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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Are We Developing a Caste System?

Have you ever wished you had not been born? If so, when and why? Did your parents ever say they wished you'd never been born? How did such words affect your outlook on life (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1083).

These girls [in India], who belong to the Untouchable caste, make dung patties which are used for fuel and heat by members of all the castes. This job was considered so unclean that other castes did not associate with the members of society that performed it.

Although born into the Kshatriya caste, Mahatma Gandhi spent much of his life working to bring the Untouchables equality. It was Gandhi who first named the Untouchables "Harijans," meaning "children of God."

The God of love spawns fecundity and vernal hope, generosity, industry, and happiness. The god of hatred, rejection, and indifference spawns despair and paralysis or, its partner, the the will to lash out.

One of the greatest oppressions of my time has been the tendency of society to exclude others from community life. It can take on the color of a caste system. It is common for young men in poverty stricken communities to come into trouble with the law. They then occur a criminal record. In America, anyone with a criminal record is anathema to potential employers. A criminal record hounds one for life and leads to despair. In our attempt to be and maintain employment citadels with unbesmirched skirts, we relegate others to the dust bins of society. We need to consider the bitter harvest that this incurs not only on the unfortunate, but upon the tenor of our own spiritual lives.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shunned Routine Maintenance

Do you have anything in your refrigerator that has gone bad? Why is it still there? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1096).

Why is due maintenance often a victim of negligence? It is more readily understood if maintenance is avoided because of cost. For example, putting on a new roof or replacing a marginally operating air conditioner are such examples. But what about those cases when the cost is negligible? Why do we put off maintenance then? 

Acquisition and disbursement is more properly seen as a cycle. My wife Kathy saw it this way. Whenever she would buy a new dress or blouse, she would recycle an old one giving it to a thrift store or a friend who might want it.

To my misfortune I tend to have the opposite behavior. Rather than recycling old shoes, for example, I just put them under the bed with the rest.

The basic problem for me is that I identify with the old shoes. To throw away a pair of my old shoes seems personal--kind of as if I were tossing out part of me. The polar opposite of this maintenance problem is when one does not identify enough with the object in question. A condition of outright estrangement and alienation can prevail. Often this takes on a negative snowballing character. Say, I have a car that is causing me some trouble. I might take an active dislike for the car and "punish" it by neglecting even routine service. I can be looking for a good excuse—a mechanical problem providing me a convenient tipping point—to get rid of the car entirely.

Like with my wife Kathy, it is preferable in these matters if emotion can be limited and objectivity allowed to take the upper hand.


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Monday, January 28, 2013

Hellish Obsession; Heavenly Balance

If you had to pick a torturous "fate worse than death," what would it be? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1080).

The first thing that comes to mind is to be sitting in a dentist chair undergoing an excruciatingly painful root canal constantly trapped in that position for the rest of my life. While this may not be the worst thing possible, it does help get to a matter that would qualify as a fate worse than death. And I speak of course of unendurable, unrelieved, inescapable pain. 

Interestingly, the opposite would not be desirable either. I also would not look forward to an experience of unrelieved and inescapable pleasure. Unrelieved, inescapable anything would be hell on earth in my book. Intermissions are extremely valuable and necessary. Addictions of any type never wear well.

This line of thought returns us to the age old concept that balance is key. One of the strongest arguments against pornography is that obsession with it can chain us to addiction so that there is no intermission from thinking about sex. So we find that even sex – an absolute essential for survival of the race – cannot be an unrelieved focus There is, after all, thankfully other work and play that needs to be done.

The listing of contrasts that are enhanced by balance are endless. I would like to take the example of "just the facts" versus boundless speculation. It is clear that problem-solving involves both facts and speculation – that some balance between them is necessary for progress.

Also subject to the need for balance is that contrasting cynicism and hope. For example, it is deadly to think that human nature is hopelessly and fatally flawed (cynicism). It is equally dangerous to think that hope alone is efficacious and there is no need to account for or consider the negatives of human nature

Let us pray for the freedom and peace that is only possible through having balance in our lives.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Basis of Reconciliation

What happened when Jesus died? How did his death and resurrection make salvation possible? The answer is that by the voluntary sacrifice of his life, Christ willingly accepted the punishment for our sins, so that through our faith in him we could be reconciled with God – permanently.(Through the Year with Jimmy Carter, "The Most Important Moment in History", page 26).

Today (January 27th) is my 69th birthday. Yesterday on reading Jimmy Carter's meditation for the day I gleaned at this late date in my life a new insight. It came as a story that formed in my mind. Being a story, it does not strictly conform to facts. But for me it advances my understanding of man's reconciliation to God and God's reconciliation to man through the life and death of his only son, Jesus Christ. 

--The Story--

Once I had a neighbor and we never seemed to hit it off right. It began years ago when a large trash container was stationed on our street in front of my house. One day my neighbor came over with his own tools and volunteered to trim a tree in my yard and put the trimmings in the container. I told him I liked the tree the way it was and not to trim it. With some consternation he left my premises. From that point on things became colder and colder between us. When we approached each other on the street, we avoided eye contact and looked past each other.

Now my neighbor had a young son and in time his son and I became friends. Even so his father and I remain estranged. Then one day the son was involved in a serious motor scooter accident. I went to the hospital to visit him. When I went in his father was there, and when we glanced at each other the age-old wound between us asserted itself once again. Eventually, the doctor came in with a foreboding diagnosis. I looked at my friend lying unconscious on the bed, and I began weeping freely and uncontrollably. His father in silence looked at me for a long time. Then he came over quietly and embraced me. After a while he said, "I must love any man who loves my son so much."

Thus we are reconciled with our heavenly father when we love and believe in his son--the suffering servant for mankind.

[ Mother & I once attended Jimmy Carter's Sunday school class in Plains, GA.]

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Appropriate Roles, Appropriate Times and Places

We try to convey God's message through words and deeds. Which is easier for you? In what ways might one without the other confuse people? How can you share God's message more clearly and openly? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1079).

God has blessed me with a boss that is almost the perfect example of integrity, honesty, compassion, patience, and diligence. Yet, over the years, I have seldom if ever heard him use any of these terms. I will have to say that it would almost be a disappointment at this point to come work one day and suddenly to have him effusively giving lectures on any of these qualities – inevitably there would seem to be a color of self self-aggrandizement involved. Mark does not consider any of these qualities as medals to be proudly worn. It is experiences like this that make me greatly biased for the appreciation of words over deeds.

But something more is at play here. What if instead of a systems systems analysts Mark were a priest? Somehow I expect a priest to clearly enunciate in words what Mark lives in deeds. Much the same way I would expect President Obama to be a great president, not to tell me historically (as a history professor would do) the qualities of a great president. That is, I have a rather neat distinction between the roles people play. Now say that I were Catholic and attended the same Sunday school class as Mark. Now in class we have a new social situation and in this context I would expect Mark to assume a different role – a role in which a clear statement of the principles and values important to him could be expressed in words. Thus, it becomes clearer why I sometimes cringe when people "witness for Christ" in what I take to be inappropriate ways. It would make me uncomfortable to go to the doctor's office with a medical problem and have the doctor address me concerning it like my preacher would do. This is all probably deeply unfair, but for some inexplicable reason that's the way it is for me.

I would like to make one major caveat, however. I can easily imagine a situation in which Mark could comfortably play the role of priest at work – and in fact he has done so when my wife was deathly ill. He walked outside with me and we sat on a bench. He talked to me quietly, and if I could imagine the ideal priest, it would certainly have been Mark at that place and time. Thus, it's clear that context matters and there's no hard and fast rules that apply--as humans we are always free to do the helpful thing.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Situational Compliance

Jeremiah obeyed God instantly, without questioning. How willing are you to go along with things that you don't understand? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1079).

This is a vast cosmos we live in and we have to get used early on to the idea that we wont and can't understand a thimbleful of what there is to know. Recognizing this fact is fundamental to having any amount of humility. That said, I have to admit that one of my pet peeves is to be commanded to do something without any sense or explanation as to why. I think of Tennyson's famous lines: “Theirs not to reason why,/ Theirs but to do & die....” Surely if I am called upon to kill others or be killed I am due some explanation – some sense of purpose. The Declaration of Independence states: “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” Giving an explanation, a reason, a sense of why is simply the decent thing to do to show consideration and respect. Everyone paradoxically likes to consider themselves both concurrently equal and special. Being the recipient of a reasonable explanation makes one feel both. Much of human dignity is based upon the simple recognition that a reasonable amount of explanation is rightly due.

Even so I can feel with parents who, after being incessantly interrogated by their youngster as to “why?” say flat-out “Do it....Because I said so!” At some point we have to trust others to have our best interest at heart—we have to accept the validity of authority. For example, it would be inappropriate for me to stop and interrogate a police officer directing traffic as to why I must take a detour—sometimes I need to “just do it.” In this sense, I believe in “situational compliance.” There are some situations in which I feel no explanation is required, while in others I am certain that I'm due an exhaustive one.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Untidy Transactional Processes

If you were a lawyer, would you prefer to prosecute or defend? Would you prosecute someone you felt was innocent? Defend someone you thought was guilty? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1077).

I would suspect that the ideal lawyer would be someone who could perform either role passionately – that of defense or prosecution. Not only this, but someone who could effectively play devil's advocate if necessary either in defense or prosecution – could powerfully prosecute the innocent and defend the guilty. Our legal system which guarantees legal representation really requires this of lawyers. To a large extent, the sense of justice requires much more than objectivity. It requires passionate subjectivity. We have to believe in theory and practice that everyone – even the state – requires a full throttle presentation of their case. We do not expect cold, judicial objectivity from advocates but rather passion. A defense or prosecuting attorney who struggles too hard to be coolly fair, objective, and judicial simply does not understand the role they are to play to effectuate justice through process. We do not expect attorneys to be primarily scientists but salesmen. This said, it should be recognized that a jury expects to have their cake and eat it too. In other words, a prosecutor or a defense attorney that showed no regard for objectivity in seeking the discovery of the facts of the case would lose credibility. While we expect an attorney (like a salesman) to be biased, we will fault him if he seems giddy and without his feet planted firmly on the ground. 

This no doubt is why we frequently turn to lawyers to fill the roles of politicians. Like a legal representative, we do not expect our political advocates to be coolly objective and dispassionate in all matters. We expect to see some passion, some emotion. We must ask; What kind of constituents would choose a cold fish for a representative? My guess is a citadel of intellectuals who are unwilling and unable to accept life on realistic terms - people unwilling to accept their own humanity with its inherent untidy transactional processes.

And of course I speak not only of lawyers, but of all of us. Unless we are delusional and phony even to ourselves, we cannot believe that we approach life disinterestedly. We must intentionally recognize our biases and seek helpful – yet possible and practical - ways to adjudicate them.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On Making & Keeping Promises

Think of one promise you have kept for a long time and one promise that was broken. Why is it important to you to keep a promise? How did (or do) you feel about a broken promise? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1076).

Interrogation by torture does not provide reliable results because people have great incentive to say whatever their torturers want to hear. Some promises are like that in a way. Our arms are being twisted mercilessly and we give in by making a promise that we have no real intention of keeping. This is a common experience in child-parent relations in which the child insists and will not let the matter rest until the parent gives in with a promise. The child seems to be asking for a freely entered contract between parent and child when in fact the parent has no choice other than to at least superficially agree. So then the value of this “verbal contract” is dubious. This can also be the case in business relationships. For resulting performance can be either earnest and meticulous or lax. That is, if I have contracted with a party to perform some work on my house but during negotiations was childish and had no eye to fairness but was irrationally selfish, then I should not be surprised if later job performance suffers; for although my demands and expectations were unreasonable and detached from realty, the performance must always conform to it. 

This phenomenon repeatedly occurs in international affairs when agreements lack genuine mutuality. The stark reality is that performance will be based on reality regardless of ideological conceits. Later, no amount of self-righteous tantrums and indignation on our part can hide the fact that from the outset we made childish demands.

One lasting promise that we should make is to keep negotiations real; that our demands and expectations not be childish, but rather based upon maturity and mutuality.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

God in America

Do you believe the fate of your country depends on whether the political leaders look to God for guidance? Why? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1076).
(This blog dedicated in memory of James Hood, an acquaintance of mine recently deceased. He understood it all

Today Barack Obama was inaugurated as president for the second time. During this ceremony as is often the case in heavily symbolic state functions, petitions were made to God Almighty. This is always done despite the clear distinction between church and state in American. Why is it then that this apparently inappropriate mention of God at a public event is so consistently done? 

To understand this it is essential to understand the sacred place that a sense of divine leadership has within the hearts and minds of Americans. Everyone that I know personally without exception (even when not “religious”) holds the tenet that individual conscience must be respected. During the existence of the military draft, even during times of crisis, the United States always provided for avenues of conscientious objection. It is simply impossible to understand the American character without understanding this provision for the individual conscience – for the belief that people are to be led by their "best lights". This is the key responsibility for every citizen even though doing so sometimes causes intense debate and conflict as the guidance of "best lights" can lead individuals to see differently. Thus, we can only conclude that it is God's will that the nation sometimes be divided. It is God's way perhaps of providing for balance and eventual clarity. This accounts for the amazing--even at times miraculous—picture of political enemies sitting down together in peace and mutual respect and even friendship at the same table. It is almost as if they are thinking "We do not understand this ourselves – our perceptions can be so different and strife so seemingly unavoidable, even necessary...but the last thing I would want you to do is betray your conscience. Somehow, despite how strongly I feel about this or that issue, it is much more important that you follow your conscience (and I follow mine) than anything else. In the end we'll just have to prayerfully affirm together—in God we trust." This accounts also, by the way, for the huge admiration of Americans for Martin Luther King, Jr. Even when faced with injustice, he always appealed foremost to the consciences of the American people. This is why the religion of Jesus will always lie at the core of America.

This allowance for the divine can be terribly confounding to American atheists who seem to be unable to make any headway in expunging God from the public square. This will only occur when conscience and “best lights” are expunged. If this were ever to occur, American would be a profoundly different place—it would have, indeed, lost its essential character, its very soul.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Reckoning Reconciliation

Sometimes reconciliation is easier than it looks. Sometimes we think of a whole remote class of things and wonder how we could ever be reconciled to it. For example, if I were one of those people whom the computer revolution passed by, I might feel hopelessly estranged from the whole world of computers. However, now with just a small investment I can purchase a computer myself and get hands on experience with it. Thereby, I could possibly completely change my viewpoint of them from suspicion and fear to acceptance and even love and advocacy. 

During the Vietnam war I went to prison rather than submit to the draft. Therefore, through the years I've had some estrangement from the military. But rather early on, I met a Vietnam veteran and we developed a fast friendship. This served to substantially change my feelings of estrangement.

I remember during my college years an estrangement from scientific subjects. Now with science coverage readily accessible on television, I have a chance of mending this. In fact, currently I'm reading a book by Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted Word: Science as a Candle in the Dark). He is a very personable writer and conveys a sense of friendship as well as understanding. I would much have cherished spending several hours with him in conversation at a coffee shop.

My brother and his wife are Methodist ministers, and so was my father. Even so outside the family ties I had a somewhat distant relationship with clergy. Now I am meeting regularly with a clergy member for breakfast and am gaining a better appreciation for the entire profession and its contributions.

I have felt apart from Muslim believers. But after attending just 5 weeks of mosque services with my son, I have a much kinder perspective on this faith.

My point really comes down to a simple one—we should not be intimated by a conjectured difficulty (almost to the point of determining impossibility) of the task of reconciliation, but simply do those little things that can profoundly affect our viewpoint.

Which brings me again to Carl Sagan and his skepticism regarding religion. In today's reading of Through the Year with Jimmy Carter, President Carter (something of a scientist himself) writes “Dear Lord, may I accept the wonderful revelation that through faith in Christ I can be reconciled with you.” I think that if Carl Sagan had just gotten to meet Jesus he would come to believe in him—certainly at least in the sense that I believe in the goodness and integrity of my boss at work. Let us never fail to do those little things that extend empathy and understanding.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Unification Hymns of Goodwill

Today Marvin Sweat and I had breakfast at Kissin' Cuzzins. This is something we regularly do on Saturdays. Marvin is 91 years old and is (I am reluctant to say) a retired Methodist minister. I say this reluctantly because in many respects he has never retired. He happily fills the role of goodwill ambassador within the spirit of Christ. He sees no one as a stranger, but understands that God loves everyone. This includes everyone at Kissin' Cuzzins--men, women, children, customers, and employees. It is a marvel to see him make loving connection with children and to watch their warm responses. The friendly unity he brings to Kissin' Cuzzins is that often found when a congregation joins in traditional hymns of praise. These stately hymns place us in a context of centuries--even eternity--and remind us of the long-lasting vitality of our faith. It serves to bestow a wave of sturdy good feeling. Mavin believes heartily in the efficacy of goodwill. 

I think about the poisonous emotional stew in which Washington is submerged, for example, and regret that we find so little to unite us. While no one is so silly as to believe that good intentions alone are sufficient, I have come to appreciate the necessity and power of goodwill expressed from a foundation of deepest conviction and belief. Marvin is not a conflicted soul whose misgivings people would quickly pick up on and become wary. He has full knowledge of his intentions which simply embody loving kindness springing from the essence of his faith. He represents for me what our world sorely needs more of.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

My Greatest Accomplishment

What is your greatest accomplishment so far? How long did it take you to do it? What was so hard about it? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1071).

"Greatest" in the question means to me the "most significant". A great achievement has been my continuing to be employed responsibly with one employer for nearly 30 years. But to my mind this does not get to the heart of the matter of measuring accomplishment. I think a better measure of accomplishment is that I have maintained close friendships over the years--some of them measurable and describable only in terms of son-ship, sisterhood and brotherhood. And off the charts was my marriage to Kathy. When the vacuum of not having a mate was resolved in a manner that was profoundly positive and meaningful, words cannot express the sense achievement and the attainment of peace. 

Yet the greatest and most significant accomplishment is something I had little to do with. Clearly I was more recipient than agent. That involves the clarity with which I have been given to appreciate the force, power, and practical applicability of creative love. A lot of people have and do appreciate this. It is not unique in any way other than I now experience it personally with absolute assurance and certitude.

Chicago Feeling Stronger Everyday Lyrics
Songwriters: Peter Cetera, James Pankow

I do believe in you and I know you believe in me, oh yeah, oh yeah.
And now we realize love's not all that it's supposed to be, oh yeah, oh yeah.
And knowing that you would have wanted it this way,
I do believe I'm feelin' stronger every day.

I know we really tried, together we had a love inside, oh yeah, oh yeah.
So now the time has come for both of us to live on the run. oh yeah, oh yeah.
And knowing that you would have wanted it this way,
I do believe I'm feelin' stronger every day.

After what you've meant to me, ooh baby now, I can make it easily.
I know that we both agree the best thing to happen to you
is the best thing that happened to me.

Feelin' stronger every day, feelin' stronger every day.
Feelin' stronger every day (you know I'm alright now),
feelin' stronger every day (you know I'm alright now)…

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Are We for Real?

Title: Pioneer Farmer Gathering Hay

Creator: Breton, Carol

If presents are not good substitutes for time and attention spent on our children, what does that say about what we should be giving to the church and charities? Do you know anyone who tries to to buy God off with gifts instead of obedience (no names)? Are you ever tempted to do this? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1068).

I would like to extend this question to include not only our giving to church and charities, but to the application of ourselves in any pursuit whether it be work, school, marriage, or many other activities. The key question is does my giving signal commitment and acceptance and movement towards rather than estrangement and rejection and movement away from? Is it an attempt on my part to accept responsibility and commitment rather than to escape them? Certainly children have an acute radar that can detect our true intentions, and it is profoundly disturbing for them to sense fundamental rejection rather than acceptance. Bottom line, do my parents love me or not? For love characteristically does not begrudge the cost of commitment, whereas coldness is typically resentful and calculating thereby undermining trust and inducing fear and anxiety. Let us in our human associations and contacts be one of those who embrace people and responsibility and one who highly values the integrity of process and fidelity to commitment. In short, may people see that our love is for real.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

What Me Worry?

Smokers know cigarettes cause cancer. Californians know an earthquake will come eventually. Why do people frequently ignore warnings? What warnings does God have your society? Are you paying attention or ignoring them? (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition, page 1067).

People are generally well aware that disaster could strike most any day, most any way. For example, as I sit here this morning writing my blog an airplane headed for Albert Whitted Airport could crash through the roof of my study and kill me instantly. Therefore, a sane approach to life simply requires us to undergo a process, however subconscious, of probability analysis. If the probabilities are relatively slim we ignore them out of the necessity for psychological peace and for the practical need to focus on immediate tasks at hand.. This is something we all do all the time. It is only when a disaster actually occurs that we love to get on our accusatory stump and rail at the foolhardiness of the unfortunate. 

An essential need becomes the ability to take precise measurements of probability sometimes years in advance. But this is most often impossible so we assume a fatalistic stance – a person will go when his time comes. Or as regards my immediate neighborhood, a hurricane hasn't hit Tampa Bay dead-on for years, so I will chance not spending many thousands of dollars making my home more hurricane proof. An android tablet purchase for me today has immediate rewards and offers immediate reinforcement, while spending the same money on a storm window is speculative and the hurricane may not come for years or ever.

 It would be interesting to speculate what would be my behavior if I knew for certain that in five years a hurricane will hit here. Will I began to get serious at this moment, next week, next month, next year, year after next, in three years? And what issues will erode any initial determination to take decisive action? I can have immediate needs – such as new tires for the car or medical bills. Beyond that there are connotations that trouble me even though the prediction is certain – that is, the forecast still retains some of the feelings I have towards predictions in general which in my experience always carry a significant amount of uncertainly and subjectivity. Thus, the smoker may assess that the critics of smoking have ulterior motives and are just intrusive meddlers in other people's affairs and trying to gain control where it doesn't belong.

The bottom line for me is that when I travel over the Bayway and see condominiums built adjacent to what could be wildly turbulent and destructive waters, I have to admit despite this no-brainer deadringer for foolishness, many retirees have settled there and lived out their lives taking in magnificent views of the sea in unsurpassed tranquility.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

There is Enough Evil in the Crying of the Wind

How would you rate yourself as an optimist on a scale of 1 ("everything that can go wrong will go wrong") to 10 ("every cloud has a silver lining")? 2. When you go on trips, are you a plan-it-for-months type, or a pick-up-and-go type? Is the rest of your family like you? Does this make travel easy or hard? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1067). 

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:28-34 NIV).

Jesus speaks of the raiment of flowers and compares them to the splendor of the clothes of a king. We can also speak of the courage of Solomon. Look at migrating birds and their courage to venture forth in flight, if God so encourages the birds, cannot he also encourage both kings as well as us? 

A resilient question is when does faith transmute from penetrating and wise faith into blind and irresponsible faith? Do we wish God simply to save us from work and the exertion of effort—or to save us despite all the work we do? I much prefer the latter faith. The migrating bird is not given faith that if he sits on the ground and does nothing he will somehow end up in warmer lands, the bird is given faith that if he earnestly spreads his wings in flight, the Lord will help direct him to better climes.

So also, some brands of optimism are more worthy than others. The question always is, does the optimism have wings or is it just slothful thinking? Sometimes we are required to launch forth when no clear and detailed maps of where we must go are available. Even so, especially so, we must make our best effort to provide for possible contingencies, and trust--even have faith--that our best efforts will be honored by God. Obviously, if where we are going has already been mapped out and thoroughly reconnaissanced, the task is more easily defined.

This is why it is seldom helpful to indulge in the blame game when uncharted territory is being explored. "Gotcha" indulgences are not attractive when it was not possible to provide in advance for all, often initially inconceivable, consequences. The question preferably becomes how now to be helpful rather than hurtful given the realities that have developed? Of course the story of Moses comes to mind in which he had to deal with the gripes of his people following their exodus from Egypt.

"The heavenly kingdom, righteousness, and God's will" almost by definition often leads us into uncharted seas. That is why the tone and spirit of love is so important during these times. What we know by God's grace is helpful in spirit serves to counterbalance our ignorance of place. Uncharted seas make it incredibly easy to be mean-spirited and to take cheap shots. It is God's mission for us to do and to be otherwise.

He Reproves The Curlew

O CURLEW, cry no more in the air,
Or only to the water in the West;
Because your crying brings to my mind
passion-dimmed eyes and long heavy hair
That was shaken out over my breast:
There is enough evil in the crying of wind. 

~~William Butler Yeats

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Accountability Mechanisms

People in Jeremiah's day were blind to their faults and easily led to presume their innocence. What accountability mechanisms do you have in place to help detect spiritual blind spots in your life? How can your group or family help in this? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1066).

Too often character flaws are seen as just that – flaws of character – not the unavoidable results following failure to establish accountability mechanisms. This is a serious mistake for all humanity is readily vulnerable to self-presumptions of innocence. It takes accountability mechanisms to enable us to see otherwise. In regards to myself, I have an unrelieved presumption of innocence. It takes looking outside myself – to external mechanisms – for any promise of seeing otherwise. Of course the central problem is that when I look to others for midcourse corrections, the others I choose to provide this service are those I choose. That is, I self-select people who will politely agree that I am forever innocent and clean as the new driven snow and who will find all my motivations are above reproach. Most of the tortured steps in human progress can be finally identified as this – the arduous establishment of reliable accountability mechanisms. The scientific method is clearly one such mechanism. So is the concept of divided government. So is the concept of marketplace competition. In other words, the delusional, self-deceptive biases in human nature are being overcome through the use of corrective external mechanisms. 

This accounts for the persistent signification of the Bible. It is a readily accessible reference. It is a light unto our path no matter what path we are on or where we find ourselves today or tomorrow. The words – especially those of Jesus – constitute an external reference for the validity of tone. It helps us to identify false prophets who fail to ring true to the tone of Christ. It is universally applicable wherever mankind interacts with others or even when he interacts with the inanimate world. That is the essential reason why the religion of Jesus is so important.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Why I'm Dishonest

Is honesty that hard to practice? Why? When is it easy to be truthful? When is it hardest? In what area of life do you need to raise the level of honesty? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1065).

Why did I not volunteer to the professor that I I did not read the assignment for today? Probably for fear that my grade would be hurt, and I don't want to be thought by him or the class as a flake or, even worse, stupid and undisciplined. 

Why did I not tell my brother that I was concerned because his son's beautiful new beach house was in my view besmirched with liquor? Probably because I did not want to offend on the one hand, or look like a fanatic on the other who could not see anything good.

Why did I not tell my boss that I took an extra 20 minutes off for lunch? Probably because I would have had to take vacation time – that is, pay for my indiscretion.

Why is it that I do not tell everyone I meet about my most sensational sex activities ever? Probably because I think it would be inappropriate and furthermore, they don't want to know (hearing of it would make them feel uncomfortable). It would be inappropriate for I would taking pride in something anyone of a certain mind set could easily do--it is therefore a hollow accomplishment--like being extremely proud that I put on my socks this morning.

Why is it that I don't tell the speaker that he bored me to death? Probably because I don't want to hurt or offend and secondly because I feel there's always a possibility it was my fault and I was not fully "there".

Why didn't I tell my wife that I thought her new hairdo made her look ugly. Probably because I do not want to hurt her or our relationship--or be told the unvarnished truth about my own thinning head of hair.

Why don't I tell my Muslim son that I wish he were a Christian? Probably because in my mind the choice of religion has to be the best fit for the believer in question. I do not want to hurt or show lack of appreciation for the complexities and unknowns and unknowable’s of belief preferences.

Why don't I tell someone who is complaining about their situation that I think principally they are to blame? Probably because I doubt any misfortune can be identified entirely as one's own fault. The warp and woof of human experience simply doesn't allow for such simplistic certitude.

Why don't I like Christ rail at the pompous and self-righteous? Probably because unlike Jesus I am not perfect and I'm guilty of much the same. For me it would be the pot calling the kettle black. 

Why don't I tell the doctor that I did not follow his recommendation to walk 30 minutes a day? Probably because I don't want to get him mad at me and threatened to no longer serve me. I also don't want to admit that I am lazy and undisciplined.

Why don't I tell my Republican friends that I think all Republicans have an inveterate mean streak? Probably because I do not want them to think I am self-righteous. And probably because I do not want to hear what they truly think about the down and dirty character flaws of Democrats.

Why don't I tell the hostess that the dish she served me was tasteless mush? Probably because I know her intentions and efforts we honest and true and I value her love much more than the food on my fork. When someone gives their true best, I will seldom find it not good enough.

Why don't I face the fact that my dreams may never come true? Probably because my dreams give me a sense of worth, purpose, hope, and discipline; and, furthermore, I never want to adulterate my faith by saying that God cannot perform miracles.

Why is it that I color my hair so that does not look gray? Probably because I do not want to face the fact that I am getting older by the second. I don't want to look like an old man with washed out hair. (However, as time passes I am grateful for ANY hair.)

Why is it that I try not to look inpatient when standing in line at the checkout counter? Probably because I want to hide the fact that I think I am special and should always come first.

Why don't I admit that I didn't like or appreciate this or that hot book or movie? Because I don't want to look uncool or appear too shallow to appreciate exceptional art or its profundity.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Prophetic Troubles

Do you know of any situations where trouble is coming unless people change? What, if anything, can you do to help them? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1063). 

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Luke 13:34 NIV).

 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23 NIV).

It is worth asking "why do prophets have such a tough time?" The answer is pretty much always the same. The self-righteous are enraged and scandalize that anyone could find anything at all serious about them to criticize. This is due to the fact that in order to be self-righteous, one must have carefully contained ethical imperatives. Broader implications along with the "spirit of the matter" is not to be entertained under any circumstances. Thus, for example, the self-righteous rage at anyone they consider a traitor. Yet, traitorous acts are by them carefully delimitated. Jesus was to them clearly a traitor to his religion. He was obviously worthy of death. Yet all the time, while Jesus's accusers meticulously observed the letter of the law, they flagrantly violated the spirit of the law. They were hardhearted and unforgiving and this had many practical, everyday implications resulting in their being essentially cruel to others-- thus being antithetical to the centrality of God as a loving being. They accused Jesus of traitorous acts for something that they themselves were most thoroughly and seriously guilty of. Once again the many ironies of human behavior and history are plainly evident.

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