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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What is Grace?

What is “grace?” (A Year with Jesus: Daily Readings and Meditations by Eugene Peterson, page 225).

Grace is a very positive word—it comes with practically no negative connotations. Whether someone wins graciously or loses graciously, it’s a quality to be desired. I am going to avoid the temptation to look the word up in the dictionary and come up with a definitive answer to the question: What is “grace?” Instead, I’m going to look back to where I first encountered grace and strive there to find its essence. This was for me in the home.

Grace involved the way I was treated by my family despite behavior that could have elicited the opposite of grace—namely cynicism, meanness, spitefulness, and ridicule. The first time I was shocked by a father yelling at his son (words that my father would never yell at me) was when I was about 13 years old in Ellenton. I was playing in an expansive lawn area late one afternoon next to a street lined with houses. From one of these houses I heard a father yelling at this son as the son came out the front door. The father yelled after him: “If you were half as smart as you think you are you would be President of the United States.” I knew instantly that in this spirit and with this tone my father would never address me. I got from my father just the opposite—quietly informal conversation filled with generosity, forgiveness, and belief in me; all serving to bring encouragement and hope. This is not because I had faults that my father could not plainly see; it was rather because my father loved me enough to treat me with generosity and forgiveness—with grace.

Perhaps one would expect grace more from my mother (after all, women are named “Grace”). I remember mother’s smile, her focus on the task at hand, and her joy. This light overflowed upon my brother and me.

Now my brother (4 years older than me) and I were sometimes antagonistic; but when the chips were down, my brother graciously covered for me and my sins. One time I got mad at him and threw a screwdriver at him, hitting his leg and bringing blood. He graciously let the matter rest and never mentioned it to “the powers that be.” Another time when I was beginning to experience sexual emissions, I somehow got into my head to dribble Wildroot Cream Oil hair tonic into the toilet. I thought it (being white) looked something like semen. After a spell of this, at the breakfast table mom and dad mentioned seeing it in the toilet and said Wildwood was expensive and this was a waste. Whether they flat-out asked who was doing this or just told us to stop I do not remember. But my brother said he would do it no more; again, graciously covering for me.

Based on my first encounters with grace, I continue to cherish it wherever I find it and pray that, despite deep inner forces to the contrary, I can sometimes genuinely express it.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Face to Face

When I was a kid I loved the game Monopoly (especially when I was winning). I would play with my cousins Patsy and Tommy and my brother Bobby. We would spend hours on the game. When I was winning I delighted in buying up hotels on Boardwalk and watching the agony of my competition upon landing on the property. It was really quite a heady experience. Of course this was all a game and no one was really hurt—no matter what, we had fun.

It always amazes me the warmth and kindness of the American people on a person-to-person basis. Today my friends and I attended church and without exception we were treated with the utmost kindness and even joy. After church we went to McDonald’s for breakfast and ran into people considerate beyond belief. A joyful customer standing in line greeted and conversed with us warmly. Following placing our food order at the counter, we retreated with literally our backs against the wall waiting for our serving number to be called. Even in this position people arriving at the restaurant would ask us “are you in line” to be absolutely certain that they were not butting in ahead of us. On a personal level no one can be more kind and loving than Americans. I see this every day at work. There is no question as to the religion or politics of anyone I meet and greet. It simply doesn’t matter; respect and kindness always come first.

Now take away this person-to-person intimacy and profound changes can result. For example, I can get “in the game” of maneuvering my car through street traffic. I exultantly cut someone off. It is embarrassing beyond mention if “that someone” pulls up beside me at the next light and I see looking at me a face I know from church or work. I feel caught red-handed at cruelty.

This morning there was a story in the paper about a current investment game. Apparently much “smart money” now is flowing into real estate. The side effect of this is that 2 out of every 3 homes are bought not by someone who wants to live in the home, but rather is acquired solely for investment to sell later at a significant profit. Many would-be home buyers who want and need a home are thus locked out of buying a house. Those caught up in the excitement of the investment game and the lure of easy money are safely distanced from any intimacy with those they are hurting.

This “distancing” is at the heart of many of the ills many now suffer. Today Deangelo, Alyssia, and I visited the Florida Holocaust Museum. There I asked a docent what essential lesson we should learn from the Holocaust. His answer was not to be complacent in the face of bullying; not to demonize; and to show tolerance. (Tolerance is a one word summery that he so much wanted to convey that he found me later on the second floor just to convey it). I further will amplify his response thusly: Demonization; Dehumanization; Detachment; Self-absorption. That is, we make a person or group acceptable to harm by finding them evil or less than human. This involves detachment. We find ourselves disengaged from reality such that tolerance becomes perverted to “I don’t give a damn” as cruelty is underway. Finally, we become self-absorbed and inconsiderate of others.

As dreadfully cruel as the Nazis were, it is important to remember (as Jesus frequently pointed out) we are all subject to sinfully evil thoughts at one time or another, and, though not acted out in such dramatic fashion, they can end up coloring our lives and our treatment of others.

How can meanness deriving from detachment be structurally dealt with? Certainly, a strong democracy is one way; for the injured party has a place at the table whether we like it or not. Thus, if we are greatly inured to a laissez-faire status quo, we will often complain about big government or government regulation since a democratic government means that we must hear voices and trim cruelties we had rather not.

I am optimistic that much of America’s meanness (now significantly the result of detachment) will be alleviated once detachment and self-absorption are made less possible. At the Holocaust Museum are wood carvings of children who were victims of Nazi death camps. Surrounding the head of each child is a yellow hallo. I wish that we could come to see an aura around everyone we meet or greet either directly or through imaginative visualization. We would be greatly blessed if we could see each member of the human family as holy and unique—each with a sanctuary of conscience answerable to God.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

On the Inerrancy of Scripture

There is a sense in which I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, yet my faith does not nor ever shall depend upon Biblical inerrancy. I do not worship the Bible, it is not my God; It not for me an idol. Jesus is my Savior not only for what he said but importantly for what he did—not only at the crucifixion but throughout his ministry. I look to the Bible daily for insight in how best to follow Jesus. I do not claim to have correctly interpreted every jot and tittle in the Bible, nor do I trust any human being to do so. In a sense I suppose it comes down to this in the end—why is the inerrancy of the Bible so important when no human has the capacity to inerrantly interpret it? And this is certainly no small matter, for the Bible has been used to justify great atrocities even in my own country’s history. Too often strident defences of Biblical inerrancy come from the lips of those certain of their own inerrancy—a dangerous and fundamental lapse in Biblical understanding from my point of view.

How would I talk with my son (an honors “of course” Christian high school student straight out of a life sciences class dealing with reproduction) who has some doubts about the virgin birth? He has learned of Jesus and been a follower of Jesus from his earliest days. I would say “Son, it is essential that you follow Jesus always and know that he is the Son of God and that He is your pathway to abundant life and true freedom. Is the virgin birth of Jesus necessary for you to believe that He is the 'the way, and the truth, and the life?'” “No father,” he answers, “that question has never bothered me.” “Then, son, don’t let it bother you now.”

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Words and Deeds

Matthew 26:6-13 NIV

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

"A society that puts equality -- in the sense of equality of outcome -- ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests." (Milton Friedman)

Jesus said to his disciples “that the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” He could just as well have said, the sick you will always have with you, injustice you will always have with fact suffering of all sorts you will always have with you. The question is: Was Jesus's remark a cue for inaction and complacency in the face of suffering? All his ministry among the outcast and downtrodden, it is worth remembering, showed just the opposite. Now Milton Friedman says that to use force to achieve equality will destroy freedom. This conclusion is patently untrue. On a daily basis in the United States the police power of the state enforces the American premise of “equality before the law.” In fact, without this use of force our freedom would be impossible. As an economist his intention was probably to say that enforced economic equality will destroy freedom. This is a red herring. Very few if any Americans call for economic equality. And very few call for government ownership of the means of production. Yet, one need not call for economic equality or socialism to wish to lessen the egregiously lopsided distribution of wealth in America. It is becoming abundantly clear that in capitalism wealth is filtered by a relative few despite wealth's widespread sources and creators. Capitalism alone, while a positive contributor to the general welfare as an economic engine, is a necessary but insufficient condition to realize economic justice. Does Jesus's remark that “the poor will always be with you” suggest that change in economic structures are not ever to be made? I don't think so any more than I think suffering in any form should be taken with bland resignation and cynicism. This is counter to the nature of love. America has not yet “grown up” and become cynical as regards justice—social or economic. It continues to remain true to its essentially Christian mission of mutual regard and concern.

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The Vulnerability of God

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12 NIV).

There is an undeniable truth in this world and that is that all men are vulnerable. Man struggles inordinately to be invulnerable. We can struggle to attain great monetary security, for example, in an attempt to escape vulnerability. But alas, the world is full of forces (even our own limited perception and beyond that extending to great universal forces) that leave us vulnerable.

But there is a redeeming vulnerability and that is love. God loves us so much that he gave his only Son for us. And his Son walked the streets of Israel vulnerable to love as reflected in his ministry. Warning: the crucifixion of Jesus was directly the result of the pursuit of invulnerability in lockstep with Satan’s central lie—that we can become invulnerable.

Mankind does tremendously silly things sometimes to escape vulnerability. Unfortunately the silliness of it does not remove the frequent tragedy of it. What is the one thing that Hitler sought to avoid? – vulnerability!  His obsession with it brought us a sadly bizarre chapter in human history. And truth be told in our own country on an individual and national level we have done some silly things. On an individual level like Faust we sell our soul for wealth, power, and influence. On the national level like Nazism we seek to find sanctuary in mindless projections of power.

In contrast to these excruciatingly mad adventures stands the love of God. Love admits it’s vulnerability with the simplicity and purity of a trusting child. God looks with compassion upon mankind for he knows our frame and the perversions that the desire for invulnerability can bring. Our only reliable escape from madness is the vulnerability of love. This is so because love brings us closer to factual truth rather sealing us off from it. Sure we can and will create all sorts of structures to buttress security, but without love as their foundation all such structures will fail.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Safely in the Corner Pocket

Prince William and Kate with Responsiblity
When was the last time you felt like the three monkeys: “See-no evil” (hands over eyes), “Hear-no-evil” (hands in ears) and “Speak-no-evil” (hands on mouth)? Which monkey are you like? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1295).

My affliction and I think that of many others is not necessarily obliviousness to evil, but obliviousness to simple fact and what is appropriate – even necessary – within the human family. Parents have the responsibility of direction, leadership, and control. For our children we want the broadest possible opportunity and freedom of choice. This can lead us into fundamental error. I picture the parent as standing in play by a pool table. The pockets of the pool table represent fundamental belief choices that confront human beings. A scattering of balls represent the children in the family. I hold that it is fundamental error when parents avoid putting their children in a pocket—to allow them, as it were, to remain scattered freely on the board—in this sense undirected and lost. The child needs direction as to what will lead to a meaningful, purposeful, and abundant life. The parent has a duty to seek the security for their children that can only be found in a safe pocket. Not all pockets are the same. In my view pockets of egocentrism or religious materialism offer phony security which leads eventually to disquiet and despair. Other pockets with diverse names share fundamental values necessary for a sense of purpose larger than self and more purposeful than toy acquisition. While giving the illusion of unbounded freedom, to be out of pocket is in truth a pyrrhic form of happiness. My prayer is that parents and all those who work with children assume their God-given responsibility and earnestly seek to direct children into safe pockets. Of course, not only children are scattered and lost. Adults vis-à-vis adults require more leading and less directing. When we find adults out of pocket, scattered and lost, may we pray for guidance and assistance in providing leadership to gracefully point the way to safe pockets. For those entrapped in pyrrhic pockets, may our hearts lie bleeding and broken and not harshly judgmental.

(My thanks to Angelo Lundy for the pool table metaphor.)

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Basis of Hope

Where are you just now on the misery-hope index? Why? What spiritual hunger does that leave you with? On a large scale misery-hope index, how would you rate your country compared to early Israel? Why that rating? What can be done about that? What helps you see the light at the end of the tunnel? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1294-5).

Mankind is in a steady-state of alarm regarding its prognosis for survival. Every generation finds reason to believe that the end times are near. I find solace in the following remarks of Socrates (470-399 B.C.):

Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.

In other words, it seems that every generation looks upon the prognosis for mankind and ends up concluding that disaster is imminent.

In a sense, perhaps the most dangerous affliction of mankind is the malady of Pollyanna hope. A constant undertone of dread may be to our best advantage. My religion, Christianity, embodies both hope and dread. It finds hope in love and the gift of the Spirit and the promise of eternal life. Yet, its vision of the end times are dire.

It seems like much of human history is the equivalent of our undergoing a long-term multiple-choice exam in which we contemplate an answer and even invest in it for a time only to find in the end that the answer is not the best and we must precede forward contemplating and evaluating other possible answers. I am optimistic for I believe that love will triumph over despair ultimately and does so presently in significant ways. The disciplines of love actually work and this uncompromising practicality gives me hope. 


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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tootsie Pops & Almond Candy Kisses

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).

Today Pastor David spoke of the Fruit of the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians: 5-22-23 NIV). Pastor David called this the Christian’s accountability passage. He stressed that the fruit of the spirit is acquired though cultivation over a period of time; full development is the result of a learning process. That is, we must come to recognize two sides of vulnerability: we are vulnerable to sin, but it is also possible to be vulnerable to change brought about by learning. Pastor David spoke of church members that out of fear are defensive and deny vulnerability to sin and resist being vulnerable to positive change. The members are like the hard-shelled candy Tootsie Pops—they are contrarian to the Methodist motto: Open hearts, open minds, open doors.** Other church members know that full development of the fruit of the spirit is a learning process and that we must be vulnerable (amenable) to change. Rather than hard-shell, these church members are like almond candy kisses. They are filled with grace (the accessibility of milk chocolate) yet posses the kernel and core of spirituality and faith (the almond kernel) through cultivation and growth in the Holy Spirit. Anyone with any experience in the world will recognize immediately that this does not apply only to church goers. We have all seen individuals at work or elsewhere as brittle as Tootsie Pops or, like almond candy kisses, the embodiment of grace and truth.

Pastor David gave us an assignment this week—to read every day Psalm 51. Essential for spiritual accessibility and vulnerability to the Spirit is 51:17— The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart. (Holman Christian Standard Bible).

** The Founder of Methodism John Wesley wrote the following:

I observed, "Love is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment." It is not only "the first and great" command, but all the commandments in one. "Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise," they are all comprised in this one word, love.

John Wesley "The Circumcision of the Heart" (1 January 1733)

Pastor David Miller’s sermon found here:

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Immeasurable Debt

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy
For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:7).

For gifts from God see 1 Timothy 6:17; Matthew 6:25, 33; Leviticus 26:4; Ephesians 2:8; James 4:6; Proverbs 2:6; James 1:5; Isaiah 42:5).

Where do you find dishonest traders today? Does the punishment still fit the crime? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1294).

If we are honest, what can we possibly claim to have earned all by ourselves? Start with the generous earth we were born upon and the mind we were born with – which we had nothing to do with receiving. Next take all of the tools, knowledge, and advantages that we have from living at this point in history; we earned none of them, not even the revolutionary idea of the wheel. We must never forget that as children we had little or nothing to do with our sustenance – a sustenance that allowed us to grow and develop into adulthood. And in so many ways even as adults we are still dependent upon the generosity and produce of others for our well-being. So we return again to the inescapable conclusion and simple fact that if we do not acknowledge our inestimable debt to others by our thoughts, words, and deeds; and instead selfishly claim that all we have is of our own doing, and act like it – then we are hopelessly inconsiderate and thoroughly dishonest traders who deserve punishment instead of reward – far from being superior, we are among the most deceitful and spurious of men.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Micah 6:8

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly (prudently) with your God.
(Micah 6:8 NIV).

What does it mean to “act justly” and “love mercy” and “walk humbly”? Are you obeying? What requirements have you added to verse 8 in your own view of “what is good” for your life? Are these really from God? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1293).

I view this verse as a disarmingly simple yet direct challenge for us to focus on essentials. In the great turmoil that life can become, it is extremely useful to have a clear enunciation of what our fundamental direction and purpose should be and to what attention must be steadily paid. We are told to seek and live for justice, mercy, humility and prudence before God.

It behooves us to sketch out what these terms mean – what it means to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with God. Justice and mercy form a unitary concept of disciplined love. Justice arises from the critical eyes of discernment while mercy forms the outstretched hand of forgiveness and reconciliation. We have here both an unsentimental view of human behavior in tandem with a generous capacity to forgive and take into consideration extenuating circumstances. In showing justice and mercy we are exercising prudence on the one hand and humility on the other. The Godhead is important in this cameo for proper perspective. All men are subordinately equal before the Creator. No man may boast before the perfection of the Godhead which renders to all mankind a no-nonsense objectivity coincident with divine forgiveness and mercy. In human affairs these qualities are to generously roll down broadly like waters, not to be stingily metered out with an eye dropper.

Can you guess which American president included Micah 6:8 in his inaugural? If Jimmy Carter came to mind you are correct.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Necessity of God

Complete this prayer: “Lord, deliver us from….? Why is that your chief concern? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1292).

Egocentrism defined:

Concern for your own interests and welfare (WordWeb Pro).

limited in outlook or concern to one's own activities or needs b : SELF-CENTERED, SELFISH (Merriam-Webster).

My chief concern from an individual as well as organizational perspective is the blindness that can derive from egocentrism. America’s national hymn has become in an informal sense “Amazing Grace” which was written by John Newton. He had been a slave trader until his eyes were opened by Amazing Grace as he described it. Surely my focus and concern is in the power of egocentrism – not with the lack of power of the Holy Spirit. In this sense I am an incorrigible optimist.

Egocentrism strongly influences perception and hence a rather limited and shortsighted view of self-interest becomes the prime decision rule of either an individual or society and fear the prime motivator. Another name for such a perspective is overweening pride (which is based on fear) in which all options are discounted except those perceived as buttressing personal strength and integrity viewed myopically. In my own lifetime I have seen nations fully vest dubious conflicts in an unlimited fashion when honor became defined in an egocentric manner rather than more broadly encompassing the human enterprise as hopeful rather than fearful.

I have mentored children some with and some without fathers. Almost without exception those with fathers were less agitated than those without. It is in this sense that the belief in a loving heavenly father is consistent with an assurance that enables peaceful and creative solutions to conflict – a beneficent Supreme Being essential for our traveling down hopeful and creative paths to peace. This of course makes no sense to materialists who wish to be absolutely practical. However it is repeatedly demonstrated that the most practical and effective view always encompasses spiritual intangibles only dimly understood as to their necessity and power in human affairs.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An Unwelcome Harvest

Yet, they lean upon the Lord and say “is not Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.” (Micah 3:11).

What would Micah say today about those who carry on religious ritual or preach peace, yet oppress the poor? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1290).

None dare call it oppression – this complacency and bland contentment with the widespread payment of poverty wages. We sanctimoniously declare that it's the result of a free labor market, and to that market we bow in acquiesce as if it were the final determinant of justice and fairness. We have made the market economy our idol and have with it supplanted the one true God. In public speeches we hear deeply intoned “God bless America” yet we ignore his holy priorities and decrees. The Lord demands justice, but we have responded with a bankrupt economic savvy that can excuse anything no matter how egregious based upon a self-serving and man-made view of the American Way. We allow the flow into wealthy private coffers grossly unfair distributions of wealth. We require no fair payback from the wealthy. Yet we feel that we can go on in this way indefinitely and the Lord will allow no disaster to come upon us. We have yet to learn the lesson that justice is a cosmic principle that cannot and will not be relegated to our private trash heaps of willful complacency. God’s truth will march on either with or without us. Injustice always ends sooner or later with an unwelcome harvest – the bitter grapes of wrath not only for the few, but the many.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why Conscience is Necessary

Have you ever felt like the plug was pulled out of your life? How did you cope with the power failure? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1289). 

“When you give up your own truth to win at someone else’s game, everyone loses.” (Stephen C. Paul).

The greatest empowerment of all is the respect shown for conscience.

I can tell you of an electronic picture frame upon which several photos are alternatively displayed. One photo is of unusually large lily pads floating tranquilly upon dark, still water; another photo is a portrait of a woman; the third is of a Black Angus cow standing in the luminescence of sunlight. To a stranger looking at these pictures, very little meaning may be telegraphed. But if I were to tell you that the pictures are displayed in my living room, and that the woman is my wife, and that the Angus belonged to my wife’s father, and that the lily pads were photographed by my wife on a cherished outing we had together not long before she passed – then one begins to understand the meaning that the photographs have for me.

My point is a simple one – meaning heavily depends upon context. Without context there is a sense in which meaning cannot be understood or even existent. Yesterday I wrote a blog regarding a recent news event which showed how justice can be denied when context (the big picture) is not considered [found here]. And this applies of course not only to a high profile incident, but to literally millions of everyday occurrences. One of the truly legitimate cries of many Afro-American people within the United States is that those not sharing their experience “just don’t understand.” I remember vividly one day a youth I was mentoring mournfully observed that a mutual friend of ours who happened to be wealthy simply did not understand the hurt of exclusion and grinding poverty.

Today in a discussion with a person of power and authority within an organization, I found a troubling tendency to find great self-satisfaction and security in bureaucratic rectitude – a smug confidence that so long as policies and procedures as narrowly defined are followed, then there can be no question but that justice has been served. This is so far from being true that it approaches the realm of the surreal and even tragic. For it is certainly true that legalism and “the letter of the law” can be totally blind to reality as it exists in the daily lives of many. That is why it is essential that the warning I received from my friend Cato today be heeded: “When you give up your own truth to win at someone else’s game, everyone loses.” But we must be rigorous in the application of this warning applying it with equal force and sincerity to those who do not agree with us as to those who do. The respect for individual conscience must be absolute so long as the result is not vicious. This is especially true in countries like America where individual rights are plainly enunciated. If the country were to do otherwise it would for short-term expediency sell its own soul and forsake its ultimatel raison d'être.  Conscience brings to bear individual realities upon public life.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Stand Your Ground

Over my lifetime I have seen many instances when people have stood their ground; after which they found themselves subjected to a zinging “Got You” moment stunning in its profound implications. I have known a student who was ridden by a teacher. After long abuse the student couldn’t take it anymore and snapped at the teacher—whereupon the student was hauled to the principal’s office and forthwith expelled.

I have seen a work situation in which the spirit and atmosphere of the workplace were poisoned by an arrogant and obnoxious boss. At some point the employee couldn’t stand it anymore and snapped at the boss—where upon with great and somber deliberation before a formal board of discipline—with the focus entirely upon the employee—the employee was summarily fired.

The essence of the pattern here is of long and continued abuse followed by an overdue response followed by weighty and sanctimonious proceedings in which the victim of abuse is found at fault and punished. The big picture—essential to give a shred of meaning to the incident—is entirely ignored.

I see the Trayvon Martin case in this light. A young man minding his own business is stalked by a stranger armed with deadly force. As the one pursued, Trayvon eventually summons great courage and stands his ground. The stalker responds with deadly force killing the victim. After great and somber deliberation by a court of law, Trayvon effectively is found to blame because the big picture—in which he is innocently going for a walk—is held to be completely irrelevant. Justice, it inevitably follows, is indeed blind. The lesson, dear children, is that the letter of the law is often purblind and thus does not and cannot achieve justice.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

More Information Needed

The United States has numerous labeling requirements regarding country of origin.**  For example a shirt I wear may indicate that it was “Made in Bangladesh.” This tidbit of information tells me almost nothing I need to know. In addition to that, it should also indicate average daily wage of worker including any health benefits and pensions. I think this not only should apply to foreign nations, but to the United States as well. It is not enough to know that my orange juice was made in America; I need as well to know the average wage of the migrant worker who harvested the oranges that I purchased at a premium price. The ideal label might look something like this: Grown in Florida. The price paid is divided thusly: Retailer, xx%; Farmer, xx%; Supplemental Labor: xx%. This would give me a better idea of how the product price is distributed.

Ask yourself, if you were the millionaire owner of Papa Johns Pizza, would you prefer having slave labor (in which case you are responsible for worker housing, health, and welfare); or would you rather pay workers a poverty wage and thereby cut yourself loose from all other obligations while famously decrying government for exercising its social justice and public welfare concerns? In my view, as in Biblical times, God is going to judge us in this matter if we don't address it with love and devotion to justice and righteousness.

Today I was in conversation with a young man in his mid-twenties. We were discussing social issues and the young man said that he felt he did not know enough yet to speak out on social, political, economic, or religious issues. The young man holds an advanced degree and was virtually a straight-A student. I responded thusly: “And just when will you feel you have enough knowledge? What will indicate years hence that you have enough? And remember, no matter how much information you have garnered, if the matter is at all controversial there will be hordes who disagree with you and think and call you misguided, treasonous, stupid or worse. I challenged him to join the public issue debate.

** Labeling requirements listed here:

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Knowing Who (& Whose) You Are

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly (prudently) with your God.

(Micah 5:8 NIV)

When have you ever seen one of your parents get really angry? Over what issues? How is your anger like, and unlike his or hers? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1287).

I find this almost impossible to believe based upon my own errant behavior, but over the course of my lifetime I never once saw my mother or daddy get angry at all – and this of course includes extreme anger. When I consider how I have become the slave of anger many times, I must wonder how they were able to have complete freedom from it. I was an exasperating child at times I'm sure; how were they able to avoid anger?

I think at least in part their freedom from anger derived from their philosophy memorably expressed by my father when we children would become discouraged. He would say “do the best you can do; that’s all that you can do.” I think they had deep assurance flowing from faith and obedience that they were doing their best; hence never felt compelled to project anger sourced from a sense of their own irresponsibility.

Below is mother's Philosophy of Life which she wrote for me at my request when I was an undergraduate. The poem is one I wrote on her 84th birthday.

                                MY PHILSOPHY OF LIFE
                                   (Written aprx. 1965)

          I believe God is the creator of all things. Mankind
may make many things from that which God has created. 
           God made man in His likeness, therefore man has
the capacity to love, to be kind. thoughtful and honest
toward everyone and himself. He has the power to think,
and use his mind to gain knowledge from all the vastness of
God’s creation. Also, the ability to choose what is right or
           I believe God sent Christ into the world to seek and
to save the lost, as found in Luke 19:10. 
           Christ came to reveal God’s likeness through his
teaching, healing and saving power and His concern for all
people. His spirit is present in the world today always
working that his will be done. 
           As far as I possibly can, I do and will teach of the
love of God, visit the sad and broken-hearted and try to
help them find the Way, and help all that I can regardless of
race or creed. I must not hold a grudge against anyone or be
prejudice. I certainly feel to be a true Christian we must
forgive as Christ was always forgiving. I know l have had
to be forgiven by Him many times. He is my redeemer,
and the redeemer of all who will come to him in sincerity. 
           He is my refuge and strength, a very present help in
trouble. He is so real in times of joy and gladness as Well
as at all other times. 
           I feel as sure as I live and breathe (and oh how
real), that life is eternal (John 3:16), For God so loved the
world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting
life. I believe I am choosing Where I will live it, when
death comes here, by the way I live daily. 
           I shall endeavor to live as near Christ’s Way as
possible, He being my helper and guide.
Christ and God the center. 
                        (Mrs. E. T. Standifer)

Happy Birthday !!!l (1997)

Down the years your light has shown,
Securing night and day,
Complex events were made OK,
By your steady care.
Reliable kindness & affection,
Now light your words and deeds,
You have mastered life itself,
By being Jesus’ friend.

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