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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Greatest Gift

How comfortable do you feel about everything you've ever concealed being disclosed? How would you live your life differently if you wanted to live it without worrying what was disclosed? (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition page 1398).

In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all.
(Isaiah 11:6 NLT)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (Amendment 1 US Constitution)

The American birthright of freedom of speech has awesome implications. Think of it for a moment – just think of it – a world without censors. Are any of us really ready for this awesome and priceless gift? I often think of the Scripture passage that says that in the end a little child will lead them. And the outstanding characteristic of little children is their lack of filters. Can we tough adults really endure simple honesty, simple truth – do we have the courage even the indomitable spirit to let chips fall where they may? I wish all of us to contemplate for a moment that freedom. What if we were not afraid of our concealments, but because human experience was so universally honest there were no hidden shames – no craven deceits – for all were fully aware of shared human vulnerabilities and thus were no longer insidiously controlled by them? Freedom of speech may well end up being for humanity in time when all implications are fully expressed and realized the very key to unimagined progress in human affairs. I think the greatest gift of our founding fathers not only to America but to everyone was this shining, uplifted challenge to simply be honest with others and true to oneself. There are no fields of endeavor and no landscapes of the psyche that in the end will be left untouched by the First Amendment.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

God's Man; God's Country; God's Kingdom

Matthew 4:8-10 NLT

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”

Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say,

You must worship the Lord your God
and serve only him.’”

God's wrath: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him....In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (from Romans 12).

In the middle of the Civil War, President Lincoln attended a reception where he spoke about the Southerners. He referred to them as human beings who had committed grave errors, rather than his enemies to be completely destroyed.

One woman fiercely committed to the Union cause, chastised President Lincoln for humanizing the foes to the south instead of seeking to destroy them. Lincoln responded to her calmly: "Why, madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"

We can defeat our enemies by the sword and thereby create even more enemies. Or we can love them into submission.

President Lincoln had to do the former sometimes, but he much preferred the latter. And the latter, of course, is the path of Christ.

(From the President's Devotional by Joshua Dubois, January 30th).

There is certainly no exclusivity if we speak of God's man or God's country. We can compile our own lists of God's men and God's countries. For example, I think many see Billy Graham as God's man. I will discuss someone I know better—my own father. Daddy was a Godly man who put worship of God first. He was a follower of Jesus and he believed and exercised the disciplines of love. I say this knowing full well that he would make no claims to perfection. One of his roles was being the father of our family. Now, he would not claim perfection in this role. We can even go far as to say the role of father (any father) is inherently imperfect. Just so, no country, not even one considered God's country should claim perfection for imperfection is inherent in the role of any country.

The Jehovah Witness point out that Satan's temptation of Christ to become an earthly ruler supports the idea that all governments are inherently evil for the powers were Satan's to give away. I suppose you could include a father's role as in part a governmental role—a father has obligations in the governance of his family. If all government is of Satan, it cannot be of God. Therefore all governance of any entity is of the devil.

I suppose anyone looking at Washington right now might be inclined to agree. Certainly perfection and governance seem eternally estranged. It is good to understand this because this forms the foundation of all that's good in government. I do not believe that the US Constitution and Bill of Rights are of the devil, I think they are of God. I think governments are institutions ordained by God. Now this is a neutral statement and does not imply that governments are always good, always just, always righteous, and certainly does not imply that they are to become unlimited objects of worship.

Likewise the role of government is not uniform but this is determined by the institution it serves. For example, the ruling body of a state has a role quite different from the ruling body of a family. It is important not to confuse these roles, for as Bonhoeffer so aptly put it, if one institution tires to usurp the role of another, it will forfeit it own proper role.

Governance always entails power—if not the police power of the state, a semblance of it. This power is essentially what Jesus declined at the temptation. He would not rule by power, but by Spirit. Therefore I warn all those who look forward to an end-time when Jesus will rule by power (some imagine even ruthless bureaucratic and military power) that this is a contradiction to the Spirit of Christ as he consistently revealed it.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

On Earth as It Is in Heaven

What do you need to do so that your spiritual life is producing an abundant crop? (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition, page 1397).

Communication with the Holy Spirit is the key to all that follows. If we are not sensitive to the leadings of the spirit, then we are subject to great error. This is true because we often have to do what we feel in our hearts is right even though we cannot completely understand it intellectually. This difficulty is compounded by social context. As Joyce Meyer mentioned in today's devotional: "Even if you are the only one responding your way, be bold enough to follow your heart.”** That is, our assurance requires faith and trust. Starkly put, "Not everything God asked us to do is going to make sense in our minds. Learn how to go with what you sense inside your heart. If you don't have peace about doing something, then don't do it. If you have peace about something, don't let your friends talk you out of it just because they don't understand.” (Ibid). Here, way out there in the blue, proposed action must be defensible in the first order as within the context of God's love and secondarily calibrated within the Wesleyan quadrilateral: how does my decision bear up under reference to Scripture, experience, tradition, and reason? Yet, even so, we must remember that God is God and it is He we must trust in the end, nothing else. In short, one can be subject to judgment calls of being fool-hearty, dangerously risky, engaging in the untried and untested, and even courting the absurd. Significant advances towards the goal enunciated in the Lord's Prayer (Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven) sometimes necessitates the courage to be different—even profoundly and disturbingly so.

**Joyce Meyer, Power Thoughts Devotional, p 29).

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The Big Chill and the Warmth of Human Kindness

Yesterday was my 70th birthday (born on January 27, 1944).

To help me celebrate my brother Bob and wife Linda traveled from north Georgia to have lunch with me in Saint Petersburg. It was a little awkward for at the moment I am contagious for cold miseries—which I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. They declined to come into my house or to drive to the restaurant in the same car with me—even our embraces were gingerly. Luckily, there were seats outside the restaurant (the weather was moderate) and as no one else was sitting there, I could cough to my heart's content. We had a fun visit and topped it off with surprise homemade coconut pie (made by the local restaurant) and finished with a stirring rendition of Happy Birthday. I received much support for both my sickness and my birthday throughout the day—receiving cards, letters, and phone calls from nieces, nephews, in-laws, and friends. My friends Veronica and Negille even brought over a container of chicken soup.

My doctor gave me a big birthday present too. First he prescribed an antibiotic for my lung condition, an inhaler, order not to return to work for 7 days. Now, I have tons of sick time at work and will be retiring Friday of next week. Sick time is much more valuable if actually used. While one can receive a percentage of accumulated sick time as cash on retirement, it is a very small percentage. The doctor gifted me with salvation from the anxiety and guilt that accompanies a going-back-to-work decision while suffering from a serious cold. The questions are always “Is now the time to return to work—is it too early, am I still contagious, what if I have a relapse?” With a stroke of the pen Dr. Brady removed all such ethical dilemmas.

In sum, I had an adventurous 70th birthday completely redeemed from boredom. Often in life it seems that downsides have a savingeven endearingupside. So what if my 70th birthday was accompanied by a big chill?—the warmth of human kindness turned out to be the dominant theme.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Jesus Bomb

Why did Jesus' family think he was out of his mind?
a. No normal person would act the way he did.
b. They thought he was under excessive stress.
c. They thought he had “delusions of grandeur.”
d. They really didn't understand who he was.
e. They were swayed by others.

(Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1396 question 2).

When the family heard about this [how the crowds were attracted by Jesus], they went to take charge of him, for they said “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21).

I once was called an idealist by someone who had little regard for my ideas. This appellation cut me to the quick. Not so anymore. Now I'm proud to identify myself an idealist. Broadly speaking, Jesus was an idealist in the sense suggested by the words of Robert Kennedy about himself: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

The common error most of us make, of course, derives from the assumption that all people are our should be normal. Yet normalcy is a concept that never holds up well upon close examination. As Pastor David reminded us in a recent sermon:

Sometimes we are tempted to believe the illusion that somewhere out there are people who are normal. In the movie, “As Good As It Gets”, Helen Hunt is filled with conflicting feelings about Jack Nicholson. He is kind and generous to her and her sick son, but he is also obsessive compulsive and incredibly offensive. If rudeness were measured in square miles – he’d be Texas (Ortberg). In desperation, Helen finally cries to her mother – I just want a normal boyfriend. Her mother responds – everyone wants one of those. There’s no such thing. We all come AS IS. (

So the first point to make is that if abnormality makes us out of our minds, then we all are. The options that follow (a) require that the family assume a posture of The Judge—which Shirzad Chamine (in Positive Intelligence) has called the primary Saboteur that undermines the positive, creative side of human thought (the Sage as he identifies it). All such hurtful judgments are made basically out of dread, anxiety, and fear. Rather than take Jesus at his word and go with it, the deeply ingrained human reflex is to judge on the basis of anxiety and fear and the deep suspicion that, unlike ourselves, we espy entirely reprehensible abnormality in others.

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Jesus as the Average Joe

What motivates you to seek Jesus? What does it mean to you to be “with him”? To be “sent out” by him? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1396).

I find it easiest to look at this question not as it relates to the Son of God, but as to an ordinary “Joe”. If I were to seek my friend Joe (whom by definition I admire) I would be looking for him either in person or in his works. That is, if Joe were a skilled painter, I might say that this work “looks just like Joe.” So when it comes to Jesus I look for his presence but also how his work is manifest in the world. If Joe were to “send me out” it would most likely be on some sort of mission to either assist him, others, or myself. My objective would be to fulfill the essence of the mission thereby inevitable complementing his mission with my understanding of it, with my talents, and with the opportunities and hindrances the world might present. As for Joe, for Jesus. To be “with Joe” means that I will support him even if we are separated in time or space. If he were a historical figure, I might seek to help accomplish his mission to the extent that I can in the way that I can during my lifetime. If Joe were someone yet to be born—say a grandchild, I might seek to leave behind any number or types of legacies. So in some ways Jesus is the average Joe in the ways and means in which he can be sought, accompanied, or served.

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Expansive Communication Without the Mass

When have you been attracted to or repelled by large crowds (sporting events, rock concerts, political rallies, opening day at a new mall)? What do you do to get away from the maddening crowd? (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition, page 1395).

I am never attracted by large crowds, but I am attracted by their significance. For example, I used to on occasion attend the Florida annual conference of the Methodist Church. Thousands attended and it was reassuring to know that I and my home congregation were not alone but Methodism was an expansive, ongoing, and thriving enterprise. As a youngster when I would go with my father to conference, I would frequently abandoned the conference (once the significance of the occasion had duly made an impression) and walk downtown to the dimestore and buy a bag of salted Spanish peanuts (as I recall, a big bag for 35 cents). Likewise, after the election of Barack Obama I rejoiced to see on TV a huge crowd gathered to help him celebrate his victory. Yet, I would have gladly given 100 bucks not to have been there personally. The same goes for sporting events, mass concerts, and huge throngs generally. One reason I attend the early service on Sunday mornings is that only a 100 or less attend that service. I like to feel that I am within a fellowship not a throng-ship. I feel especially fortunate for television and other forms of mass communication paradoxically go a long way toward taking the “mass” out of communication—every day communication is becoming more personal.

PS: If you follow my blog daily you will notice that I have had a lapse or two now for several days. The reason is that I caught a head cold that hit me like a ton of bricks—head congestion, coughing (thank goodness, no flu symptoms). I did have to take some sick time off from work. Which in a sense makes it a vacation—or as British Prime Minister Lloyd George said, “I find that a change of nuisance is as good as a vacation.” (Quoted in The President's Devotional by Joshua Dubois, Jan 26).

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Rest and Recuperation

God's intent for the Sabbath was our restoration. Complete the following sentences:
a. I find physical rest/recuperation when I __________________________.
b. I find mental rest/recuperation when I ___________________________.
c. I find emotional rest/recuperation when I ________________________.
d. I found spiritual rest/recuperation when I ________________________.

(Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1395).

Some exploratory questions I would ask regarding the physical aspect: do you feel tired, exhausted, suffering from fatigue and persistent aches and pains?

Questions regarding the mental aspect: do you feel disinterested in life, not stimulated intellectually, having a diminished curiosity accompanied by an inability to focus?

Questions regarding the emotional: do you feel estranged from your feelings; are you feeling emotionally exhausted, drained, or inert?

Questions regarding the spiritual: do you feel spiritually spent—that you have given your best days pursuing unworthy goals—things without lasting meaning but instead fixated on narrow and transient selfish interest?

Rest and recuperation must transpire on a broad front including the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Sometimes stupid things are asserted implying that mind over matter is all—just muster brute courage and effort and pull oneself up by attitude alone. Jesus realized the importance of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. He ministered to the sick and mentally distraught; comforted the emotionally spent; and illumined lives spiritually bringing faith, hope, and love.

I work (at least for two more weeks before I retire) in the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Saint Petersburg. In our programs we address all four critical areas—the ultimate goal being to bring restoration to all participants.

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Breaking Free from Paralysis

In what ways is sin like paralysis? What freedoms has Jesus' word of forgiveness given to you? Where do you need to hear that word again? (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition, page 1394).

Paralysis defined:
1 : complete or partial loss of function especially when involving the motion or sensation in a part of the body
2 : loss of the ability to move
3 : a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act

In my young adult years, principally while I was an undergraduate, I suffered from paralysis in the sense that I was afflicted by a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act. I wrote a poem during those years called "Tied Statue". This was very much the way that I looked upon myself emotively—every joint in my body and every thought seemed to be constrained and required great effort even to move . Freedom of spirit was largely unknown to me. But over a period of time this internal repression gave way to a conviction that I must act and do so with integrity of purpose no matter the consequences. Calculation which had been predominant in my every action gave way to spontaneity and freedom. I must say that this was a process. I cannot think of a single moment of revelation in this matter. Partially it was a processing aided and abetted by the circumstances of the times. First, there was the Vietnam War which required a stand contrary to law. This landed me in prison where it was essential to have a firm grasp of who I was and what I stood for. Later, in graduate school I was confronted with the realization that intellectual conviction and integrity required assertion even in the face of academic opposition and disapproval. In my first forays into the world it became clear to me that mission was incompatible with standard views of success and sacrifices inevitably had to be made. Working with youth without any organizational imprimatur to validate my motives, I had to weather suspicion by many of pedophilia. Gradually with time I have come to realize that individual integrity was incompatible with paralysis. I found broad support in many accounts of the Old and New Testaments. Thus religion and experience dovetailed into an approach of assertiveness. At this stage in my life (soon to be 70), I am grateful that at some point I am emerged from being a tied statue into becoming a man with a purpose that would not be denied.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Accountability Group

In what specific ways do you wish to be held accountable [by an accountability group]? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1393 – a paraphrase of question 10).

Being “held accountable” is quite different and is in many ways the opposite of being “micro managed.” The latter assumes you are not trustworthy, the former assumes that you are.

So at the outset, being held accountable pleases me for I am being trusted to fulfill my obligations as defined by faith, job, social compact, and citizenship. An accountability group would help define and clarify my obligations and help determine if I am meeting them.

Some specific ways I wish to be held accountable are through the judgment of others exercised thusly: an exploration of the motives and consequences of my actions or inaction; called to account in a manner in which judgment is closely accompanied by inspiration for and encouragement of future corrective action; counsel underwritten by assurance of executional capacity; mindful of human and divine forgiveness and the necessity for it due to common human limitations and frailties and the unavoidable complexities and hindrances of the environment; an appreciation for integrity and truth as key virtues more greatly to be desired than comfort or acclaim; faithful and steady support defined by helpfulness and humility; reference to Jesus as pattern maker for ethics and values subjecting one's action or inaction to the application of the Golden Rule; an insistence that pragmatism be a balance of long-term and immediate effectiveness; an insistence of institutional integrity that respects distinct responsibilities and limitations; finally I would desire an accountability group that understands that hindsight is always 20-20 whereas the present and future are frequently obscured from human view.

In sum, I would remember that being held accountable is the highest of all human compliments. It should be prized and valued highly above shallow social approval or contrived presentations covered thinly in a veneer of perfection.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

The Paradox of Freedom

What does it mean to teach “with authority”? What was the nature and source of Jesus' authority? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, pp 1391-20).

Jesus spoke with authority for he deeply appreciated the irony and paradox that underlies life. With this perspective propagated, once latent truths can flame out suddenly with brilliance and authority. Several examples include the parable of the Good Samaritan, the rich man building storehouses for his wealth, the widow's mite, the sons who said one thing in terms of obedience but did another, the faith of a Roman soldier. Additionally, the story of the New Testament is replete with irony and paradox—the Savior born in a stable and dying on a criminal's cross and with final victory enabled by defeat.

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. He too was a man who spoke with authority. Who can forget the tenor of his voice and the power of his words? He too appreciated the revelatory power of irony and paradox. A central lesson he taught was: "All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." (See reference below.) Certainly this is a key paradox in human social life. For the ultimate object of close mutuality is to free the human spirit—especially that of the individual. For individuals to be truly free, they must exist in a tight matrix of social interdependency. Let's see how this works in a few simple examples. I am highly dependent upon the sanitation systems of my city. I would be a much less free—with significantly less free time—if I had to fetch my own water, dispose of my own feces and other wastes. Another example, as a youngster I was assigned the socially responsible task of learning to read, thus in a sense tying me down with a chore. However, the obvious objective was not to enslave me or curtail my freedom, but to allow me to emerge a free, literate man. Thus whenever we see on the surface a free spirit flying high like a butterfly, we should never forget beneath the surface such freedom is a byproduct of tight mutuality.

The reference below lists 10 interesting Leadership Lessons of MLK.
David Peck - Martin Luther King's Leadership Lessons:

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Education's Emotive Needs

 Who was one of your best teachers? What made that teacher so good? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1391).

I was a student much in need of compassion. Learning and understanding did not always come easy for me. Fortunately, over the years, I have teachers who loved me. They realized that if I were to learn, I would first need to get beyond the chore of learning to accepting its passion. Then, they were generous in evaluating me. Giving me the benefit of the doubt, when there was some cause for doubt. On the other hand, the teachers I liked least were the martinets—those who propagated form over substance—where formal education came to mean abject submission to staid vacuity. The first need in education is to stir up a passion for it leaving behind rote formality that simply goes through the motions. As has been said, professors need to profess vital convictions and thereby emerge through the web of constraints constituting pedagogic lethargy.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

On Sense and Sensibility

Which do you believe more: (a) What your hear? (b) What your see? (c) What you want? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1388).

As so many questions in the Serendipity Bible, this question quickly cuts to the chase. For what we believe is most profoundly influenced not by our senses but by what we make of our senses—our processed perceptions (or as the southern character says, “Don't tell me what you see, tell me what you observe”). It seems to me that all life is much like a Rorschach test in which we distinctly remember what captures us. I heard an atheist today say that as a youngster he was regularly taught crap in chapel. I don't doubt what he says for a moment. He surely heard some foul shit from the pulpit. However, other students in chapel have long forgotten the fallacious statements made there and remember the other things said that have served them well and guided their lives.

We are extremely selective in our remembrances based upon the sense we have made and the values we have placed upon what we have sensed experientially. That is, what we want profoundly influences what we make of our environment. For me personally, this is very much what my faith is all about. Since I want the fruit of the Spirit, I readily understand that spiritual fruit as key to productivity and happiness and a linchpin of all life and true success. I am perfectly willing to concede that there have been multiple impressions made upon me during my lifetime, any of which could have taken root if I had been susceptible to them—some I'm certain would have been detrimental to my welfare. Luckily, by the grace of God, despite some crap now and then, the essentials of the Gospel sounded to my hearing like good sense—like the preferred path.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Anger and Fear (and Me?)

If Jesus came today, who would "crucify" him? What would be the charge against him? Where would you be? (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition, page 1386).

The people that would crucify Jesus today are the same people who crucified him 2000 years ago. They are people chronically characterized by anger and fear. These are the two lethal ingredients for any great injustice. We certainly see in our media today commentators full of anger and fear. They whip it up daily. Certainly they would crucify him figuratively if not in fact. They no doubt would leave it to some of their listeners to do the deed. As for the charges that would be leveled against Jesus, who knows what they would be? We know that those who were besides themselves with anger and fear 2000 years ago exercised hated against Jesus because he healed the sick, ministered to the poor, and (worst of all) pointed out that the downtrodden were worthy people – in some ways even more worthy than those self-righteously ensconced in the safe haven of the status quo.

Now where would I be? That question gives serious pause for I'm safely ensconced in the status quo—in many ways fat, happy, and broadly content with my self-assigned worthiness. I habitually have a very good opinion of myself. What if Jesus should criticize me either directly or by nailing me in one or two of his parables. Would I find myself in the crowd crying crucify him? My comfort meter is very fragile and highly vulnerable to criticism—especially criticism in areas where I feel quite self-sufficient.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Black Hole of Responsibility

On a scale of 1 (easiest) to 10 (toughest), how difficult is it for you to accept responsibility? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1386).

We have all heard politicians in the midst of an embarrassing situation say “I accept full responsibility—in the last analysis whatever happens on my watch is my responsibility.” By deeply intoning “whatever happens is my responsibility” he is (while sounding reassuringly solid) deliberately exculpating himself. For if everything is his responsibility, then nothing is his responsibility. One simply cannot be accountable for everything under the sun.

This brings us to the key question—not will I accept responsibility, but what is my responsibility? The real dilemma is discerning where my responsibility begins and ends. No one can accept unlimited responsibility for everything. Great misadventures occur whenever unlimited responsibility is assumed, especially if it is assumed by a person of power and influence—however flattering it may be for the leader to assume otherwise.

The responsibility mythology is used to justify great inequity in wealth distribution. A person claims (usually an owner of high executive) due to their unlimited responsibilities that they are due unlimited compensation. The plain fact of the matter is that the work of any enterprise requires great democratization of responsibility and accountability, and fairly, of compensation.

Thus we see that the assumption of unlimited responsibility essentially derives from selfish interest and arrogance. It takes a little humility to see ourselves as one among many tasked with essential but limited responsibilities.

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