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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Beg to Differ

English Standard Version (©2001)
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

New International Version (©1984)
[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

The Message
[Love] Always looks for the best,/ Never looks back,/
But keeps going to the end.

[Love] rejoices in the happiness and virtue of others, and will not believe the contrary except on irrefragable evidence. (Barnes' Notes on the Bible:

One of the most insidious underminers of the concept of love is when love is equated with credulity in its most abject and ridiculous form--when irrefragable evidence standing tall as a 10 foot fact must be ignored due to wildly unlimited "love" demands. One should not underestimate the pressures that can arise when a loved one asks "Whose side are you on anyway?" The answer must always be that I'm on your side; but this cannot mean I am thereby obligated to throw out all shreds of responsibility, discernment, and honesty--that I must in the end abandon all traces of intelligence. Manipulative people often tend to engage others on a guilt trip--especially when it is known that the others aver love--even Christian love. The manipulators well know that their mark takes love seriously--even of utmost and final importance and view it in ethical terms. The first and favorite charge thrown at their mark is "you're a hypocrite....(if you don't see and do things precisely my way)." Such attempted manipulation of those who love is a cheap and easy stratagem to gain the upper hand and with it complete control at the total expense of those manipulated and of truth itself.

Those who love must out of principle resist such blackmail. They must do this not only to retain self-respect, but also out of a sense of obligation to maintain the integrity of the concept of love and the standards of human interaction.

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On Seeing, Speaking, and Hearing

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (Proverbs 17:17 NIV).

Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble. (Proverbs 17:17 The Message). 

First I would like to share with you the personal card I recently had printed.

The Scripture readings from Proverbs says that a friend loves at all times (through all kinds of weather). There was a popular song during the 60s with the words "what the world needs now is love, sweet love." While unconditionally believing in the truth of this message, I have always winced at the phrase "sweet love." I react this way because I know full well that love cannot always be "sweet" if this means innocuous—kindness cannot always mean candy. It must also at times be flat-out honest. Otherwise, it is not love at all. This honesty can be called for in regards to others and most particularly in regards to oneself. Love never can be represented by the three silences of "hear no evil; see no evil; speak no evil" when evil does not refer to sin so much as simple, obvious, and sometimes painful truth. The need is for intrepid honesty in facing, speaking, and hearing the truth. Say what you will about the contentious divisions that sometimes rack our society, it is undeniably important that people be honest with those they respect (and love) as fellow citizens even when, especially when, this causes controversy. The Scripture says that "perfect love drives out fear." That is a good thing to remember when we feel constrained to be dishonest about significant matters with those we love.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Feeling Like a Social Oaf

When I feel like a social oaf and make boneheaded mistakes lacking in any trace of the social graces, I step back and look at the true origin of the blunders. This helps me to stop whipping myself out of embarrassment and consternation—to break the recursive loop of asking myself again and again how could I have been so rude, callous, or cruel. For example, yesterday when I was visiting a church, I asked a lady of uncertain age if a soloist of about 20 years-of-age was her grandson. She quickly corrected me that, no, rather the little toddler was her grandson. After the service I attempted to engage a long-time acquaintance in a rather lengthy catch-up of happenings only to have him reluctantly cut me short because he had immediate responsibilities to perform. In both cases, I sought to do the loving thing executed with the ease and grace of an ice-skater gliding effortlessly on the ice--only to find myself sprawled out spread-eagle on the floor. With my heart so much in the right place, how could I have blundered so badly?

The ultimate source of virtually all social blunders is a lack of complete knowledge. A full and complete knowledge of the situation and the person or persons encountered would allow me to do the right thing--not just try to do the right thing. But in social situations we never have complete knowledge especially when in unfamiliar environments. Therefore, I simply must accept the fact that so long as I do not retreat into a shell like a clam (which itself would be impolite), I will be vulnerable to committing faux pas now and then. On such occasion I must remember that people are largely forgiving--especially since they realize that I could not have known all the facts—and that, after all, my heart was in the right place. I remember in the hospital when my wife Kathy was seriously ill, a nurse wanting to be congenial and compassionate asked if the patient was my daughter. I explained that no, she was my wife. I hope and pray that the nurse understands how much I appreciate that she made some personal connection with me at this painful time, and it means absolutely nothing to me that she did not have complete knowledge--she had knowledge enough, my wife was deathly ill.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Breakfast with Marvin Sweat

Marvin Sweat

Saturday morning during breakfast, Marvin Sweat (a 91 year-old retired Methodist minister) shared with me that during his ministry he always ended his sermons with a poem from a selection of poems that he knows by heart. He recited two examples which follow. His memorized version of "The Touch of the Master's Hand” is more abbreviated than the one given here (after sermons Marvin recited only through the sixth stanza). 

Wouldn't You? 

I'd like to tell the story sweet of Jesus,
Wouldn't you?

I'd like to help some other folks to meet their savior,
Wouldn't you?

I'd like to travel all the way and hear my savior say,
“You've helped my work along today....”
I'd like that...
Wouldn't you?

The Touch of the Master's Hand 

'Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.

"What am I bid, good people", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,"

But, No,
From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with its' bow.

"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.

The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The Touch of the Masters Hand."

And many a man with life out of tune
All battered with bourbon and gin
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin.

A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.

But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
 he worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters' Hand.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

My Favorite Books

Book of Nehemiah Chapter 3-1
(Bible Illustrations by Sweet Media)

What is your favorite book of the Bible? What is your favorite book apart from the Bible? How did each of your favorites turn out in the end? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1103).

Any Christian, of course, highly values the Gospels along with the entire New Testament. They are simply indispensable. But I have to admit that my favorite book is found in the Old Testament. I love the book of Nehemiah for it shows the tangible application of faith in a construction project. Nehemiah epitomizes my view of a practical and effective man of faith.

Apart from the Bible two books stand out. The Methodist Hymnal provides the musical underpinnings of my faith. It is hard to overestimate the impact of the weekly singing of hymns beginning in my formative years so that the theology, phraseology, and tunes of the hymns become second nature and deeply ingrained. The confessional in the Sacrament of Holy Communion (which appears in the hymnal) is forever etched in my memory and portrays well the stance I desire to take in this imperfect life. It appears in bold in the hymnal indicating the entire congregation is to read aloud: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all men: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine majesty. We do earnestly repent and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father. For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen 

Recently another book has come to my attention that promises to be a companion of mine for the rest of my life. It is a book of daily meditations written by the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. The title is: Through the Year with Jimmy Carter. This book is imbued with authenticity and faithfulness to Scripture.  I suppose in a way I see Jimmy Carter as a modern-day Nehemiah: a man of faith, character, and ability.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

CAT Scanning Motives

Is criticism hard to take? What makes it easier? When's the last time you gave criticism successfully? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1102).

The importance of these questions is underlined by the fact that wars develop coincident with intensifying levels of criticism. The stark question is: could countless casualties have been avoided had mankind better ways of giving and receiving criticism? We can come to surmise that the true origin of hostilities is often not primarily from underlying property or power issues, but arises with the escalation of criticism itself. Human behavior is deeply positioned to pay an immeasurable price and to undergo major sacrifices in the pursuit of “principle alone”—a major elicitor of which is that of perceiving ill-treatment in the form of criticism.

I don't like any criticism—especially any criticism I perceive as unfair. What gets my goat above all else is when someone attributes ulterior motives or nefarious intangible character traits to me or my friends. Surely there have been people who have garnered great power and influence based upon one characteristic alone—their penchant for pronouncing, with great gravitas, the hidden motives and defective traits of others. An essential requirement for peaceful coexistence is the assiduous avoidance of this practice and concentrating instead on deeds readily perceivable by all.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Provoking Thought, Evoking Emotion, Assuring Authenticity

Stand By Me

The primary reason I hate some movies I might see is that they do not affirm what is and what ought to be. If a movie does not ring true, I have little patience with it. On the other hand, a movie like Stand By Me becomes a memorable event when it evokes boyhood experiences and treats the vulnerabilities, fears, strengths, loyalties, and loves of those experiences with integrity and authenticity. Jesus taught in parables—short movies. The parable of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son are archetypal events because they reveal what is and what ought to be.  They serve to affirm what is already known subconsciously. Jesus could have lectured abstractly on compassion, responsibility, and love and his conceits inevitably would have become fodder for intellectual exercises—for parlor games that toss about and play with abstractions. But his parables disallow such escape from reality and provoke thought, evoke emotions, and confirm what we already know as truth but which has lain unrecognized and unstructured.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sin as Secondary to Criticism

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability....His master replied [to the man who secured the one bag of gold] “You wicked, lazy servant!.... So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one [who had five and earned five more]....And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:14 and following: NIV, bolding mine).

For many human beings who wish to do the right thing and who make every effort to do so, sin is in some sense a secondary challenge. Sin is not their major source of fear nor does it create the undertow of guilt and anxiety that constantly afflicts them. Christianity affirms that Jesus died for our sins. Many can be forgiven for wishing for a savior from the repressive aftermath of innocent blunders and disastrous mistakes made even when trying hard and doing one's best. In a sense, the recognition of sin is self-corrective. When a youth I blabbed in a ridiculing way about children with Down's syndrome. Later I discover the person I was trying to be cute in front of had a brother with it. I was immediately convicted of the sin and swore never to repeat it. Compare this to the chronic fear I have of formal public speaking. I suffer greatly from fear of making stumbling mistakes and disintegrating completely into utter failure—of looking like an inept fool. And if I do stumble during presentation, my self-loathing and yoke of guilt can be severe and long-lasting—deeply caustic to my sense of self-worth. Thus, surely not for me only, salvation from a sense of inadequacy and fear of failure would do much to alleviate widely experienced intellectual and emotional suffering and serve to free humanity for productive service and happiness. To tell the truth, sometimes I think it is a toss-up which human vulnerability—sin or innocent failure—does the most harm to the psyche.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Transcendent Personhood

Rembrandt: Christ in the Storm
on the Lake of Galilee

As in Jeremiah's time, leaders today usually set a tone for others. What positive tone or atmosphere are you setting in your home, job, school or church? Where might you have a negative impact? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1092).

One of my primary objectives is to cultivate an expression within my own being and within that of others of transcendent personhood. This is what I mean by that. It is observed that when we die, although surrounded by friends and family, there is a sense in which we die alone. This state of existential aloneness can have several negative manifestations during our lives. One of them is "the loner". This term identifies a negative attempt to achieve personhood. It is represented by a tightly bound and tensely self-contained seedpod. It is deeply antisocial in a severely restricted and unproductive sense. The reverse of the loner is the vigilante. This is someone whose seedpod has burst but venom rather than light is disseminated. Transcendent personhood, the alternative representing spiritual freedom, recognizes aloneness but avoids the harmful characteristics illustrated by the loner and the vigilante. Jesus is the prime example of transcendent personhood. Even though Jesus had 12 disciples and many who heard his teachings, there was a sense in which he was alone. The affirmation and love of his heavenly father served to ground him with a calm steadiness and assurance one evidence of which was the serenely sourced Beatitudes. Transcendent personhood always carries with it this tranquility born of assurance. It is a freedom that transcends the confounding social nexus of the world without being antisocial.

As a leader (and I think there is a sense in which each and every one of us are leaders), my primary objective is to augment a tone of healthy and divinely sourced transcendent personhood. While in the matrix of social interactions, I yearn to see existent within myself and others a centered transcendence mastering temporal social stresses. A tableau of this is when Jesus stood to calm the storm upon the Sea of Galilee.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Acquisition vs Application

In order to grow you have to learn, and in order to learn you have to make mistakes..... I'm sorry but that is just the harsh reality of life. Own it, fix it, learn from it. That is my motto. (Kim Stroemich).

Why do some people never learn? Are you a slow learner? Is there some growing edge in your life that you refuse to attend to? A warning you refuse to heed? A conflict you refuse to resolve, Why? (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition, page 1090-91).

I know there is nothing good in my sinful nature. I want to do what is good, but I can’t. I don’t do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don’t want to do. I do what I don’t want to do.....So in my mind I am a slave to God’s law. But in my sinful nature I am a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 18-20, 25).

It is a common observation that people can learn intellectually without applying that learning to life. Many years ago in undergraduate school I took a course in physical education. There I learned the vital importance of faithful exercise. But, throughout the years, have I applied that knowledge faithfully? Afraid not! To this I add the example of my knowledge of good nutrition compared to my exercise of it, and the further admission that the most recent economic bubble took me also for a ride. The Bible itself is largely a story of lessons widely circulated and known but not applied.

Mark Twain said “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” It makes me shudder to speculate on the amount of money spent on education compared to the portion of it that is practically applied.

Here I recall Yeats phrase “Measurement began our might.” As this applies to any serious plan for losing weight, it also forms the foundation of most effective behavior. Measurement is starkly revelatory. It would be wildly irresponsible to have no good idea of what funds one has in his checking account—clearly a situation that is a disaster waiting to happen. Even so, we cannot all become risk averse bookkeepers. Accepting risk for the right reasons is essential for growth. Yet, there is no clear motive for accepting risk and thus effectively acting without the reliance on measurement along circumscribed as well as more expansive lines.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Brut Force

In 1963 or '64 I attended a conference between a small group of students and university administrators. It was held at a resort situated on the Florida Gulf Coast. Why exactly I was there I do not know for certainly I was something of a wimp, however a somewhat complex one. I felt called--even destined--to be a leader but saw myself completely lacking in what I can only call the elemental brute ego force found in leaders (some may more kindly call it robust confidence). I thus felt somewhat estranged from other leaders. Though I could be reluctantly assertive, I remained isolated and remote. I remember on a swimming outing standing alone waste deep in the ocean detached and apart from the others.

What gets to the heart of the matter better than anything else involved a bottle of cologne. I shared a room with another student. On first entering the room together, we found a complimentary green bottle of Brut cologne sitting on the dresser (with the trademark silver medallion hanging on a chain around the bottle's neck). This would seem to be a desirable commodity for any young man and my roommate instantly took a liking to it and more or less claimed it. I felt intensely that the cologne was forbidden for me. I felt deeply a consternation about it. It suggested a boldness, a sophistication, a frankness, an assertiveness--an ego--that was simply inaccessible to me. People may have thought of me in several ways, but Brut was ridiculously remote from any tenable characterization of Wayne.

Over time I have come to realize that Brut can be my preferred cologne. First, I had to fully appreciate that man is saved by grace not works. In other words, the fact that I do not have a long list of accomplishments and superior qualities by which I've "earned" love and respect is completely beside the point. Saving love is not earned, but is a gift from God. So, in this sense, what I've accomplished over the past 50 years is irrelevant now as it would have been 50 years ago. This disassociation of self-worth from works is key to separating commendable pride from hurtful arrogance. Secondly, I tend to see all matters in the light of Jesus. One of the first things Jesus had to prove (perhaps even to himself) was that he could hold his own against the devil. During the Temptations, with a sound ego he told the devil just where he could get off--Jesus was in this sense wearing the scent of Brut. A solid ego is not only necessary--but called for and commendable. Finally, I have come to disassociate assertiveness from sin. In fact I have come to the very opposite conclusion--the lack of assertiveness can itself be a major sin.

Tonight I have ordered on Amazon a medallioned bottle of Brut. I may not wear the cologne so much as keep the bottle on my desk as a symbol of how much my views have changed over the years and the freedom “to be” I now enjoy.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Power of Yes

Man at Radio - FDR Memorial

God is not indecisive about whether I am worthy of love. On the contrary, even in spite of my sinfulness, God says yes to my worth.... To fallen and sinful people, God continually says yes. We might shy away from a homeless person or a starving man in Haiti or a woman dying of AIDS in Uganda or a child who rummages through a landfill searching for clothes. But to all of these and to all of us, God says yes. (The Upper Room "God's Amazing Yes" by Gregg Bunn, February 5, 2013).

When I look back over my life and identify those people I especially cherish, they are inevitably those people who have said yes to me--to my worth as an individual. Whether it be a warmly remembered teacher or chaplain, a casual acquaintance or virtual stranger or friend--or Jesus himself--it is those who have said yes to me that have most positively impacted my life. Jesus said yes to people accustomed to hearing the opposite. In the Beatitudes some of those he found blessed were the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, those who are insulted, persecuted, or falsely accused. These he found to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

Under the leadership of those who have said yes to me, I have thrived: under the teacher who said yes to me years ago and brought out my best in effort and creativity then and even now; under the chaplain (now deceased) who was convinced I had something to offer and thereby invested much faith in me; under the passing stranger whose kind words encapsulated a moment in time--a memorable tableau underwriting my self-worth even now. Leadership at its best entails the quality of yes. Think of FDR in the dark days of the Great Depression: his cheerful affirmation--his yes to the American people--had a profound and uplifting impact.

Of course, it is not only God and well-meaning people who can say yes to us, the devil and his crew can say yes as well and in doing so offer lurid temptations. In his employ can be the gang leader who cynically offers the down-and-out a sense of self-worth through ensnarling them in cruelty and lawlessness. We can tell the difference between God and the devil by their fruit--divine outcomes are positive and further well-being and self-worth while evil ones cloak hatred within a charade of kindness.

from The People, Yes
By Carl Sandburg

He was a mystery in smoke and flags
Saying yes to the smoke, yes to the flags,
Yes to the paradoxes of democracy,
Yes to the hopes of government
Of the people by the people for the people,
No to debauchery of the public mind,
No to personal malice nursed and fed,
Yes to the Constitution when a help,
No to the Constitution when a hindrance
Yes to man as a struggler amid illusions,
Each man fated to answer for himself:
Which of the faiths and illusions of mankind
Must I choose for my own sustaining light
To bring me beyond the present wilderness?

Lincoln? Was he a poet?
And did he write verses?
“I have not willingly planted a thorn
in any man’s bosom.”
I shall do nothing through malice: what
I deal with is too vast for malice.”

Death was in the air.
So was birth.


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Monday, February 11, 2013

The Ante Bellum Now: A Speculation

I would like to speculate on what would be the response of a notoriously harsh ante bellum slave master if he were sitting at a table here today. On the opposite side of the table sat two modern-day black men. One of the men was employed as director of a key department in a major city. He earned a six figure salary and was encumbered by heavy responsibilities—one might almost say was strapped down by them. The other black man was a free spirit—not having or wanting an 8-5 job. He did odd jobs now and then but seemed somehow joyful, glorious and resilient in is his freedom. Now my question: which black man would our ante bellum slave master resent most? Which would send him through the roof with rage? To me the answer seems obvious—he would most resent the free-spirited, unencumbered black man—not the city director strapped down with heavy responsibilities. Thus we find today that those with prejudicial perhaps racist leanings can be disproportionately and obsessively irate at the welfare society.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Evil Use of Nonviolence, The Righteous Use of Violence

The determining factor as to rectitude in the use of force is the motive behind it. Polar opposite motivators are love and hate. Typically it is seen that violence can derive from hatred. But nonviolence can derive from hatred as well. Occasionally one can be forced to take take decisive action when not doing so inevitably would align one with the side of hatred. Recently in the news was the story of a 6 year-old child abducted by a twisted adult. The man held the child hostage in a bunker. The police attempted to free the child through negotiation without success. The man was armed and dangerous--he had killed an adult during the abduction. The police power of the state and the officers on the scene were not given the choice of indifference. Indifference would have bespoken hatred for the laws of the land and the boy himself. The police freed the boy and in doing so killed the abductor. This is clearly a case when violence was the manifestation of love. On the other hand, nonviolence (or declining the use of military force) can be motivated by hatred. During the integration of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas in the fall of 1957, President Eisenhower ordered the deployment of troops armed with drawn bayonets. The situation was that racists were attempting to block integration. For President Eisenhower to have remained non-responsive and to have declined the use of military force when the laws of the land were being flouted and hatred manifestly sought ascendency, then his passivity would have underwritten the perpetrated acts of hatred.

So as to the use of force or use of nonviolence, the determining factor of rectitude must be one of motive. The proclivity within human nature to rationalize and justify with facility will forever remain a cautionary consideration in the use of either military force or nonviolence.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Extruding Peace

Compete: Seek or strive for the same thing as someone else; engage in a contest (WordWeb Pro).

To strive consciously or unconsciously for an objective (as position, profit, or a prize) : be in a state of rivalry (Merriam-Webster). 

To define the word "compete" I have consulted two competitive sources. One aspect of competition is that it opens up additional choices for those outside the direct competition. In America we highly value competition primarily for this choice generating aspect of it. Last Sunday millions watched the Super Bowl. This gives an inkling of the value of competition in American lives--but of course athletic competition goes goes back for eons.

Jesus said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9 NIV). In the context of competition, what exactly is the role of the peacemaker? The peacemaker can help put the competition in context and frame it in human terms to reveal commonality. The peacemaker can point to the future and extrapolate the inevitable consequences if human kindness is entirely divorced from the proceedings. The peacemaker can help devise a structure in which competition is moved from destructive to constructive, productive, and mutually rewarding contention on levels (higher and lower) than heretofore conceived of or entertained. The peacemaker can spearhead inclusiveness and compassion telegraphing to the competitors that hatred and all its manifestations are flat-out out-of-bounds and that hatred is neither necessary nor helpful within competitive environments for it tends to remove all limits from the field--and without limits competition becomes mutually destructive, chaotic, and pyrrhically meaningless. The peacemaker can be an object of trust for both sides, thus providing a minimal commonality. Both sides in this respect also come to share a common leader. The key gift of the leader is to set a tone in which esteem, respect, and regard surrounds both sides and civility and goodwill diminish incessant alarms and animosity--thus pointing a way to solid, positive, and tangible improvement. In case this begins to sound a little too abstract, I would point to Dr. Martin Luther King as a good example.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Job Matters

Would you keep your job if you inherited a fortune? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1086).

Happiness in a job always recognizes that the specific work done is of secondary importance. The critical consideration is if ultimate ends can be pursued while working on the job. For example, a person motivated primarily by money can be happy so long as the job held pays well. Money is an important motivator for me, so my middle class salary is an important factor in my happiness. But coincident with that “maintenance goal” are other primary goals. I have always been taught that we are placed on earth to fill an eternal capacity whatever temporal capacity we may fill—the earthly role congruent with this eternal purpose is to embody a role of service. Happiness on the job for me is derived primarily from this ability to be helpful in achieving the well-being of others. In a sense it is unimportant as to the temporal nature of my job description, it is the ability to fulfill the eternal role that is the operative consideration.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

An Inextricable Part of the Human Enterprise

What was your favorite Sunday activity as a kid? What sounds like an ideal Sunday to you now? (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition, page 1086).

As a kid Sunday church addressed the question of how and why regarding underlying purpose in life. It still does so. In a real sort of way Sunday church paradoxically testifies to the idea that it is somehow inappropriate to spend all one's time on this matter. There is real and necessary work to be done coping with the chores of life and doing so requires dedication and focus. Yet psychological depression can result when underlying purpose is removed from the equation. It just seems to be embedded in human nature that to feel really good we must have a sense of overall direction or have, in other words, core values. A fundamental sense of happiness, well-being, and peace depends upon this. The reason for this is beyond my skills to explain. I just know it is true for me and many others I have known. I have heard this need referred to as the "God vacuum"--there is a part of us that is incomplete when we are at a loss to explain why we are here or to identify the fundamental direction of our lives. Somehow this need for steady bearing seems, as much as doing our daily chores, to be an inextricable part of the human enterprise.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mixing Up the Motives

How honest are you with yourself? Could your heart be deceiving you about the motives of some of your actions at work? At home? In relationships? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1085).

A digital switch is either on or off. It can be safely said this only applies to digital switches. No human being can possibly assert that the reason for his action or inaction has only this or that cause. Humanity always has both certainty and uncertainty and a multiplicity of determiners. If I remove my hand from a hot stove, I don't want to get burned because of the pain inflicted perhaps primarily, but with many coincidental secondary concerns. And the complexity is greatly increased when I don't want to get burned at a new car dealership.

This is why the realization of the spiritual dimension is key to understanding behavior. No "on" or "off" law can begin to reach the complexity of experience. We're all well aware of the notion that we can abide by the letter of the law while violating the spirit of the law. It is child's play for us to abide by a law in ways that don't matter and violate it in ways that do. In fact I use the term "play" intentionally because circumventing the spirit of the law often takes on the tenor of play and fun. On a personal level, sarcasm is an example of this.

I'm able to make these observations while at the same time not having a clue as to "the real reason" I will go to work in a few hours. Any fool can see that I will do it for money. But anyone who has worked – and especially anyone who has enjoyed their job – will know full well that this is not the entire answer. What can only be called spiritual reasons in a perversely practical sense outweigh the material ones. Social interaction enables a wide expanse of dynamism and fun unavailable in a secluded environment. The fact that I write this blog in a private study is only half the story. The internet is defined by a strong social character. Now like John Wesley I can feel that "all the world [is] my parish." (Thanks again Google!)

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Monday, February 4, 2013

The God of Abundance

Have you made sacrifices to serve God? Give an example. (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition, page 1084). 

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV).

Sacrifice: : something given up or lost ;
LOSS (Merriam-Webster).

As sacrifice often carries the connotation of loss, I must confess that my God does not require of me such sacrifice. For every time I have served my God, it always has resulted in personal gain. This I can state without qualification or exception. 

Commitment carries with it a setting of the face forward. Commitment does not look back. Commitment glories in what is. It does not pine in what could have been. When we with undivided attention serve God, we choose not only a course of action but the values we serve. Since our priorities have been set, there is no regret when other values are not served. Let us say in the early 80s I choose to spend time with the unfortunate. Today there is absolutely no regret that I did not spend that time with a selfish eye cultivating connections with the rich and powerful. Primarily this is due to the fact that any superficial loss incurred was negligible compared to the great personal rewards of loving relationships derived. God always pays back disproportionately to the service given. But I suspect that this is only true of the one true God. False gods I've observed can extract sacrifice with a vengeance.