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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In the Compelling Service of Personal Integrity

This morning I attended a small devotion group that meets every Wednesday.  Today I was surprised to hear a lady whom I have seen on many other occasions discuss the severe long-term relational problems she is having with her grown daughter.  She had never mentioned this before in any group I attended.  The occasion illustrates for me the driving need each of us has to communicate somehow or other, in some way or another, at some time or another just how we truly feel about some pressing issue.  The lady did not expect us to come up with any magic answers to her dilemma. The urgent need was primarily to communicate.  For her, I think, it became a matter of integrity–a matter of not being content with portraying a disingenuous facade while severely distressed within.

This year’s election season, not only in America, is becoming an instance where the electorate’s primary need is to communicate a deeply felt discontent with a stagnant or declining personal economic position.  Perhaps these voters too are not looking for magic answers.  Their main concern is getting a pointed message across in the compelling service of personal integrity.   

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Bale and the Benefit of Labeling

Labels can be highly beneficial; for example labels that act as handles leading to greater understanding about the world.  An understanding of photosynthesis, for example, requires labels to detail and describe complex processes.

That is the benefit of labels.  The bale of labels is that they can lead to tyrannical preconceptions that in automated fashion give rise to the semblance of knowledge without the substance. Objective and disciplined exploration is discarded for the satisfaction and certainty of smug ignorance.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Furthest Thing From Charity

No, Leave the wall
You must always leave the wall.
(El Gallo in The Fantasticks)

Ration: A fixed portion that is allotted (especially in times of scarcity)
(WordWeb Pro)

We are so familiar with rationing that we often overlook its practical necessity and foundation in justice, mercy, and the Golden rule.  Often we think of it as a negative endured because of unpleasant scarcity.  Presently my retirement income is substantially fixed and can be looked upon as a ration whose bounds I must live within–no need for me to fantasize about being a high-flying world traveler.

Most of the time during my life fixed allotments have been great blessings.  For example, our family was able to grow and functi0n in houses that were allotted to us–we had fixed space  in which we could live in peace (the sanctity of the home).  In grammar school I was allotted a teacher and a desk. In college I was allotted an advisor and a place to study in the library.  In every work situation I was allotted specific responsibilities and allotted the necessary tools and offices.  And all this involved rationing for never were resources unlimited (by the way, I never got that private office with a majestic window view).

The recent news regarding refugees from war zones presents us with the brutal fact that every human has a driving need for at least minimal control and safety in their allotted space.  My older brother can remember when we lived by the railroad track.  It was in the 1940's and the hard times of the depression still afflicted many. Hobos would come to our front door asking for food.  Mother never turned them down, but gave them something to eat.  Her generous acts would not have been possible without a minimum degree of protocol.  In other words, it depended upon a front door upon which people knocked.  Generosity implies choice and some measure of control.  I think of Jesus healing the blind.  This was usually done one-on-one or with a small group.  Jesus chose to be generous, not trampled by a horde on black Friday . Choice is inherent in the definition of generosity. Even the story of the Good Samaritan (in answer to the question “Who is my neighbor that I should love them?”) depended upon an intentional moment of choice by the Samaritan to help the afflicted.

Life is characterized by encountering emergency situations in which protocol is pre-planned.  Take, for example, the standard operating procedures of first responders.  Professionalism is often another term for extensive training in meeting the challenges of dynamically complex situations in which life or death is at stake.  I’m sure that my mother and dad gave a lot of thought to the hobo issue and had decided upon the policy they would follow.  Some measure of control and choice is implied in policy formation.

Donald Trump in his remarks regarding immigration insists that a wall be built. I agree that an effective degree of control is necessary so that policy and generosity can be meaningfully formulated and expressed. A government must never abdicate its regulatory responsibilities for that is the furthest thing from charity.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

At Home with Life

I have often observed that two basic psychological needs of human beings are the paradoxical needs to feel equal and special concurrently.  These needs are sometimes met by feeling co-equal with members of a special group after attaining membership.  Actually the fact of the matter is that we are, from the very beginning, inherently equal and special by the simple fact of genetics. We are sufficiently genetically equal to have been sexually conceived whilst being sufficiently special to have our own individual identity and characteristics.  So the next time you feel the need to seek assurance that you matter by what group or class you somewhat precariously maintain membership, be assured that you matter (are equal and special) in a much more thorough and significant sense from the moment of conception.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Substance or Drama–Which Is More Effective?

Jack Pohl passed on about two months ago. He was 92 years old.  Today his family attended a memorial service for him at Westminster Suncoast.  This is the kind of man Jack was.  Connie is my wife now, but over a year ago we had not met.  Connie at the time was attending a Sunday afternoon movie in the lounge.  Jack was also in attendance and was aware that Connie had recently been in the health center for back therapy.  Knowing that she was in pain, Jack asked her to lie down on the couch, handed her a pillow for her head, then took off her shoes.  Later, when the movie was over, before leaving he asked if there was anything else he could do for her.

Jack was in this way always highly sensitive to the needs of others.  He was a sweet man.  I say this with no dissonance whatever even though he was also a airplane gunner in WWII.  He was realistically helpful and quietly did what had to be done with notable generosity.

Thinking of Jack and his sweetness based as it was upon a thoughtful and considerate temperament (and by this I mean creative intellectual vigor), brings to mind the current discussion of temperament and presidential character.  Can a president of the United States be sweet, or must he/she be cavalierly domineering?  Was Lincoln sweet? He fired several tentative generals; yet he could write “with malice towards none.”  Was FDR loved in part because he was sweet, though he asked for a declaration of war?  Is Obama often excoriated because he does not display a roughshod domineering nature, but rather is characteristically thoughtful and considerate–the attribute of immense personal control based upon creative intellectual vigor.  Substance or drama–which is more effective?  Nature provides an ambiguous answer.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Father’s Day Tribute

Ed Standifer
with sons Wayne (L) and Bob (R) 1952

Yesterday we attended worship services in Bowling Green, Fl where my father was the Methodist pastor from 1958-1962.  Gretta Jones came by our pew before the service with a Sunday school book in hand.  She said that today’s lesson was on humility, and that it defined humility as “power under control.”  She said that it instantly reminded her of my father, and that the definition fit him perfectly.

I was a teenager when residing in Bowling Green and of course wanted be seen in a snazzy new car.  One day Dad and I were headed to the nearby city of Fort Meade. Dad was driving our 1950 Chevrolet. I was sitting in the front seat by the passenger window (“bench seats” were standard then) with my foot resting upon the front panel of the dashboard.  Suddenly in exasperation I exclaimed that we needed a new car and thrust my foot to the floorboard in anger.  After a brief moment Dad calmly replied “Watch yourself son.”  Here’s the thing– he did not retort in anger or threaten reprimand or whine about how we could not afford a new car.  His tone was exactly the same as he would use to tell an adult friend to “Watch yourself Bill” after Bill similarly blew a gasket over something; that is, when a person’s mental/emotional state becomes more weighty an issue than the subject at hand. In other words, he was modeling for me humility as “power under control” and was strongly suggesting that I do the same.

Behind the sanctuary is a hallway that we use to exit when the worship service is completed.  On the wall are individual photographs of all ministers that have ever been assigned to the church.  On this Father’s Day, I gazed for a time upon my father’s smiling face, kissed the tip of my fingers and touched his cheek.

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Coming Home

What do you like best about returning after a long trip? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1562).

I imagine the early American settlers heading west.  They traveled with hope and anticipation of establishing new homes at their journey’s end. They saw before them a wide vista filled with opportunity. Free from their thought was any nightmare that shortly after reaching their destination, they would have to reverse direction and make an arduous trip back to where they first began. If such thoughts had dominated their thinking, certain grousing and rebellion would have arisen. 

I enjoy occasional road trips as much as anybody.  The attraction of new sights and new adventures is strong.  Often the trips are with friends and family, and this adds to the enjoyment.  Being together builds lasting, pleasant memories.  Yet even so, somewhere in thought while away is the knowledge that home base is the nexus of our affairs.  Even as we depart for fun and adventure, there assuredly remain appointments, tasks, and responsibilities awaiting us when we get back.  The miles filled with exhilaration while going away will be matched by the task of traveling long miles coming back again.

After a trip, it is reassuring to arrive home where there is comfort in knowing that one is back to where essential duties and resources lie. 

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Heritage Retention

How would you feel if all your heritage was lost in a bigger crowd, as was Simeon’s? What would you do to recover your lost identity? (Serendipity Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, page 582).

I grew up on Superman and was enthralled by his allegiance to winning the never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American Way.  This battle is marked by many milestones–religious freedom, women's suffrage, the civil rights movement, considerate laws for the handicapped, provision for children and the elderly, and for equal opportunity in jobs and education. The trajectory for much of this is set in the Bill of Rights and is ever-developing in the structures of society at large.  The current lone-standing Republican presidential candidate has attracted millions of supporters in the primaries and is now the presumptive nominee for the general election.  Based upon his inflammatory remarks and egocentric character–and in view of the large support he has received–my anxiety is growing that I am lost in a bigger crowd.  To sustain my identity, I will remember the American Way as I have long understood it and will never leave the battle to uphold it.  

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Invisible to the User

Effective Speech is Marked by a Distinctive Style.
Basic Principles of Speech 4th Edition (Sarett/Sarett/Foster)

Effective Essays are Marked by a Distinctive Style.
(Initial principle modified to apply to the writing of brief essays.)

I have always been convinced that I don’t speak with an accent, while others on hearing me know right away that I’m a Southerner.  As with an accent, I don’t perceive a distinctive style in my writing.  Yet I do enjoy crafting blogs and very much put myself into them.  So, despite the fact that I don’t by design strive to infuse my writing with a special style, it is probably true that my regular readers could pick out my writing from several essays written by others.  My goal is clarity of expression undisturbed by one jot or tittle of interference from discordant sound and sense.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Adapting to Assumptions

Effective Speech is Adapted to the Listener and to the Speech Situation.
Basic Principles of Speech 4th Edition (Sarett/Sarett/Foster)

Effective Essays are Adapted to the Reader and to the Assumed Situation.
(Initial principle modified to apply to the writing of brief essays.)

I think most of my blogs reflect that I am not writing for elementary school children.  Neither am I writing for a reader who is under immediate threat of a funnel cloud.  I usually write in subject and style for a skilled reader with sufficient leisure and quiet to allow at least a modicum of reflection on the essay at hand.  Beyond these assumptions, I write for Everyman.  

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Fun of Pattern Recognition

Effective Speech Develops Ideas Through Critical and Creative Choice of Language.
Basic Principles of Speech 4th Edition (Sarett/Sarett/Foster)

Effective Essays Develop Ideas Through Critical and Creative Choice of Language.
(Initial principle modified to apply to the writing of brief essays.)

Definitions: (all from WordWeb Pro)

1. Make something new, such as a product or a mental or artistic creation
2. Work out
3. Gain through experience
5. Come into existence; take on form or shape
6. Change the use of and make available or usable
7. Elaborate, as of theories and hypotheses
9. Be gradually disclosed or unfolded; become manifest
12. Cause to grow and differentiate in ways conforming to its natural development
19. Elaborate by the unfolding of a musical idea and by the working out of the rhythmic and harmonic changes in the theme

The content of cognition
The psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning

1. Marked by a tendency to find and call attention to errors and flaws
3. Characterized by careful evaluation and judgment

Adjective: creative
1. Having the ability or power to create
2. Promoting construction or creation

1. Make or cause to be or to become
2. Bring into existence
3. Pursue a creative activity; be engaged in a creative activity
5. Create by artistic means
6. Create or manufacture a man-made product


Crafting an idea can take many forms and requires careful evaluation, judgment, and insight. This occurs regularly in the world of ideas and is a completely democratic phenomenon–occurring everywhere thought is engaged. I know historians who declare there is nothing new under the sun. I grant that to the extent that the creative process generates hubris in the psyche of the creator, such hubris is totally unfounded as creativity always builds on what is already given.

Words and their sound and sense directly contribute to the generation of new ideas. Crafting ideas through the use of language is greatly affected by tone (the distinctive property of a complex theme).  While conforming to tone, old ideas are reworked into new ones.  Some would argue that the wordsmith is an innovator, not a creator.  I will take that with the caveat that innovation can generate astounding things.  A change in the thinking of an age can hinge on how an idea is crafted.

Finally, crafting an idea is generally fun for we anticipate the pleasure response our body produces when sudden insight occurs.  Thus, a major activity we all share is the joy of effective creativity triggered and sustained by recurrent pattern recognition and development. 

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Life 101

Yesterday a young woman with a child in elementary school confided that in several weeks she will address a school study session about “failing schools” in Saint Petersburg.  The question to be addressed is “What characteristics do you want the teacher of your child to possess?” She asked me to think about it for several days and tell her what I thought.

This evening I heard Bill Clinton say in tribute to Muhammad Ali that early in the Champ’s life it seems he decided to write his own life’s story.  In those early years the story was probably not well mapped out in all details (an impossible task for anyone), but one thing was clear, he would determine how the story went and no one else–he would not live out his days as a victim, but would survive and prevail ultimately even as a healer.  This decision held even as his life became gripped by Parkinson’s disease.

If I wanted a teacher to instill one thing in my child, it would be this determination to be responsible for writing one’s own life’s story.  The question is, how can this dogged approach to life be communicated to a child?  The child must be viewed and treated with respect and generosity enabling the child to see themselves as equal and special despite all else in their lives that daily screams the deadening lie that they don’t matter, that they are not equal nor special, that they should sit in back of the room, just be quiet and vegetate.

The need for the teacher to connect positively with a child raises a host of other questions besides what kind of teacher is needed.  These questions address learning opportunities, environment and even the dignity and generosity proffered to teachers themselves.  But I must return to Muhammad Ali.  He determined to write his own life’s story no matter how challenging and hostile the environment.  And there lies the very reason why such an approach to life is essential.  For life on earth is no paradise, and our solemn duty is to grow strong, thrive, and take ownership of our own life’s stories amidst the challenges of stultifying imperfection.

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Generating Power

Effective Speech Shows Clear and Cogent Organization of Ideas.
Basic Principles of Speech 4th Edition (Sarett/Sarett/Foster)

Effective Essays Show Clear and Cogent Organization of Ideas.
(Initial principle modified to apply to the writing of brief essays.)
Clear defined:
  • Easy to perceive, understand, or interpret: the voice on the telephone was clear and strong; clear and precise directions; her handwriting was clear; am I making myself clear?
  • leaving no doubt; obvious or unambiguous: it was clear that they were in a trap; a clear case of poisoning.
  • having or feeling no doubt or confusion: every student must be clear about what is expected.
(New Oxford American Dictionary)

Cogent defined:

Powerfully persuasive
"a cogent argument"
(WordWeb Pro)
  1. (esp of an argument) powerful
  2. Convincing
(Chambers Dictionary 13th Edition)

It is riveting to hear clear and cogent speech.  It is dismaying to be caught in a morass of verbiage that hides more than it reveals.  The reason is simple.  Obfuscation is obvious and maddening.  It wastes everyone’s time.

Our judgment of speech is remarkably value free.  We may fundamentally disagree with a clear and cogent speaker and frustratingly agree with an inept one.  That is, we can freely admit that the speaker we disagree with is highly skilled while the one we agree with only manages to stumble along.

The power of ideas to a significant extent depends on the how they are expressed.  In an essay I could write “It has come to my attention that several matters need to be addressed” or I could write instead “Houston, we have a problem.” Clearly, in writing as in speech, one should aim directly for the target then let the arrow fly.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Layers of Significance

Effective Speech Presents Significant Ideas.
Basic Principles of Speech 4th Edition (Sarett/Sarett/Foster)

Effective Essays Present Significant Ideas.
(Initial principle modified to apply to the writing of brief essays.)

Significant defined:
  • Rich in significance or implication
  • Important in effect or meaning (WordWeb Pro)
  • ======================
  • Having a meaning
  • Full of meaning
  • Important, worthy of consideration (Chambers Dictionary 13th Edition)
  • ======================
  • Sufficiently great or important to be worthy of attention; noteworthy: a significant increase in sales. 
  • Having a particular meaning; indicative of something: in times of stress her dreams seemed to her especially significant. (New Oxford Dictionary)

“Worthy of consideration” and “indicative of something” are the two definitions I will apply to essay writing.  The easiest to address is the latter.  A child’s scribbling with crayons picturing their representation of a house surrounded by trees is “indicative of something.” Parents frequently think so highly of this art that they post them on refrigerator doors.  What I’m saying is that virtually all writing has value in the sense that it contains the fingerprints of the writer and indicates something about the milieu in which the writer lives.

“Worthy of consideration” likewise has broad application: fiction, nonfiction, comedy, tragedy, soap operas, and exquisite art all are “worthy of consideration” in context.  I am well aware that my blogs are not and will never be some people’s cup of tea.  Nevertheless, I write with care hoping that some will find the essays interesting, helpful, and (on good days) achieving excellence in sound and sense.  

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Muhammad Ali’s Six Core Principles

Muhammad Ali’s Six Core Principles
  • Confidence: Belief  in oneself, one’s abilities, and one’s future.
  • Conviction:  A firm belief that gives one the courage to stand behind that belief, despite pressure to do otherwise.
  • Dedication: The act of devoting all of one’s energy, effort, and abilities to a certain task.
  • Giving: To present voluntarily without expecting something in return.
  • Respect: Esteem for, or a sense of the worth or excellence of, oneself and others.
  • Spirituality: A sense of awe, reverence, and inner peace inspired by a connection to all of creation and/or that which is greater than oneself.

Like many American’s today I am immensely proud of Muhammad Ali.  He illustrates the American Idea almost perfectly.  He demanded and commanded respect because he had mutual respect for the intrinsic value of himself and others. He was a man of principle in the genuine sense that he was willing to sacrifice all for his beliefs.

His Six Core Principles encompass the American Dream:

Confidence: Woebegone citizens hiding beneath tables with their tails beneath their legs are challenged by the American dream to have confidence–wag that tail and believe in oneself, one’s abilities, and one’s future.  When people (as with dogs) have such confidence, not only do they prosper, but they help others to prosper.

Conviction: Without firm conviction, integrity is impossible.  I like the saying of Stephen C. Paul: “When you give up your own truth to win at someone else's game, everyone loses.”  One must stand with integrity out of fidelity to oneself as well as for the opposition.

Dedication: Dedication comes from having the sustaining power of confidence and conviction. Focus and passion are embodied forces that help bring forth the fruits of dedication.

Giving: When one has confidence, conviction, and dedication; it can be turned to entirely selfish ends.  Then, every philanthropic act embraces the rationale of self-gain (getting not giving).  The richly blessed embrace the paradox that the more one gives, the more one receives. 

Respect: The Bill of Rights basically is a document about mutual respect, worth, and esteem.  When I say that Ali lived the American Idea, I mean in part that he embodied these values.

Spirituality: When I hear people affirm the American motto of “In God we trust,” I do not receive it with uniform equanimity. For I know that what should be the crowning attitude and tone of American life is sometimes misused and abused.  It is quite possible to say “In God we trust” and go out and slaughter innocents.  That is, the motto can be twisted by hubris and lust rather than spoken with humility before the awesome spiritual principles and powers much greater than we.  We sometimes forget it is more important to serve than to rule.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

Imaginative Interaction

The Goal of Effective Speech is Interaction.
(Basic Principles of Speech 4th Edition (Sarett/Sarett/Foster))

The Goal of Effective Essays is Interaction.
(Initial principle modified to apply to the writing of brief essays.)

In regards to a speaker before an audience, clearly it is important for the speaker to connect with members of the audience and for the audience to help motivate the speaker and energize him through an ever-present reminder of speaker accountability (as the speaker ipso facto reminds the audience that they too are accountable–even when members of the audience signify strong disagreement.)

A “live speaker-audience performance” in this way is absent in essay writing and reading.  Nevertheless, an important aspect of essay composition is that an audience is conjectured or assumed that can hold the writer accountable. In blog writing, this has nothing to do with whether the reader agrees or disagrees with what I write–but whether they perceive I am doing my earnest best.  By this method, constant imaginative interaction assays the written text.  

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Intoxicating Assumptions

I would like to identify two apparent assumptions upon which the justice and penal systems in America are based. 1) Free will and free choice are uniformly reliable facts about the behavior of man. This permits blame to be determined and applied with relative facility.  2) The primary purpose of prisons is to inflict psychological pain as a matter of retributive justice. This promises to bring remorse and, as a bonus, will change minds for the better.

These assumptions represent the ascent of fantasy. 1) Free will and free choice are mainly fictional conjectures of convenience whereby society escapes the responsibility of ferreting out and dealing with the complexities of life’s myriad personal and communal involutions. 2) Since a person’s predictable response to gratuitously inflicted psychological pain is likely to be adverse and negative, retributive justice of this sort will embed resentment and generally change minds for the worse.

I have pled for nurturing before and I do so again now. Inherent in the concept of nurturing is discipline, love, and intimacy.  Until we learn how to nurture outside prison walls, we will perforce fail to do so within them.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Importance of Tone in Communication

Effective Speech Communicates the Meanings Intended by the Speaker.
(Basic Principles of Speech 4th Edition (Sarett/Sarett/Foster))

Effective Essays Communicate the Meanings Intended by the Writer.
(Initial principle modified to apply to the writing of brief essays) 

Essays written with the passion and discipline of poetry can easily contain meanings beyond the ken of the writer but well within the scope of the reader’s experience.  In other words, the response of the writer is beyond the control of the writer and even more so of the response of the reader.  If I write “He trekked through the swamp” the visual of that swamp is crafted by the experiences of the writer which can be quite different from the visuals elicited on the part of the reader. And what this visual assumes in symbolic meanings is even more densely complex and reflexive.   So we find in this sense the above principle at the outset is impossible to fully realize.

Much more controllable than meaning is tone.  That is, a piece of music can be widely associated with melancholy or joy.  Tone is more universal and communicable than multifarious idiosyncratic visuals and their symbolic meanings.  Thus, in my essays I apply great discipline to crafting tone and, more importantly, not to disrupt a regnant tone with discordant notes.  It is a reliable truth that if the integrity of tone is maintained, then communication will be effectively “on the same page” for writer and reader and communication of meanings concordant if not precisely mirrored. Communication is by definition a community project and to misconstrue tone is to misconstrue everything else.  The wide misinterpretation of Shakespeare's plays stands as egregious evidence of this simple truth.

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