Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Pitchforks Always Come

          It is clear that there is a huge disparity between the very rich and the poor world-wide, and the United States is not immune to this issue. Since this has been the case throughout the recorded history of the world, I wonder if anything can be done about it. I harbor no ill will or envy of the very rich and would not even think anything needed to be done, if not for the fact that many living in extreme poverty could be helped out of utter despair with seemingly little effort or impact on the very wealthy. I must confess that I have never been a proponent of government mandated wages, or other artificial levelers, due to my belief in freedom, for all, (that includes the obscenely rich). Freedom is freedom, right? I do not subscribe to Marquis de Sades’ belief that extreme freedom should be unrestrained by religion or morality, but rather Thomas Jefferson’s leaning toward as much freedom as possible without slipping into anarchy.
           One writing of John Adams is close to an answer to this problem. He said “We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and true religion. Our Constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (Adams p 229). And therein lays the answer. For our constitution to work, we need to re-embrace a morality once more prevalent than today. A morality based on Biblical principles. No one wants to hear that anymore, but it does not make it any less true. Morality cannot be legislated; it must well up from within the people.
           There may be other ways to lift people from the despair of poverty, but so far, I have not seen much evidence of it, and it’s not my task to find every way that may work, but to offer one way that will work. One of the problems we face in this country is, culturally, we do not understand the necessity of menial tasks and therefore do not value people who do menial tasks. Have you ever heard someone say, “You couldn’t pay me enough to do that”? If it is that terrible, and it needs done, shouldn’t we value the person who can and will do it? Shouldn’t we pay them well for doing it? If your answer is, “No. Anybody can do that. It doesn’t take any skill.” I would differ with you on two accounts.
           First, “anybody” can’t do it. There are myriad reasons “anybody” can’t do it. They may legitimately be too busy. They may legitimately get ill or stressed from doing it. Secondly, it not only takes skill, but much more. Many menial tasks take intestinal fortitude, perseverance, determination, and especially in this society, humility. If you do not have the time and do not possess these characteristics, why not pay someone who does have them, well, for doing those needful tasks?
           Having others perform these menial tasks frees up those who have specific, innate abilities to pursue those endeavors, such as medicine, science, aviation, research etc. Those gifts are not more important, and those people are not more important than their supporting cast. No one accomplishes anything completely on their own. We are all interdependent. And if your mindset is that if someone doesn’t want to work for ridiculously low wages, there are hundreds of hungry people to do those jobs, that is selfish, arrogant, woefully misguided, and leads to exploitation and coercion. That is why we need an outside force to help us deal with this problem.
           All we need is love. It’s more than a catchy lyric to sell records. It is the truth. Love truly fixes every circumstance. Love is charity in action. Not self serving lust, as it is so often portrayed in our culture. Charity is not dropping your junk off at a re-distribution center to get a tax write off. There is nothing charitable in that. Charity is giving to someone with no expectation of receiving anything in return. True love, charity, agape as the ancient Greeks said, values people. It values people’s contribution, and sets a proper perspective of self worth.
           For this country to survive we need to look at history. Even a cursory review shows us the issues that contributed to the development of the Magna Carta, the fall of Roman Empire, the French Revolution, and many other social explosions, and implosions, are in our face--again. Put God and religion aside for a moment, (as if that were possible), and take a pragmatic look at the problems we face.
Nick Hanaure, a self proclaimed plutocrat, puts forth a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15.00. He has witnessed good results from this in his hometown of Seattle, WA, but recognizes that, “In any large group, some people absolutely will not do the right thing” (Hanaure p 3). This is true and perfectly illustrates the true problem, which is inadequately addressed by rules alone. He goes on to say, “That’s why our economy can only be safe and effective if it is governed by the same kinds of rules as, say, the transportation system, with its speed limits and stop signs” (Hanaure p 3). This idea is an attempt to legislate morality. I agree that we need legislation like this, that causes a moral outcome such as this, but it does not address the true problem. The problem that really needs more effort is changing the hearts of men.
           Even non-Christians see there is a problem, and are suggesting courses of action that would require some application of the principle of love. History also teaches us that men reject the love principle in favor of greed, power or other self-serving ideologies. The paradox is that it is always to their detriment. In one way or another, the pitchforks always come.
Works Cited
Adams, John. The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States. Ed. Charles Francis Adams. Vol. XI. Boston: Little, Brown, 1854. 229. Print.
Hanaure, Nick. "The Pitchforks Are Coming... For Us Plutocrats." POLITICO Magazine. 1 July 2014. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Vantage Point

The deliberate attack on the United States, via crashing planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field, impacted my life in ways that continue. Don DeLillo's essay "In the Ruins of the Future" is interesting; however, I do not share his conclusion the attacks were based on Technology vs. Theology (DeLillo). His vantage point is based on his understanding just a few months after the attack. I do not criticize his views; I just have a different understanding, based on my own experiences and observations, now many years after the fact. It is the same event, just different vantage points.
My interpretation of the world began in the early sixties. There was turmoil in America at that time, just as there is now. I witnessed the British Invasion of Rock and Roll, watched Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Father Knows Best. Women were strong and engaged in the workplace, but not with the fervor of today. As I was growing up, I had a fairly large circle of friends. I can name at least ten families within a four block radius that I was close enough to that their mom and dad knew my name, where I lived, and where my dad worked. None of them were divorced. None of them were single parents. Living with "significant others" was frownd upon. It was a different time.
As a grade school kid I pulled a wagon to the grocery store and got groceries for my mom. Sometimes I would go to the corner bar and buy penny-candy or cigarettes for the neighbor. I never heard of anyone being abducted, or molested. We left our car keys in the ignition and didn't lock the front door, until sometime in the seventies. I don't remember any specific event causing us to start locking the door. Don't get the idea this was Mayberry. My high school had over two thousand students and my graduating class nearly seven hundred.
Fast forward to my adulthood, I joined the Army and traveled to many places, often by commercial aircraft. I carried knives, nail clippers, drinking water and other liquids, like shampoo, in my carry-on bag, and in my luggage, because it was frugal and expedient. My friends, or family members, would go to the airport gate and wait on me to board the plane. I also did regular physical training and carried my gym-bag with me from station to station in the gym, as I worked out. I always had a sports drink, gloves, a small towel, some specialty equipment etc. It was just normal life.
My vantage point for the 9/11 attack was one of a forty-one year old paratrooper who had enjoyed personal freedom in America-- that I believe is totally incomprehensible to the younger generations. We now have a monstrous industry built around security and a “Safety and Security” mentality seemingly pervades every area of life. The Army post where I was stationed was known as the "Home of the Airborne and Special Operations." Special units were, and still are, stationed there; before 9/11, there was no fence and no gates around the installation. Civilians drove through post like it was another part of town. All of that changed. Now, all military installations are enclosed with sophisticated, multi-layer, security, with fences, sensors, manned access gates, and a proper ID is required for entry. Do you have any idea the billions of dollars that costs?
The Department of Homeland Security was created, staffed and funded and now has an FY15 budget of over $38 billion dollars. Laws allowing the US Government to spy on its own citizens were established. Off shore prisons (one of which costs $400 million a year to operate) were built and staffed to conduct intelligence gathering and house "terrorists." US citizenship no longer guarantees due process. The American psyche has swallowed the notion that security is more important than liberty.
From my vantage point, Osama bin Laden succeeded in accomplishing much of what he and Ayman al Zawahiri set out to do. This nation is far from the nation I grew up in. I don't believe Osama bin Laden was very concerned about American technology. What he hated was our freedom, in particular our freedom to choose our leaders, our religion, and our individual priorities in life-- and most of all, that we had the audacity to project that idea of freedom outside of our borders.
In many ways he won. We now dutifully give up liberty for security as we arrive at the airport at least an hour before wheels up, to stand in a line that would fill a football field, take off our shoes, empty all our wears in bins for all the world to see, (And God forbid you have water!) walk through the x-ray machine, receive your pat down, and then get called out of line for special attention. Oh, and don't take your gym-bag into the gym. Actually, I wonder if they are even called gym-bags anymore. America may still be the home of the brave, but not of the free.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

I Despise ?

        Saul of Tarsus is a despicable character illustrated for us in the Bible. After three decades of involvement in the Christian religion, I’ve had the opportunity to study the Bible fairly extensively and this man stands out as one to despise. Though the Bible is historically and archaeologically accurate, it is an edited work, focusing on the acts of the Jewish and Christian God. I recognize it is not an exhaustive history, yet it lends great insight into who this man was. It documents the history of the Jews and the inception of what the world knows today as Christianity, and illustrates this man's role in that.
            So I “studied the Bible”. So what? My interest in Christianity also led me to study “church history” and how it relates to world history. The term “church” is often used within Christianity to describe the entirety of all believers in Christ. The Biblical account of “church” history is only of its beginnings. Therefore, understanding that all of history is intertwined, a rudimentary study of other religions and world philosophies necessarily ensued. Over these past three decades I've read books on the Roman Empire and the complexities of its rise and its fall; this is the environment that produced Saul. Bible atlases and complex commentaries on scripture helped me put this man's actions into context. Other reading on the history of the English language, and how the English Bible was translated, further developed my understanding of how this narrative made its way into our living rooms.
            Is studying an interest all book-work? Can you fully understand a topic by reading books? Experience in Christianity brought much to my understanding of the topic. I've been a member of the Lutheran Church, the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, and have visited several other denominations. In each of the denominations that I've been a member, I took classes on their specific doctrines.  I have also read many works on the role of Catholicism and on the Protestant Reformation.
            Are there experiences outside of Christianity that helped to develop an informed opinion on despicable actions? A fifteen month deployment as an intelligence officer in Iraq, responsible for collection and analysis of human intelligence reports, put me up close and personal with the complexities of Islam; providing extensive opportunities to study it.  In particular, how that religion drove, (and drives) that culture in that country.
            At the behest of the US Government, I also lived in Japan for a year. This helped to build an understanding of Buddhism, Shinto and the far eastern mindset in general. In total, twenty-six years in the Army allowed me to see twelve countries and observe multiple cultures and religions. This has hopefully provided me with a strong base from which to speak on this subject. Though history provides no shortage of examples of despicable characters, one who stands out to me, in the infancy of Christianity, is Saul of Tarsus.
            Tarsus was a city in the Roman province called Cilicia, now known as southern Turkey.  At the time of Saul, it was known as a major trading city, set just ten miles from the Mediterranean Sea on a large river then called Cydnus. It was also known at that time for universities and higher learning, and Saul was definitely a product of that.
            This Saul of Tarsus, as he was known, was a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth. If you remember, Jesus was a man who claimed to be the Son of God in around 30 AD. A simple, uneducated carpenter’s son, His life, teachings, miracles, death, and subsequent resurrection, caused epic change on the planet. He created such a change that over 2000 years later nearly a third of the world population still follows Him today, through what is called Christianity.
            Saul was a Pharisee. They were an elite, educated class of religious Jews and he was said to be exceptionally well educated, even among them. Steeped in the doctrines of the Jewish law, they added over 600 laws of their own to the already extensive Mosaic Law. These man-made rules strangled freedom in the daily life of the Jews and these were directly challenged by this uneducated carpenter's son, during His relatively brief time of teaching. Pick up any study Bible and you'll learn, Jesus began His public teaching ministry at age thirty and died at age thirty-three.  It is amazing how such a radical shift in the minds of men could happen with such a short intervention.
            So I can just see Saul’s smug arrogance; chin jutting, articulate speech, the diction of superiority, as he set out to quench this revolution. At the outset of Christianity, he vehemently believed the disciples of Jesus were a blasphemous cult. He believed this cult was a threat to Judaism and an enemy of God. Centuries of Jewish laws and traditions seemed to be trampled underfoot by this new sect. He sought permission from the Jewish leadership to hunt down and extinguish these people. He personally captured, jailed, tortured, and murdered members of this new sect, if they would not recant their beliefs. He fit our modern definition of a terrorist. Saul left smoldering carcasses in his wake as he sought to purge this sect from the earth. He truly believed he was doing God's bidding through violence.
            It sounds a bit like the current evening news, doesn’t it? We see Islamists in northern Iraq capturing whole towns, with high percentages of Christians, and murdering those who will not renounce their beliefs and bow to their conquerors. This is the same ideology that drove Saul; one that seems to have an insatiable need to harm or even kill anyone who does not believe the way they do. This utter intolerance is exactly what drove Saul, a sickening, detestable notion, which stifles freedom, joy, pursuit of happiness and basically anything good.
            One day as Saul was traveling to the city of Damascus, no doubt desiring to turn some young mothers into acrid smoke before their children’s eyes, he encountered the risen Jesus Christ.  The brilliance of the Christ literally knocked him to the ground. After a brief one sided conversation, Saul saw his error and converted on the spot. He brought his zealous nature to the mission of peacefully spreading what has now become known as the Gospel, the good news.          Saul of Tarsus became known as The Apostle Paul and is responsible for writing the bulk of what we now know as the New Testament portion of the Bible. Paul traveled hundreds of miles around the Mediterranean rim and is credited with starting nearly a dozen churches. Now considered a “hero” of the Christian faith, it was not always so.  His conversion is one of the starkest examples of true transformation.  Ironically, he met his fate in much the same manner as those he initially sought to silence.
            He was killed for his faith in Christ, during the Roman Emperor Nero's first persecution of the church, around 64-68 AD. (So, Paul would have missed the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple destruction by Titus in 70 AD). This was a tumultuous era in this region to be sure. Rebel Jewish forces had battled Roman Legions for control of Jerusalem with some degree of success for several years. And amidst this, a movement of charitable, peace-lovers was exploding just beneath the surface. Paul was now a leader of this movement he once sought to destroy himself.
            What have I learned from the study of this man? It is of paramount importance to understand how dangerous it is to despise anyone. This same man was once taking lives; now giving his own. Yes, unto death, but so much more than that. The life he lived was lived for the benefit of others. He gave his life for many years before he was killed for his belief. Saul is easy to despise yet Paul is easy to love.  Therein lays the danger of despising anyone. Please remember: people change.
            A much more tenable position is to despise acts.  Acts can be despicable. People who commit despicable acts can, and often do, change. This has changed the way I think about other men who have committed despicable acts, such as the British slave trader named John Newton. An eighteenth century sailor, he had quite an eventful life. Forced to serve in the British Royal Navy as a youth, he was then cast away in West Africa where he lived with slaves and was treated as one. Subsequently rescued from that, he went on to become Captain of a ship; engaged in the slave trade.
            This despicable man also later converted to Christianity and became a clergyman in the Church of England. He teamed up with a man in the parliament and worked until his death to see the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. He is known best for authoring the song scores still sing today, Amazing Grace. Would you have thought such a despicable man (in his earlier years) could change so radically for the good?
            We all can fall into circumstances, or be driven by forces in our lives to perform despicable acts. We often despise ourselves for it later on. That can be a healthy perspective from which to change, and heal, if we don't dwell there too long.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Embrace Failure

Fear of failing is as much a motivator for some to try hard, as it is for others not to try at all. Is threatening failure of a course, by a teacher, the answer? It is An answer for some, but far from The answer. We are much more complex than this simple antidote implies, as life is much more complex. When you remove hunger; fear of violence; fear of ridicule; parental neglect or abuse; bullying (and a thousand other factors the individual cannot control) from the equation, then that simple answer may be it.
               In a somewhat normal situation, that is, the issues above are not insurmountable; this fear of failing is very likely to be a fear of others.  What will they think?  Will I look stupid? Fear of others is a condition that we can control. In fact, only we can control our fear. The problem with failing is our view of the process. 
               Many are conditioned to believe failure is a bad thing. Is failure a bad thing?  No.  Failing is as important to success as succeeding is.  We learn lessons from failing that we can only learn from failing.  This is a process whereby we attempt to perform a task and things do not turn out the way we planned, intended or expected. 
               What we learn from failing is how to better plan; how to better research. We learn how to better resource our activities; how to think; what wrong looks like. It is as important to know what wrong looks like as it is to know what right looks like. How would we know right without wrong to contrast?
               Failing gives us an opportunity to develop patience and perseverance. Perseverance is an attribute sought by many recruiters and can only be developed through failing. Failing shows us the necessity to develop better skills, or new skills. Failing teaches us to elicit help and the importance of teamwork.
               Another very valuable lesson is that we cannot do everything we want to do. And not everything that we can accomplish can be done alone. Failure teaches us how to accept criticism; how to lose, and how to endure pain. These are lessons that develop character, are essential to the human growth process, and cannot be learned any other way.
               I ran across a good quote in a daily devotional I read by Dr. David Jeremiah.  He shared a dialog between Jonas Salk and an interviewer. The interviewer asked Jonas to comment on his 200 failures prior to finally discovering a polio vaccine. Jonas replied, “I have never had 200 failures in my whole life. My family didn't think in terms of failure. They taught in terms of experiences and what could be learned.  I just made my 201st discovery and could not have made it without learning from the previous 200 experiences.”
               For a brief history refresher, polio is a crippling disease that reached near epidemic proportions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Jonas Salk was one of several scientists who worked on the problem set and his efforts contributed to the radical decrease in polio cases from hundreds of thousands a year to around one thousand per year worldwide.
               Many good lessons come from Jonas’reply.  Life is full of “experiences” that we often view as failures.  Why not embrace failure. Fail, fail and fail again! This will make us better people. Please encourage your children, your mate, your brothers, sisters and your friends with this viewpoint. Life is so much sweeter when we reflect on and learn from experience rather than dwell on “failure”.
               Of course most of this goes out the proverbial window when we try to apply it across the board. Many uncontrollable circumstances can conspire to derail an individual from any venture in life. Cynicism can take root and a self centered view or apathy can begin to take control. Constant rejection due to some physical malady can also stifle the will to succeed. These are just two examples of how issues of life, and more to the point, how we deal with these issues, can make fear of failure irrelevant. A better option is to embrace failure as part of a natural and effective learning process.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Anger is a racial thing

One of the pastors we listen to regularly spoke recently on forgiveness and I was reminded of a potential blog post I had sitting unfinished in my queue.  I have many unfinished posts... This one deals with anger.  I know we all deal with anger issues because we are all of the same race. You see, it's a racial thing.  I'm going to bring up a race thing here.  I'm writing of course about the human race!


Anger is a feeling, based on a situation in the past. But we presumptuously project that feeling into the future. It is a state of being that we control. Being in the past, we now have no control over that situation. The people in that situation are only affected by our anger during whatever brief encounters we may have now with them. We however are affected by it as long as we allow it.  Anger only hurts us. It stifles our joy, our productivity, our happiness and our peace. The people we are angry with do not feel our angst.  We are the one losing sleep over our anger.
As stated, we as humans all deal with this but may I transition from "we" and make this very personal? This idea has more impact when you can put yourself in it. Anger is Yours. You own it. Anger is the result of a choice you make. It is how you choose to deal with a situation. The flip side of that is you can choose Not to be angry. Only you can choose not to be angry. Choosing not to be angry is liberating. It is like a breath of fresh air. Choosing not to be angry is life giving. Why not choose life? Choose liberty and life.

"How?" you ask. That is a very good question and the answer I believe is somewhat simple to give... but as all good things it takes effort, willingness and continuality. (Continuality. Is that a word? Thankfully, though English is limited in some respects, it is also very adaptive. Here's my definition of continuality. To continue constantly. (Maybe perseverance would suffice.) 

Choosing not to be angry (a state of being that we control) requires forgiveness. You do not have to view what others did as acceptable. You do not have to excuse what they did. You do not have to agree with them and you do not have to forget... like that's even possible. "Forgive and forget" is an old adage that is actually impossible.  Forget means removing a memory and we all know we cannot willfully unlearn something. Once you know it, you know it. All we can do is learn ways to deal with it.  Here is something else; you do not have to trust them. (Trust can be earned back later on, but that is a completely different issue.) But in order for you to heal, you MUST forgive.

Think of what a great example for us Christ is. Think of His words as he hung on the cross. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Think about that. They knowingly beat Him, mocked Him, and ridiculed Him. They purposely stripped Him naked, exposing Him to the public to humiliate Him. They treated Him like an animal, stretching Him out on a wooden cross and nailed Him to it. They knew how to hurt people and did it with purpose. All these things were done intentionally, meaning they "knew" what they were doing. Yet in the grand scheme of things, Christ knew they really did not grasp the weight of what they were doing. He knew that, and asked the Father to forgive them.

In the same way, those who hurt you, on purpose or not, did not know the full weight of their actions. If they knew the whole story of this life God has given to us; of who God is, they would likely have acted very differently. But you are not responsible for what they know or how they act, only how you respond. For you to move past the event into your bright present, looking toward God's bright future for you, you must say, " Father, forgive them... I forgive them as You have forgiven me."

Forgiveness is the key that unlocks your ability to choose not to be angry; to move out of the state of being angry. Liberty, freedom, joy and inner peace are yours. Why not choose them?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Enemy of Success

I have heard it said perfection is the enemy of success.  I tend to agree. Perfection is the enemy of accomplishment; productivity and success in life. It took me many years of adult life to grasp the concept of "good enough". We need to learn when adequate is good enough. This is not a license to live a sloppy, haphazard, bumbling life, but to help accomplish more with the resources God has blessed us with. Neither haphazard nor perfection lead to productivity.

Dream. Dream big and dream always, but get up and "set your hand to the plow". Get dirty, sweaty and bleed a little. Take your lumps. Fail. Get up and fail again. Better to fail continuously than to sit in a corner "wishing". You learn nothing from sitting and wishing. You learn much from failing. You develop character through failing. If you sit and wish, or worse yet if you stop wishing and just sit, your thoughts turn inward and the answer is not in you.

If you are like me and suffer from the perfectionist disease. If you constantly put off tasks or projects because you cannot complete them to perfection. I would like to encourage you to evaluate your productivity in life. Could you accomplish more if you could accept "good enough"? God has entrusted us with many resources to manage for Him. He has given each of us a mission that requires using those resources to help others. They will not be helped if we withhold them in the name of perfection. God is not looking for perfection from us.  He's looking for us to love others.  That's an action word that carries the idea of giving charitably. "Good enough" accomplishes so much more for others than perfection.