchasing a different brand adaptor for $39.00. The new unit worked perfectly and the job was wrapped up in less than 10 minutes.  It is interesting to me why we fixate on fixing a problem probably longer than we should within certain set boundaries, then at some point willfully and intentionally deciding on a radically different solution.  Essentially it is a matter of giving up hope on the current situation.  And hope in the nature of man is an extremely resilient commodity.  At home we have had plants that didn’t thrive and began to die.  It is not an easy matter to give up hope and dispose of the plant.  Man’s drive to nurture is tied in with hope.  It is not simply a matter of pride and wanting not to admit defeat, it is the tendency rather not to count cost until some extreme point where it is finally decided that further investment of hope and nurturing (and with it the necessary resources) is pointless.  For the sake of human survival, this point is seldom arrived at flippantly even in relative minor matters.  Despite the cost in particular instances, on the whole as an aspect of fundamental human behavior this is a very good thing.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Today at Church—Four Lessons

Lesson One

In church today we sang “Soon and Very Soon” the lyrics are:
(text and music by Andrae Crouch, adapted by Wm. F. Smith)

 1. Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King (3 times)
 Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We're going to see the King.

 2. No more crying there, we are going to see the King (3 times)
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We're going to see the King.

 3. No more dying there, we are going to see the King (3 times)
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We're going to see the King.

(c) 1976, Bud John Songs, Inc.

This hope, this positive expectation, is foundational to a healthy life.  Even in old age (as I am personally approaching age 70), we can be filled with hope and promise.  None of us are “has-been’s” to be relegated to a heap of hopeless trash.  The old cannot be judged as hopeless, nor for that matter can the young who can be seen as unworthy because of lack of life experiences.  All humanity at any moment on earth can, with the hope of eternal life, sing together “Soon and Very Soon.”  Therefore even if faith is a delusional device, it is preferable to cynicism and despair. 
Lesson Two

In Sunday school we read a lesson—“Staying in Tune” Upper Room 03/19/12).  This lesson stressed the idea that it takes work to stay in tune with faith and life principles.  We discussed as music is only possible if instruments (such as a guitar) are kept in tune, likewise successful living requires that we take the effort to keep as vital disciplines the virtues of love, kindness, mercy, justice, righteousness, etc. 

Lesson Three

In Sunday school we addressed the need to speak “truth in love” not only to others when we see hypocrisy or shortcomings in others, but equally essential to honestly address with love hypocrisy or shortcomings in ourselves.  Courage is necessary in both instances and represents a foundational demand of love.  In this regard, we should not treat others or ourselves with the callousness of unconcerned dismissal.    

Lesson Four

We discussed the nature of grace and forgiveness as redemptive.  It opens doors rather than closing them.  It shows trust in others.  In human behavior, grace is a more powerful and effective change agent than tit for tat retribution.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

In the Light of Trials and Testing

Imam Wilmore Sadiki & Jum'ah Fellowship
Today I attended Jum’ah at Saint Petersburg Islamic Center.  Imam Wilmore Sadiki gave a khutbah that included the following idea:  we don’t know our true mettle until we have been tested.  Christ and the prophets have realized this and, indeed, were tested.  As a Christian I ask, how do we know the nature and extent of God’s love?  The answer is because Jesus was tested and went to the cross.  Prosperity religion seems to emphasize the opposite of trials and testing.  Be saved and live righteously and you will receive duly deserved worldly rewards—you will abide in a context of luxury and comfort far removed from any testing or trials.  You will never be challenged in a field that brings about self-revelation—exactly how firm, how genuine is my faith is a question that is neither raised nor validated.  We come to believe in cheap grace, in a discipleship without cost.  In a fallen world, if we are never tested, never find ourselves caught up within the stress of trials and tribulations presented by an active nihilistic culture, then perhaps we should begin to wonder about the sincerity and even validity of our faith.  

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Of Time and Place

If you had to move to a new country to live, which one would you choose?  Why?  What most would you miss most about your roots?  (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.124).

From my experience in growing up during times I can remember, we moved to new towns about every four years.  Although the places we moved were always in the same state (Florida), I found moving an unpleasant experience.  I had to leave best friends and familiar haunts behind.  Looking back, I cherish each place we moved to, but at the time I found moving a special challenge.  Perhaps for this reason, as soon as I was able I settled down in one place—Saint Petersburg, Fl.  I have done so because I like the continuity represented by sending down roots.  I don’t do well as a frequent transplant.  In Saint Petersburg, I purchased a home as soon as possible and established widespread connections within my community—work, church, school, along with of course friendships some of which have taken on a deep familial character.  Establishing reliable relationships has met an urgent personal need.  I find these relationships extremely rewarding in providing a sense of purpose and stability.  In many ways for me, place provides identity.  I know who I am to a large extent by the company I keep.  While this may reveal a personal weakness—a lack of a self-conceived presence, a lack of a self-sufficient identity and an appalling lack of independence—I can only testify to its truth.  Discrete individuality for me is largely a fiction.  I am, more than I sometimes like to aver, a product of my time and place.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Feasts of Heaven

When in your life were you helped to feel “I am somebody special”?  What one “fancy meal” stands out in your memory?  Why that one? Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.117 and p.120.

Without singling me our or giving me special attention, Allan J. Burry, my undergraduate college chaplain, had the capacity to invest students with a feeling that each had a unique mission to fill.  I would love to have a chat with him today (he is in fact deceased) and discuss with him how my life has unfolded.  I suppose I would want his evaluation and, I must admit, approval of how I have met spiritual challenges in life.  I wonder if he would say that I have grown, I have matured, but I’m still in many ways the same old Wayne.  I wonder if he would say “I am proud of you…. You have exceeded my expectations.”  I hope he could say “I have watched you from heaven’s gate, you’ve maintained the right priorities, you’ve grown and blessed where you’ve been planted.”  I know without question in the life eternal he is one person I long to meet.  Once, a group of USF undergraduate students met with school officials for a weekend conference at a Saint Petersburg Beach resort.  There was a fancy restaurant at the resort and being intimidated by the swankiness of the place, I order without question from the menu placed before me.  I ordered escargot.  It took some doing to feign a lack of surprise when a roasted plate of snails was placed before me.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Strength to say No or Maybe Yes

When I have felt passed over in life I often attribute it to a perception on the part of others that I don’t have the strength or capacity to say “No”.  For this reason, they don’t feel they can trust me to stand up under pressure.  They are correct in one sense for sure, I often feel that others are certainly equal if not more equal or worthy than me—and this applies to everyone regardless of rank or station in life.  From this point of view, saying “No” presents a greater challenge than saying “Yes” which presents itself as a natural inclination.  At times I have noticed in others an opposite inclination—one based upon a perception of inherent superior self-esteem and judgment.  From my point of view, this attitude can go far and be very effective since one never has to trouble themselves with self-doubt; but this approach has within it the potential of self-destruction.  The assumption that I am always right or a least wrong only in rare exceptional cases runs the risk of winning every battle but losing the war—of discounting the value of others input to the extent of attaining a closed mind.  Because of this efficiency, alpha males and females have the potential for stunning achievement at the expense stunning insensitivity.  This is a price for success I remain unwilling to pay.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

The Essential Problem with Religious Fanatics

The essential problem with religious fanatics is that they take their beliefs too seriously.  As a Christian I hold to a faith that tells us to love our enemies.  Not some obscure theologian wrote this, but it was said by Christ himself.  Being an American, I cannot take this too seriously.  We glory in assassinating our enemies—such as when on “May 2, 2011, bin Laden was shot and killed inside a private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by U.S. Navy SEALs and CIA operatives in a covert operation ordered by United States President Barack Obama” (Source).  As Americans we know how to modulate our Christian faith molding it to the passions of the moment.  We know how to keep it respectable—keeping it on the back burner when perceived as necessary.  If some religious sect were to take the sayings of Jesus too literally, we marginalize them and are quite capable of feeling vastly superior to them and infinitely more sophisticated.  The most powerful nation on earth cannot afford to follow Jesus’s example—we always respond tit for tat.  No doubt if we were the weakest nation on earth, we could likewise easily justify what we wanted to do.  We do not care to accept the simple fact that the founder of the nation’s predominate religion demonstrated that the love of God has implications for ethical behavior—that in some cases not all can be justified in terms of self-defense.  This, of course, not only has implications for national affairs but for the way we live our personal lives.  We can perceive that self-defense at work justifies almost any behavior in the name of operating in self-interest.  We then have the green light to be vindictive and spiteful to our hearts’ content.  Again, we must not take our religion too seriously else we will be considered religiously weird—perhaps holy rollers or Quakers.  We have a respectable national religion that specializes in convenient rationalization.  The appeal to compelling self-interest is sufficient to effectively neutralize the Gospel.  

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Looking Back – Looking Forward

If you could have one, which would you choose: A glimpse of the future or a journey into the past?  Why?  (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.116).

The first “looking back” thought that comes to mind is moments with my own family.  I would like to relive memorable family scenes growing up or like in Our Town  return to when my daddy and mama first met.  I can imagine that I sure would be hoping that their romance would develop favorably so that I could have a future.  I think of how others would address this question.  Surely people in prison with serious time would like to return to the day when they transgressed the law and would much prefer staying within the law by doing something else that day and hour.  If I step outside my immediate family and time, looking back I would like to be an average citizen in Galilee when Jesus began his ministry there.  Would I have seen him in a positive light?  Would I have found him special?  Would I have been a follower or a detractor?  Even though I am a Christian, I don’t think the answers to these questions are obvious.

As far as visiting the future, I would like to jump 200 years ahead, then 2000 years ahead.  In two hundred years, I would like to visit the town I live in now, Saint Petersburg, FL.  I would be very interested in seeing how the challenges of an exhaustible energy supply were met.  I will assume that technology in all fields continues apace and would like to see if cancer and obesity, for example, are continuing afflictions.  Finally I would like to jump 2000 years ahead.  I especially would like to see how governments have developed.  Was in fact democracy the wave of the future?  Are bills of rights now a common feature of all government(s)?  How does the persistence of human nature impact life at the time?  Of course, I would like to see how 21st century America fares in the evaluation of history?  Looking way back, is it seen as a golden age of human relations or a primitive example of things to come?  Is it even memorable; or, a more troubling thought, is it an example of what not to do?  What common things that we take for granted as doable may be illegal then— and vice-versa?  Finally would I even want to continue living under the conditions of the time or would I be wildly nostalgic for good ol’ Saint Petersburg in 2012?  Sometimes I must admit that I take after Pangloss, the optimistic tutor in Voltaire's Candide, singing “This is the best of all possible worlds.”

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Friday, March 16, 2012

The Eternal Now

What place from your past is of spiritual importance to you?  What makes this place so meaningful?  (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.106)

Israel means “he struggles with God.”  Looking back over my life at spiritually significant times, I would characterize many of them as “God struggles with me.”  God is the proactive one, and I am too often the fearful, blind, reluctant one.  This is so much a part of my life, that when I think of spiritually significant times, they are always on the growing cusp of experience.  The present, the moving “now” is always of greatest significance—not some nostalgic moment in the past.  I cannot help but be grateful for all the blessings that over the years have been bestowed on me, but God’s questions to me always seem to be “But what have you done for me lately?  What have I planted in the past that should bear fruit today?”  I do not seek to build and set aside monumental pyramids to encapsulate eternity.  My faith is much like the national electrical grid—spiritual experience is not stored, but is excruciatingly transient and shared.  I continually rely on the spiritual resources provided daily.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wanted: the Craft of Humble Power

What frequent complaint do you have with government agencies, corporations, or other authorities? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.80)

I think authority shares a common human weakness—the tendency to view strength as deriving from human rather than divine origin.  Another way of putting this is to say there is a human tendency not unknown to the Caesars of considering oneself a god rather than worshiping the Almighty.  Fast to follow on this tendency is the development of a peculiar blindness that sees oneself as more righteous and more worthy than others.  There is a resultant tendency to think “my shit don’t stink.”  This is so common that the following phrase has become trite but too often true—the arrogance of power.  This originates in the heady exercise of power itself—of seeing other people compliantly bending to your will and habitually deferring to you.  This constitutes a tonic that easily can lead to overindulgence and addiction.   Those who avoid this hazard do so usually by submitting to divine authority in their personal lives.  They adamantly refuse to equate themselves with God and retain a durable sense of equality with all humanity.  In the end, it is a self-serving sense of inequality that drives the blindness and arrogance of power.  The feeling of detachment from the riffraff is a sure sign that power addiction is underway and that one’s excrement not only stinks but ascends to the highest heavens. 

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Quiet Leadership

Daddy, Me, & Friskie circa 1960
Growing up, who was the disciplinarian in your family?  How did that person typically discipline you?  (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.76)

When I was on trial for refusing induction during the Vietnam War, my father spoke on my behalf.  He told the judge that he never had to whip me, whereupon the judge responded maybe that’s why we are here today.  Perhaps the judge was right.  If I had been whipped into shape and was reflexively fearful of authority, this may well have been enough to make me obey authority no matter what.  I can think of only twice that my father deliberately (and effectively) dampened my will or corrected me.  Once when I was fifteen I had promised a friend that I would take him to a meeting that night in our car.  Since I had only a restricted license, this would have been against the law.  Though my friend was in some ways handicapped, Daddy flat-out would not let me do it, and he was very brief and inflexible in our discussion about it.  The second time was again when I was a teenager; daddy and I sat watching the evening news.  This was about 1960 and pictures of demonstrating blacks being attacked by police dogs appeared on the TV screen.  I said something about "niggers."  Daddy looked long and sad at me, and said "Son, I don't ever want to hear you say that again."  So looking back, I really don’t think of my father as a disciplinarian at all; but as the ultimate person in charge and as a counselor, the person who I would turn to should ever a disputed matter need to be resolved—and as I say, which occurred to my recollection only twice.  Perhaps the reason that my father did not need to discipline me was the overwhelming respect I had both my parents.  They loved me, treated me with consideration and respect, were reliable and steady, and had my best interest at heart.  There really was neither need nor motivation to do otherwise than to respect and obey.  Because of my experience with authority growing up, I have generally a deep respect for authority and often look at it sympathetically asking would I behave much differently if I were in authority’s shoes?  On rare occasions, the answer to that question is an unqualified “yes.”  In such cases, such as with national government, I vote my preferences affirmatively and usually absent resentful anger.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Need for Sacrifice and Transcendent Forgiveness

Sacrifice is a religious rite in which an object is offered to a “divinity” (all so called divinities are false except the God of Christianity) in order to establish, maintain, or restore a right relationship of man to the “sacred” order. It is a complex phenomenon that has been found in the earliest known forms of worship and in all parts of the world. (Source)

The other day I wrote a blog that included the following statement: “To overcome bitterness, one must learn to forgive others; to overcome discouragement, one must learn to forgive oneself.  Forgiveness involves ‘pardoning somebody for a mistake or wrongdoing’’’ Encarta Dictionary.  Somehow “self-pardon” in human experience is woefully inadequate when we sense we have engaged in wrongdoing, for often such wrongdoing—intentionally or otherwise—involves many.  There comes to be a profound sense in which we have wronged not only ourselves or others, but also God.  As David observed: Against You [God], You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge. (Psalm 51:4 New American Standard Bible).  That is, when I wrong others or myself, I can come to perceive that I have not only wronged human beings, but I have wronged the Creator—a transcendent third party.  That is why it is not good enough for others to forgive me or for me to forgive myself.  There is the nagging sense that further forgiveness is necessary.  From time immemorial, mankind has offered sacrifices for atonement.  This testifies to the common human experience of the perception of a Transcendent Other that deserves our recognition and faithfulness.  Therefore “belief” in God woefully understates the case.  It is not so much that we give a notional nod to a higher power, but that we are flooded with the sense of God emotionally, intellectually and spiritually with complete force.  It becomes not so much a matter of belief as recognition of fact.  For Christians, Jesus bled and died for atonement of our sins; what are called for now are not death rituals but confession, forgiveness, renewal, and participation in eternal life.  We should be wary of those who aver that mankind has entered some brave new world of feeling and emotion in which sacrifice has no place.  (It can take on many hidden and devious forms.) It has a central place, but the signal sacrificial act has already been accomplished and is totally sufficient to meet our needs.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Meaning of Wisdom

Today we live in an age of specialization.  People over a lifetime can acquire expertise in one area with only layman knowledge in all others.  So in this context, what does it mean to have wisdom?  Is it impossible to be wise in the traditional sense of having a generalized expertise—or has specialization precluded such wisdom?

The preeminent demonstration of wisdom is that of King Solomon when he devised a method to determine the true mother of a child.  To satisfy the claim by two different women that a baby was theirs, he ordered the child split in half with a sword so each woman could be satisfied.  One woman readily assented, the other immediately pleaded that the child not be killed but given to the other woman.  Thusly, Solomon was able to determine the true mother.  Solomon demonstrated wisdom by his profound knowledge of human behavior and his ability to devise a method to have it plainly and starkly revealed.  (ref: 2 Chronicles 3:16-28)

From this viewpoint, our age of specialization does not preclude wisdom, for wisdom is a specialization itself.  In whatever field man operates, there human nature is active in full force.  If one can acquire a deep understanding of human behavior, then he has an essential knowledge that spans all fields.  The parables of Jesus show a deep appreciation for human nature and thus are keenly relevant to our times as much as they were in times vastly different from ours in many ways—in many ways except one: the persistence of human nature. 

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Desperation in the Driver’s Seat

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Once in undergraduate school in a Human Behavior class I saw a movie entitled The Eye of the Perceiver.  This film taught a very important lesson, one’s perception is greatly influenced by one’s inclinations and prejudices.  The last two Friday’s I have attended jumu'ah with my Muslim son Nurideen.  After the khutbah and prayers, the service is followed by lunch in a dining area.  Today I had an interesting and for me broadening conversation with a faithful member of the Mosque.  We were discussing the unfortunate often negative news coverage of Islam.  The extremists, the killers of innocents, often seem equated with Islam itself.  The member informed me that the killing of innocents is specifically prohibited by Islam so people who do so are outside the mainstream of the faith.  I responded that sometimes hate groups go under the moniker of Christianity.  My friend winced when I said this and said he would not go so far as to label Islamic extremists as hate groups.  Rather, they are people who have been pushed to a corner.  I replied, “Oh so it is not hate so much as desperation.”  He agreed.

After thinking about this, I have considered that desperation can too often be used as an excuse.  For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. could have justified all sorts of violence in segregated America and claimed justification based on desperation.  Actually MLK was a faithful Christian in a special context.  He was in a land where passive resistance had some hope of success.  He was confident that he could appeal to the consciences of the American people and that a significant number of them would respond.  They in fact did so, and the country now honors him with a national holiday.  Yet, I must ask, what if MLK had wished to have peaceful protest in Nazi Germany.  Would he have survived the night?  Would passive resistance really been an option?  I think of the Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who worked to further an assassination plot against Hitler. Was the situation then one in which the notion of passive resistance would have been a farce?  Was killing Hitler out of desperation the only option?

These thoughts only serve to open up dangerous territory.  I consider the many atrocities America has carried out under the name of desperation.  Untold numbers of innocents were killed during the firebombing of Germany and the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan.  During the Vietnam War inconceivable things were committed against man and nature under the banner of desperation during our fear of falling dominoes.  We always have justified this by saying we are only responding to dire threats.  We picture willful and deliberate acts against us and thus justify almost anything in response.  Cannot we understand then the perpetrators of 9/11?  From their point of view, they saw their culture under daily and direct attack by the chief perpetrator of Western values.  But why attack the World Trade Center?  Why not?  Influence destructive to their culture had a thousand sources, one being untold thousands of expansionist decisions by American business.

I am not offering up excuses for man’s inhumanity to man.  But I am asking us to look coldly at human behavior during times of desperation.  If we can relieve this sense of desperation, we can do much to attenuate nightmares and horrors.  Religion—especially Christianity—it would seem should be able to help.  Jesus trusted in his Heavenly Father even to the point of death.  But clearly his followers, as in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of betrayal, found it a continuing challenge to do so.  We are confronted with an important question—is self-defense without limits an inherent right of man?  If we think so, we had best work extra hard to alleviate feelings of desperation on an international and local level—both of which provide fitting settings for desperation and tragedy.  

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Step Out – Communicate

One of the most confounding things in human affairs is not to communicate while problems are still on a low order of magnitude.  Not infrequently we sublimate what should be communicated which results in a compounding of complexity to the point of crisis at which point pent up frustration, anger, and resentment explode.  What constitutes the friction of communication—why don’t we communicate when we should?  Several factors contribute.  One frequent excuse is that we want it to appear that everything in our purview is “quite alright, thank you.”  Somehow we equate imperfections in our situation with imperfections in us.  Thus, one key to better communication is a relinquishing of the ambition to appear perfect—realizing the better course is embrace the messiness of reality.  Another factor is cynicism regarding others.  We assume that everyone is selfish and thinks only of their own comfort. The key to better communication here is to understand that people enhance their self-concepts though helping others when it is perceived that others are doing their best—are not lazy and just playing games to avoid effort.  Being part of a solutions team is a rewarding social act of highest magnitude.  People want to help earnest players.  Perhaps most on people’s minds when they don’t communicate is that they just don’t want to be a bother.”  Better just to keep quiet rather than to speak out about issues and cause trouble.  This can be significantly counterproductive as often by not speaking out we are compounding the effort that eventually inevitably must be expended.  The driver that notices low oil pressure but sublimates this problem rather than acknowledging it and thus causing some distress in his passengers will surely compound their distress by keeping quiet and driving on until the engine blows up.  So as is often the case, none of the choices available to the driver are ideal.  But the better choice is to acknowledge facts and communicate.  The most rewarding thing about communicating is its cleansing nature.  We feel dark clouds dispel when communication lights up the situation.  The act of communication has inherent redeeming qualities and should be engaged in proactively.  Communication not only solves problems without, but helps keep them from festering within.  Communicate early and often—that should be our motto.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012


Discouraged defined: “to make somebody feel less motivated, confident, or optimistic” Encarta Dictionary.

Today when I compared myself to the achievement of others, I felt discouraged.  Like bitterness, discouragement is a state that must be avoided at all cost.  As bitterness eats away at happiness and a state of blessedness, so does discouragement.  As bitterness hurts most the one who harbors it, so does discouragement.  To overcome bitterness, one must learn to forgive others; to overcome discouragement, one must learn to forgive oneself.  Forgiveness involves “pardoning somebody for a mistake or wrongdoing" (ibid).  It is cancelling out a debt, it is the recognition and acceptance that in some ways unqualified justice can never and will never be achieved, but despite this one must set aside self-punishment over disappointment as a harmful self-indulgence.  To overcome bitterness, one must learn to be generous with others, to overcome discouragement one must learn to be generous with oneself.  For our own mental health, this must be done out of stark self-interest if nothing else.  And since we feel injustice so profoundly and tend to resent it so much, freedom from bitterness and discouragement require humility.  I recall once telling a CEO of a large company that I admired his humility.  He replied, “Well Wayne, I have a lot to be humble about.”  Ironically, humility is the most favorable stance to advance self-interest, and it usually comes with a good measure of humor.  To insist on exactitude of justice in personal relationships is to be forever relegated to unhappiness.   Several phrases come to mind such as “learn to roll with the punches” and “don’t be brittle for brittle things break.”  We must intentionally give up the fixed idea that we always know best and frankly admit that God’s wisdom and vision reliably exceeds our own. We are not and cannot be the final judge even of our own affairs.  It is sufficient to know that we always rest in divine love that He has our best interest at heart.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sufficient Proof

When during your growing-up years, did you get in big trouble with your parents?  (Serendipity Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, p.55)

I got in big trouble with my parents only once, and that was when I was six years old (the year, 1950).  We had recently moved from New Port Richey to Oviedo, Florida.  At the time, we were living in an old frame two-story home (soon to be replaced by a new one).  On the surface, I was just playing a game of hide-and-seek, but perhaps what I really wanted to know was how much I would be missed if I just disappeared.  Without my parents knowledge, I hid behind the couch in the living room. Soon my parents missed me and began to call my name both inside and outside the house.  I could tell from their voices that they were seriously worried and what I was doing was a much bigger deal than I had anticipated.  After a while, I emerged from hiding.  My parents, especially my mother, told me in no uncertain terms never to do that again.  I was sorry that I had frightened them, but pleased to know I would be missed if something bad happened to me.  I can think of nothing in my growing up years that remotely compared to this in terms of a somber and weighty reprimand.  If I needed to know I was loved, I now had memorable proof—enough to last the passage of time.

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In the Beginning Was the Word

If you could create a new animal, what would it be like? What would be its most important feature?  Why?  What would you call it?  Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.52.

Sometimes when I looked at my dog Stanley, it seemed because of his expressiveness that he could almost talk.  I found myself wishing that he could.  If I could create dogs anew, I would give them this added ability—the ability to talk and be the spokesmen not only for themselves but for all “dumb” animals.  Humans often get away with unspeakable cruelly to animals primarily because animals lack a voice.  They cannot say, in no uncertain terms, that they too have rights based upon their sentient existence.  They too have feelings and perceptions, but lack the language to be heard in no uncertain terms. And mankind is so willfully dense and prejudicial that he runs roughshod over animals simply because of their silence.  Unspoken evil becomes hidden evil.  The ultimate power of language is that it can explicitly address the conscience; and when it can’t do so directly, it can help marshal forces (such as organizational ones) to force recognition.  It is primarily language that gives mankind ascendancy.  Constant verbal reprimands by my dog Stanley would have jeopardized my peace of mind and tranquility of conscience.  At the very least, I could not have so easily patronized him and taken his goodwill for granted.  My best friend would have found a voice and with it the power to challenge my assumptions of superiority and rectitude.  The self-righteousness I share with the rest of mankind would be cast in new relief.  The next time you look down at your dog and wish he had the ability to speak, you might well consider the long list of ramifications that would entail.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Creative Destruction

Remember as a child when you built a tower of dominoes or blocks, only to have it all fall down—what did you like best about it?  Least?  Why? (Serendipity Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, p.1738)

I suppose as a child I played the game of dominoes maybe five times.  However, I played with dominoes much more often.  My favorite thing to do was to line them up in a row, each domino standing on end, then topple the first down only to see the entire row follow in order.  I would frequently line them up in contiguous rows that twisted and turned to see them fall down in a pattern.  The reasons for delight in this probably had several causes.   

To an adult standing by, it may appear that I enjoyed destroying things; but this would in major ways miss the point.  For example, there was the pleasure in seeing something working as planned.  In this sense, it fulfilled expectations.  The rules of nature were dependable and reliable.  By working with and using the rules of nature, I could get something to work reliably and successfully.  Next, satisfaction came from a sense of creative power.  By gentling tapping over the first domino, the ultimate effect was greatly magnified.  Not only was there a dramatic new configuration visually displayed, but there was also the sound of dominoes crashing to the table. Then there was satisfaction in automation.  Once started, the process took on a life of its own without further intervention.  Also there was satisfaction in the crescendo effect—watching something successfully progress to a climax despite some risk that things could go wrong.  Finally there was frequently a social aspect.  I was enjoying the spectacle with others and we all intuitively were in concert appreciating all of the factors mentioned earlier.  Much delight and satisfaction derived from this shared experience, mutual discovery, and multifarious affirmation.  Quite unlike excitement derived from destructive negativity, it was, in our own small way, the joy of a Houston Control Center successfully completing a mission.

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I have heard it said that a sure signal that a child may end up in prison in later life is if he willfully and maliciously inflicts pain on animals.  Such gratuitous application of pain and suffering foreshadows antisocial behavior in later years.  Today I watched a documentary on Netflix entitled Food, Inc.  It treats the unspeakable cruelty inflicted upon livestock in the American food industry.  The companies that are involved in the trade will not allow cameras to record the dark conditions under which the animals suffer.  Executives in the industry are often recruited for key positions in the government departments theoretically designed to regulate the industry.  All the while, the public seems content with the inhumane treatment of animals so long as meat is abundant and deceptively cheap (deceptively so since the feed grain corn is heavily subsidized).  “Out of sight, out of mind” seems to be the operative ethic.  Not only are animals mercilessly exploited, but so also is much of the labor required in the secretive industry.  It is troubling that exceptional cruelty can be so blithely exercised and tolerated.  What are the implications of willful and persistent blindness upon the tone and tenor of American life?  Can callousness be neatly contained, compartmentalized, and crafted so as to impact only one aspect of life?  Is the public’s affinity for willful blindness to facts in one area detrimental to the pursuit of truth in others?  Is lack of sympathy for animals associated with inhumanity to man?  (Related blog: By Proxy)

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Family Fame

If you could be famous for one hour, for what would you like to be known?  Why?  Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, p.1737.

That’s easy.  I would like to be known as the father of George Hall, Alton Hall, and Ramon Green.  All grown men now in their thirties, I am confident that they are making and will make a lasting contribution to their communities and will be a blessing there as they have been to me.  They are God fearing men with an earnest intent on doing right.  They have shared their love and trust with me over the years through thick and thin.  I have been humbled by our affinity for one another and the assurance we share fundamental values.  May they flourish and achieve with ardent conviction the divine courses set before them.  Finally, I would like to be known as the son of Ed and Victoria, the brother of Bob, and the spouse of Kathy.  Being a part of this family has been a continuing blessing.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Game On ! ! !

When I was growing up, if one was described as religious that pretty much meant one thing—one was a Christian or maybe Jewish (which really was perceived as closely related and foundational to Christianity itself).  Now other religions are increasingly appearing across America, perhaps most notably Islam.  For the first time in my lifetime, there is an increasingly competitive religious environment in America.  This looming competition could hold in store various possibilities.  On the one hand it could take on a divisive character in which the religious seek to outdo one another in claiming to be sole representatives of truth and rectitude.  Continuing ideological dissention in time could produce a strident, divisive, and sanctimonious partisanship across which divide antagonism and resentment would fester and perhaps eventually lead to violence itself.  As prior to the Civil Rights movement race wars seemed to threaten America’s future, in this internecine climate religious wars would seem to lurk on the horizon.

My son George (named Nurideen meaning “enlightened” in Islam) gave me tremendous hope the other day.  He said so long as religious competition in America centered over efforts to provide caring service to improve the health and welfare of all, then the more competition the better—in this light the fact that the “game is on” is good news .  This is my hope for America—that religious diversity will motivate us to greater concerted efforts of beneficent service and generosity thus supplanting bitter dogmatism and dissention.  Religious tolerance would then not be an onerous task filled with anxiety, suspicion, and dread; but an actualization on a daily basis of shared goals and service.  This would underwrite respect and goodwill while encouraging trust and would testify to the profound impact of guaranteed rights and freedoms upon ameliorating human behavior.

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