Friday, December 31, 2010

The Bible

Every word of God is flawless...
Proverbs 30:5
In 2009, I read through the entire Bible in a quick reading 90 day program. It was fast and at times felt like skimming. However, it provided some great overview & big picture thinking. In 2010, I was able to read through the entire Bible over the course of the year (thanks Central). It was slower and at times felt like I was forcing my way through. However, it provided daily insight, encouragement and wisdom as well as the satisfaction of reading cover to cover. Reading the Bible, much like reading history, just reminds me of how little I know. There is so much truth packed into it and instruction for daily living that I simply just miss. However, I will continue to plug away. 2011 will bring some new readings of 'stuff' I have already read. And yet, like always, it will inspire and challenge me without fail. Take the plunge and start reading the Bible. You'll never know where it will lead you.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 In Books

"Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting." -Aldous Huxley-
2010 was a great year in a variety of ways. One of my favorite parts of it was the amount of reading I was able to accomplish. It was a fun year of gaining knowledge, expanding my horizons, and learning so much that I had not previously known.

From Leonardo da Vinci to Marcus Tullius Cicero. From the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge to the race for the polio vaccine. From the corrupt William Tweed to the corrupt & struggling Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. From presidential wannabe William Jennings Bryan to the actual presidencies of Woodrow Wilson, John Adams and FDR. I learned of the genius of Thomas Edison to the folly of Renaissance Popes, British leaders in the 18th century and American leaders during Vietnam. Or the Brown Brothers and their story in early Rhode Island history. George Washington and his slaves had a very interesting history as did the men of the early 20th century in charge of the world banking system. The War of 1812 continues to interest me and I have taken on a new fascination with New York City after reading so much about it. The thinkers of the Metaphysical Club helped spur my love of philosophy while I contemplated why Americans struggle so much with ourselves. Without avoiding my faith, I was encouraged to have a crazy love for God while trusting in an absolute naked salvation. My struggles with how church should be were challenged and my fight against doubt was reassured. And finally, I found time to invest in some fiction which helped excite my imagination in Tinkers, Gilead, The Road, Chesapeake, and Anthem.

The best part was knowing that my pursuit of knowledge and passion for learning were futher inflamed. It is an endless road with so many more subjects, ideals, myths, figures, time periods, and adventures to explore. It is nice knowing I haven't even scratched the surface yet. Page after page, hour after hour - the investment was worth it. I look forward to what 2011 will bring.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The god of I

I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction...It is my eyes which see, and the sight of my eyes grants beauty to the earth. It is my ears which hear, and the hearing of my ears gives its song to the world. It is my mind which thinks, and the judgment of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth. It is my will which chooses, and the choice of my will is the only edict I must respect...Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: "I will it!"...Whatever road I take, the guiding star is within me; the guiding star and the loadstone which point the way. They point in but one direction. They point to me...I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.
Ayn Rand, Anthem, (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1995), 87-88.
This was perhaps the most disturbing portion of Ayn Rand's book. Having escaped the clutches of his culture, Equality 7-2521 experiences "freedom" and lands on fulfilling his own personal happiness as the key to life. Goal & purpose were fulfilled in him choosing for himself the fulfillment of his own personal gain. I was blown away at the pure selfishness displayed by the character. Although I can identify with the abuse that a we-based collectivist society could bring to the dearth of individual freedom; it is also wrong to blatantly worship "I". Everything pointing to "me" is no way to see the world. Eventually this can only lead to self-reliance and self-worship. True love has no place in that world - as the needs and focus cannot possibly be extended beyond the realm of oneself. This is the key argument against Rand's belief in objectivism. Everything in that realm is based upon the "I" which has way too many fallacies to support itself. Can one truly trust in themselves and make decisions based upon their own selfish wants and desires and really turn out solid decision making? Its the essence of capitalism once again. That in retaliation to state control, all control is given to the individual with some laissez faire belief that in the pursuit of self we can really benefit society as a whole. I just cannot buy it. The worship of self will always lead to destruction - no matter how much pleasure & happiness it might seem to promise.

To Us Alone

There is no life for men, save in useful toil for the good of all their brothers. But we lived not, when we toiled for our brothers, we were only weary. There is no joy for men, save the joy shared with all their brothers. But the only things which taught us joy were the power we created in our wires, and the Golden One. And both these joys belong to us alone, they come from us alone, they bear no relation to our brothers, and they do not concern our brothers in any way. Thus do we wonder.
Ayn Rand, Anthem, (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1995), 76.
I continue to be amazed at how much Ayn Rand pushes the doctrine of personal satisfaction as the goal of life. And yet as much as I want to argue with her, she brings up a valid point. What are the things that truly bring us "life" and "joy"? Are they not the things which satisfy ourselves and fill our own cups? Do the things that contribute to society as a whole really bring us greater joy then the things we do which satisfy ourselves? What is the balance needed between working hard and spending time on things which bring us personal joy and those things which contribute to "our brothers" around us? Is it possible to concentrate on the things which bring us greatest joy - and have those things 'trickle down' to those around us?

I have a hard time agreeing with her point of wonder, and yet I can understand where it is coming from. Many things that I like to do (reading, running, naps, etc) are for myself. Does this make them wrong? Perhaps what is necessary is to strive to find the balance of filling ourselves while remembering that to love one another is our greatest contribution. God certainly wires us to love certain activities - so it cannot be wrong to indulge in them. But when our focus becomes completely on ourselves we lose touch with reality.

Transgression of Preference

International 4-8818 and we are friends. This is an evil thing to say, for it is a transgression, the great Transgression of Preference, to love any among men better than the others, since we must love all men and all men are our friends. So International 4-8818 and we have never spoken of it. But we know. We know, when we look into each other's eyes. And when we look thus without words, we both know other things also, strange things for which there are no words, and these things frighten us.
We do not wonder at this new sin of ours. It is our second Transgression of Preference, for we do not think of all our brothers, as we must, but only of one, and their name is Liberty 5-3000. We do not know why we think of them. We do not know why, when we think of them, we feel of a sudden that the earth is good and that it is not a burden to live. We do not think of them as Liberty 5-3000 any longer. We have given them a name in our thoughts. We call them the Golden One. But it is a sin to give men names which distinguish them from other men. Yet we call them the Golden One, for they are not like the others. The Golden One are not like the others.
"If you see us among scores of women, will you look upon us?" "We shall look upon you, Liberty 5-3000, if we see you among all the women of the earth."

Ayn Rand, Anthem, (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1995), 15, 26, 28-29.

One of the most interesting parts of the Anthem was the sin or transgression of preference. The people in the were commanded and forced into never choosing anyone above anyone else. Friendships were not allowed. Sex become a once-per-year ritual simply to procreate. And people were conditioned simply to live in complete equality. No favoritism. No choice. And I found myself all of a sudden arguing against complete equality. I like the trangression of preference. I am guilty of it on a daily basis. My kids mean far more to me than any other kids. My friends are incredibly important to me and I am far more likely to go out of my way for them then others. My wife is the most incredible woman on Earth to me. I want to choose her every single day. She is my "Golden One" and I have no qualms with choosing her above every other female day after day. Equality & no favoritism look and sound good. And yet reality shows that when given the choice, we all violate the transgression of preference.

Is it really bad then to violate equality? When do the constraints of equality interfere with the necessity of free choice? Is the violation of this transgression inevitable and are we (in reality) okay with it?

Common Good?

I shall merely point out that the slogan 'Production for use and not for profit' is now accepted by most men as a commonplace, and a commonplace stating a proper, desirable goal. If any intelligible meaning can be discerned in that slogan at all, what is it, if not the idea that the motive of a man's work must be the need of others, not his own need, desire or gain?
'Social gains,' 'social aims,' 'social objectives' have become the daily bromides of our language. The necessity of a social justification for all activities and all existence is now taken for granted. There is no proposal outrageous enough but what its author can get a respectful hearing and approbation if he claims that in some undefined way it is for the 'common good.'
The greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting; the people who support plans specifically designed to achieve serfdom, but hide behind the empty assertion that they are lovers of freedom, with no concrete meaning attached to the word; the people who believe that the content of ideas need not be examined, that principles need not be defined, and that facts can be eliminated by keeping one's eyes shut. They expect, when they find themselves in a world of bloody ruins and concentration camps, to escape moral responsibility by wailing: 'But I didn't mean this!'
Ayn Rand, Anthem, (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1995), v-vii.
I recently finished Ayn Rand's book Anthem. I am doing my best to process that which she was trying to communicate when she first published the story in 1946. The above section comes her own personal foreward to the story of Equality 7-2521 and his quest for meaning & freedom. My next few posts will deal with the story itself.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Drink Your Milkshake

"Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction." -Erich Fromm-

I finally watched the 2007 movie There Will Be Blood. I had heard a lot about it, and it starred one of my favorite actors (Daniel Day-Lewis) so I decided to sit down and watch it today. The film was completely fantastic. One of the better movies I have seen. It was gruesome, gut-wrenching, dark, and emotional. I found the darkness & drama of the characters a spot on match for the historical time of the film as well as my own inner darkness of greed & ambition.

The concept of the destruction of greed was laid out so perfectly throughout the film. We see how it strips a man of his sense of character and forces an ambition that drives everyone else away. The utter loneliness caused by the greed forces the main character through a series of movements each of them alienating the man further and further. The grip of ambition becomes the driving force in his life, his idol to cling to and worship. We see the descension into the dark abyss of nothingness by a man all alone.

If you are into dark films that are very powerful - I highly recommend this one.

The Plight of the Poor

Josephine Shaw Lowell now agreed that the plight of the poor was 'not due usually to moral or intellectual defects on their own part, but to economic causes over which they could have had no control, and which were as much beyond their power to avert as if they had been natural calamities of fire, flood or storm.'
Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), Kindle Location 28569-71.
Lowell was a Progressive Reform Leader in the late 19th century. Much of her work was based upon the poor inhabitants of New York. At the time, many people considered those who were poor to have gotten their based upon their own poor choices. Many Christians claimed their sins had led them to a place of poverty while those in the business community claimed they lacked the intellectual capabilities to move beyond their state of pauperism. Either way, the poor of society were often left with little pity and meaningless handouts or exit strategies from their condition. Lowell's statement is critical, then, because it points out the potential idea that many suffering people had reached their state not by choice but by the economic choices of the wealthy. Hence the raw issue of captalism - there will be people with great wealth, but it will come at the cost of the class of poverty.

How do we combat the plight of the poor? What strategies must be in place - and how do we deem them successful? Part of the biggest struggle seems to be the mindset of those who are not poor. Ideas, schemes, and plans are laid out by people who have no concept of how people without anything feel. Our bigotry of why people are poor and what causes them to continue in poverty taints our ability to help. It is very difficult to come to grips with the notion that some people do not have the freedom or opportunity to do anything beyond remaining in the squalor and chains of their poor economic condition. It truly is the mindset barrier that remains the obstacle needing to be overcome. The goal then becomes changing how we think before we develop a system for fighting against the cruel grip of impoverishment. A proper way of thinking will eliminate our need to dispense charity and focus on helping our fellow people as equals.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Tragedy of Hate

Dealing with cancer cannot be in any shape or form easy. Finding out that your cancer has spread and no amount of drugs or treatment will be able to spare your life is absolutely awful.

Dealing with a spouse has has cheated on you violating every ounce of trust cannot be in any shape or form easy. Finding out about the extramarital affair along with the rest of America is absolutely awful.

Elizabeth Edwards died on December 7th. The last stretch of her life perhaps the hardest. Whether or not you agree with her politics is besides the point. She was a human being. She cared for people. People cared about her. An estranged husband, children, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, parents, and numerous friends are all left without her now.

As if this were not hard enough, today comes the news that Westboro Baptist Church has decided the best course of action is to picket her funeral in protest of her life, viewpoints, and stances. REALLY?! That organization thinks the best way to represent God is by picketing a woman's funeral. What will it accomplish? How will that tell the world about hope & love? How can picketing the funeral really be of benefit? What a dark day in human history when a group claiming to represent the hope of the world has chosen themselves to promote hate & darkness.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tribalism

Tribalism provided camaraderie, protection, identity, and also a sense of being in charge, something increasingly hard to come by in the workplace. Many gang members were technically "apprentices" or "journeymen," but few harbored any hope of becoming a "master." Jobs seldom gave a worker status or a chance to display skill. And if being a waged employee diminished one's sense of autonomy and control, being fired devastated it. The panic [of 1837] had mad painfully clear that the new economic order could pitch a worker into desperate poverty, virtually overnight. Security and self-esteem were best pursued elsewhere. After work a butcher, tailor, or cartman could doff his smock, apron, or overalls, don colorful gang regalia, rendezvous with his comrades, and regain at least the illusion of being in control of his life, of being a man among men.
Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), Kindle Location 15346-52.
It is utterly fascinating reading about the development of the gangs of New York City in the 19th century. Scores of men joined together in like-minded groups to represent their own interests and feelings. From nativisit groups to Irish immigrant groups, these men often rallied around particularly hot topics. Interestingly enough, the groups (including those of poor and highly mistreated African Americans) had far more in common then they would have liked to admit. Yet because of the squalor-like conditions they were forced into; it became a feeding frenzy on who would be kings of the lower classes. (It could easily be argued that the laissez-faire politics and economics of the rich & powerful were most responsible for the rise of these groups.)

What is most intriguing though is the need for tribalism that everyone has. Security, self-esteem, identity, and a general sense of control all came from being a part of a gang. The economic forces prevented self-worth from developing in the workplace, thus the rise of gangs in the 19th century. Obviously the gangs had many issues (not the least of which was the intense & bitter racism that developed amongst themselves) - but it is easy to see why the associations formed. Men in particular find such value and worth in their vocation. What can possibly fill that void when work becomes non-existent or at the very best a wage-earning day in & day out boring routine?

My question is what can we do in society to foster healthy associations? If tribalism is as natural as history shows it to be (and I would argue can have tremendous value) - how can humanity channel it into more productive groupings? When a man has no hope of "making it" because his job, life, or circumstances prevent it; what can be done to help him find worth? In other words, is it possible to nurture the growth of gangs whom are focused on the actual building up of individuals & society as a whole? If yes, how? If no, then what can be done about the situation?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

For God's Glory

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
John 9:1-3
Today's message @ church was based upon the question of why bad things happen to people if God is so incredibly loving and is in full control. Since God is in control, He then either makes things happen or at the very least allows them to happen. So when we are confronted with sad, horrifying, and evil events in this world - we must ask - why God would do them or why God would allow for them to happen. One of the points the pastor made was that sometimes God allows for things to happen in order that He might be glorified through them. In other words, some tragic events lead to the glorification of God.

Which brings us to the blind man from John 3. The text does not say how old this man is - but whatever his age, he had been blind from birth. Jesus explains that his condition is not a result of sin - but simply an opportunity for God to be glorified. Jesus could work a miracle & God's work would be shown. Of course this is a great story - and it does show God's glory & might. Yet how would you like to be the blind guy? He lived all of his life unable to see simply so Jesus could show off God's work at that point in time. Why did God pick him to be blind? Why does God choose any of the situations we all find ourselves in that are out of our control? I would hope that the man would be eternally grateful for Jesus performing that miracle in his life - but wouldn't he rather have simply been able to see his whole life?

When dealing with the struggles & hardships in our life it is easy to think that it would simply be better for God's glory to be displayed without us having to be the projects upon which he uses His ability to do miracles. Yet as I have read this story as well as countless others, I have come to the conclusion that I am far too humanistic in my thought process. As much as I try, I cannot get over the fact that I simply put too much stock in humanity. All of creation was designed to bring God glory - even people. As much as I want to bring this story back to the blind man - or bring my own struggles and problems back to myself - the real story is God. We dwell too often on what we think, feel, and understand without realizing the story is never about us.

So although I am sure that man would have taken sight from birth and God's work to be displayed in a number of other ways it could have been, it wasn't up to that man or to us as listeners of the story. God has a plan, God executed His plan, and that man as well as myself have to simply be thankful to be a recipient of God's grace & glory.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Go Devils

Fork 'em Sparky.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pride

"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips."
Proverbs 27:2
"The crucible for silver and the furnance for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives."
Proverbs 27:21
Pride is the biggest stumbling block to humanity. It is the root cause of all our strife, war, anger, and lack of relationship. All problems can be traced to a lack of humility manifested in the pride of ourselves. Everyone from politicians and CEOs to homemakers and substitute teachers deal with the burning lust for recognition. We want people to see our value. We demand praise for the work and effort we pour into our labors - whatever they may be. Nothing quite stings like not getting the pat on the back we thought we deserved. On the flip side, when the compliments and praise do come - how do we respond to them? What do they do to our character? Do we use them as fuel to keep improving or do we simply rest then on our glory we so "deserve." The test that comes as a result of receiving credit is one of the hardest to pass in life. It can feel incredibly strange to receive praise - despite the fact that we all enjoy it. The balance between needing feedback and receiving it in humility is very delicate indeed. As I have read through the book of Proverbs this year, this issue has been the one that has stuck out the most to me. Perhaps its due to my incessant need of approval or my own personal struggle with pride. But now more then ever, I have realized just how difficult the world of praise, recognition, and humility is to navigate.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

John Peter Zenger

No one imagined that Zenger's acquittal set a legal precedent for the elimination of restrictions on the press - it was an instance of jury nullification, not a judicial opinion - and indeed decades would pass before printers in either America or Great Britain were safe from official scrutiny. What made the case so significant to contemporaries, rather, was that it sent a clear warning to judges and prosecutors that the law of libel was out of step with popular sentiment and that they could no longer rely on juries to shield the government from public censure. In doing so, moreover, the Zenger verdict endorsed assumptions about relations between "the people" and their rulers long familiar to reader's of Cato's Letters or the Craftsman - that executive power tends to expand at the expense of liberty, and that to protect themselves, freemen must be able to speak their minds without fear of official retribution.
Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), Kindle Location 3979-85.
The trial of John Peter Zenger against charges of seditious libel is a fascinating story from New York City's early history. The case would not only be a landmark decision for the city, but would have long term effects on what would become the United States of America. The fact that Zenger's lawyer (Andrew Hamilton) led his defense for free was one of the best parts. In essence, Zenger was accused of seditious libel which even Hamilton agreed with was true under the existing law of that time. However, he convinced the jury to partake in jury nullification appealing to the common sense of liberty and freedom of press. It was the law that was at the heart of the issue - not the guilt of the defendent. Highly intelligent defense and one that has has had such tremendous impact on our society today.

Defamatory statements are not always the most pleasant - but there is tremendous value in being able to speak one's mind. From the results of the Zenger case, we eventually reached the ability to simply state our opinions whether factual or not. Of course there is a certain amount of trouble that comes with freedom - and yet the absence of it would be far more damning to our culture. It is so ironic how easy it is to take for granted our freedoms in this country. Freedom of the press seems so "normal" in our Internet age where everyone says whatever they want. And yet at one point, not too long ago, that ability did not exist. Thanks to the courage of men like Zenger & Hamilton as well as the jury that sided with them - we now can boldy state what and why we believe.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When The Gales of November Came Early

Does anyone know where the love of God goes / When the waves turn the minutes to hours
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay / If they'd put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized / They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names / Of the wives and the sons and the daughters
-Gordon Lightfoot-
35 years ago the Edmund Fitzgerald met her doom on Lake Superior. I remember reading about the disaster as a kid in Minnesota. We even sang Gordon Lightfoot's song in 5th grade choir. It is amazing how few people have ever heard of the story/disaster. 29 men met their death in one of the worst storms ever experienced on Lake Superior. So in memory of the disaster - I point out a couple of websites to follow up on it. Read, learn, and remember!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Navigation

We believe that the world we've inherited has an immense momentum; that actions taken in the past have bequeathed us the mix of constraints and possibilities within which we act today; that the stage onto which each generation walks has already been set, key characters introduced, major plots set in motion, and that while the next act has not been written, it's likely to follow on, in undetermined ways, from the previous action. This is not to say that history repeats itself. Time is not a carousel on which we might, next time round, snatch the brass ring by being better prepared. Rather we see the past as flowing powerfully through the present and think that chartering historical currents can enhance our ability to navigate them.
Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York to 1898, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), Kindle Location 498-503.
It is often said that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Although there is some validity to this statement, I do not think it is completely accurate. Each generation & each time period has the ability to make a distinct change & mark. However, that being stated, we often find ourselves in situations and places that were pre-determined for us. The "act" of which is our lives has essentially been set in motion. The possibilities & constraints we face each day are often determined by factors out of our own control. Many of these factors are unfair and biased against those who have less power, influence, and status in society. As a result, we often see a repeat on history. Its why Otto von Bismarck was able to point out that some damn fool thing in the Balkans would trigger a war even before Ferdinand was shot.

All of that being said, the value of history comes into play when we realize that studying our past, its characteristics, and its "currents" - we better prepare ourselves for what the future will certainly deal us. Coaches don't study game film because their opponents will run the exact same script. They study game film because it prepares them for the possibilities of what might come. History provides the navigation to handle our lives. We know recessions will come and will go. We know that conflict results when we force our ethnocentrism on others. We know that religion is often polluted and abused for personal & powerful gain. We know that the rich like being rich and the poor are at a distinct disadvantage. We have seen each of these scenarios time and time again.

Our best hope then is to study, read and learn from what our past has shown us. What can history prepare us for tomorrow? Because although it will never, ever be the exact same - perhaps we can recognize the small clues and patterns that enable us to actually grab the brass ring. Our future has largely already been determined. But what can we do in the intangibles to make a difference?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Friends


One of the things I have discovered a lot about since moving is the critical importance of friends. These relationships with others are so often taken for granted and not fully appreciated in the moment. It is amazing how much a friend can do for a person's life. Someone to vent to, someone to watch football with, someone to laugh with, someone to drink a beer with, someone to share struggles with, someone who is just there when you simply need someone there for you. Besides spouses & kids; I think friends are the most under-appreciated things in people's lives.

The last time I was new in a place was 10th grade. Having moved to Arizona from Minnesota, I was forced to make new friends. Of course I had the benefit of being in high school which provided an abundance of opportunities of new friends. Moving up to Idaho has been a much different experience. I have church, and my job at the school, and even neighborhood opportunities. However, I have seen the difficulty in finding people you simply connect with as if it was designed that way by God Himself. This last Friday, my wife and I had the benefit of meeting a couple of people like that. We laughed, we discussed life, and shared a good meal & beer. It re-reminded me just how good it is to have a true friend.

So here's to my friends. You all are worth so much more than I have ever communicated or shown. Thanks for making life good.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cassandra's Curse

But the fate of warnings in political affairs is to be futile when the recipient wishes to believe otherwise. In formulating Cassandra's curse - that she would tell the truth and not be believed - the ancient Greeks showed their remarkable early insight into the human psyche.
Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, (New York: Random House, 1984), 199.
Greek mythology has always fascinated me. Greek culture seemed to have such as a solid grasp upon humanity and the struggles that came with being human. In a remarkable story, we see the character of Cassandra being able to accurately predict the future. Unfortunately, she is cursed by Apollo in that her gift brings only misery as no one will believe her. Therefore, events like the Trojan Horse came to be because her prediction of Troy's downfall by the horse fell on deaf ears.

How ironic today that we see many leaders stumble in the same was as they did at Troy. Dissent and alternate pathways are shown - and yet rejected simply out of disbelief. Many modern day Cassandras face the same dilemma in that their insight and advice is rejected to the downfall of the hearer. What mistakes could we avoid if we simply listened? What pitfalls might we avoid if we heard the dissent we do not want to hear? Alongside each of those questions is the problem of our desire to "believe otherwise." How many of us are actually willing to listen to opinions and ideas that fly in the face of our own or even what we believe to be normalcy?

It was tragic that Cassandra met her demise without being able to benefit anyone with her prophetic ability. The challenge today is not let the Cassandras in our own lives fail to challenge us to listen and change the direction we are headed.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Noble Edifices

Through visible beauties and grandeur, they believed, the Papacy would be dignified and the Church exert its hold upon the people. Nicholas V, who has been called the first Renaissance Pope, made the belief explicit on his deathbed in 1455. Urging the Cardinals to continue the renovation of Rome, he said, "To create solid and stable conviction there must be something that appeals to the eye. A faith sustained only by doctrine will never be anything but feeble and vacillating....If the authority of the Holy See were visibly displayed in majestic buildings...all the world would accept and revere it. Noble edifices combining taste and beauty with imposing proportions would immensely exalt the chair of St. Peter." The Church had come a long way from Peter the fisherman.
Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, (New York: Random House, 1984), 61.
Visible beauty & grandeur v. doctrine. For Renaissance Popes, the argument between those two was easy. Build the buildings large & beautiful - and people will come. The awe of majestic art will be more convicting & build a more solid faith than the words of Scripture. Never mind the prophecy of Isaiah 53 (He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him) - the eye had to be appealed to if conversions were going to happen. In reality, the eye had to be appealed to in order to continue the control, status, and power of the Catholic Church. Simplicity & obedience to Solus Christus were not the imperative. Big & beautiful structures were the imperative.

While it is easy to castigate the Catholic Church for that offense, I wonder if the same mindset is not plaguing the current American church. Today, some of the most sophisticated, technology driven, and opulent buildings in America are churches. Building campaigns and pressure to give are being pushed all around the country. While discipleship is verbally being pushed, a core component of it often revolves around a believer's willingness to tithe & give correctly. Churches want to believe that they are winning people by doctrine & beliefs - but the reality is the primary way churches are reaching out is through appealing to the eye. Churchgoers now need to be impressed with a service, in awe of the architecture, and blown away by the amenities. Its a lose-lose cycle as churches spend far too much time & money on being attractive to the eye and churchgoers cling worthlessly to a feeble faith that is based more upon being comfortable than true discipleship.

The foolishness of the Renaissance Popes led to a mighty fall for the Catholic church. What will be the cost of the steps the American church has now taken? Has the church's quest to be attractive come at the cost of its ability to do true discipleship? When does the cost of a building campaign outweigh its benefit? If being attractive & majestic in appearance is so critical - why didn't Christ, Himself, use the same method?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chesapeake

He was so excited by the endless possibilities of rejuvenation that his mind raced on. 'Of course, when the ducks return, the geese may leave. Then we'll change again and they'll come back. The entire bay can be revived, every one of its eight thousand coves...' He hesitated. His face grew somber. 'Unless, of course, we have so contaminated the oceans that they can no longer send fresh tides and fish into the bay.' He shrugged his shoulders. 'Mankind was destined to live on the edge of perpetual disaster. We are mankind because we survive. We do it in a half-assed way, but we do it. I suppose before the year ends we'll even see some blue heron wading back. Their struggle has lasted for eleven thousand years. Ours is just beginning.'
James A. Michener, Chesapeake, (New York: Random House, 1978), 851.
I just finished Michener's book on the historical fictional account of the families that made the Chesapeake Bay. It was very well written and had tremendous research on each and every page. I was very happy with it. It really made me think about the impact families and generations can have on the shaping of an area and/or community. It is so easy to lament how ugly, twisted, and deplorable America has become. Everywhere a person looks there is evidence that we as a people have gone to hell. The future of our once great nation has become so cloudy that many are without hope moving forward. And its not just the gruesome acts of murder, rape, and the crushing blow delivered to the masses by the corporate capitalists. It is the slow yet steady decline of any resemblance of accountability, responsibility, and true & honest hard work and effort.

Yet the reading of the book reminded me of the fact that hope remains in people choosing to make and leave and imprint upon a culture and society. Every single day of work, I get to face 120+ seventh graders with impressionable minds and attitudes. I teach them geography, history, and factoids about the social fabric of America. But even more than that, I get the opportunity to care for them, teach them values, and instruct them on the methods of hard work and responsibility. With some it feels like a daily battle. With others I see such bright hope for the future of our nation. With all, I feel like I get the opportunity to truly make a difference in life. A or F - I get them with me for 52 minutes a day, five days a week. And like the characters of Michener's novel, I will undoubtedly leave some type of mark. My hope is that my time is well spent, and that the change I get the opporunity to enact goes in on some level.

There is and always will be hope. As Michener pointed out, often times our half-assed ways seem to knock hope out the window. But we are survivors, and if we choose wisely - we can leave a history of the positive change we made in America.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9 Years Later

9 years. I still remember walking out of my dorm room @ NAU and hearing someone say that a plan had flown into the World Trade Centers. I raced back to my room in time to see the second plane slam into the other tower. Ugh. You could just feel it in your gut. Anger and hate began to boil within me. I remember just how overwhelming the emotions were. Yet 9 years later I realize that hate has not and will not end the problem of terrorism or violence. Fighting fire with fire this time doesn't seem to be the answer. I don't know how to love bin laden or al qaeda. I don't know how to turn the other cheek to terrorist cell groups. I don't know how to forgive atrocities like the killing of 3000 people. Yet I know that my anger does not bring about the desired outcome I want. So today I will try once more to care. I will try to love. I will try to pray. Loving one's enemies is not easy and remembering the hurt & pain does not make it any easier. But in a world torn apart by hate...it is my duty to attempt to be a beacon of hope & love.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What Is Right?

People reach decisions, most of the time, by thinking. This is a pretty banal statement, but the process it names is inscrutable. An acquaintance gives you a piece of information in strict confidence; later on, a close friend, lacking that information, is about to make a bad mistake. Do you betray the confidence? "Do the right thing" - but what is the right thing? Keeing your word, or helping someone you care about avoid injury or embarrassment? Even in this two-sentence hypothetical case, the choice between principles is complicated - as it always is in life - by circumstances. If it had been the close friend who gave you the information and the acquaintance who was about to make the mistake, you would almost certainly think about your choice differently - as you would if you thought that the acquaintance was a nasty person, or that the friend was a lucky person, or that the statue of limitations on the secret had probably run out, or that you had acquired a terrible habit of betraying confidences and really out to break it. In the end, you will do waht you believe is "right," but "rightness" will be, in effect, the compliment you give to the outcome of your deliberations. Though it is always in view while you are thinking, "what is right" is something that appears in its complete form at the end, not the beginning, of your deliberation.
Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001), Kindle Location 5713-23.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Winning Arguments

The instinctive reaction to conflict is a combination of self-defense and attack. One ferrets out the errors in an opposing position in a seek-and-destroy mission that supposedly leaves one more secure. The person genuinely committed to truth does better to seek out the kernel of truth that is part of any point of view. Truth is so precious it must be prized wherever it is found. No system of thought, almost no single influential idea, is totally devoid of truth. By ignoring or distorting that truth for the sake of winning arguments, we diminish our own cause.
Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 128.
One of my horrible habits in life is the incessant need to be right in any & all arguments. I hate losing arguments. I hate being wrong. I am a stubborn ass which leads me to digging in my heals to prevent losing any ground in different types of conflicts. As a result I tend to view my opponent in an argument not as another person with a different opinion, but as someone who needs to be proven wrong & often humiliated in that process. The worst part of this is that I often will take low blow shots during arguments designed to not only fluster my "opponent" but deeply wound them in the process. Why? Because my experience has been that a deeply wounded person generally cannot argue as well.

As a result of this poor mindset - I often fail to glean the truth & importance of what the person I am arguing with has to say. I fail to look at things from their perspective. I fail to see why they would argue what they argue. I fail to see the truth their viewpoint contains. Mostly I fail to become a better person as a result of the disagreement. Its a sad & shallow existence at that point. The goal needs to be to learn. In every & all situations we MUST be focused on learning. Seeking & finding truth has to be our goal as people. Whether that comes from people who think, talk, and act in accordance to our wishes or from those who don't. Every person, every situation, every idea, and every argument must be valued as a way of improving upon myself. Its less important to be right then it is to gain perspective. I desire growth as a person. Now its time to foster that growth.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Metaphysical Club

I just finished The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand. It is the best book I have read this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the ideas, history, and thoughts the book contains. I look forward to writing out my thoughts on portions of it, but needless to say - I highly recommend it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Quotable William James

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."
-William James-

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Scrubs Learning Moment

Every once in a while - I learn something about myself from watching television shows. While watching Scrubs, it doesn't take long before I see myself learning something from J.D. usually through Dr. Cox (on a side-note, this relationship mirrors my relationship with Ryan Russell in real life).

Dr. Cox: It's time. Sit down and listen up, Newbie. I suppose you want me to say you're great...that you've raised the bar for interns everywhere?

J.D.: I'm cool with that!

Dr. Cox: Well, I'm not going to say that. You're doing okay. Someday you might even be better than that. But right now, all I see is a guy who's so preoccupied with wondering what everyone else thinks about him, that he doesn't have anytime to think whether or not he believes in himself. Did you ever wonder why I told you to write your own evaluation?

J.D.: I don't have a safe answer for that. I just figured that...you...

Dr. Cox: Clam up, Newbie! I wanted you to think about yourself...and I mean really think! What are you good at? What do you suck at? And write it down. Not so I could read it, or anyone else could read it. But so you could read it! You see in the end, Newbie, you don't have to answer to me, or to Kelso, or even to your patients, for God's sake! The only one you have to answer to, Newbie, is you. There, you are evaluated. Now get out of here, because you truly make me so damn mad I might just hurt myself!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Absolutes

"The idea of knowing absolutes has a very limited meaning at best when it is human beings who are the supposed knowers. Absolutes, by definition, partake of infinity; they are without boundary. What relationship can a finite knower have with an infinite object of knowledge except a finite, limited one? Can one then be said to know or 'have' an absolute on which to ground one's beliefs when one only knows, at best, a sliver of that absolute?"
"But how would we know unmistakably that anything was infinite or absolute unless we ourselves were infinite?"
Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 91-92.
Can you know anything absolutely? The question seems pretty simple until one begins to ponder what exactly it means. The older I get, the less sure I am of anything absolutely. This is not to say that faith doesn't play a role in my life, just that I am uncomfortable proclaiming absolutes as much as I did say 5 years ago. So much of my outlook & view of life has been tempered by circumstances that it is hard to say that I have anything but a limited & biased mindset. My reasoning for my beliefs is grounded in the knowledge I have so far acquired as well as the journey I continue to take based upon my own likes and dislikes. In fact, in some ways the further along my own personal path I take - the further away from absolute truth I probably go.

To me there is no other areas where this issue of absolutes is debated than that of politics & the spiritual realm. In both areas, people are very quick to shout for their beliefs and view the opposing side as idiots. Having worked in a church, it was easy to see the polarization of both issues up close and personal. Our limited range of equality lends us towards being "tolerant" which is simply another way of saying I'm right but I'll allow you to be wrong. Our thinking quickly escalates to absolutes on issues, beliefs, and choices which reality knows there is no answer this side of heaven.

So if we cannot be absolute about anything - what do we do? How do we make choices & step out in faith on anything without the ability to truly & fully know it is correct? In other words, how do finite beings make decisions with infinite implications?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Security

"We believe what we do about the world, of course, for many different reasons. All ways of explaining the world tend to be self-verifying and self-sustaining. An outlook does not have to be 'right' in order to seem right. It need not be logical (thought most people will consider their position reasonable), nor consistent, nor thorough, nor defendable, nor anything else to fulfill its primary function - providing an explanation of things. Once in operation, a belief system processes all information, all evidence, in its own terms, appropriating that which verifies its outlook and defusing or ignoring anything else."

"We fend off competing world views because by threatening our present understanding of reality they threaten our essential security...When people defend their world view, they are not defending reason, or God, or an abstract system; they are defending their own fragile sense of security and self-respect...No one understood the psychology of this better than Kierkegaard. He recognized how subtly intertwined are our beliefs with our instinct for self-preservation..."
Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 23, 25.
Security. The one thing, above all else, that people want is security. That is why humans go to great lengths to pursue wealth, relationships, and a myriad of other things which give the human ego a sense of security. In much the same way, we pursue security in our belief systems. Everyone wants to believe that his or her belief system is correct because its "rightness" gives them a feeling of security in a world of uncertainty. In other words, people are constantly on the look out for certainty because their journey in life never seems to give them any. The slightest bit of doubt can create a fissure of unbelief which can radically alter a person's sense of security.

This is why we attack other people's belief systems. Not because they are always inherently "wrong" but because we do not feel comfortable enough in our own. Our "fragile sense of security" cannot withstand the storms of doubt that other belief systems could introduce to us. Instead of learning, growing, and adapating - we become rigid out of fear. This rigidity is what enforces the narrowing of our minds and philosphies to the limited acceptance of facts and figures that reinforce our own personal worldviews. Of course we're always right - because our depth is limited the realm of our own acceptance.

Self-preservation is easy enough to laugh off when it comes to the style of music we like or our favorite football team. The problem though is when it escalates to the level of personal belief about the world and its operations. Violence & tyranny become our only options as we must force our beliefs on as many people as possible in order to give our selves the greatest degree of security. The end result is a world of mistrust, anger, hurt, and revenge. All because of a simple chasing after the wind known as certainty.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Polio

I just finished reading, Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky. It was my first book I read on my new Amazon Kindle DX. So in reality I have two things to report on, the book's content as well as the medium in which I read it.

1. The book was very good. It is easy to see why it was the winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for history. The book chronicles the story of polio in America, primarily in terms of the fight for a vaccine and the bitter feud that developed between Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk. We do not often think about polio today because of its eradication due to the efforts of those two men, but the reality is the disease consumed the minds of Americans and made a celebrity out of the scientist Salk. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the divide in accolades received by both men. Whereas Sabin was highly regarded within the fields of science and medicine, Salk received his regard from the public in need of a hero. Salk was never given much if any credit from his field of study. Which begs the question: if given the choice would you take the recognition of the general public OR the recognition of your paricular avenue of study/work?

2. As far as the Kindle DX goes, I have to say I really enjoyed my reading experience on it. It was easy to use, easy to read off of, and I really enjoyed using the dictionary that was already downloaded onto it. My only concern with the entire thing was/is the inability to skip from chapter to chapter. Perhaps this is something I still need to learn on it usage. Other then that though, I really liked it. Looking forward to more reading...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Three Minutes

"The average American spends three minutes a day reading a book."

"The typical American spends an average of about nine and a half hours a day consuming media."

Dick Meyer, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent In The New Millennium, (New York: Crown Publishers, 2008), 87.

I believe we are facing a crisis with the above statistics. The elimination of reading from the diet of input consumption in Americans is alarming. We are literally setting ourselves on the path of ineptitude. It will not be long before the vast majority of the leadership of the United States will be non-readers. They will be heavy consumers of technology & media - but with little regard for reading & knowledge development. That is another way of spelling doom. The worst part of it all is that the majority of Americans do not blink an eye at these statistics. They might feign shock or awe - but the reality is they don't care.

It takes a certain amount of discipline to read. I understand that not everyone enjoys it - but there is something to reading words on paper. There is something to creating your own images, pictures, and ideas instead of having a screen show them to you. There is something to thinking about what might a book be communicating instead of just consuming & beliving whatever screen it is you get your info from. It doesn't take any effort to consume media. It takes no brain power or ability. It is just given to you. It is beyond crystal clear that the lack of reading in America will destroy our power to think, reason, struggle, and be well-rounded citizens. Unfortunately, it seems we just don't care enough to change.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Try Something

"Must the country remain hungry and jobless while raw materials stand unused and factories idle?" he [FDR] asked. "The country needs, the country demands, bold, persistent experimentation. Take a method and try it. If it fails admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."
Jean Edward Smith, FDR, (New York: Random House, 2007), 263.
This question has been proposed to me numerous times since I decided to move: "But isn't the job market for history teachers pretty bleak?" Now I don't think anyone is trying to discourage me or predict doom for my family, but I do believe people (myself included) often get caught up in fear. We need bold, persistent experimentation - and yet we constantly take the easy route. We love to quote Robert Frost and his ideal of the road not taken - but the truth is we always take the path more traveled upon. Its not a lack of desire that forces our hand on this - but a lack of faith. Like the Israelites, we just don't trust that God can part the Red Sea.

So the answer to that question is yes the job market for high school history teachers is probably pretty bleak. The entire US economy is struggling right now so why would this sector be any different? But the road not taken still makes all the difference. FDR's command of "But above all, try something" rings daily in my ears. This could fail in some ways but the reality is I know I could not stay doing something I did not feel like God was calling me to do anymore. It would have been more safe and yet detrimental for my development as a person. I have no clue how things will turn out, where I will end up, or what kind of journey it will be like. But my choice is to succumb to the fear or be invigorated by the challenge that lies ahead. I choose the latter.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Into The Great Wide Open

"The missionary work of the non-professional missionary is to live his daily life in Christ, and therefore with a difference, and to be able to state the reason and cause of the difference to men who see it. His preaching is essentially private conversation, and has at the back of it a life which explains and illustrates and enforces his words. It is such a missionary work that the world needs today. Everybody, Christian and pagan alike, respects such work. When it is so done, men wonder, and inquire into the secret of a life which they instinctively admire and covet for themselves." -Roland Allen-
...Discerning and following God's calling on our lives is both the primary mission of the individual Christian as well as the most significant step we can take toward bringing healing to the body of Christ. Said another way, God knits together the body in His wisdom and sovereignty. That which is most healthy for the individual members is necessarily that which is most needful for the body.
Warren Cole Smith, A Lover's Quarrel With The Evangelical Church, (Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2008), 221.
I am stepping down. With those four words I began the process of liberating myself from the world of fulltime vocational ministry. I must be careful to help people understand that I am not leaving in anger, frustration, hurt, or bitterness. Truth be told I have experienced all of those in my tenure at the church but they aren't the driving force of my departure. It is best to never leave a place guns blazing. I don't believe I am doing that.

The reality is that I feel I can be more effective outside of the walls of vocational church ministry. I will come in contact with more non-churched people in the world of education than I could ever dream of inside the church. Being the light of the world doesn't matter if that light remains hidden safely within the walls of the church. No, its time to step beyond the boundaries and make a difference. That isn't to say that church staff members do not serve a purpose or don't have an impact on the world. Its just for me - I see the potential outside instead of inside.

So here we go: Into the Great Wide Open. I am sure it will be weird, different, thrilling, exciting, and potentially even scary. The reality is I haven't felt like that in years. I am excited to teach. I am excited to be around people for the majority of my job instead of the minority of it. I am excited to see what God has in store. Most of all I am excited that instead of just sitting, I am doing something. Good or bad, sometimes we just need to make headway in life.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gambler's Heart

...Yamamoto possessed the rank, prestige, and administrative skill to do something about it. In the Navy he was known as a bold, original thinker and an inveterate gambler. He thrived on all night poker games, testing his opponents' nerves, endurance, and patience - just as he tested himself. "In all games, Yamamoto loved to take chances just as he did in naval strategy," explained his administrative aide, Captain Yasuji Watanabe. "He had a gambler's heart."
Yamamoto's decision to attack the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor not only was breathtakingly bold but involved a revolutionary, hitherto untried use of naval airpower - an experimental concept untested in the crucible of battle. "What a strange position I find myself in," Yamamoto wrote to his friend Rear Admiral Teikichi Hori on the eve of the fleet's departure, "-having to pursue with full determination a course of action which is diametrically opposed to my best judgment and firmest conviction. That, too, perhaps is fate."
Jean Edward Smith, FDR, (New York: Random House, 2007), 532-534.
Isoroku Yamamoto was Naval General of the Japanese Navy at the time of Pearl Harbor. Although attacking America was not his favored position, he took upon himself to do it in a creative way that was built upon risk. He used an untested method to fight the battle while putting everything - including his best judgment - on the line. The attack on Pearl Harbor was breathtaking for its incredible destruction & success. It was a gambler's strategy & it worked to nearly flawless perfection. Of course we can look back and judge Japan for helping the United States enter the war - which would lead to the downfall of the Axis powers. However, at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, all that was known was that Japan needed a big W on the board to help boost morale and nail the US where it counted. The gambler's heart of Yamamoto lead to the plan that accomplished that.

I admire the gambler's heart. I admire the courage. I admire taking chances and putting experimental concepts into practice. It certainly must lead to a fair share of mistakes, accidents, and disaters. But as they say in Vegas - you have to bet big to win big. My life doesn't resemble that of Yamamoto. I do not have the gambler's heart or the desire to risk it all. I like to think I do. I like to talk like I do. But the reality is I almost always play it safe. But why not risk? Life is so short and you only get one shot at it. Your untested plans, goals, dreams, and strategies are waiting to be used. Double check to make sure the convictions and judgment that holds you back is not based upon fear. Just go.

Bet it all. Take that chance. The gambler's heart leads to the big reward.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Spirit of Charity

"Liberty requires opportunity to make a living - a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for. For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands and almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, and other people's labor - other people's lives. These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. Governments can err. Presidents do make mistakes. But the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference." -Franklin D. Roosevelt
Jean Edward Smith, FDR, (New York: Random House, 2007), 368.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Constituted Means

"A revival of religion is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means - as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means." - Charles Finney- "With this statement, Finney not only rejected salvation by grace but also opened the door to the use of emotionalism and technique to produce a high body count when it came time to sing the hymn of invitation at the close of the service...And Sproul stated plainly the problems with body-count evangelism when he said, "Everyone who has faith is called to profess faith, but not everybody who professes faith has faith. We are not saved by a profession of faith. A lot of people, it seems to me, in the evangelical world, believe that if they have walked the walk, raised the hand, signed the card - that is, made some kind of methodological profession of faith - that they're saved."
Warren Cole Smith, A Lover's Quarrel With The Evangelical Church, (Colorado Springs, Authentic Publishing, 2008), 139-140.
Emotions. Nothing about a person impacts their decisions more than their emotions. Every day people make choices that are born out of emotional moment. It can be as simple as buying a beer because it was a stressful day at work or as complicated as making a "profession" of faith at a church service because the circumstances were set up to lead to that. Advertisers play upon the impulses & emotions of people to sell products, and often the evangelical church plays upon the same emotions to "sell" Jesus, offering, and serving. With the right lighting, music, words, and set-up, any church can make an effective decision weekend. As Charles Finney, 'the Father of Modern Revivialism', clearly stated it - the "right use of the consituted means" can produce a revival. People can make decisions that they feel like are changing their lives without realizing what they are doing or why they are doing it. The consequence (unintended as it might be) is that people make a decision for Jesus or put money in an offering bin without ever really choosing to do so. Their lives don't change. Their faith doesn't exist. They simply have a memory of an emotional moment and less cash in their wallet.

The hard part comes in the lack of trust that Warren Cole Smith gives to God in the process. Can God still use the moments that churches play upon emotionalism & technique? Could God not still change lives despite the clear manipulation being done to people? After all God is the one who remains sovereign - despite the mess people make in the world and in His church. My personal belief is that God can still use these "revival-like" moments BUT that a lot of the decisions made in these moments are not as deep as the church would like to believe they are. The number of decisions look good on paper & help us feel like we are accomplishing The Great Commission, but the reality is that if all of these emotionalism techniques being used across the evangelical church in America were truly 100% effective - we would see more "fruit" from the decisions. Instead - it seems the evangelical church contributes to the notion of a nation that claims to be 83% Christian and yet displays very little of the love & life of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Best Guy On Radio

Colin Cowherd is the best guy on radio right now. If you don't listen to him - you are missing out. Very funny & intelligent, with a great command of radio. Good insight on culture as well as sports. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Distorted Reality

Today we might look with disdain on geographical provincialism. But we are trapped in a new provincialism of time. We are trapped in the ever-present now. We now live without a past or a future. We act with no regard to consequence. Effects admit no cause. The result is that we live in an age of ideology. We can make up any theory we like about how the world operates, and we look for data to support it. Of course, the problem with the modernist's worldview is that it is sustainable only if time is erased. Because actions and ideas do have specific and related consequences, the only way we can keep our ideologies from crumbling under the weight of reality is to distort reality.
Warren Cole Smith, A Lover's Quarrel With The Evangelical Church, (Colorado Springs, Authentic Publishing, 2008), 44-45.
The concept of the new provincialism in Warren Cole Smith's book was very intriguing to me. Especially in regards to his belief that we now live with an abandoment of the past, fixated only upon the 'ever-present now.' Without the past or the future, we can make decisions and build our own realities because we are comfortable with the here & now. In an era of incredible technology & information, we are able to look for facts and completely justify/support our personal stances & ideologies. As a result, we can never see our own mistakes or faults because "our data" clearly showcases we are correct. When the cold realities of life hit us - we simply maneuver around them back to our comfortable distorted reality.

Much of what Smith is addressing in his book pertains to the current evangelical church and its complete distorted reality. However, I think this simple idea can realistically apply to anyone and anything. All of us are guilty of living lives of distorted reality based upon self-constructed idealogies. We have convinced ourselves we are correct simply because we have "numbers" to back ourselves up. Our politics are shaped by our upbringing, personal biases, and the content/media we filter into our thinking. However, instead of recognizing this we argue against other people because their thinking/idealogy is so dumb & narrow-minded. Well guess what?!? They have facts too! The reality is that all our modernist thinking is based upon circumstantial evidence that we have compiled that is based upon current trends, facts, and figures.

The way you believe church should be run, the way you believe politics should be operated, how big or small you think the government should be, and what you prefer to do with your spare time is all based upon your own construct of reality. We all need to do the world a favor and get over ourselves. Think beyond your own feelings & beliefs. Your way, my way, his way, her way - they're all wrong in some way. Until we see that we each view life through a distorted lens, we'll never get anywhere. The question is not whether or not your idealogy is crumbling - its whether or not you are astute enough to see the pieces falling down.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Not Merely Admired

"He was a man that could talk to you," a farmer remembered. "He had sense enough to talk to a man who didn't have any education, and he had sense enough to talk to the best educated man in the world; and he was easy to talk to. He could talk about anything." Roosevelt also listened. The stories of low farm prices, failed banks, and rurarl poverty stayed with him into the White House.
To be a great president, said FDR, required "the quality of soul which makes a man loved by little children, by dumb animals, that quality of soul which makes him a strong help to those in sorrow or trouble, that quality which makes him not merely admired but loved by all the people - the quality of sympathetic understanding of the human heart, of real interest in one's fellow man."
Jean Edward Smith, FDR, (New York: Random House, 2007), 218, 222.
It is easy to be completely enamored by the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. He certainly made mistakes during his tenure, but he had the unique ability to be truly loved by people. He knew how to have a conversation with people. He knew how to listen to people. He knew what mattered to people. It was his ability to connect with regular people and have them actually fully believed he cared about them as an individual that stuck out. He understood people & chose to care for them. People were not mere statistics. He was admired for his leadership but loved for his care & connection.

The single greatest quality missing from today's leadership is that: care & concern for one's fellow man. All around me I see quality leadership that can lead in tough times, make difficult decisions, and forecast incredible vision. But lost amongst all of it - is a genuine concern for people. Leaders don't listen any more. Leaders can't "talk about anything" any more. Leaders simply don't care any more. Leadership has become about building power, establishing networks with influential people, and being stoic in the midst of crisis. And yet in all the good we get from that, we miss out as people on being cared for. On being loved. On being listened to. We desperately crave a leader who will lead but also love. If it is enough to simply be admired - a leader has already fallen woefully short of what they could & should be.

The "quality of soul" as FDR put it makes a person not only a good president or leader; but a genuine person worthy of admiration and love. That is what I desire to be.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Size, Speed, and Power

  • "It was the hypocrisy of religious-right political leaders quick (and right) to condemn big government and its corrupting power, but who thought that the big ministries and megachurches they were creating would somehow be immune to the same corrupting power."
  • "Size, speed, and power have become the ways the evangelical church measure God's blessing."
  • "But I do believe we have gotten to the point where it is fair to say this: many of the worse elements of the modern world - materialism, empire building at the expense of community building, and the accumulation of power and money - have become some of the most recognizable attributes of American evangelicalism."

Warren Cole Smith, A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church, (Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2008), 7, 40-41.

I just started Warren Cole Smith's book. It is interesting to say the least. I don't know if I agree with all of his points or if he even has valid solutions to the legitimate problems he sees. However, the book has provided some interesting things to chew on.

One of the things I have been pondering is the idea of size & power in the church. Now I am not against megachurches, but I do find it interesting that the fear of size in relation to the government does not translate over to the fear of size in the church. Many right-wingers love to gush about the need for government to be small enough to kill yet see no potential issues with a church being large, powerful, and at times without strict accountability. It is my belief that with size comes potential. Of course that potential can be used for evil - but it also can be used to accomplish greater things. A large government is no worse than a large church - it just depends on whom is in power, what type of accountability they have, and if they are using their size for the betterment of society. A small government just like a small church is not guaranteed any more success, hope, or effectiveness just because its size is smaller. The frustrating part in it all is the idea that Christians think they are immune to the same issues of improper spending, ill-use of resources, or abuse of power that the government often is guilty of. People are people. If one foot needs to be on the throat of the government, is the other on the throat of our large and powerful evangelical churches? If not - why?

Liberty of the Community

The course of modern history, he [FDR] suggested, had been a struggle for individual liberty. 'Today, in Europe and America, the liberty of the individual has been accomplished.' What was now required was a process by which that liberty could be harnessed for the betterment of the community. 'Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further. Cooperation, which is the thing that we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.' FDR avoided the term 'community interest' as too socialistic. He eschewed 'brotherhood of man' as too sentimental. Instead, he defined cooperation as 'the struggle for liberty of the community rather than the liberty of the individual' and said it was 'what the founders of the republic were groping for.'
Jean Edward Smith, FDR, (New York: Random House, 2007), 84.
Individual liberty v. Community liberty. Nothing could describe the battle FDR fought and the idealogy he clung to better than those two forces. No President (since Lincoln) fought harder for the community of the United States than FDR did. As a result of his beliefs, the interests of the community were taken into far more consideration than each individual. People ignored since the beginning of the republic were finally looked upon. Jobs were created that helped push forward the American economy. Different regions of people were banded together who had previously been estranged. Individual rights might have been touched & toyed with but it was done so for the betterment of the whole United States.

I find the idea of the individual v. the community highly fascinating. I think this is a huge debate in public policy today for all types of situations. The government, the church, businesses, neighborhoods, etc., all struggle with this battle. Who gets preferential treatment, when do they get it, why do they get it, and how is it better if they do? Do you raise taxes to pay for social betterment, or do you cut them in the hopes that less taxes creates altruistic people who will pay for social betterment themselves? Should the government be large in order to use its power to take care of the nation or should the government be small because individuals can handle themselves? Every single decision, policy, and debate hinges upon this concept. And in light of it all, FDR's ideas of competition v. cooperation loom large. I don't know if I have the answer to what the balance needs to be. However, I do believe that the rights of individuals is very sacred to Americans. When those rights are threatened, we become uncomfortable - even if they are sacrificed for the expense of helping others. The question thus becomes how do we help and focus on the community and make the individual okay with it?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Ebb & Flow of Confidence

The Great Bear of Wall Street legend, Jesse Livermore, once observed that 'stocks could be beat, but that no one could beat the stock market.' By that he meant that while it was possible to predict the factors that caused any given stock to rise or fall, the overall market was driven by the ebb and flow of confidence, a force so intagible and elusive that it was not readily discernible to most people.
Liaquat Ahamed, The Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, (New York: Penguin Books, 2009), 307.
Confidence is a funny thing. It can often be the decisive factor in a variety of situations from competitions to performances to the stock market. The great stock market crash of '29 came about as a result of confidence. At first ballooning out of control, and then spiraling downward in the same manner - the confidence of people drove the stock market. The highest of highs was followed by the lowest of lows. Fortunes, hopes, and the stability of the US economy were all impacted by the intangible force of confidence. Although it was predictable that the stock market would suffer from its unreasonable heights - no one could have predicted the severity of the downward turn in confidence.

How do you keep confidence becomes the question. As it was in 1929, the financial experts of America & the key political leaders associated with them must convince the American people to have confidence. While driving in California this past week, I saw numerous "Recession Facts" billboards. All of them said essentially the same thing in trying to restore confidence in the economy. As times become more desperate, people become more willing to lose hope and confidence that good will come. It is in these moments that leaders are tested the most. Confidence becomes the key issue that leaders must learn how to instill in their people.

If we can learn anything from '29, it is that confidence is a very weak platform. It is ready to give in at any moment. It follows a roller coaster pattern of up & down with very little chance for stability. Which means that we must learn how to harness its power, and limit its ability for damage. Leaders become leaders by doing exactly that. Their people follow believing that great things are in store, while trusting that downtimes are but a blip on the radar. The test therefore of great leadership is to gauge the confidence of your followers. Although difficult to predict & control, it is that level of confidence that will make or break how you lead.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Casualties Of War

[In looking at the Great War] The experts seemed to have forgotten that among the first casualties of war is not only truth but also sound finance. None of the big wars of the previous century - for example, the Napoleonic Wars or the American Civil War - had been held back by a mere lack of gold. These had been fights to the death in which the belligerents had been willing to resort to everything and anything - taxes, borrowing, the printing of ever large quantities of money - to raise the cash to pay for the war.
Liaquat Ahamed, The Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, (New York: Penguin Books, 2009), 75.
The Great War (World War I) would impact the world economy like no other war before it. As a result of the war, the United States became the premier economic superpower in the world. However, they did so at the expense of the economies of Europe. As a result, the economies of Europe would face the 1920s trying desperately to dig themselves out of the massive holes they created by fighting a costly war (in terms of both human sacrifice & sound financial sacrifice). Eventually the instability in Europe and poor financial decision making would cripple the entire world. No one was spared from the disaster that we now call the Great Depression.

What's interesting in it all, is how war completely destroys a nation's ability to think clearly. Men and women become mere statistical data to be used and sacrificed at the will of a leader. Sound financial thinking gets tossed out the window as money is poured into an effort that may or may not even accomplish the intended purposes of the conflict. Strife is stirred up & sewn on the hearts of yet another generation. And in the end, no matter how much you inflict damage on the opponent, their mindset never truly changes. As a result, the aftermath of war is a field of destruction touching every aspect of a country.

The sad reality is that a study of history conclusively shows that choosing war over rational & peaceful diplomacy is always the most brutal & horrific choice. But as we continue to see all over the globe, leaders and bands of people refused to acknowledge this. Truth, sound finance, and life continue to be the commodities we are willing to sacrifice on the altar of being right & inflicting our opinion on our opponent.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Malady of Self-Delusion

Kissinger would have done well to take counsel from Calvin Coolidge's observation that "It is difficult for men high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers...They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exaltation which sooner of later impairs their judgment."
Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007), 488.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely the old saying says. The office of the presidency provided Nixon with untolds amount of power, prestige, and exaltation. He had government officials and government agencies at his finger tips - willing to do what he saw was right. He become the driving force behind world affairs. He experienced high approval ratings (not right away, but pretty quickly - and they stayed there until Watergate) from the American public. He was surrounded by men who in their own personal thirst for power were willing to accomodate his delusions. What Richard Nixon wanted, Richard Nixon was going to get.

Self-delusion is almost impossible to avoid when pride, arrogance, and complete freedom are given. Our judgment cannot avoid being impaired when we are surrounded by people who are our biggest fans. Pride is a natural outcome of position & title. No matter how high your position is - you have some degree of adulation from those beneath you. The problem is when that adulation becomes the voice you hear for making judgments. What to do? Cut out the worshipers. Don't look for praise when doing your job. Don't depend upon positive feedback after delivering a performance. Don't live for reassurance. Simply do what you need to do - in the best possible way to do it - and crave criticism that can help you execute better.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Identity

It is astonishing that in the midst of a major international crisis the principal American policy makers would be fretting over whether they came across as "tough." Impressing foreign adversaries as firm about U.S. national interests made sense, but there was something less than rational about "coming off like men." It was if the contest with Soviet Russia was a test of Nixon's manhood. Personalizing a great crisis or turning any political debate into a battle over a leader's identity or sense of self is never calculated to serve the national interest. In the end, it is amazing how well Nixon and Kissinger did in making foreign policy in spite of unacknowledged impulses to make decisions partly based on their amour propre.
Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007), 346.
Nixon & Kissinger spent the majority of their time at the pinnacle of their power concerned about their identities. Each of them was deeply obsessed with fostering an identity that would highlight their impressive resumes of accomplishment. Their days were shaped around creating images that the world would be completely grateful for and dependent upon. They wanted the world to need them and desired to be seen as experts on a global scale. Each problem they tackled was done with a sense of vanity and expectation that it would prop them up. Because of this, they constantly had to strive in order to maintain the lofty status they believed they had to have. Entire policies and worldwide political decisions were made to reinforce themselves. The problem of course came about when cutting corners and taking advantage of the law became "necessary" for survival. But even before that, the problem could clearly be seen in something as simple as Nixon needing to tame the Soviets in order to feel good about himself. It was if he was still the kid on the playground showing off to impress the cute little ponytail girl.

When our sense of worth and identity is shaped by the things we do and what others think about us, we will never find peace. There is always something more or better to do and there will always be someone who is not impressed by you. What's worse is we put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of making decisions not based upon what's best but what feeds our egos. Even if it does turn out right (Nixon's going to China for example), we live with the knowledge that we chose based upon ourselves instead of doing what we thought was best. Everyone has an identity. So the question becomes - what are the forces you are allowing to shape yours?