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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Methodism My Home

What are you proud of in your religious heritage?  In what ways has it been a handicap? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1504).

With Christ as its center, the Methodist church is the best adjudicator of core paradox that I know of--the central paradox being the commands of Christ vis-à-vis the freedoms of Christ.  Isn't such the central challenge of any religion--to apply rules of precedent without staunching the requirements of necessary freedom and maneuverability to responsibly meet faithfully uncharted situations?  Seriously grappling with this challenge has helped sustain an ambiance of humility within the work and mission of Methodism. It is significant that Methodism is not a creedal church (  Litmus tests of theological correctness are not indulged in; rather the mystery of faith is generously employed--while we travel this pilgrim journey, only God is the final judge of the human heart. All (members and non-members alike) are invited to the communion rail; for it is not about what we have done for Christ, but what he has done for us.

The handicap of this approach is that the church can be criticized for being vacuous--with not Jesus but nihilism at its core.  This charge never bothers me. As a life-long member of the church, I have utmost assurance that Christian humility and egotistic humanism are miles apart and such distance is made apparent by the regular study of Scripture and the steady witness of believers.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cowed No More

What do you do when you blow it?
a. crawl into a hole
b. try to be extra good
c. confess it to God and move on
d. confess it to another person
e. shrug it off
(Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1502).

I address this question in terms of stages of maturity. When I was a youth my typical response upon blowing it would be to crawl into a hole and then try ineffectively and fraudulently to be extra good--or at least maintain a semblance of "cool".  Rather than confessing it to God and moving on, I marinated in a soup of shame, anxiety, and self-condemnation for days. "Shrugging it off" has never been something I have been able to do successfully, nor has secretly confessing it to God been effective for the matter remains thereafter a carefully guarded secret defensively hidden from others. As I have matured, I find it essential for mental and spiritual health to outflank the embarrassment and shame arising from failure. This is most effectively accomplished by confessing the blunder, mistake, or failure to another human being or human beings in an expeditious manner. If you have read my blogs over the past week or so, you will recognize that at times I have used this forum to confess some of my shortcomings. It is remarkably freeing to be able to tell the world of my weaknesses and thus to outflank the tendency to marinade in shame for weeks on end. This is such an effective way to overcome the self-flagellation that accompanies failure that I highly recommended it to everyone. You can outflank hidden shame by being frank, open and free.  You will be amazed at your new-found resilience and strength and suddenly lifted burden.  Without this stance of strength and joy (including the ability to laugh at oneself), one is forced into a field of guarded negativity in which essential trust is missing in action.

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Ironies of Vice and Virtue

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling
by Henry Fielding (22 April 1707 – 8 October 1754)

 Tom Jones - the movie (1963):

Tom (Albert Finney) grows up to be a lively young man whose good looks and kind heart make him very popular with the opposite sex. However, he truly loves only one woman, the gentle Sophie Western (Susannah York), who returns his passion. Sadly, Tom is stigmatised as a "bastard" and cannot wed a young lady of her high station. Sophie, too, must hide her feelings while her aunt (Edith Evans) and her father, Squire Western (Hugh Griffith) try to coerce her to marry a more suitable man – a man whom she hates.

This young man is Blifil (David Warner, in his film debut), the son of the Squire's widowed sister Bridget (Rachel Kempson). Although he is of legitimate birth, he is an ill-natured fellow with plenty of hypocritical 'virtue' but none of Tom's warmth, honesty, or high spirits.

When have you seen religious principles put ahead of love? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1500).
Far and away the best portrait of hypocritical virtue at its worst can be found in the movie Tom Jones (1963).  Here, Master Blifil, an incredibly sanctimonious young man, contrives to destroy the happiness of the generous spirited and irrepressible Tom Jones. If you have not seen this movie please do so. It will fix in your mind permanently how parsimonious "virtue" can be a major vice......and how kind hearted "vice" can be a major virtue.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Evil in America

Evil: causing harm : PERNICIOUS - the evil institution of slavery (Merriam-Webster).

[Jesus said] "The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil." (John 7:7 NIV).

Are you loved or hated by the world (v. 7)? Why? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1500).

It is my view that we have three pernicious evils afflicting America: 1) Chronic ideological escapism blinding us to the unjust distribution of wealth and the systematic and brazenly insufficient and unfair compensation for ground-level wealth-creation--a devilishly perverse and set American credo being the exclusive identity of wealth creators with wealth holders; 2) The fallacious credo that handgun ownership extends the police power of the state to each and every citizen--an unspeakable affront to the legitimacy of the state and the safety of its law enforcement officers; 3) Complicity in the delusion that alcohol and tobacco are essentially harmless physically and socially despite palpable evidence otherwise coincident with the cavalier refusal to take strong measures to address harmful effects.

Now I am not hated like Jesus because I obsequiously seek to offend no one.  And due to my reluctance (in concert with others like me) to stand up for truth, we ipso facto create an even more pernicious evil.

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Why I Follow Jesus

What is the main reason you follow Jesus? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1499).


I'm still a maturing Christian, so my answer could change over time. I know what the "right" answer probably is – that Jesus died for me as the Son of God to redeem me from my sins. But the question is "what is the main reason you follow Jesus?" The answer for me is quite clear – there stands no better option. When you list all that one could commit one's life to, nothing promises to be so steady and reliable as the disciplines of love demonstrated by Christ.  His disciplines have implications for human relationships, for the way we approach and manage the material world, for the compassionate objectivity that effectively co-joins creativity with exploration and formulation of facts, for a sense of purpose and meaningfulness that can redeem negativity and death, for a sense of accountability worthy of effort, hopes and dreams. Christ's love is the essential unifier of all phenomena great and small – indeed that dares to raise the question: is anything "small"? That's why I follow Christ, for there is no other tenable option during this brief passage here that gives even a modicum of the Way's cogency and power to dispel lethargy and to create worlds of redemptive energy.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Shunning the Syrup

What type of bread are you today: All-natural?  Rye?  Moldy?  Crusty?  Fresh?  Easy to butter up? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1498).

My erroneous zone, my soft spot, is vulnerability to praise. I can be suckered in by it.  I'm a pipe that can easily be played. I had a great friend at work. Her name was Jasna.  We regularly worked together on several projects, so it was important that we maintained a good working relationship. One day I decided to grease the skids with a compliment. Regarding her contribution to a project I told her "I am very impressed." She immediately retorted "Oh, don't be impressed!!!"  I was stunned for a moment and then on second thought was more impressed with her than ever. She would not be played like a pipe; she would not be vulnerable to blithe compliments.

This is the person that I admired so much that one day when I purchased a new Bible, I asked her if she would write something on the inside of the front cover. Along with a personal comment, she wrote the following quote by G. Aiken Taylor (1920-1984), a Presbyterian Minister:

"This is the Word of God, holy, inerrant, inspired, written by God, written for us, that we may know what to believe, that we may know how to live, and on its pages we might meet the living Christ."

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Socializing or Fellowship

Do you prefer to socialize at large parties, have a dinner for four, or spend a quiet evening with a friend? Why? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1497). 


To answer this question I refer to Chapters 18 & 19 in the book The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.  Warren says that in fellowship size matters: Smaller is better.  In real fellowship people experience authenticity, mutuality, sympathy, and mercy.  Cultivating a community takes honesty, humility, courtesy, confidentiality, and frequency.   I have strong predilections for small groups and often feel that I am constrained to be dishonest in large social gatherings where conversations always tend to take place towards the shallow end of the pool.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Religious Bureaucrat

Have you ever seen anyone put the study of the Scriptures before their love for Christ? Have you ever done this? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1497).


It is extraordinarily easy to substitute form for substance. Most all of us do it at some time or other. We "go through the motions" with allegiance to form and rationality of procedural structure and lose sight of the underlying purpose set forth in the beginning. The term "bureaucrat" when used in a pejorative sense always entails the tendency to substitute myopic concern over procedural details for the broader original purpose present at conception.

This tendency afflicts every area of life including government, the private sector, and even the church. The question today centers on how misapplication of focus undermines the heart of religion. It is my suspicion that most every conscientious theologian must sometimes feel anxiety regarding this issue. They must ask themselves "Am I so concerned with the rationality of structure that I ignore the baby in favor of the bath manual? Am I more engaged in escape trips of intellectual pride and artificial constructs than in reality-based heartfelt worship?"

It is fairly difficult to read the Gospels and miss the spirit of Christ, but it is not a feat that is in anyway impossible. When doctrinal arguments drown out the simplicity of the parables, we must marvel at the ingenuity of rationality when carefully fueled by personal hubris and intellectual conceits.

The anecdote to these misdirections is always to exercise retreat, cast off intellectual pride based in the delusions of ideological perfection, and return with focus on the purpose of it all – in this case the ministry of an itinerate preacher in Roman occupied Palestine some 2,000 years ago.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Boys Will Be Boys (and the Fans Love It)

How has [a study of Jesus' life and death] affected your views of masculinity? How can you be more like Jesus? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1484).

As a man, I'm glad Jesus cleared the Temple and overturned the tables of the money changers all the while slamming them with verbal hooks to the ego. That's the kind of adrenalin I can sink my teeth into. Unfortunately for my brawl bias, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane also said “Put away your sword...Those who use the sword will die by the sword.” Certainly if there were a promising stage for a bench-clearing brawl, it would have been then.

Well then, what does Jesus have to teach men? How can we possibly be persuaded by such statements as love your enemy and turn the other cheek?

What we must come to understand is that Jesus was no ordinary man. He had coolant in his veins. And we have to reluctantly admit, there are times when cooler heads win. My personal prayer is that in the days ahead, circumstances will favor cooler heads and that we boys beyond hope of saving will find salvation nevertheless.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter as an Escape Hatch

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue! (Barry Goldwater, Acceptance Speech as the 1964 Republican Presidential candidate.)

In a more modest time, a reticent single woman might meet a man's urgings for heated sexual intercourse (then called “an illicit affair”) with the rebuke “No way, I don't want to feel dirty in the morning.” The “morning after” a heated controversy I often feel this way. During a verbal battle, I often violate each and every quality attributed to the fruit of the Spirit—the heat of competition drives out love replacing it with the relentless urge to dominate and vanquish; I abandon joy for intensity and russet anger, I come to lust for combat and elbow aside peace; I dismiss forbearance and kindness as attributes of weaklings; I toss to the four winds any desire for goodness, lop off faithfulness with alacrity, and deplore gentleness viewing self-control as a vice.

The morning after I feel in great need of redemption. Easter holds out the hope of fresh starts, restorative forgiveness, and the rebirth of a renewed sweet spirit. It enables healing and wide expanses of joyful abundance. Some might say that Easter has pagan beginnings and was originally a rite of spring. For me Christ's resurrection could occur in the dead of winter—it wouldn't matter so long as I remember at least once a year that heavenly grace can overcome negativity's spirals towards depression and death.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

False Diplomacy

How has failure changed you?
a. I'm more caring and empathetic.
b. I'm more determined.
c. I'm more humble.
d. I'm more realistic.
e. I look out for myself more.
f. I'm emotionally fragile.
g. I don't feel I can serve God again.
(Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1481).

Some lessons in life come very slowly.  One lesson I am just now learning at age 70 is that weakness and fragility can be disgusting sins and affronts to God.  I have been emotionally weak and fragile in that what I thought of myself significantly depended upon what each and every person thought of me.  Because of this, I strenuously avoided conflict for I took any aggressive confrontation as a bad reflection upon me, period.  I would, in a word, always strive to be "diplomatic" in an attempt to control how others reacted to me.  My efforts "at diplomacy" were in fact bald attempts to manipulate others.   The Golden  Rule is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It doesn't take a moment's reflection to realize that I do not want to be manipulated or hoodwinked so that I appear to agree with whatever is said even it it offends my most basic values.  Thus during conversations by being more straightforward and honest I am actually being more caring and empathetic, more determined, more humble, more realistic, and more filled with love and respect for myself and others.  Spontaneous straight talk given in a spirit of helpfulness in which others feel free to give frank responses is--while occasionally more confronting--actually in fact more loving and respectful.  Diplomacy as a means of avoidance and manipulation proves to be a very unchristian practice and even signals weakness and fragility.  I trust that people will feel free to passionately disagree with me should they feel led to do so--only in this way is my own strength, sturdiness, and faithfulness tested and proven .

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Within the Pale

How do you deal with someone who wants to argue a point in the Bible? What if that person has honest questions and you don't have the answer? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1476).

There are five basic kinds of questions: who, what, when, where, how.  The major difference in political parties in America is usually "how".  When it's more than that--when it shifts to the plane of "what" (fundamental purposes, goals,and meanings) conflict shifts to a whole new level--witness the Civil War.  A question of`"how" is illustrated by the question: "how best to address the problem of poverty?"--very few would assert that empathy, compassion,  and respect for the individual are divorced from democratic governance.  If one replies "what problem?" clearly they have an anomalous view of the underlying values of democracy.

I have never argued a point in the Bible with believers because I have never encountered a believer that does not attest to the first and second commandments (Matthew 22:36-40):

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

That is, contrasting interpretations of Scripture boil down to a matter of emphasis and timelines, not fundamentals.  For many months I have been having discussions with a Jehovah's Witness couple.  Some Protestants and Evangelicals view Jehovah's Witnesses dismissively.  I do not share this viewpoint.  We are able to have cordial discussions for I have found within their faith belief in Jesus as the Son of God, belief in the resurrection, belief in eternal life.  The things that would divide us I view as timeline issues or matters of emphasis--belief that a person does not immediately continue with eternity upon death; the view that the Son of God is under the authority of his Heavenly Father to the extent that the full equality of the Trinity is counterintuitive; or contrasting views regarding the date of the Kingdom of God's commencement upon earth.  The things that unite us are overwhelming--belief in Jesus as Savior of the world, a yearning to be faithful to Jehovah, commitment to following  the first and second commandments and the values they entail.  I know we are on the same page because my Jehovah's Witness friends manifest the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.

Someday I will no doubt meet an American who does no share my democratic fundamentals and American ideals. Then conflict will occur on a level quite different from conflict over tertiary issues of "how" or "when".  Likewise with religion, the spirit underlying belief will differ.  At those times forbearance will be insufficient, and I will require the intervening power of heavenly grace. 

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Risk: A Bittersweet Necessity

Describe a time when you lost money. (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1473)..

I was about five years old.  Our family lived in Okeechobee, FL.  Mother, Daddy, my brother and I were in a remote area fishing off the side of a bridge. I was fishing with a cane pole.  The cork bobbed on the dark water.  Suddenly the cork went under and I pulled hard on the pole and landed a bream.  The fish seemed huge at the time, but was no match for the awesome pride I felt.

That, of course, is a memory I would not have if Daddy had not been willing to risk that I might come home that day dejected from never getting a bite.  Looking back, it was well worth the risk--especially since it had a happy conclusion.

Years later I put a sizable sum in the stock market.  I remember the confidence with which I invested.  I had immense confidence that the tech stock would provide me with awesome capital growth.  I distinctly remember having high anxiety that the buy transactions might be delayed a few moments and I miss out on a major move upward.  A few months later the stock market sank to historic lows and I incurred major losses.  No doubt everyone that buys a lotto ticket is equally confident that the ticket purchased will cascade returns.

I have over the years spent a small fortune on education--not really knowing for certain if I would pass or fail--or if I should get the degree, if it would pay off tangibly or intangibly.  Yet on campus on a crisp fall morning I was confident that education would reap unspecified rewards and with joyful emotion I enrolled in classes.

This is bittersweet for confidence alone does not eliminate risk--no matter how filled with optimism and certitude we are. Yet without confidence we would never push forward and create fresh realities.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In a Few Words

If Jesus asked, "What do you want me to do for you?" what would you say? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1472).

Any goal or objective I might have may not be the will of God.  Thus, only one answer does not presume absolute knowledge and wisdom on my part.  That answer is: "Please guide my steps oh Lord."

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Monday, April 14, 2014

The One Chosen

If you were in desperate need in the middle of the night, whom outside your family would you call? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Bible, page 1470).

This question is complicated because it initially calls forth portraits of trusted individuals that I have known and in some  ways have relied on for years.  All of these people though not blood-related have long-since become part of what I consider my extended family.  They vary in sex, age, physical strength, and what commonly goes for intelligence.  They also vary in location, mobility and talents, resources, and gifts.  Some are wealthy, some are poor; some head companies, some are destitute and in jail or prison. So very much depends upon the nature of "desperate need". Ironically, if it were a spiritual matter, I would most be inclined to talk as soon as possible with a select group of my extended family in prison.

Of course institutions rather than trusted individuals may be indicated.  An assortment of emergencies could trigger calls to 911.  My church offers counselling, various services, and money for emergency situations.  It lives its Christian mission and does not just pronounce it.

As for trusted individuals, It is really impossible to identify one that I would  call or search out.  It would be essential to consult the Holy Spirit for guidance in making this choice.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Identity Underlying Diversity

How do things like customs and status get in the way of loving others in your family? Church? Work place? Community? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1462).

One of the most liberating things in the world is to see others regardless of differences in externalities as vulnerable human beings in need of compassion and love.  Many corollaries flow from this central insight--human beings share immensely more in common than that which differentiates them; truth is not a respecter of persons and can be sourced in the most unexpected of places, in the most paradoxical of ways, and at the most unusual of times; human experience shares identical themes beneath widely diverse appearances; that "all men are created equal" is one of the most transformative of concepts opening doors to respect, acceptance, and shared abundance.

Likewise, genuine security is not provided by surface constructs but by underlying identity.  Thus, the flimsy nature of constructs make their defense reactionary,  divisive,`desperate, and cruel. God grant that we buy into the real deal and not be mislead by grounding our trust in illusory and insubstantial accretions.     

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ten 2-Letter Words to Remember

What does God have to give you that you have not taken? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1464).

It is my belief that each and every person has a purpose gifted by God.  Everyone has a talent that awaits cultivation and development.  We are further gifted with opportunities for the development of this talent. These opportunities--present within our environment--often exist because of the labor of others in turn fulfilling their God-given purpose; for example, the training provided by a music teacher.  Tragically, people can fail to identify or exploit their intended destiny. 

Last night at the University of South Florida I attended the ceremony for 2014 inductees into the Public Affairs Honor Society--Pi Alpha Alpha.  The guest speaker was Robert "Bobby" Green. He has been the city manager for Auburndale, Florida for over 22 years and holds many honors including  Harrry Truman Presidential Scholar.  He concluded his speech with a quotation whose source is anonymous. He challenged us to remember 10 words, with each word containing only two letters.  Here is the quote: "If it is to be it is up to me." 

Looking within and about us, surely the tree stands heavy with fruit ready for our taking, yet we must see it and take it......If it is to be it is up to me.  

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Mind Significantly IS Matter

How do you reconcile [the] connection between physical and spiritual healing? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1461.).

We must face the increasingly clear realization that "mind OVER matter" greatly understates reality.  In truth, "mind significantly IS matter."  Scientific evidence is accumulating daily that a positive, joyful, and optimistic mindset has compounding influences upon the structure and functioning of the brain and the rest of the body. We stand at the threshold of much greater insight into human health AND behavior. That is, ultimately our social structures themselves can be seen essentially as byproducts of mental attitude.

Well, what I have said thus far does not necessarily imply the intervention of Divinity.  But there is little likelihood that people of faith will agree that all of the above takes place on a purely physical level.  I would suggest that both believers and nonbelievers  keep open minds.  It would be presumptuous and stultifying to do any less.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Attribution Sins

What is the danger of associating someone's misfortune with sin? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1460).

We may think of this question in relation to religious fanatics who feel completely justified in withholding all empathy, compassion, and assistance from the unfortunate. I remember well how justified some felt holding an it-serves-you-right attitude after Katrina or upon the affliction of aids.  In short, in the name of religion, people's hearts turned cold, hard, and cruel.  This attitude is not only confined to those inflated by religiosity, but holds true in secular areas where people believe in salvation and justification by works in concert with the delusional worship of seamless  individual mastery and control.  From this point of view, virtually ALL affliction and suffering (other than one's own) is well deserved .  The problem here is that not only is compassion stymied, but intellectual analysis is foreclosed--in the name of "objectivity" all objectivity is lost.  This is reminiscent of the fundamental attribution error in which others' stumbling invariably is assigned to sin while my stumbling inevitably has circumstantial justification.  There is an inherent bias against helpful analysis when findings of sin close the door to empathy, exploration, or administration of effective remedy.  The obdurate stigmatizing and stereotyping of the incarcerated come to mind.  Unfortunately being "tough on crime" is the red meat fix pandered passionately to a lascivious, self-righteous political base.  The plight of the poor is an additional à la carte.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When to Stay the Hand

Are you more of a "the-rules-are-meant-to-be-broken" or a "play-it-by-the-book" type of person? Why? Give an example (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1460).

Today at 6 am I was at LabCorp getting blood drawn for examination prior to my doctor's appointment next week  A Saint Petersburg police officer was ahead of me so we had a chat.  His current assignment is to provide police presence at a local high school.  I asked what was his toughest challenge? He said the toughest challenge came not from students but from school officials.   He explained that they wanted him to address matters other than law enforcement--they wanted him to enforce school dress codes and monitor the cafeteria. This he declined to do. I responded that he did well.  It would be a serious matter if students come to see the police power of the state as legitimately the enforcer of matters other than the law. On his leaving I told him to be a good ambassador for law enforcement.  I remarked in utter seriousness that students should come to love the police power of the state.  A moment's serious reflection demonstrates the truth of this statement.

So in some matters I  think a clear and proper perception demands playing-it-by-the book.  The abuse of power is never good.  The oft overlooked paradox is that discipline releases the most creativity.  There is a song that says "anything goes."  This is a good concept so long as it takes place within broad parameters of disciple.  A wife may tell her husband "anything goes" which is fine if it means brainstorming about an upcoming vacation--not so good if he thinks his wife is suggesting that he have an extramarital affair.  

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Monday, April 7, 2014

The Continuum of Appropriateness

What discussion topics are taboo at your family table or at family reunions?  Why? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1460)

There is a continuum of appropriateness and at either end is abuse.  In the center is goodwill which is a combination of respect and love.  The question that confronts is how to arrive at the center between the extremes of abuse.  First, what do I mean by extremes of abuse?  The current atmosphere is Congress where each faction intentionally HURTS one another is a form of abuse.  But so also is the vacuity and desperate emptiness found at family reunions where nothing of importance or real meaning or underlying concern is honestly addressed--this too is HURTFUL.  Somewhere in the middle are forums of  goodwill (certainly NOT cold civility).  For example at a family reunion a young man in his late twenties is present who is seemingly going nowhere; he has no career; he does not have a wife, two children, and a dog all living in a lovely home with a pool.  His life appears stymied and it is evident the situation is becoming painful and embarrassing for him.  The talk at the dinner table is vacuous and painfully so as only saccharin niceties are exchanged.  Surely the young man would appreciate someone casually telling a story illustrating that "those also serve who only stand wait"--for example an abbreviated telling of Hawthorne's "The Great Stone Face."  Such a story would be of general interest and there would be no reason to suspect that it was intended to encourage any particular person.  This technique of approaching problems obliquely but meaningfully and helpfully is a significant attribute of empathy.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spring Forward

This is the first Communion Sunday after the spring equinox.  In the way of celebration, I share with all my friends and readers throughout the world the following two songs by gifted artists.  Regarding the first song, I have to apologize to everyone if I seem dense in my view of this primal American mission--I am fully aware that our friends throughout the world often best us in fulfilling this important and universal goal.

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

On Drives and Blessings

How can you transfer your treasure from Wall Street to Heaven's Gate? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1459).

Like most every Christian I know, I recoil at "selling all I have and giving it to the poor."  I view the situation much as analogous to a shrub growing in the front yard. It is absolutely true there are great limits set regarding what I can provide for the plant.  For example I have no control over the necessity of sun light and congenial weather.  Even if I built a lighted and climate controlled greenhouse, it all ultimately is fueled by star energy.  So in analogy, we are in final evaluation totally dependent upon God for the essence of spiritual nourishment. Given the truth of this, in order to help the plant flourish, it is a good thing to have a bank account from which to purchase water from the utility company and fertilizer and fungicides at Home Depot.  There even exists a significant drive of responsibility and moral duty involved--and this necessarily entails a measure of "filthy lucre."  Thus we can see that a balanced viewpoint is necessary; and I take Jesus' pleadings for us to deemphasize concern over material wealth as an attempt to break our obsession and addiction to unlimited financial  security which tends to err on the side of great excess, psychological denial of a crippling problem, and even cruelty to ourselves and others.

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Stand Up

When have you taken a risk and stood for Jesus in a public way?  What happened?  What did you learn? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary, page 1458).

Doing so, [Jesus] reminded us that we should never let legalism get in the way of the power of Christ.  When we are prompted to act, to love, to heal, to move, that's exactly what we have to do. ("Throw Out the Playbook" April 4th devotional in The President's Devotional by Joshua Dubois).

When the need arises and one feels a divine calling to act, it is often the case that a significant measure of risk is involved primarily due to the uncertainty that a goodwill response will be forthcoming.  That is, your best intentions can be met with hostility or manipulative opportunism. The responses I've  encountered have been mixed ranging from an awesome love response to a hatred of shattering proportions.  My ultimate lesson is always the same: one is inevitably enriched by following the promptings  of the Great Jehovah--one can receive the reward of requited love or the hard lessons that build and enrich character.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ashamed of My Termites

How do you feel knowing that everything done in secret will someday be revealed?  (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1458).

I live in a frame home in Florida. This means like clockwork every 5 years or so I must have my house tented (fumigated) for termites.  Every time this is required I go through several stages.  The first time I see the shed wings of dry termites a dull dread overcomes me.  My first response is denial--I attempt to hide the fact even from myself.  I quickly discard the wings.  I vaguely feel having termites should be a cause of shame.  I am careful to hide the fact from anyone and try to go about my life as if nothing were wrong--nothing is steadily destroying my home.  I will let months pass--almost a year--half successfully pretending that all is well.  Yet my underlying dread is that the termites will swarm again, and the fresh supply of shed wings will doubly convict me for now a year of inexcusable inaction has passed.

For the uninitiated I will list a few of the negatives brought on by fumigation for termites; their elimination is expensive; all ingestible items other than canned goods must be removed (even those in regenerators or freezers) or double wrapped and sealed in special plastic bags; all life will be killed--so all plants will need to removed or temporarily transplanted; any limbs or branches above the house that would impede putting up the tent must be removed; one must vacate the premises for two nights; the fumigator by contract is shielded from liability for any damage done to the roof of your house or break-ins or theft during the process;  the natural gas must be shut off the day preceding fumigation and turned on again the day after--yet another inconvenience and expense.

Thus approximately twice in  every decade I encounter a practicum of sin and shame. But one thing I have learned.  Once I come to my senses and call the fumigator--the one I've used for thirty years--I immediately feel a great weight lifted. When a date for the fumigation is set, many things are automatically placed upon my agenda.  Nevertheless, I have the immense satisfaction and relief of knowing I am doing the responsible and right thing, and a great sense of rectitude, competence, and optimism immediately overtakes me.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How Many Flashlights Does a Man Need?

How many flashlights do you own?  How many work? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1456).

There is a current ad for a real estate broker that displays a healthy caution about clients lusting after a dream home and not counting real cost--for example the cost associated with maintaining an expansive pool.  Living in Florida surrounded on three sides by water, I have long heard the warning that owning a fancy yacht may fuel one's dreams, but upon realization of that dream there arise the relentless cost of boat maintenance and upkeep.  I love to shop and often purchase on impulse items that at a minimum will require further cluttering of my home.  Yet I characteristically go for the immediate addictive "fix" of purchase rather than counting the eventual cost of clutter.  This acquisition tendency is so firmly ingrained in my character that I have many flashlights, but few well maintained and working ones.

As an American I have deep respect for individual conscience and the belief in the divine spark. Yet I surmise that I am not the only one to be lax in my maintenance of conscience and the cultivation of divinity.  This has sobering implications for framing the underpinnings of society and the concordant outgrowth of neurological pathways. How many today have set aside time for daily meditation and devotions?  How can we cultivate conscience and the divine spark without them?  Surely 24/7 "Breaking News" however additive is not our most urgent need nor does it serve to fructify life rather than impoverish it.  When we take a moment to pause and think about it, surely we have let the noise of life supplant our responsibility to induct harmony within it.

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