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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In Living Color

Yesterday I discussed weakness as is reflected in one's personal history--a history uneven in character, not pristinely ideal.  A moment's reflection indicates that it is liberating no longer to be cornered and intimidated by the imperfections of one's past. Last night I attended a Bible study group at Clearview United Methodist Church. At one point, a member of the group said that we are all adults here; there is a sense in which we all have a colorful past.  This immediately struck me as a pointedly redemptive way to view a checkered past – it should not elicit shame and intimidation but a sense of appreciation for its involuted complexity and often inescapable realism. We must humbly and graciously conclude that all adults without exception have a colorful past.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Don't Hide Your Weaknesses

How do you react to "wild, scary and beastly" forces within your world? Within your life? What reason does Daniel give you to trust that God "has the whole world in his hands"? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1221).

We have security at church and one on the security staff made a brief video describing the low points and high points of his life. The video was shown during yesterday's services. I spoke with Tony later that day.  I told him how much closer I felt to him after having seen the video, especially since during his narration  he revealed some of the tough times in his life – times contrasting greatly with the mythical "perfect American life". The phrases "rock bottom" and "the end of one's rope" come to mind. He told me immediately that the most frequently made comment to him by church goers that day was that they, like me, felt closer.  To us he profoundly stopped being the "security guy" and  became a person.

The lesson I think is very clear.  We share our weaknesses with family – with those that we can trust. It is extremely compelling when one shares their weaknesses matter-of-factly.  We deeply appreciate it when people drop their defenses and become disarmingly authentic. It opens the door for us, liberating us to become authentic as well.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Suspicious Characters

For what reasons might someone be suspicious of you and withhold their trust? How do you win over those who are suspicious of you? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 584-5).

This is a question that often involves context. For a given environment some of the following questions might be asked:

  • Is the person as knowledgeable and skilled as he wants us to believe--broadly speaking, is he who he purports to be?
  • When rightly seen and understood, does his past actions indicate that he is trustworthy--is he ethically grounded?
  • Does he embody volatility or steadiness; is he reliable and courageous or craven and irresponsible?
  • Does he undertake to relate the substance of the matter at hand.
  • Does he considered himself a god and everyone else his obedient subjects; or, conversely, is his self-concept so weak and fragile as to make him indecisive and totally reliant upon the favorable opinion of others?
  • Does he telegraph love, respect, and goodwill; or to the contrary does he engage in mendacity, meanness, and exploitation?
  • Does he adhere to conventionality and conformity at the expense of independence and creativity?
  • Does he expect as much or more from himself than he does from others?
  • Does he seek abundant life or pursue its reverse--fulfillment through addictions?

I will stop here, but it is clear that "winning over" others depends upon relating with unadorned authenticity a sense of safety that springs principally from plainly wrought humility.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

The Need for Secure Channel Markers

Should individual rights suffer for the good of the community, or should the community suffer to protect individual rights? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1206).

The unlimited capacity for human rationalization of blatant acts of treachery transforming them forthwith into expressions of high and noble sentiments makes it essential that individual rights be nonnegotiable. To enunciate and adhere to anything less guarantees that individual rights will in practice be nonexistent as compelling social arguments can always be found to as to why they should be preempted. This was the wisdom behind the US Bill of Rights which has been direly needed amidst torrential blasts of controversy.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Coming Out

What uphill battle have you won in recent years? How did that make you feel? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 581).

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9 NIV).

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

I sense the liberation of those in all honesty "coming out of the closet" regarding their true sexual preferences. My own personal task and challenge was to "come out of my shell." And just as there can be nothing more real, more personal, and more factual than sexual preferences; there can be nothing more real, more personal, and more factual than one's innermost thoughts and convictions.  In either case, to categorically deny truth at such fundamental levels makes a mockery of truth and integrity wherever else it should be found.

While I occasionally still run for shelter behind a shell, I sense the frequency is becoming less and less. The crucial indicator is the extent to which I  slavishly indulge in "small talk" rather than conveying the true issues on my mind.  It may well be that diligent expression persistently liberated through writing blogs – often in private settings – has opened more widely windows in rooms of social intercourse. 

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Foundational Layer of Peace

Today, what natural and spiritual barriers to unity exist between isolated believers? What dangers are there for lone-wolf Christians? What would you do to break this isolation and bring people together? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 265).

I would like to address the last aspect of this question: What would you do to break... isolation and bring people together? One of the most significant and troublesome forms of isolation derives from organizational separation. Look at the United States. There are no military campaigns underway between the states. For example, there are no military conflicts between Florida and Georgia. This is primarily due to organizational unity based upon a sense that everyone has a significant stake in the game and that due process allows for input that can be accepted as tolerantly valid if not unassailably fair.  That is, a coherent organization need not be pristinely perfect, but needs to be minimally inclusive so that members can feel acceptance  even under adverse decisions.  Favorable social outcomes characterized by comity and cohesion always depend upon recognition of an individual's right of worthiness and basic human acceptance--an uncompromising entitlement forming the foundational layer for organizational longevity, stability,  and integrity. 

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Having Pressed Pause

I have missed four days of blog writing because of my getting moved into my new "creative--suite" day apartment. (There are more steps involved in moving in than the law allows.)  It is a villa opening upon a lawn with gardens and lagoon ensconcing a fountain. This  serenity is readily viewable from the study and living room windows.  I look forward to having many hours of productivity in this beautiful setting and am grateful for the opportunity.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Thrown to the Lions

What do you fear most about speaking before a group? (Serendipity Bible Fourth 
Edition, page 1562).

Let us think of the ways that one can have fear when speaking before a group:

  • Fear that one will become tongue-tied and forgetful of what one wants to say
  • Fear that one will show nervousness and unease (for example shaking or perspiring)
  • Fear that one will be misunderstood
  • Fear of categorical prejudice in the group – racial, age, gender, religion, class, etc.
  • Fear that one will reveal serious ignorance upon a subject or significant displays of misinformation
  • Fear arising when one does not have sufficient understanding of the group and its characteristics
  • Fear of some greater perhaps external threat impinging upon the entire situation (perhaps a smell of something burning in the building)
  • Fear of disruptive technical difficulties
  • Fear that one is physically or mentally not up to the occasion
  • Fear that the group simply wishes from the outset that you were not there and would just shut up and go away--a cold concertedly tenacious hostility.

Of all the possible fears listed, the fear I dread the most is the last  – a cold concerted and uniform audience hostility. This trumps all other fears because it with starkest simplicity cuts off communication from the speaker or any chance whatever to "win over" or even minimally relate to the audience. The only communication in play is abject audience hostility and its accompanying uncompromising ill-will.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Shunning: Alive and Well in the Land of the Free

Shunning When Exercised as Mental Rejection:

Mental rejection is a more individual action, where a person subconsciously or willfully ignores an idea, or a set of information related to a particular viewpoint. Some groups are made up of people who shun the same ideas. (

A dark cloud of shunning malignantly penetrates every aspect of American public life. Its spirit is one of self-righteous disdain and active ill-will set out to control and punish--to exercise flagrant and malicious power with deliberate intent even against those earnestly seeking to contribute their positive best to public discourse.  This malignant darkness penetrates the airwaves as well as private meeting rooms.  The time is well past due to reassess if we genuinely are committed to civil public discourse and enlightened charity in the land of the free.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

The Faith Adventure

In your life, are you bearing more fruit for God or fruit for death? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition,  page 1574).

For me the phrase “May you live in interesting times" is far from a curse. Life without adventure is a life without purpose or meaning. Faith, adventure, creativity – even testing – go together.  Not viewed principally as political or economic pitfalls, I think many in the West on a personal level saw communism and blanket socialism as threats to the human spirit and its generative seeds of love, vitality, creativity, and redemptive goodwill.  Surfeits of satiation with their spiritual cohorts languor and listlessness lead directly to desperately dull slumbers of death. 

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Be Kind to Celebrities...and Yourself

What is the closest you have come to meeting a world leader or celebrity? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1401).

Imitating Christ’s Humility ( "Christ dignified everyone." --Negelle Cameron ).

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV).

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. (Matthew 5:5 The Message).

For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. (Hebrews 3:4).

There were two occasions. One was in the late 1960s in Miami. Candidate for president Eugene McCarthy was scheduled to speak and have a "meet and greet" at a large hotel in Miami. I wanted to meet him. So I went to the hotel and rode the escalator up to the second floor where the affair was taking place. Many people were in the lobby and I could see Eugene McCarthy greeting well-wishers directly ahead of me. Suddenly the feeling came over me that it was impossible to meet this man. Perhaps it was a deep sense that I was unworthy. In any case I went to the down escalator and promptly left.

The second occurred sometime in the 1990s. Mother and I were on a trip to a family reunion in Quaker Lake, North Carolina. We went out of our way to Plains, Georgia to sit in on one of  President Carter's Sunday school classes. We sat in the back of the room (we had arrived just in time) and listened to the lesson. President Carter announced that visitors could meet and greet him and have photos if they agreed to stay after Sunday school and attend church. Even though mother and I had friends to meet for lunch that day in Americus, I do not think Jimmy Carter would have minded if we had exchanged a quick handshake following class.  But again the same feeling that I mustn't do it came over me. After Sunday school we immediately left out of the nearest exit.

I don't think if either of these occasions happened today I would feel the same way. At that time I tended to exalt celebrities and prominent people to a level of inhuman perfection. What a great disservice to prominent folk harboring such a personal weakness is. Like everyone else, they need people to accept them regardless of their human imperfections. I have not been in the proximity of celebrities since. But if this is any indication, I used to avoid any kind of personal contact with professors – avoiding them at socials and virtually shunning them before and after class.  Those days are long since gone.  Now I enjoy chatting and interacting socially with them, for example arriving early to class to enjoy their conversation and company.

The key concept to grasp is evidenced by the Scriptures quoted above. In essence the outcome of thinking ourselves lesser than others paradoxically obtains major psychological benefit by getting the focus off of us and our bruised or inflated egoes onto others; thus inducing perception of our essential identity and humanity and mutual origination as creations of God.  It is incorrect, then, to conclude I was years ago thinking of Eugene McCarthy or Jimmy Carter. My mind was in actuality focused upon myself alone.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Master Mentors

What experience have you had with being tutored, or with tutoring others? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1531).

I would like to extend this question a bit from tutoring to mentoring. I have had two very important mentors in my life that have had significant impact upon me. Of course the first was my father, Edgar Thomas Standifer. The influence of this man upon my life is simply incalculable. He did not command respect, he elicited it. I've never met anyone more attuned to the Spirit and more efficiently organized as to be a humble servant of Christ.  He walked the walk first, and the talk came later, if at all.  The other man I must mention is Mark Stroemich.  He was much younger than me, and was my boss in the computer department of Parks and Recreation, City of St. Petersburg.  All the time I worked there he manifested the outstanding trait of a strong and impervious self-concept blended with stellar humility.  While no one to toy with; his compassion was boundless, his patience exemplary, and his excellent service came without measure or complaint--and with not a little humor.  Needless to say I am grateful to have had these mentors in my life.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Compresses of Conformity

When you think of a group being led astray, what do you think of? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1700).

It gives me even greater respect for the sometimes overwhelming power of conformity within the human psyche. All of us need look no further than ourselves to understand the pressures that can involute group singularity. Even if we are iconoclasts, there is usually a clutch of us. Conformity pressures can be subtle or egregious; the yearning for acceptance and approval can be conscious or unconscious; the fear of isolation starkly bare or cloaked; the yearning to feel good about ourselves uppermost or passive. The moment that we presume we are above and beyond "yes men" vulnerability, the greater the threat of conformity. I sometimes wonder if seemingly ironclad "self-chosen" seating arrangements in regular gatherings of people – as in class or church – are not an aspect of conformity.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Waterboys Too

Would you rather play first string on a losing team or second string on a winning team? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 105).

Clearly if the cause is worthy and I am not intentionally trying to sabotage an unworthy cause, the preferable choice is for me to play second string on a winning team. Perhaps it is even the case that (in the first part of the question) our team came to lose because I insisted on playing first string when rightly I should have played second.

I'm sure that many in the church of Christ are like me. We are certain that we are on the winning team, but must admit that we often play second string. That is not a regret due to our certitude that God has ordered things as they should be.  It is only important that we prayerfully do our best and ask God to place and use us as he would.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Dumbfounded in the End

Regarding divine inspiration, how does God's Word come to be in human words? By mechanical dictation? Power of suggestion? or what? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 473).

None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.  - Thomas Edison

The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. – Mark Twain

For most of us, divine inspiration is a lot of work--however much focused fun that can be.  I occasionally write things and feel that the idea has a supernatural source.  Perhaps that sounds hopelessly egotistical, but I really feel that is the case and of course rightly seen is nothing for me personally to be proud of since it represents in essence something that cannot be credited to me.  (Further regarding this point is the fact that nothing of what I write is totally mine since all of us are intellectual sponges in our culture. There is no way to tell decisively which  small portion of my writing can be called uniquely my own--though I think inevitably the style of any writing has the author's fingerprints upon it.)

Like many, I stand amazed at dreams. We often awake and wonder from what de profundis depths that storyline, those sets, those characters, those themes coalesced in ethereal immediacy.  Figure out the source and processes of dreams, and surely we will be closer to figuring out the source and processes of inspiration.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Rockstar Worshipper Versus Co-Worker

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
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 with your God.
    (Micah 6:7-8 NIV)

I have seen fans swooning at the feet of their rockstar idols.  We can ask the question, is this what God wants when we worship him?  Not my God – not by a long shot.

I like to look at this in the light of experience. I worked in the computer department for years and had what must be considered an ideal boss. For example, his computer knowledge far outstripped mine, and he kindly offered assistance whenever I asked for it.  Though he was my superior, he obviously did not want or need a worshiper; he wanted and needed a coworker.  The best way that I could "worship" my boss was simply to be a good and faithful coworker.

I like to think that God does not want or need us swooning and groveling before him in mindless worship; but rather he wants and needs congenial communicative coworkers for the numerous tasks that always abound before us.  We are his practical and effective disciples/assistants, not mindless starstruck worshipers.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Personal Note

Yesterday I decided to establish entree into a local retirement community--Westminster Suncoast.  My intent is to keep my house for a good long time, but have a place to stay as a second base of operations.  I signed up for a one-bedroom villa opening upon an expansive garden ensconcing a fountain.  While near Tampa Bay, it is at a higher elevation than my home location so also represents a place I could stay up to a category 4 hurricane (the location is flood zone "D").  Once all financial qualifications have been met (and I did squeak through), Westminster pledges to  provide a place in its facilities for you even if you deplete your resources.   Hopefully, such would only occur after I move from independent living to assisted living or beyond.

How I got to this decision included several key spirit-led signs.  Several weeks ago I was on the road outside my house.  A man pristine and striking in appearance was walking down the road.  He said he had planned to see my neighbor but she was not home.  He sold insurance.  After introductions we went inside my house and I purchased a very inexpensive and limited catastrophic illness policy.  When Bob returned several weeks later with the drawn up documents, we discussed the much more complex and expensive assisted living insurance policies.  Bob did an immense service for me by getting me to come to grips with "it is what it is; just deal with it" perspective regarding my age and situation.  While I did not purchase the policy offered, he was instrumental in moving me forward.

Yesterday at the Westminster Suncoast office, Hector (the representative) and I were not on a rigid schedule.  Eventually we looked at an apartment that was uniquely customized in several key aspects, for example, having wooden floors and granite kitchen counter tops.   I immediately felt the same way that I did when making my previous two moves (many years ago), this "was the place" I was meant to be.  We went back to the office and after a delay (because someone was not immediately available to sign the paperwork), we went to a late lunch.  While waiting for the cashier, John from my church  (who I didn't know lived there) walked up.  John is 90 years old, tremendously positive and energetic.  He strongly encouraged that I choose this particular place for living arrangements. Ever since I have known him, I have always admired and  immensely respected John.  Call me a crazy, but I take meeting Bob weeks earlier "by chance" on a city street, the strong affirmative feeling that "this is the particular place that I should be" and the fortuitous and unplanned greeting from John--all I take as signs that I should move forward on this, especially in view of the precise dovetailing of financial resources with requirements.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Calendar Smarts

Where there is no vision, the people perish: (Proverbs 29:18 KJV).

Today I affixed a calendar page in my room.  The page is inscribed VISION: Go as far as you can see; You will then have the vision to go even further.

The tasks that confront us are multi-various. Initially, we need vision to incite effort and passion. Almost concurrently, however, we realize the sketchiness of our vision – the fact that many uncertainties exist and unknown aspects lie beyond a cloud shrouded in an impenetrable future. This can be stultifying and intimidating unless we exercise conviction, trust, and faith sufficient to move forward confident that in the future further visions will carry us onward.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Average and Amazing

How photographic is your memory:  Once seen, always filed? Overexposed? Out of focus? Needs developing? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 546).

Like most folks I plead average here having envied those with mouse trap minds.  Yet I stand amazed at the instrument God has given the average person in this regard. I can hear a brief bar of music or smell a faint aroma and a whole flood of imagery can overcome me, sometimes retrieved from years ago. I can seemingly inexplicably traverse a matrix of associations and can on the instant think of words I had long forgotten I ever knew. Ideas pop in my head with an automatic immediacy that leaves me amazed.  I can head down tried and true territory and suddenly see a new slant or angle that I had never seen before, as obvious as it now seems. The mind is truly a marvel interfacing with the Holy Spirit on many levels.

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

I Am Not!

Exodus 3:15 (Today's Revised Version)

God said to Moses:

I am not the eternal God. So tell them that the Lord, whose name is “I Am Not,” has not sent you."

Preamble to the US Constitution (New Age Revision)

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more imperfect union, not establish justice, not insure domestic tranquility, not provide for the common defense, not promote the general welfare, and not secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do not ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

From today's Confessional at First United Methodist Church, St Pete, FL

People: Holy God, when we try to legislate your love with policies and dogma, forgive us. Help us resist the temptation to dismiss the miracles all around us, because they are hard to believe. [Help us understand that things can "just happen as if by magic."]


Be it hereby resolved that no law or policy implicit or explicit shall be promulgated in any institution be it government, business, church, or family that seeks to establish or maintain the spirit of brotherly love (otherwise known as the Golden Rule.)  Any law or policy that even hints of eschewing this inviolate resolution shall self-flagellate with a wet noodle.  

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