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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Communication 101

Evan during Construction of Ark

One of my favorite movies is Evan Almighty. Evan wants to change the world and is elected congressman. Surely, if God also wants to change the world and use Evan as an instrument of peace, the most direct way to do so would be to endow Evan with preternatural eloquence and persuasiveness. When he rose to speak in Congress, all the influential in Washington and all constituents at home would rise in agreement and flock in unison to change the world veritably establishing heaven on earth. As the movie develops, rather than irresistible eloquence God gives Evan a laborious, controversial, unpopular, and ridiculed task of manual labor.

Thus we see that God is a consummate realist. Understanding human nature like no other, he accepts the fact that people have their own views of what is good. These views often are not susceptible to verbal persuasion. Like many of the early Christians found who sought to change the world; conviction, faith, and even eloquence inspired by the Holy Spirit could not change the hearts of men and resulted instead in widespread Christian martyrdom.

While not a matter of righteousness, an incident occurred in my life while attending the university that resulted in one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned. I was taking a course in public administration policy. I attended all the lectures and read all assigned readings. The time came for the first test – an essay test. The questions were in areas for which I was fully prepared. I wrote my answers with what I felt was skill, even eloquence. I left the exam assured that I had done well and would earn a “B”, maybe an “A”. The next class the professor handed out the graded papers. My paper was marked “D”. I at once knew what I had to do. I had to drop the class. For whatever reason, the professor and I could never be on the same page. We were, quite simply, in different mental universes. I dropped the class having learned an important lesson – all my conviction, all my preparation, all my certitude and confidence, all my effort – and yes, all my sense of rightness - can mean absolutely nothing to others – even be actively criticized and roundly rejected.

Defeat, in this sense, is a common experience arising from the diverse nature of man's perception. It cannot be helped. We can get angry and retaliatory or we can acknowledge the situation and allow each a right to disagree. On these occasions it is always helpful to call to mind what it would look like if the world were in lock-step agreement about all matters great and small. While concord is viewed positively and earnestly to be desired, the specter of repression is not. Behavior, while in the short-run imposable by force, is better served in the long run when it arises from universal concord founded upon mutual perception of the good—an end to be fully realized in the New Jerusalem. Evan was not in the New Jerusalem, he was in Washington. Thus, magically produced tranquility took a back seat to hard labor and strife.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

One Minute Integrity Test

Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend; a highly successful scholar, but also dissatisfied with his life, and so makes a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. Faust's tale is the basis for many literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical works.

The meaning of the word and name has been reinterpreted through the ages. Faust, and the adjective faustian, are often used to describe an arrangement in which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and success: the proverbial “deal with the devil”.

For a One Minute Integrity Test I would propose that you think of your closest, dearest friend. Now think of your most cherished personal ambition. Now imagine the devil has made a proposal to you: you can have your most cherished ambition fulfilled within this very year. All that's required is that you betray your dearest friend. This betrayal could take many forms, but in essence it would mean that you must promote yourself as innately superior and highly more worthy than your friend – attaining your own selfish interests at their expense. In short, to fulfill your ambition, you must forget all about your friendship and betray the mutual bonds of kindness it represents.

Essentially, here's what's being asked. You are to forsake all conscience based on the Golden Rule and in its place erect an idol to rapacious selfishness – sometimes politely known as self-interest. Conscience thereby is effectively vitiated and exists only as hollow terminology.

Whenever and wherever this deal is accepted (whether by a person or a nation), the core of individual or national integrity is lost that makes tenable peace and long-term survival. As in the Faust legend, once such a deal is struck the clock advances inexorably, sometimes spasmodically, towards doomsday.

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A Matter of Assets

Ultimate Objectives

A person can have 10 million dollars in the bank and nothing to show for it or; conversely, can have inconsequential bank accounts but much to show for it. I am reaching advanced years – a time when some look back with regret because of misplaced values. Today I have to be honest and share - though some may think when I do so I am showing selfish, even exploitative pride. This week I received two letters from my children whom I adopted while they were very young. I “adopted” them from the streets. I want to share excerpts from these letters with you and let you come to your own conclusions whether I am rich or poor. They are my witnesses now and will be one day not far off when I'm before the throne of God.

From Alton,

Like I've said, you're my father. My love is unconditional that's forever. Yes, I cried when I seen you cry when I lost the trial. You hurt I hurt we hurt together. Until the end of time remember I love you dearly.

From Ramon,

I really wanted to honor you today.. And im sure Teico, Alton, George, Tywan and all of us feel the same way.. You have been a real FRIEND... The realest friend it's gonna get..

You been there not only when we was young and didn't have nothing, But in times when we are down and out, And really need a "Good Friends" support.. Just wanted to say this ..... Love ya

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

That'll do pig, that'll do (ending to Babe)

We destroy our own happiness when we are too choosy - when we insist on God providing us the perfect conditions for growth from our own perspective. We grow in maturity and faith when we approach our current situation with the attitude that God has a purpose and plan even though they are not completely clear to us in full array. We are enriched tremendously by accepting ownership of the situation in which God has planted us and accepting responsibility to seek and to do God's will in that situation. We're told to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV). What may appear an unpromising situation from our point of view (just another detour) can be ideal from God's. If in a given situation we faithfully say with acceptance “That'll do God, that'll do,” this can lead to God lovingly saying the same to us – or perhaps that's something he said at the outset when initially taking our measure.  

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Friday, July 27, 2012

If I Were the Devil

If I were the devil I would first take stock—I would consider who I am compared to who God is. First I am the overlord of hate, whereas God is love. I am typified by deception, whereas God embodies truth. I encourage selfishness and greed, whereas God encourages generosity and service. I delight in delusion, addiction, and overweening pride; whereas God delights in realism, freedom, and humility. I delight in despair, whereas God delights in hope and joy. I delight in resentment and recrimination, whereas God delights in encouragement and forgiveness. I delight in cynicism and judgmental arrogance, whereas God delights in benevolence and charity. I delight in ill will, whereas God delights in goodwill. I delight in insecurity and turmoil, whereas God delights in security and peace. I delight in a short-term and short-sighted myopia, whereas God delights in a long-term vision and eternal verities. I delight in the delusion that might makes right, whereas God looks beneath the trappings of power and authority into the human heart.

As the devil, I would delight in the destruction of the United States. I would seek to undermine its view that room must be made for individual conscience—the ultimate basis for all guaranteed rights. I would thus seek to undermine the regard for individuals and the sacredness of personality. I would eliminate belief in God and the leadings of the spirit, thus rendering all appeals to conscience a fictitious ploy designed to legitimize selfishness and greed—which I would meticulously characterize as enlightened self-interest. The view that all people have a soul making them a member of one human family must be eliminated. Compassion, empathy, and feelings of mutuality must be replaced by fracturing the country into a multitude of war-like camps each circling their wagons to protect themselves while leveling at others a withering, judgmental arrogance. I would encourage an undertone of anger and resentment at all times in all things. I would replace the spiritual and principled life with worship of success at any cost and hide its ugliness in a veneer of glittering materialism. I would spread within the commonweal a contagion of meanness. I would encourage the thought that security comes out of the barrel of a gun worn at the hip, not from the disciplined and patient constructions of love arising from considerate kindness. In short, I will replace God with myself, confident that in my redoing of America, the miracle and genius that represents America - its ideals, convictions, and visions - will be forsaken and the land left desolate. Without the religion of Jesus, America will have lost its essential vitality and enabling spiritual context. It will revert to the tired ruts of history represented in Shakespeare's Sonnet 66:

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Mystic Sweet Communion

When I “adopted” children in the neighborhood some years ago, I at once took them to church. Sometimes I wonder why. What did I wish for them? Here's the gist of it.

I wanted to share with them the stability based on love found in the church. I wanted them to experience the “solid rock” that their hearts and minds could validate first hand – that the disciplines of love bring peace, tranquility, and joy unmatched by anything else. I wanted them to gift them with conviction – a conviction that with the help of God they can master the steadfast principles necessary for true happiness - all well within their grasp. Did the church “take” in the minds and hearts of my children? Some would say, by outward signs, there is little evidence of it. But we made an unspoken pact during those years to continue throughout our lives an enduring frankness and honesty. Communication with my children continues unabated, and I am fully persuaded that the legacy of church in their lives continues to germinate with abiding force and power.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Accentuate the Positive

Every so often I like to experiment with software utilities. For example, today I installed a free extension of OpenOffice Writer. The extension is called “Bookmarks” and allows for all types of nifty operations while in the word processing program. The utility allows one to easily load programs, execute commands, open folders and files, or run macros, among other awesome things. While playing with it however, I ran across a minor bug that I confirmed after doing a little research of the issue in Google. When I came upon the problem, I immediately dropped all progress in other areas and spent hours trying to get this minor feature to work – all without success. In other words I completely took focus and effort off the 99 things the utility did well and fixated on the one thing it didn't. Rather than exploiting the many opportunities the utility laid out before me, I concentrated entirely for hours on this one fruitless endeavor.

Suddenly it hit me that such focus on the negative has tended to hound me again and again. For example, rather than focusing on my assets while growing up, I would be devastated with a sense of inadequacy and mope about what I wasn't good at rather than developing and excelling in those things that I could do well. Rather than developing my talents, I lamented my limitations. While such focus on the negative can have its place – as when my doctor focuses on a potential health problem – it surely indicates a spiritual problem if such a practice dominates my life and makes me feel like an unrelieved victim and not someone blessed and full of exercised gratitude. The practical result is that I in fact become less productive than I have any right to be, and thus begin to take on the characteristics of selfishness rather than generosity.

I look to the kitchen for analogies. Should I stop using my refrigerator because, unlike the range, it cannot cook dinner? Surely it is incumbent upon me to consider what each appliance can do well and not what it cannot do at all. If I feel depressed and victimized because my life seems devoid of purpose, this may well indicate dead-end expectations. I should stop focusing on what I cannot do and focus instead on what I can; for, in light of the positive, something is always doable.

Sue Keller on piano playing Accentuate The Positive (1944) by Johnny Mercer & Harold Arlen

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stiff-necked People

The Stoning of St Stephen

Are you stubborn? Is it a good quality or does it trap you in “your own devices”? How do stubbornness and persistence differ? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 828).

But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the Lord their God. (2 Kings 17:14 NIV)

You stiff-necked people!.... You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! (Acts 7:51 NIV)

I love the image of “stiff-necked people” as an illustration of stubbornness. This contrasts with the visage of earnest yearning characteristic of persistence. Stiff-necked people coldly worship the status quo at whatever cost. All evidence to the contrary is dismissed as essentially treacherous and serving to undermine assumed and avowed rectitude. Stern and dismissive self-righteousness faces are punctuated by set jaws and uplifted chins. Anger is plainly evident or simmers just below the surface. Stiff-necked people are scandalized and agitated by any suggestion of alternative realities that differ from their own set view of things. They fancy themselves the final authority and become impervious to any leadings of the Holy Spirit which does not validate their own sanctimonious prejudices. Humility to them is weakness and the God of love is summarily deposed by the God of war – the latter to which they give full and complete allegiance. While they would worship strength, they haven't a clue as to strength’s utter dependence upon humility and a yielding, submissive spirit. It is rumored in some quarters that stiff-necked necked people survive even today, and did not exist just in Biblical times.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

A Purpose Set

On Track
What has held the world together for you in hard times? Give an example. (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 821).

In hard times I have been blessed with a sense that God has a purpose for me, and this purpose, though not fully revealed or realized, has immediate implications for doable action. That is, though it was not abundantly clear how everything was working towards God's purpose for me, there was nevertheless a firm sense that nothing was ever useless, pointless, hopeless, futile, or meaningless. I was always blessed with a deep sense that “even this situation” was redeemable through purpose – and that no time or effort was ever wasted. The immediate implication was always that I could serve God wherever I was under whatever conditions or circumstances. I largely attribute this to careful indoctrination growing up that God has a purpose for everyone and that we can serve Christ despite our frailties wherever we are.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

In View of the Recent Gun Violence

Whenever there is gun violence like we have seen recently, I think we should prayerfully approach the God of love with the question: Is there anything at all to be done in the way of extending or limiting the use of firearms? If deranged or demon possessed individuals knew with certainty that a large proportion of any given audience carried firearms at all times, would that curtail their actions? If the answer is affirmative, then the extension of firearm use should be encouraged by law and policy so that a significant proportion of the population carried firearms at all times. Thus, security and the perception of it would be increased. Conversely, should firearm use be discouraged so that primarily they are for the use of law enforcement officers? If the answer is affirmative, then firearm limitation should be encouraged by law and policy so that firearms are principally the domain of law enforcement officers. Thus, security and the perception of it would be increased. It is my firm conviction that some action is well overdue and that we should prayerfully follow the approach enlightened by the disciplines of love. God bless America.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Flight Instinct Amidst Buffeting Winds

Can you be yourself with the group? With God? What would God do in your situation now if you freely express your feelings? What is God likely to do if you're not honest? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 820).

The freedom to be oneself - in one sense this is the highest goal that any nation can undertake for its citizens – to cultivate a comfortable setting in which people feel innately free to express themselves or willingly decline to do so. In our experience if we're lucky we can remember spots in time when we felt completely free to be ourselves – genuinely, honestly, totally and comfortably free. Right away, however, a paradox becomes clear. Freedom for all necessarily implies restrictions for all. My freedom cannot include encroaching upon yours. Thus almost instantly a huge array of laws and sanctioned behaviors become necessary for clearly my freedom cannot include the freedom to harm you. We come to live with this conception of freedom, though qualified, and many have died for it.

Yet a yearning for unrestricted freedom persists. In America we greatly admire the entrepreneurial spirit. We tend to get incensed if it is restricted by big government - its arch-enemy. There is something in the human spirit that will always rebel against restraints. We yearn to enter a spacious room in the mountains with comfortable furniture and a roaring fireplace. Such a scene is readily available so long as we are trained to be reflexively considerate of others. Even so, regulation is necessary. Even in a totally courteous and considerate world traffic lights would still be necessary for courtesy is subject to practicality and arrangements of mutuality.

Does God want us to be honest? If I honestly want to steal from my neighbor would God restrict me? The 10 Commandments clearly indicate that he would. We must face the paradox of freedom and get used to the simple fact that a fundamental human urge will never achieve more than qualified fulfillment so long as survival entails a significant degree of mutuality.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Bringing Peace to the Streets

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” (from Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson).

An oft omitted word in the above quotation is the word “foolish.” This is a very important qualifier. For wise consistency is the bread of life and a key discipline of love. Sadly, its absence can be seen manifested in children. Rather than being centered and undergirded by a sense of inner tranquility and peace, consistency starved children are characterized by agitation and a generalized, ill-defined and neurotic discontent. One of love's most important disciplines therefore is to provide a wise and nurturing environment characterized by consistency. Closely allied with consistency is stability. When these are absent in the streets it becomes a blighted society and informal associations are formed to provide some semblance of them such as store-front churches or, more negatively, gangs. The consistency provided by love is by nature a very personal product and it is well-neigh impossible to meet the problem of its lack with imposed propagations of bureaucracy. There is a saying that all politics is local—meaning in part that it requires personal connection. Meeting the inner need for peace requires personal connection. This means it is a labor intensive task for the closer one can get to one-on-one relationships the better. Criminal rehabilitation, for example, depends most essentially on cultivating self-reliance and self-discipline. These are not the dry products of program instruction but instead the fruit of loving relationships. So, an effective approach to prison reform will have the ingredient of personal warmth rather than institutional coldness. Since the necessary financial investment will likely not be forthcoming, a successful program will include a substantial recruitment of volunteers. This will be fortuitous since volunteerism arises from generosity and love – precisely the thing most effective and called for in the implementation of tranquility.

Music video:
Church In The Wildwood sung by Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, Robert Emhardt

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Epiphany Moments

James Joyce statue at his grave, Zurich
Have you had a “sanctuary” experience? When? Where? What happened? What are you doing to keep that faith perspective alive? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 819).

The first point to make regarding sanctuary experiences is that they certainly need not take place in a sanctuary. The most awesome experience of this type that I ever had took place in a movie theater. Thelma and Louise was the movie being shown and the song played at the high point of my experience was “Part of You Part of Me.” Even though this took place during a time of mental illness, nothing has come close as a crystallized experience in affecting my faith. Since that transcendental moment rearranged reality for me, I have never once doubted the existence of God or the regard of God for individuals. As time recedes this moment into the distance past, its impact upon me has never faltered or wavered, and I am at a loss to explain why I don't discount it considering my unbalanced mental state at the time.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stand By Me

To get your vote, what one characteristic must a candidate for the highest office in the land exhibit? What second trait? Third? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 817).

My list of admirable traits include humility, a knack for knowing what is appropriate, patience and persistence.

The most important trait is humility because so many things flow from it. Of course, I'm not speaking of weakness but of humility. First, I look for the leader to see himself as a humble member of humanity—as a faithful child of God within the family of man. That is, the leader will see all other individuals as his equal and due respect on a fundamental level. Being humble means that one can laugh at oneself as readily as he can laugh at the foibles of others. Being humble also implies that one is able to focus on purpose and not let ones own ego or that of others get in the way of it. Being humble also means that one counts ones blessings and lives in gratitude and generosity. Last but perhaps most important of all, humility means one does not think that spin or authority is more operative than facts.

Second, the leader will have a ready sense of what is appropriate. This includes a reliable perspective based on ethics and practicality. It implies a sense of what is doable. This means that the leader will sometimes disappoint the purists who deplore compromise.

Thirdly, the leader will have two important character traits – he will have patience and persistence. These traits are strongly correlated with courage and conviction.

What I have not mentioned in the above list is the notion that I and the candidate must agree on policy. But actually desirable, effective policy will also arise from humility, respect, gratitude, generosity, appropriateness, timeliness, the realistically negotiable, persistence, courage and conviction. If a policy rings true on these points, then I will be greatly attracted to it.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

We Don't Want to Go There

Yesterday I discussed the essential necessity of individual respect within healthy democracies. Today I would like to discuss the proper response to any suggestions advocating treating others with disrespect. Whether it be on the streets or in the courts or in the oval office, the proper response is a simple, firm, and unwavering affirmation uttered with absolute conviction - “We don't want to go there.”

How often this simple, dismissive statement could have averted all sorts of sinful and often criminal activity arising from attempts to gain selfish satisfaction in one way or another. “We don't want to go there!” said with conviction means that we are not to engage in fantasies, discussions, or rationalizations and self-justifications (which are sure to come – yes, certain to come - if we continue in this vein). We shall not experiment with, map out, feed, or entertain this notion in whatever shape or fashion for to do so will only serve to reinforce our illicit desires and delusions and eventually lead to direct or complicit assent or action. If you have not heard or said “We (or I) don't want to go there” recently, then you and your friends are remarkably innocent or your imaginations are singularly and atypically dull. The human imagination enticed with the seven deadly sins ensures that we must keep close at hand the paradoxically freeing, abortive statement “We don't want to go there.”

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sportsmanlike Conduct

In general, sportsmanship refers to virtues such as fairness, self-control, courage, and persistence, and has been associated with interpersonal concepts of treating others and being treated fairly, maintaining self-control if dealing with others, and respect for both authority and opponents. (Source:

One of the most difficult concepts to realize in practice is sportsmanship. To demonize our opponents is easier and far more fun than to humanize them. I think of Churchill calling the Nazi dictator every pejorative term in the book. His disdainful contempt of Hitler expressed over national radio may have well helped secure victory. Would it have been anyway right for Churchill to meekly plead for charitable understanding and sympathy for hapless, misguided men and not roar blatant contempt at a pack of depraved jackals?

Yet civilization clearly depends upon belief in what Hitler plainly did not – that respect for the individual widely observed secures the long-term integrity of the group. That is, the understanding of democracy that individual respect is inalienable derives from appreciation that such a belief is in the long-term best interest of the nation. Once exceptions to individual respect are made, the practice quickly becomes carcinogenic with broad and lethal implications for the state itself. It is not an overstatement to say that the integrity of the state depends upon its unfailing commitment to individual respect.

Sportsmanship is characterized by goodwill consistently exercised even in competitive situations. Its central attribute is acknowledgment that nothing is more valuable than the worth of an individual (even when that individual is a flat-out competitor). Sportsmanship in the end depends upon envisioning the hellhole human affairs would become without it. Thus, the democratic state goes to great expense and effort to secure due process of law—a conviction that even the sometimes contemptible are due a fair trial not only for their benefit, but for society's long-term survival as well.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rock-Like Security

Which parent gave you rock-like security? How so? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 807).

Unfailing generosity was the source of the rock-like security given to me by my parents. Never once did they begrudgingly provide me any resource that derived from the disciplines of love (to which they assiduously adhered). There was absolutely no physical need that ever went begging. A good number of my wants – especially those considered positive contributions to happiness or health – were supplied. I was spoiled not in the sense that I was a selfish, unruly, domineering brat; but it is undeniable that I didn't fully appreciate how good I had it and how fortunate I was. I certainly do not want to discount the importance of material stability – such dismissal often being a peculiar affliction of those who experienced material equanimity in their own childhood. But surely of equal importance was the fact that I was never made to feel a gratuitous burden or curse – an unpleasant tax leveled on the family. Quite to the contrary, I was always made to feel fully welcomed and loved, and a valuable, contributing member of the household. It is from this perspective that I view with shock and dismay the malignant neglect and belligerent diatribes I have seen leveled at children in public by sorely inconvenienced parents.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Smudge Pot Behavior

Did you ever write a letter in the heat of the moment and then choose not to mail it? Why? Did you send a revised version instead? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 805).

For me the biggest issue is not written communication, but spoken words. Words spoken in the heat of the moment out of limitless self-righteousness are almost always hurtful rather than helpful. They make me a royal jackass. This is because I see the other person as an enemy, thus I make them into something less than human and speak to that stereotype glaring in my head. I see all my intentions and actions as above reproach and find those of my enemy totally reprehensible. This all or nothing mindset spills over into speech which becomes ridiculously intemperate. I discount the other person's point of view as being completely absurd. Not only do I stereotype those with which I am angry, I demonize them while viewing myself in total righteousness. My mindset is one of arrogant certitude. And more times than I like to admit, the person to which I am speaking remains rational and avoids tit for tat behavior. My extensive irrationality causes them to view me with some wonder and pity. The greatest victim may be truth itself for fact-finding goes begging while I aver that all important facts are on my side and that silly excuses make up theirs. Communication as a mutual two-way process has no place in this polluted diatribe – as neither does any hope of making a simple human connection.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Paradox of Effectiveness

Do you consider yourself strong or weak? What does it mean to you to show regard for the weak? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 791).

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89).
Poems. 1918.

God’s Grandeur

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The ultimate question is: where does true strength lie? We have learned the hard way not to trust anyone who claims that they are or should be in absolute control. Whether it's on the job or in the nationstate, a walking red flag is anyone who claims they should have and inherently deserve absolute control – instead of reserving that role only for God himself. That is one reason why faith is so freeing. We don't have to circle the wagons and constantly stress over defending our limitless authority which does not and should not exist in the first place.

It's sad when a person in a leadership role thinks it's all about power and authority rather than love and service – when their stance is defensive and negative rather than positive; when the fixation is on keeping others down and in line and not lifting them up with encouragement. As obviously counterproductive as this fixation is when viewed in terms of effective human relations, communication, and productivity; it is a failure seen all too often. Those who should know better fancy such behavior as stern strength and end up assigning demigods and misanthropes rather than humanitarian servants of God to positions of trust.

One of the most useful insights ever conceived is that we are all weak creatures when compared to the grandeur of God; and that God is and ought to be in control with all humanity standing humbly before him. We should fix this image in our minds and live by it assiduously even if the God of love turns out to be a total fabrication.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why I Can Get Out of Bed in the Mornings

Which helps you most with present troubles: Remembering God's actions in the past? Or claiming God's promises for the future? Why? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 790).

My soul not infrequently cries out for the foolish things I do. Sometimes I wish I could take them back and expunge all memory of them. But sometimes looking back I see that my foolishness has resulted in growth and maturity. And this is not mere rationalization. Sometimes good things do in fact arise from unpromising situations. Since this was in no way planned or foreseen by me, I consider these redemptive acts of God. I am thankful for them and mystified that such poor ingredients have resulted in positive consequences. It is not an exaggeration to say that the negative is transmuted into something positive and productive. It is for this reason that I have learned to accept my failings and not deny or reject them. It is like a beautiful child has been born out of a foolish and immature sexual encounter and the parents, humbled by the miraculous outcome, assume full responsibility for the nurturing of a child in a stable relationship. I come to see, in the end, that tragedy is not the inevitable outcome of my limitations and weaknesses. However humbling and embarrassing, they are redeemable through the grace of God. Over time this builds trust not only in God, but in my ability to make a positive contribution despite myself. I do my best and trust God to make any necessary amends on the rebound.

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Hold Your Horses

Are you good at waiting? How long do you wait before giving up? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 789).

Waiting is something people have to be very good at. We all await together the coming of the New Jerusalem – a place filled with God's light of happiness, goodness, and justice rolling down like waters. In the meantime – and it's been a long meantime – we must wait. But our waiting is not characterized by inaction but by sometimes excruciatingly painful attempts to advance. Thus we constantly live with a carrot before us, and with this incentive we refuse to flag or tire. In our personal lives we find ourselves often waiting for better times ahead. The next promotion or possessing the ideal gadget may never come. But God instills in us persistent hope, and this lightens every burden. So it turns out we are quite good at waiting. Kathy has on her closet door the saying: “God give me patience and give it to me now.” We know the real processes of the world and their tendency to lag our yearning for immediate gratification. Our ability to imagine and yearn for a different configuration of things from the present is our greatest strength and our most persistent sorrow.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Learning to Ride a Bike: Lessons Learned

Unlike walking,
We learn to ride a bike
In the years of remembrance;
And many of us do remember
The fear that froze us at first
As we grasped the handlebars
Tilting the frame over awkwardly
Clumsily finding the pedals with our feet
Thinking this can't be done
And yet knowing it must be done
(After all, even fledgling birds learn to fly)
So at last we waiver down the street
Gradually getting the hang of it
With each uncertain change of direction
Sinking lessons deeper within the inner cortex of the mind
There to fester first and then to heal and grow
Into The Ethic of Experience:
That we must focus on purpose more and less on self
That we must act in faith even when its crazy
That relatively minor things can take on great significance
That untried innocence is a cheap commodity
That risk and worth often go together
That integrity is not an abstraction with which to toy,
But is the very core of mastery.

The following excerpt (here more abbreviated) from the movie “Evan Almighty” was an illustration in David Miller's sermon today in which he discussed faith in the midst of challenges. Pastor David's sermons (in text) are found here: (David's Sermons)

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Fond Remembrance

Bird Favoring Pete
As a child, what “big deal” do you remember waiting for Dad to do with you or for you? How did you feel when the planned event actually happened? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 789).

When I was about 11 we lived in Ellenton, Florida. We had not lived there long, having just moved from Oviedo. Perhaps I was feeling a bit as if much in my life was outside of my control. For whatever reason (and it seems that many of the things we desire have no readily identifiable cause) I decided I wanted a bird. I approached my father about it, and he took it under consideration. When I approached him a second time about it, he agreed. I was delighted and excited. We drove immediately to the dimestore in Bradenton – towards the back of the store they kept birds and I think fish as well. I remember picking out a green parakeet and selecting a cage and accessories. I was happy holding the cage in the car on the way home. I felt love and appreciation for my father. I excitedly showed it to mother when we got back, and she smiled lovingly and appreciatively. We named the bird Pete, and he lived with us for many years. At first we clipped his wings, but soon stopped the practice and he flew freely about the house.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Between a Rock & a Hard Place

Child Prisoners -  Auschwitz-Birkenau

Are you comfortable with David's [in the Psalms] many cries for vengeance? How might a Christian pray “against” enemies?.... What injustice around you hurts enough to move you to pray against it? If nothing does, what does that say about your compassion and concern for justice for other people? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 784).

What if Christ's crucifixion had developed a little differently? What if Jesus's enemies had not attacked him directly, but instead had approached him with this ultimatum: “Give up your ministry forthwith or we will brutally murder your mother Mary and your brothers this very afternoon. We will not touch you personally, on the contrary, we will make sure that you live the rest of your days in the lap of ease and luxury.” I wonder what Jesus would have done given this option. The Christian's viewpoint is colored when the assumption is made that only the self will be hurt by decisions made. Clearly, this is often not the case. For example in World War II, I could have with great ease and equanimity prayed for the gentle nudging of Hitler's conscience. Forgiveness daily could have flowed from my heart and lips. Unfortunately, it was really not my place to forgive, but rather for those he tortured and murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau. And if I had any empathy at all for the victims of hatred, it of necessity meant that some prayers would call for enforced justice as well as compassion. Forgiveness of an enemy when offered for myself by myself is highly commendable and clearly the Christian thing to do. It is a much more difficult matter when I presume to forgive in the stead of others.

We are often challenged to have empathy – to put ourselves in someone else's shoes and see things from their point of view. This, it is assumed, will result in compassion. Often the opposite is true. For example, the abolitionist during days of slavery was far more likely to be infuriated rather than filled with compassion when he tried to assume the slaveholder's viewpoint of people as chattel. There is a saying that extreme cases make for bad law. Maybe Nazis and racists are extreme cases and provide little guidance for dealing with less lurid enemies – say more in the line of “enemies” encountered in everyday competition – as when two people are vying for the same promotional opportunity. Today I was at TASCO (a City teen program) and overheard a young teenage boy say with conviction while watching a movie “I don't like mean people.” The thought immediately crossed my mind that here is a true American. I greatly like to think of my country as a place that does not like mean people. I like to think that compassion and goodwill characterize it even in times of stress and duress. But we are faced with an enigma – can compassion extend not only to the innocent but to the guilty as well – and exactly what form does such compassion take? Hatred takes on the character of obsessive mental illness – perhaps such an understanding is a prayerful place to begin.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Certitude or Servanthood

Mother at 21

If you could ask “one thing” of the Lord, and have it granted, what would it be? Why don't you ask? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 776).

First off, I would try to cheat a bit and ask several favors in place of one. I would ask that he plainly show me his will and that he give me the grace to affirm and do it. I would ask this because it is not always clear to me if I am accurately sensing my Father's will instead of conveniently rationalizing that my will is his. The second part of my request acknowledges that I can have difficulty affirming and doing his will even when I am certain of it. Often, I could use less “grace” and more courage and the spunk to work hard. I need the gifts of discernment, stability, and strength. Why then don't I ask for this? Because certain knowledge of God's will would leave no wiggle room for excuses. Also, in a way, I think such certitude could be dangerous. It could be corruptive and lead to insufferable arrogance – or at least the widespread perception of it.

When my mother was a young woman she found the Lord one evening at a revival. The hymn that touched her heart that night during altar call was “Fill Me Now.” This hymn does not ask for certitude of knowledge, but the presence of the spirit. The difference represented is not subtle, and it was a difference that marked the tenor and tone of mother's entire life.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Whatever It Takes

How do you psych yourself for a challenge? A conflict? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 771).

To psych myself up for a challenge or conflict I do one of two diametrically opposed things – I image the encounter as closely and concretely as possible, or conversely, I focus not on the details of the encounter but, skipping over all that, I strive to feel good about the ultimate goal expressed in abstract terms that emote highly favorable connotations and feelings and that do not envision specific images. For example, if someone tells me that they gave me as a reference and that I should expect a phone call from a prospective employer, I will do my best to envision a phone call in which I specifically have things to say in the reference interview. This is the typical practice I have when I must give a speech. I practice it as much as possible visualizing myself in front of the audience. Sometimes, however, I do not envision the means concretely, but rather I indulge in fuzzy images and strong emotions. For example, when I registered to get an advanced degree, I did not envision in grueling detail late nights of study and stressful hours of research, rather I skipped over all that and anticipated the good feelings I would have in being a student and eventually graduating. Thus, to psych myself up, I do whatever is necessary – either envisioning reality in concrete detail or else abstracting it and wrapping it up in good feelings. The important thing is that I accept the challenge willfully and eagerly. The more unpleasant the task, the more necessary it is to hide concrete imagery. Another example is when I buy a new car. This activity involves both approaches. I vividly envision myself driving the shiny, brand new car; while at the same time I obfuscate the drudgery of making monthly car payments for five years – either not picturing the writing of 60 hefty checks or else basking in the generalized feeling of responsibility and reliability accepting such an obligation gives. Again, in psyching up I do whatever it takes to move forward.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wrong Questions Yield Wrong Answers

Think of a time in your life when you have gotten the wrong answer because you asked the wrong question. Silly you, what happened? When did you finally wake up and fly right? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 748).

Without going into specifics, let me share with you some of the wrong questions that I have asked in my life. Clearly, asking the wrong questions is not only common, but has had a profound effect on personal as well as national life.
  • How can I be like him? – Not, how can I be myself?
  • What will bring me the most income and status (security)? – Not, what will bring me the most fulfillment?
  • How can I not be embarrassed in this situation? – Not, what is the most loving, loyal thing to do?
  • Why am I being humiliated? – Not, how can I show more humility and loving kindness?
  • Will I be inconvenienced? – Not, how can I show compassion and helpfulness?
  • What are the weaknesses of this person? – Not, what are the strengths of this person?
  • What have they done for me? – Not, what have I done for them?
  • How can they better show their love for me? – Not, how can I better show my love for them?
  • Why am I so dumb and unsuccessful? – Not, why do I insist on asking all the wrong questions?
  • How should the most powerful nation on earth act in this situation? Not, what is the right thing for our country to do?
  • I would borrow a question asked in the 19th century: how dare they oppose our keeping slaves? – Not, how does “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” apply not just to me but to all humanity?
  • What is the patriotic thing to do? – Not, what is the right thing to do?
  • How dare these little people oppose us? – Not, how do things look from their point of view?
  • How can I just get by? – Not, how can I excel?
  • What's in it for me? – Not, how can I best serve?
  • Why can't they be different? Not – what qualities do they have to which I am blind? How can I be different?
  • What is my will? Not – what is God's will?
  • How can I advance my short-term interest? – Not, how can I advance my long-term interest?
  • Why am I so weak and awkward? – Not, what are my strengths, and do I have the courage to develop them?
  • How can I find total security in all things? – Not, what matters more to me than fear?
  • How can I hang onto the past? Not, how can I bring the past into fulfillment and fruition?
  • How can I be oblivious to my own mortality? – Not, how do I most meaningfully acknowledge my own mortality?
  • How can I not change? – Not, how can I best accept change?
  • How do I avoid admitting a mistake? – Not, how can I be more gracious and generous in facing facts?
Wrong questions as a rule arise from fear and resultant defensiveness. Wrong questions often come from attempting to allay our fears by framing them within a neat and manageable “reality” – that is, fiction, of our own. In this sense, wrong questions flow from an ingrained selfishness. Better questions begin to flow when we focus on God's loving will for us, and when we acquire the will and generosity to freely do it. At any age, this represents a quantum leap in maturity. The Bible speaks of this freedom from fear: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18 NIV).

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Gifts with Strings Attached

Who owes us “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”: (a) Our Creator? (b) Our country? (c) Our community? (d) Our family? Where do you go to find these things, especially happiness? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 743).

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.... (The Declaration of Independence).

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are needs created in the heart of humanity by our creator. Sometimes it seems strange to think that needs are a gift. Surely some kind of surfeit must be a gift. And gifts, we think, should not have strings attached; but clearly the attainment of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is shrouded in a matrix of strings. God in his grace gives us dignity by instilling in us this need; it is up to us to seek and find how this need can be met. An accommodating government is a necessary though far from sufficient instrument in helping to fill this need. Many other institutions are also needed – the family, the church, the private sector graced by entrepreneurial creativity. The largess of government comes replete with strict limitations imposed on its citizens to ensure that needs are universally met, and not just met for a few. ”Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” inherently imply a significant degree of individual restraint. Too often we think that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are like gates opening up to the plains of full abandonment. We come to find the hard way (and too often tragically) that we need the structure of home more than we need the abandonment enticing us with the delusive urge “don't fence me in.” Too often we have a lust for liberty and not a love for it.

Thus we find that the defining needs of man are gifts of the creator. But we find these gifts have little resemblance to the new-found notion of entitlements. The story goes that as Benjamin Franklin emerged from Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, a woman asked him, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”. Mr. Franklin replied, “A republic, madam – if you can keep it.” (Source)

There is a sense in which the Constitutional Convention owed the American people a republic; but the greater truth is that this gift comes with great responsibility and the need for discipline – above all the discipline of humility. In short, what the founding fathers gave us was a “honey do list” without end and without a completion date. Likewise, God's gift to humanity of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is a “honey do list” with no end in sight. It is a gift requiring tremendous effort and the tremendous grace of God.

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