The Purpose of Life

God’s command to subdue the earth means for us to have mastery over it, all of it. But true mastery of anything cannot be accomplished without a thorough understanding of the thing to be mastered. With the authority to rule comes responsibility, the responsibility to rule well.


“He who dies first with the most toys wins!” Maybe you’ve heard this once-popular saying, maybe not. Maybe you laughed when you first heard it. If you’re old enough, maybe you saw it on a bumper sticker back in the 80s and laughed. If you did laugh, maybe you thought, “Well, hell, what else is there really?”

This saying is a quote originally attributed to the flamboyant millionaire, Malcolm Forbes. Forbes was an American entrep- reneur who was prominently known as the publisher of Forbes magazine, a business that he inherited from his wealthy father. He was also known as an avid promoter of free market, laissez faire capitalism. He was known too for an extravagant lifestyle, for throwing large, expensive parties for his wealthy friends, for travel and for his collections of homes, yachts, aircraft, art, motorcycles, and Fabergé eggs.

Forbes’ quote serves to sum up the attitude of people like him, people who tend to be more hedonistic. They see life in terms of opportunities for self-indulgence, for pleasure. Me first, they think, my family and friends next – all who serve me, care for me, comfort me, and those who pleasure me. To these types of people, everybody else is just a potential friend/ally or a potential adversary /competition. True hedonists like Forbes believe that this is the highest good and proper aim of human life. I whole- heartedly disagree. I’m a Christian. I am also a Democrat.

I taught a lesson to second graders today. The subject was biodiversity – a compound word, I taught my students – the first part, bio, meaning life, the second part, diversity, meaning many different kinds. The lesson wasn’t really about life; it was about learning to learn. It was about having an open mind, learning to think critically, learning how to compare and contrast. The lesson included an exercise:  comparing and contrasting two different life forms, animals and plants. Yes, second graders are smart enough for this kind of learning, and they’re able to grasp these ideas if the information is presented to them in ways to which they can relate.

I shared with my students how, when I was in school, it was believed that all solid matter was either animal, vegetable or mineral – it was believed that there were only two kingdoms of life: animal and vegetable. Today, I told them, scientists recognize six different kingdoms of life. Life on earth is truly diverse.

A hand went up. “Yes,” I said, recognizing the student.

“What is life, Opa?” I like it that the students in the class I visit on a regular basis call me Opa. It’s what my grandchildren call me.

I might have been thrown off by this question, a deeper question, one that most would not expect a second grader to ask. But I came prepared. I knew how smart, how inquisitive these students are. So I had thought about it ahead of time, I did some research.

“What do you think life is?” I asked the student.

“A gift,” he said, using a rising voice inflection suggesting a question rather than an answer. I surmise that this is something he had been told by a parent, a pastor or another teacher.

“Yes,” I said, “I believe that life is a gift too, one to be treasured, one to be used to good purpose. But that doesn’t truly answer the question scientifically, does it? Are there any other ideas?” I asked. None were offered, so I endeavored to explain.

“It turns out,” I began, “science now believes that solid matter is either organic or inorganic. Organic matter is that which contains compounds including the carbon element. Compound, remember, is a word that means something made up of more than one part, like the compound word, biodiversity. Solid matter that does not contain carbon compounds, like rocks, cannot be alive. But not all organic matter is alive either. All of it either is or once was alive though. Live organic matter has purpose, its primary purpose, is to survive long enough to reproduce, to create new organic material. Organic matter which is not now alive has a purpose too; it feeds organic matter, either directly or indirectly, which is now living. Think of compost, decaying organic matter which we use to feed our garden plants. Think of worms, insect larva, and scavenger birds feeding on the carcasses of dead squirrels and other small animals.

So,” I told my students, “the scientific definition of life is this: It is a transitory state of organic matter, a state in progress of change during which new organic matter is created. This,” I told my students, “is the cycle of life.”

While my students were thinking about this, processing it, I moved on to the exercise, the compare-and-contrast part of my lesson. We focused the rest of our time talking about the similarities and differences between plants and animals. And this, their answers, assured me that they understood how to think critically. I hope they will continue to think critically for their entire lives.

After returning home, I got to thinking about part of my lesson, that part having to do with life, specifically the part about the purpose of life. Is that all there is, I thought, surviving long enough to reproduce? For some forms of life, sure, but, no… surely not for higher forms of life, surely not for humans. I turned to the Study Bible online and found this explaining the famous passage in chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes: 19For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. 20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust21Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?

Hold on, didn’t God set man apart from the other animals, gave us dominion over all the earth? That makes us special, does it not? Yes.

The word dominion means to rule or power over.  God has sovereign power over His creation and has delegated the authority to mankind to have dominion over the plants and other animals (Genesis 1:26). King David reinforces this in Psalm 8:6: “You made [mankind] rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet.” So humanity was meant to “subdue” the earth (Genesis 1:28 to hold a position of command over it; we were placed in a superior role and we are to exercise control over the earth, its flora and fauna.

God’s command to subdue the earth means for us to have mastery over it, all of it. But true mastery of anything cannot be accomplished without a thorough understanding of the thing to be mastered. With the authority to rule comes responsibility, the responsibility to rule well. There is an inherent accountability in God’s command to subdue the earth. Therefore, we have a collective responsibility to learn all there is to know about the earth, its occupants, and our place in the cosmos. We have a collective responsibility to protect and defend the environment.

The word, subdue, doesn’t necessarily imply violence or mistreatment. It can also mean “to bring under cultivation.” It can mean “to love and take care of” and that is the meaning I believe is conveyed in God’s Word. Therefore, understanding its true meaning, we are to be stewards, good stewards, of God’s creation. We are to love ourselves, love our neighbors and all of creation. That is our purpose. That is our greater purpose. But, yes, in due course, we will perform our basic purposes as living organisms too: We will survive to reproduce. But we will also do these things: we will protect and nurture our young as all other higher animals do; we will toil to produce so that we might share with our issue and with our neighbors, especially those who struggle, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually; we will contribute to the common good; we will leave a legacy, and; in due course, we will return to the dust from whence we came, thus completing the life cycle.

Please feel free to comment on this posting.

Published in: on March 30, 2017 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Why Hurting People Hurt People

“When a man has a gift in speaking the truth, aggression is no longer his security blanket for approval. He, on the contrary, spends most of his energy trying to tone it down because his very nature is already offensive enough.”  ~ Criss Jami

The senior pastor of our church regularly writes and publishes a missive for church members, sending it out by email. I, rather sporadically, write and publish to this weblog. While neither of us is likely to be awarded Pulitzer prizes for these efforts, the writing and sharing is good for our souls. It might even, from time to time, inspire others to reflect on matters of interest and concern. My pastor’s last effort did that for me. He wrote about the spiritual aspects of hurt people hurting other people, which struck close to home for me.

We probably all know people who respond to hurt in their lives by hurting back, and not necessarily hurting back those who, either directly or indirectly, hurt them. Actually, most of us do this ourselves – unintentionally, perhaps. But still, we do it. We hurt innocents, those closest to us, family members and friends. But why? That was the takeaway question for me from my pastor’s last missive. I decided to try to find out — to do some research.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the Mills Brothers’ classic song, “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” might enjoy hearing it once again.

My research confirmed for me that emotionally damaged people do tend to inflict their hurt and pain on others. Like animals that have been mistreated, we become aggressive, mean and difficult to deal with. But unlike other animals, people aren’t so likely to be openly aggressive to everyone. For defensive reasons, we tend to hide our pain from the world at large and reflect or transfer our hurt feelings onto those with whom we are closest, those with whom we feel safe. Safe people are like punching bags that can’t or won’t just walk away from us.

Decade’s worth of research on this has been distilled into a paper, “Everyday Aggression Takes Many Forms,” by Dr. Deborah South Richardson. It was published in the journal, Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Getting even, it seems, is an innate emotional need in human beings. Doing so may justify our self-worth and fortify our self-esteem. Perhaps it’s self-gratification, I don’t know. Dr. Richardson’s paper doesn’t say. It is known, however, that a large percentage of those who have been sexually abused become themselves the abusers of others. It could be that they are, in a way, getting even. Those who suffered under an alcoholic parent often become the cause of suffering in their own future families. It’s difficult for me to believe, however, that they, in anyway, do this intentionally. In truth though, the people we know and love the most are the same people we’re most awful to in word and deed. “The people who are likely to cause us harm of any sort are likely going to be people we know,” wrote Dr. Richardson in her review. “It’s not the strangers we need to fear.”

Dr. Richardson and other researchers like her have focused on defining aggression based on someone’s intent, and not on whether an aggressive action actually ends up hurting someone. “Whether or not you actually caused harm isn’t the critical issue,” she wrote. “It’s that you intended to. If I aim my gun and shoot at you but miss, my intention was still aggressive.”

What else is known about aggression, based on what has been studied on the topic? A few of the other main findings from Richardson’s review are listed below:

The basic types of aggression are direct and non-direct aggression. Direct aggression involves yelling, hitting, confrontations and hurtful actions and words. Men are more likely than women to use this kind of aggression, including sexual aggression. Non-direct aggression is hurting without a confrontation. There are two types of non-direct aggression: indirect, which is hurting someone through something or someone else, and passive, which is hurting someone by not doing something.

Examples of indirect aggression include gossip, spreading rumors or destroying someone’s favorite possession. Men and women both use indirect aggression equally, and they both use it more than direct aggression. People are also more likely to use indirect aggression if they’re connected to their friends in dense networks — in other words, when friends all know each other, they can (perhaps unwittingly) carry out hurtful deeds on behalf of others more easily. Passive aggression can include things like ignoring phone calls, giving someone the silent treatment or showing up late to an event.

We tend to remember others’ aggressive behaviors and dismiss or forget about our own. We rationalize that our own aggressiveness is necessary — justified because we have to compete to get ahead or to have things our way. When we reciprocate, aggression for aggression, it’s because we need, or feel that we need, to be compensated for the hurt once inflicted upon us.

What had been a devoted, loving relationship between my mother and me became something else soon after she married the father of my two younger brothers. Perhaps because he, my mother’s new husband, considered me to be a threat in some way, he was emotionally abusive to me. His attitude and mean, drunken behavior drove me away. He hurt me, but there was collateral hurt as well, my leaving hurt my mother and it hurt my darling little sisters too, two tender young hearts for whom I had been Bubba, a caregiver and a playmate. I was just sixteen at the time. They were preschoolers. I visited my mother and siblings only on occasion thereafter, living estranged from them with my grandparents until my first marriage. My mother blamed me for this situation which, in some ways, mirrored her own troubled youth. She considered me to be rebellious and she became aggressive toward me, but non-directively. I could cite examples of how, but that would be unnecessary here – maybe even hurtful to my siblings for whom, rightfully so, our mother was a saint.

According to Dr. Richardson, aggression is often confused with assertiveness. Assertiveness, according to her, is about expressing our needs or concerns while aggression involves the intent to actually hurt someone. I cannot entirely agree with her on this — assertiveness often morphs into aggression. Intentional or unintentional, when someone causes another pain and becomes aware that he or she was responsible, that’s aggression. This is especially true when there is no acknowledgement or expression of regret and a request for forgiveness. It makes no difference either whether the pain inflicted was physical or emotional. Even if the giver of pain is mentally or emotionally irresponsible, the act is still an aggressive one.

Please feel free to post a comment, whether you agree with what I’ve written or not. I would very much enjoy dialoguing about this.

Published in: on October 29, 2016 at 1:46 pm  Comments (1)  

Choosing to Live a Second-Line Life

My mother and I went to see a movie in 1959, Imitation of Life. I got my first glimpse into what it means to be living a Second-Line life in this movie. Although I didn’t understand it then, I did feel it.

I was more than just a little depressed over a frustrating, painful, recurring family situation. I was unable to sleep much because of this and got up early; the sun would be hours before creeping over the horizon. I made myself some coffee and sat down to think things through. After a bit, I decided that the situation was beyond my control. I remembered that this rollercoaster situation had resolved itself, at least to a degree, several times before. I concluded that it would probably do so again. I reasoned that it would do me no good, would in fact do me harm, to worry about it. So I decided to take my mind off of it. To do this, I started “Second-Line” living. I started celebrating some of the best times of my life.

secondline“The tradition of the Second Line originated in New Orleans, dating back to the early 1800’s when slaves and free people of color created what are known as ‘jazz funerals.’ In these funerals, the ‘first line’ is made up of the family, walking slowly and mournfully to the cemetery. But when the burial is over, the ‘second line’, composed of a jazz band and friends, begin marching through the streets, joyfully dancing and celebrating the life of the deceased, and helping release his or her soul” (from Citizens of Hope, Clayton Oliphant & Mary Brooke Casad, Abingdon Press, 2016, pgs. 87-88).

I had had enough of mourning what could not be undone, what I alone could not fix. I prayed about it, then I buried it. I picked up my iPad and started making a list — counting my blessings.

The concept of Second-Line Living has a scriptural basis in the Gospel of John, Chapter 11, wherein Jesus raises his friend, Lazarus, from the dead: 38 Again feeling very upset, Jesus came to the tomb. It was a cave with a large stone covering the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Move the stone away.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “But, Lord, it has been four days since he died. There will be a bad smell.” 40 Then Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they moved the stone away from the entrance. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42 I know that you always hear me, but I said these things because of the people here around me. I want them to believe that you sent me.” 43 After Jesus said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with pieces of cloth, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take the cloth off of him and let him go.”

The cloth in this story which bound Lazarus symbolizes that which burdens us, hinders us from living free, preventing us from seeing the beautiful things in our lives and doing good and beautiful things in compliance with God’s commandments, most particularly, loving our neighbors as ourselves.

These are a few, but only a few, of the highlights in my life so far. The list I made on my iPad went on and on and on. I’m not bragging, but I truly have lived a blessed life. The few highlights that I’m choosing to share here serve to illustrate how I focused on the positive to get beyond the pain that I was feeling. They are in order as they occurred to me for purposes of this listing (not necessarily in order of best to less than best, nor are they in chronological order):

  • My second-marriage wedding day (my first marriage wasn’t so wonderful)
  • Opening night of our high school operetta, South Pacific, with me in one of the leading roles, Emile DeBecque
  • Holding my first grandchild who was just days old
  • Being cheered by my OCS (Officer Candidate School) battery candidate contemporaries after winning an inter-battery PT competition in the horizontal ladders event
  • Completing my helicopter tactical instrument check ride in the Army’s Rotary Wing Flight School with a flawless performance
  • The sunset celebration of my mother’s life on a beach in California with my wife, my siblings, their spouses and children
  • Being present in the delivery room to observe the birth of my second son
  • Skiing in the Austrian Alps with my family
  • Being asked to serve and serving for two years as Lay Leader for a local congregation of the United Methodist Church
  • As mission pilot-in-command in a CH-34 helicopter, performing an emergency landing necessitated by an engine failure and avoiding any damage to the aircraft or injury to my passengers
  • Teaching my first class in a public high school after becoming a certified teacher of Social Studies subjects
  • Receiving many compliments after delivering the eulogy at my mother-in-law’s funeral
  • Being asked to officiate the exchange of vows ceremony in Bali, Indonesia (after the official/civil marriage in Singapore) for my second son and daughter-in-law who is now best friend

People of faith, by means of their faith in Christ Jesus, can enter into a new life. The fact of physical death no longer has control over them. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting” (1 Corinthians 15:15)?  The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, the victory over sin, and over all that burdens us in this life, is available through our Lord, Jesus the Christ. Jesus, in the story of raising Lazarus from the dead, is making a promise to us about how we can live our lives, not just how they will end.

All of us, to varying degrees, are limited by fear. We fear embarrassment. We fear abandonment. We fear failure. We fear death. This is what Jesus is addressing. This is from what Jesus wants us to be free. Like the First and Second lines of jazz funerals, we can grieve the loss of loved ones, grieve the consequences of failure and disappointment, grieve our limitations, but we need not allow this loss to forever hinder our lives. Life goes on with us, whether we willingly or unwillingly participate.

My mother and I went to see a movie in 1959, “Imitation of Life.” I got my first glimpse into what it means to be living a Second-Line life in this movie. Although I didn’t understand it then, I did feel it.

Launa Turner plays the part of a beautiful woman in this movie, one who was born half white and half black. Although her black half was not at all physically apparent, it was a burden to her. The reality of it, her attempts to hide from it, fear that she might be found out, was a burden, one that hindered her both socially and professionally. Worse, she allowed this fear to alienate her from her birth mother. She could neither receive her mother’s love nor express the love she felt. Her life was not free. But the movie had a tear-jerker ending. The mother gets her last wish, a lavish funeral complete with a beautiful, horse-drawn hearse and a Second-Line Jazz band. Just before the funeral procession sets off, the daughter pushes through the crowd of mourners to throw herself upon her mother’s casket, begging forgiveness. Casting off her burden of denial, she is now free to live a fuller, richer life.

Fear has been described as False Evidence Appearing Real. The false evidence is our mistaken belief that nothing can improve after a tragedy. At these times it is easy to forget that God is present and that God’s favorite thing to do is transformation – change for the better. Tragedies, like the shootings in Orlando this year, the Newtown shootings in 2012 and others,  are events which need to be grieved. They speak to how fragile life really is. But this is First-Line thinking. Second-Line thinking reminds us that these things do not need to define us or limit us. We can, and should, respond by doing all that we can to prevent such senseless deaths in the future. But, politically frustrating as our attempts are to prevent or limit future such things from happening, faith in Christ and an understanding of God’s loving presence offers us hope.

Grace and Peace

Published in: on October 16, 2016 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dealing with Prejudice

“We must become bigger than we have been: more courageous, greater in spirit, larger in outlook. We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community.”    ~ Haile Selassie

As a teacher of Geography (the study of man and his environ- ments), I endeavored early-on with each new class to teach my high school students the difference between race, national origin, and ethnicity. It was an easy lesson to teach, but it was not an easy lesson to learn for many of my students. They were prejudiced, as are we all, acculturated by regional, local and familiar traditions, beliefs and practices. And prejudices are difficult to overcome; they must be unlearned.

Why Prejudice

Beliefs, quite often, are based less on facts and more on feelings — feelings that we acquire early from family members’ attitudes, teachings, and from our own personal experiences. No one is born prejudiced. We are taught to be prejudiced. If, when we are young, we are told that we should not trust others who look and behave differently, all it takes is one negative experience with someone of a different race or ethnicity to cement that admonition psycho- logically. And, if that first encounter is with someone who was told the same thing, the encounter will surely be negative. All creatures, humans included, are suspicious by nature. “It’s eat or be eaten,” a defensive/survival mechanism.

Defining Race

So, what is race? There are different opinions. But to deal with the issue of racial prejudice, I believe we need to have a common understanding of what it is. Most of my students here in Texas, thought that to be Mexican was to be racially distinctive. It’s not. Mexican is a nationality or a national origin. When I was growing up soon after the end of WWII, anyone with almond shaped eyes, black hair and a distinctive tint to darker skin was a Jap until they proved otherwise. And to us, Japs (persons of Japanese national and or ethnic origin) were a separate race from us. To this day, in Singapore, which is a very diverse nation/city-state ethnically, people of different national origins and ethnicities, Chinese, Malay, Indian, are considered to be different races — this according to my daughter-in-law who is Singaporean and still lives there with my son and new granddaughter. She is not unlike most people I know in that she is very sensitive about the subject of race. However, she is very much not a racist. We have that in common.

According to LiveScience, “Race is associated with biology, whereas ethnicity is associated with culture. In biology, races are genetically distinct populations within the same species; they typically have relatively minor morphological and genetic differences. Although all humans belong to the same species (Homo sapiens), and even to the same sub-species (Homo sapiens sapiens), there are small genetic variations across the globe that engender diverse physical appearances, such as variations in skin color.”

For more on this and how this might have come into being, I would recommend the book, Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, in his 1775 treatise, The Natural Varieties of Mankind, proposed five major races: the Caucasoid race (including the Abyssinians, later designated as Ethiopid Mediterraneans), the Mongoloid race, the Ethiopian race (later termed Negroid), the American Indian race, and the Malayan race, but he did not propose any hierarchy among the races. He also noted in his treatise the graded transition in appearances from one group to adjacent groups and suggested that, “One variety of mankind does so sensibly pass into the other, that you cannot mark out the limits between them.”

Why Blumenbach was Wrong

The morphological differences between what we think of as races is not largely evident in our DNA. For example, according to LiveScience, recent genetic studies show that skin color may drastically change in just a few generations as a result of environmental influences. This substantiates my belief in environmental determinism, although the belief has been associated in the past with institutionalized racism and eugenics. There is even a popular evolutionary theory that early humans living in the northern climes of Europe grew progressively lighter-skinned over time. This is because, or so the theory goes, that lighter skin favored the absorption of greater amounts of vitamin D, this vitamin being necessary for the development/growth of stronger bones. Interestingly, the DNA of two humans chosen at random generally varies by less than 0.1 percent. This is less genetic variation than other types of hominids (such as chimpanzees and orangutans). So, it is my belief that we are all members of the same race, the human race.

It is truly unfortunate that we humans discriminate based on less than 0.1 percent on what differentiates us biologically, but we do. We have so much more in common than we have different. But this difference is what we can see, and human judgment is readily made based on sight, our dominant sense — our defensive instinct. You look different, therefore you are a threat.

The Reeducation Process

Racial and ethnic prejudice are forms of bigotry. Overcoming it in societies is not an easy thing to do — in fact, it has yet to be achieved anywhere to my knowledge. It may never be overcome because it resides within the individual heart. The U.S. and Singapore have made great strides in the past socially engineering to this end. But in both countries, bigotry remains a problem. People have to really want to live in harmony with others. Many do not and some never will.

In the U.S., the desegregation of the military by President Truman in 1948 and that of public schools in 1954 with the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. The Board of Education decision were huge steps in the right direction. Then came the Civil Rights Act in 1960 followed by President Johnson’ Affirmative Action Executive Order in 1965 . But a recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) study indicates that many school districts in the U.S. are every bit as much segregated as they were before 1960. School of Choice, which is most popular in Southern, more conservative states, legally redirects state tax dollars from integrated public schools to charter schools where families with the means to transport their children to and from school can have them attend classes wherein the students all look pretty much alike. This is an end-around to school desegregation.

Affirmative Action initiatives now, bowing to blow-backs claiming reverse discrimination against white America, have pretty much run their course. Discrimination against minorities, to include women, Muslims and LGBTQ persons, despite laws and executive orders at the national level are re-surging.

In my opinion, only in the federal government in the U.S., in particular, the military services where desegregation and the abolishment of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell pay dividends to maintaining order and increasing force effectiveness, is true progress against discrimination being made. In the federal government, rules can be enforced.

On the surface, Singapore seems like a perfectly egalitarian state where residents of all ages, religious creeds, and races peacefully coexist. I know, I have been there and have experienced the welcoming attitude of all three of its major ethnic groups. I have experienced too how ex-patriots from the U.S., Australia and other nations are welcomed and can integrate readily. This does not mean, however, that discrimination in Singapore doesn’t exist. It does, but Singaporeans cannot openly discriminate, this according to my daughter-in-law. Discrimination exists, it’s just not openly visible. But Singaporeans of all races/ethnicities (call it what you like) have equitable access to education and job opportunities. The country operates as a meritocracy where talent and determination is prized above race and connections. As a result, the country has a vigorous and very strong economy. It ranks as one of the world’s wealthiest nations on a per capita basis, and there is a very low crime rate.

Unlike in the U.S., were civil liberties permit open displays of bigotry (as Donald Trump’s current presidential campaign attests), Singapore’s government is quite different. Its restrictive legislature and strict laws such as the Sedition Act have all but silenced debates on matters of race, ethnicity, and religion. This makes it very difficult to accurately assess discrimination issues there. But, on the positive side, thanks to Singapore’s limited space and a growing population, it’s government has long since employed a public housing program which forces integration. People have to get along with each other. About 85% of Singaporeans today live in public housing estates . These estates, managed by the government, have an enforced ethnic quota. Maximum proportions are set for the residents from various ethnic groups in these blocks of apartments. This helps to “prevent the formation of racial enclaves and promotes ethnic integration,” this according to the government’s website. Sales of a new or resale apartment are not approved to a buyer from a particular ethnic group if it would lead to that group’s limit being exceeded.

Regardless of what we in the West, the U.S. in particular, might think about Singapore’s forced integration program, it has leveled the playing field for its diverse citizenry. People do not have the freedom to discriminate, not openly anyway.

So, comparing the state of efforts to combat discrimination in these two very different countries, what can we learn?

  1. Societies/organizations are stronger and more productive when citizens put aside their racial, ethnic, homophobic (what have you) prejudices.
  2. People will not willingly forsake the prejudicial feelings they have, the feelings and attitudes that they have developed from early childhood on.
  3. No matter what initiatives societies’ leaderships employ to ensure equity among its’ citizens, progress requires long-term commitment and resolve to counter socially-conservative measures to prevent change.
  4. Learning to be bigoted or not to be bigoted in whatever way must begin at an early age. Parents wanting their children to grow up without prejudicial attitudes against people of other races/ethnicities, beliefs or life-styles must take proactive measures.

If we, as a people – the whole of humanity which inhabits this earth, regardless of nationality, faith or ethnic group, are ever to know lasting peace and equity in prosperity, we must come together. We must persevere to combat the forces of evil within us so that the next generation might not just live better — but be better.

 Please feel free to comment/express your opinions regarding this post. I would enjoy reading and responding to them in open dialogue.
Published in: on September 13, 2016 at 11:23 am  Comments (1)  

Transgender Discrimination ~ Understanding The Bathroom Wars

It’s a distraction from real problems, honey — problems like poverty, injustice, public safety. Some in government don’t want to talk about these things because realistic ideas to make them better conflict with their ideologies and other agendas.

Sometime ago I promised my preciously little great grand- daughter that she could ask me anything and that, to the best of my ability, I would always answer her honestly — but appropriately. Honesty has not proved to be a challenge for me. Coming up with age appropriate answers sometimes have been, however; she is, afterall, only seven. Take for example the time she asked me from where babies come out of their mommies’ bellies. Fortunately, she had already figured this out for herself and answered it in the phrasing of her question to me. She was just seeking confirmation. Whew!

Recently, after I had been back from our month-long trip to Asia only a day or two, my little darling was dropped off by her mother for Opa-provided daycare. I was still kicked-back in my recliner after having just finished my morning walk with Benji, my dog. My little darling crawled up in the chair with me for some morning snuggle time. What a joy. Then, after a few minutes of quiet time, her attention was drawn to a huge stack of magazines on our coffee table. Funny that we still call it a coffee table since we never drink coffee in the front room where it rests. The table is just for walking around — where we stack magazines and yet-to-be-read mail after separating that which might matter from all the junk that shows up daily. My little darling slipped down from my lap and stood looking at something on the coffee table for a few moments. On top of one of the stacks of magazines, my stack of ‘The Week’ magazines, was a recent edition featuring an illustration showing the back of a little girl’s head, her hair in pigtails. The little girl’s image was facing two restroom doors, one with the ubiquitous male symbol and one with the equally ubiquitous female symbol. The symbols are both ubiquitous because they appear everywhere and always side-by-side or across a hall from one another in public places. The symbols were shown throwing rocks at each other. Above the magazine’s cover illustration was the title of a highlighted article found within, “Bathroom Wars”.

“Opa, what does bathroom wars mean?”

Oh, my God – now how do I explain this?

“Come here, honey,” I said. “Sit on my lap, I’ll try to explain.

God makes girls and God makes boys. But sometimes boys don’t feel right about being boys; they want to be girls. Sometimes girls feel this way too; they don’t feel right in girl bodies and want to be boys. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. People have different opinions about why this happens. Some say it’s just a mix-up; the natural feelings these persons have just aren’t correct for the bodies they were born with – that it’s not a choice they can make. Others say that it’s a perverted or bad choice that these persons make.”


“Yes, honey. Really.”

“But what does this have to do with bathrooms?”

“Well, everybody needs to use the bathroom from time to time. And those who have or once had boy bodies but now look and act like girls need to go too.”

“Well, I don’t see what difference it makes, Opa.”

“I don’t either, honey,” I said. “But some people really think it does. Some people are making a big fuss about it.”

“Well, Opa. I’ll promise you one thing: I’ll always want to be a girl.”

With that, my little darling’s curiosity was satisfied – the issue was settled. But I can easily image that, had she been a bit more inquisitive, a bit more adult, our dialogue might have continued as follows…


“Why, Opa? Are boys and girls only now feeling confused?

“No, honey,” I said. “I’m pretty sure that there have always been persons who haven’t felt right in the bodies with which they were born. But our society is just now learning to accept these persons as natural children of God. Sadly, some people will never be able to. They think that they can force these persons to behave the way they think they should behave by forcing them to dress appropriate for the bodies they were born with and to use correspondingly appropriate bathrooms. They are justifying laws restricting non-gender appropriate bathroom use by claiming that these persons are a threat to children. But I think this is just scare tactic politics.”

“Why, Opa?”

“It’s a distraction from real problems, honey — problems like poverty, injustice, public safety. Some in government don’t want to talk about these things because realistic ideas to make them better conflict with their ideologies and other agendas.”

“Doesn’t God love these persons who aren’t happy with their bodies?”

“Yes, honey, God loves all His children.”

“Then why did he create them to be so confused? And if God didn’t create them to be confused, aren’t they sinning?”

“Good question, honey. But there’s a Bible passage that might help us to understand. It’s in the Gospel according to John, Chapter 9, verses 2 and 3… ‘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. ‘This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

“I’m still confused, Opa. What does being born blind have to do with this?”

“I don’t blame you, honey. This is a very difficult issue to understand. Someday you will have your own understanding. Mine is like this: All babies are born different, some pretty like you, some not quite so pretty. Some are born with deformities, like being blind, or without arms or legs. But this does not make them bad persons. Persons born with a disconnect between their physical selves and their sexual identity aren’t bad people either – not as I understand the passage in the Book of John that I just shared. To me, ‘the works of God,’ some translations read, ‘workings of God should be manifested,’ refers to how we are to relate to people who are born different from ourselves. God works through us. He, I think, challenges us to show grace, to love others despite how they are different from us.”

After thinking this over awhile, my little darling said, “Well, I love everybody, Opa. But some are more special to me.”

“I know, honey. Some people are more special to me too!”

Please feel free to comment on this post. Use it, if you wish, but please let others know from where you got it.

Published in: on June 26, 2016 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Do We Have Free-will or Don’t We?

“An unexamined faith is not worth having, for fundamentalism and uncritical certitude entail the rejection of one of the great human gifts: that of free-will, of the liberty to make up our own minds based on evidence and tradition and reason.”

 ~  Jon Meacham


It’s not like this question hasn’t been hotly debated for hundreds of years, nor is it for a lack of material on the Internet about this. But, you see, I’m a Methodist, so I believe, consistent with the Wesleyan tradition of Arminianism, that we do have free-will – at least, I’m supposed to believe that we do.

We had an interesting discussion at prayer breakfast about this recently. It was interesting mostly because the discussion didn’t last very long. My prayer breakfast friends were obviously uncomfortable with the subject. Nevertheless, the debate about this is interesting to me, so I have endeavored to study it.

It was one of my Christian friends who brought up the subject – he shared that the Bible study group he attends weekly has been discussing the question of whether angelic beings have free-will. So, naturally, the great challenger of orthodoxy here asked whether any of us truly do have free-will. I pointed out how different, fresh out of the womb, each of us is, how science is discovering more and more every day about how our brains work, how none of our differing intellectual capacities, biases and predilections are purely the product of nurture. Twin studies have confirmed this. Oh some of our differences are the result of nurture, sure: those of us born and raised in Mormon families and not inclined to thinking critically are most likely to grow up believing Mormon doctrine, or professing to believe it; those of us born and raised in Protestant or Roman Catholic families are most likely to remain faithful to our origins and upbringings too. Either this or we shun religion altogether. And the greatest determinant of political preference is said to be that of one’s parents, especially the preference of the dominant parent. One of my prayer group friends substantiated this by saying that, had he been born in a Muslim country, to a Muslim household, he would be a good Muslim today. Few, like myself, have made the leap from one faith to another and it is my belief that most who leave their faith tradition of heritage abandon religious affiliations altogether.

My wife, who was there at the prayer breakfast, quipped, “You’re not becoming a Presbyterian are you?”

How often do we hear the faithful say things like, “Let go and let God,” “Nothing happens outside of God’s will,” and “God’s will be done.” Yet we believe that He has given us free-will, that we have the freedom to usurp His will, at least temporarily. In Leslie Weatherhead’s book “The Will of God,” he writes of three different kinds of God’s will:  God’s intentional will, God’s circumstantial will, and God inevitable will.  So, according to Weatherhead, both our free agency and God’s will have limits. Not even God can have things more than one way at a time. Interesting…

Aside from Bible passages that argue for free-will (there are as many or more that argue for predestination), what is there from the secular world that can help us understand? Well, there are the physical sciences of evolution, genetics and physiology. These all support the argument that our choices are influenced, if not wholly determined, by factors beyond our control — determinism. Then, there are the psychological sciences.

Humanistic psychologists say that we have free-will. They base this on the assumption that not all behavior is determined. Personal agency is the term that they use for the exercise of free-will. This refers to the choices that we make in life and the paths that we choose to go down. For humanistic psychologists such as Maslow (1943) and Rogers (1951), freedom is not only possible, it is necessary if we are to become fully functional human beings. Both see self-actualization as a unique human need and form of motivation setting us apart from all other species.

Cognitive psychologists also believe in the importance of free-will. They have adopted a soft determinism view, however. Whereas humanists are most interested in our choices (how each of us sees the road to self actualization), cognitive psychologists focus on the choice of means. In other words, for them it is the rational processing of information which goes into the making of a decision that is most important.

Then there are the neo-Freudian psychologists, one of the most influential of which has been Erich Fromm (1941). In his “Fear of Freedom” he argued that all of us have the potential to control our own lives, but that many of us are too afraid to do so. As a result, we give up our freedom and allow our lives to be governed by circumstances, other people, religious beliefs, political ideology or “irrational” feelings. However, this determinism, he wrote, is not inevitable.  In the very choices that we have to do good or evil, he saw the essence of human freedom.

So, what are we to make of all this? Is it possible that we can have it both ways – that there is room in one’s personal philosophy for both free-will and determinism? I think so, yes.

Each of us is like a fish in a pond, I think. We are free to swim about and to make the best of our circumstances; we can choose to take the baited hook or not, to eat just worms and bugs or to expand our diets to include yummy tadpoles when they are in season. But we are bound by our own relevant realities. There are other fish in their own ponds and these ponds may overlap ours. Some do, but they are not the same. Our ponds are self-limiting until we exercise the option to explore, experiment and grow. This is called education. We can interact with other fish, form schools for mutual support. Or not. We can find a mate of our own kind and procreate. Or not. But our options are always bound/limited by our relevant realities. Some of these realities are physical, some physiological, some emotional, some imaginary.

For me, conscious and rational assessment of the environment (external conditions), our own abilities and possible negative consequences, is the best way to achieve goals. If we fail in our attempts, we can at least learn from our mistakes. But feelings have an important role to play too. Feelings are innate messages from the brain, spontaneous internal reactions to external stimuli that warn us of danger, sometimes inspire us, and sometimes encourage us to risk. But mental illnesses, disabilities as well as special abilities, and propensities toward certain behaviors all undermine free-will. For example, individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) lose control of their thoughts and actions. People who suffer from depression and borderline personality disorder lose control over their emotions. Then too, it is commonly believed that children born to parents who struggle with addictions are more likely themselves to become addicts when they grow up. And addicts are notorious for making poor choices. There is a genetic component to this.

Yes, we have free-will — but only within the bounds of our relevant realities, some of which are in God’s domain. And that is why we pray. Some realities, the faithful believe, only He has the power to change.

Please feel free to post a comment, whether you agree with my conclusions or not.


Published in: on April 9, 2016 at 10:48 am  Comments (1)  

Respect ~ Who Deserves It?

Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relationship between means and ends; above all, it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status… It has grown… as an invidious distinction between classes…

Marshal Sahlins ~ Stone Age Economics

The short answer to the title question, I think, is that everyone deserves respect. But not everyone deserves it equally, however it might be measured. Respect is a specious word. I can respect a rattlesnake and show deference to it but not wish to emulate its behavior. On the other hand, I can and should respect those who are senior to me, whether in age or in position. I should respect them, not because they are a danger to me or even because they may hold some authority over me, but because they have endured what I have yet to endure — succeeded where I have not yet gone or where I have been less successful.  I can learn from them.


The Bible has much to say about respect. Passages addressing respect are replete in both Old and New testaments. Most will immediately recall Exodus 20:12, one of the Ten Commandments and not the least of them. It reads: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” But one of my favorite passages is found in Romans 12: 9 – 11: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord.”

Whether you are a believer or not, I think that most of us can agree that there is great wisdom to be found in the Bible. We don’t have to literally believe everything in it to think so.

My daughter-in-law, bless her heart, thinks that I am overly sensitive about respect, that I am too quick to feel disrespected by younger people, especially by my sons and grandkids, and even my wife. My daughter-in-law is probably right; for, as a twenty-two year Army veteran, retired as a senior commissioned officer and retired also and most recently from a ten year high school teaching career, I have had stand firm in the expectation of respect from my subordinates and my students. I could not have functioned well in these vocations otherwise. But I am fully retired now and I know that it is not disrespectful for people to disagree. I believe that every person deserves respect, young and old, rich and otherwise, those with much talent and those with little, those with power and authority and those who have none. I know that I can learn something new from everyone, even from those with whom I disagree on matters irreconcilably. But when disagreement/ argument devolves into angry words, the disrespect between parties can quickly become mutual.

Should we respect the rich? Yes, not because they are wealthy, but because they are people just like us – children of God. They may have acquired their wealth through inheritance or just good fortune like the winning of a lottery. They may have benefited from corrupt political or business relationships. But wealth is also generated through entrepreneurial activity. Such “self-made” people are greatly admired in the U.S. Yet, there is a conspicuous problem with most accumulated wealth; it always involves exploitation on some level. We remember Andrew Carnegie as a great philanthropist, but he literally worked men to death in his steel mills with long hours, unhealthy conditions, and low wages.

Are all wealthy individuals like Andrew Carnegie? No, certainly not. Consider the following modern-day wealthy humanitarian examples:  Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Chuck Feeney, George Soros, Richard Branson, Jon Huntsman, Sr.


“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

Not all wealth is so contaminated, of course not. But this is primarily due, in my opinion, to protective labor laws. Capitalists the world over try to pay their workers as little as possible and are willing to exploit children as has recently been exposed in the U.S. fashion industry and its cost-conscious outsourced manufacturing. In the Northeast from which our nation’s yummy blueberries come, the unscrupulous have exploited children with their small hands to do much of the picking.

Even if the money belonging to the wealthy was accumulated under comparatively clean conditions, it is still money that is effectively stolen from workers rather than earned by business owners. It may seem pointless to belabor the fact that entrepreneurs exploit workers to the best of their ability, citing Adam Smith’s theory that such activity can contribute to the common good by making merchandise cheaper. But I believe that Adam Smith would be appalled by today’s levels of exploitation.

There is a counter economics theory which is that the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few individuals is very bad for the society as a whole. Unequal societies lack social trust and political involvement. They have high crime rates, and low life expectancy. They suffer from high rates of obesity and related disorders. Does this not sound familiar?

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, and serve the Lord.”

Should we respect those who have great talent? Of course. But not just because they have special gifts in artistic fields such as fiction writing, acting, music, painting, and so forth. Admiring such people’s talents should never be confused with respect. The biographies of many celebrated artists are a catalog of personal failings and neuroses with high rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illnesses. We may treasure their contributions but we should hardly want to emulate their lives. And what about those with special athletic talent?  These persons seem to receive a great deal of respect from large numbers of people. Yet, many sports legends have been exposed as small-minded self-serving cheats. Not content with having better genes than the rest of us, many have chosen to enhance their biological edge using steroids. Many too have been exposed for perpetrating cruel acts on people. Consider people like O.J. Simpson, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, and Oscar Pistorius. The list of such narcissistic professional athletes is long indeed.

My bottom line is that we should respect everyone, not for what they possess, whether material riches or great talents, but for what they do for others. Even if they contribute nothing but opportunities for us to serve. Everyone deserves our respect.  Albert Einstein once wrote, “Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized.”

We can certainly respect those whom we know and love—our parents, our close friends, intimate partners, children, and selected relatives – those who have made our lives better. Beyond that, we can respect everyone who has helped us along the way, or those who provide a service that makes our lives better:  the substitute teacher who fills-in when the teacher gets sick, the man who collects your trash, the person who works the graveyard shift restocking the shelves at the grocery store, the lady at the daycare center, the fast food worker, the janitor.

Another favorite Bible passage is from Galatians 5:13-14. It reads: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When looking for someone to respect, maybe we should start at the bottom of the social ladder and work our way up. Those at the top are seldom all that they profess to be. Quite often they are a great deal less.

Please feel free to post a comment in response to this, whether you agree with me or not.

Published in: on March 31, 2016 at 12:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Traditional Good of Innovation and the New Frightening Bad

Education required for the use of new technologies has always managed to stay ahead of the pace of innovation and adaptation. With the advent of the digital computer, however, all this is now changing, and it scares the bejesus out of me.

Anthropologists imagine a time in human history when fire had to be “stollen” from nature. Man had yet discovered how to make fire for himself. Accordingly, someone in the tribe or clan was entrusted with the important role of keeping the fire — flame or hot coals. This person held an important, even sacred, role in primitive societies, so it was not something practiced by many. To the extent, however, that this person held a special position beyond ritual, his job was obviated by the technological innovation of fire making — using friction or striking flint to iron so that sparks could ignite suitable tinder. This, like later inventions, the wheel, cutting tools, leveraged throwing weapons, weaving and pottery making, benefited societies at large. All had more as a result. When fire making technology came into practice, only the fire keeper was left without a ‘real’ job.


This tendency for innovation to benefit the greater part of societies has, for the most part, continued to this day. Examples of these technological innovations include: interchangeable parts, the steam engine, mass production, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, electrification and the automobile. Greater productivity has tended to create new jobs in greater numbers than those eliminated. This is because greater productivity, in the past, has driven costs down so that both supply and demand increased. This is not the norm today. Higher productivity today, owing to declining competition among suppliers due to mega mergers and the formation of corporate cartels/oligopolies, higher productivity results only in greater profits which are seldom shared with the actual workers.

Education required for the use of new technologies has always managed to stay ahead of the pace of innovation and adaptation. With the advent of the digital computer, however, all this is now changing, and it scares the bejesus out of me.

Innovation has long been thought to be the essence of economic growth. Think about it. Over the past two centuries, the world has reaped great benefit from the advent and incorporation of more and more general-purpose technologies: energy and manufacturing technologies, transportation technologies, medicine and pharmaceutical technologies, communication technologies, information storage and calculation technologies. But what happens when technology advances at a dizzying pace such as it is doing now? Education lags behind, even the ability of many to comprehend the use of new technologies, let alone do the programming and repair necessary, is beyond the average citizen.

When I was young, my grandfather could keep the family car humming along all by himself. He needed no computerized diagnostic equipment. All he need was in his toolbox, wrenches and screwdrivers and such. But, as it is today, I am challenged to even change my car’s oil and oil filter. When my computer or my smart phone goes on the blitz, only a few very highly trained technicians even know what’s wrong. Even they must resort to using other automated equipment and software to correct the problems. I am dead in the water until someone else with another machine and the knowledge to use it fixes my broken machine.

Until recently, this trend has not much concerned anybody, especially not corporate CEOs and government policymakers. The increased productivity has led to more and greater profits for those at the top, and those at the top make the rules. Economists and academics have been talking about this for years, a few have even been worried about it. But now some  forward thinking individuals in business are waking up, taking the longer view. They are concerned about competition and shrinking markets as average citizens’ disposable incomes shrink from declining, good paying work opportunities. Humans’ jobs are being taken over by machines.

Nearly half of the 1,344 CEOs surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers late last year identified rapid technological change as a potential threat to their organization’s growth prospects.”

One of the most disconcerting new technologies, in my opinion, is 3D printing. It has the potential to transform the competitive landscape of a wide array of businesses — businesses like manufacturing and construction. 3D printing could revolutionise industries beyond current imagination, provided of course that players within these industries embrace this new technology in an effective way. But will they all be able to do so and to what end? And how many workers in India, China and elsewhere will be displaced? What will this do to demand for goods and services?

These economic trends are not limited to just the United States, or even to the United States and it’s favoured trading partners. These trends are manifest in all but a few more enlightened nations — Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany, just to name a few, where corporations are more highly regulated and where fiscal policies benefit people before money interests. When considered in combination with growing and ageing populations, declining/more difficult-to-recover natural resources, and the consequences of global warming, manmade apocalyptic scenarios are easy to imagine.

Until the hungry beast of capitalism is either satiated or sufficiently constrained by enlightened regulation, the greater good, in my opinion, will just have to accept the consequences of greed.

Please feel free to post a comment in response to this. I would enjoy discussing this issue.

Published in: on April 14, 2015 at 9:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Cynicism in Today’s Political Landscape and the Demise of Democracy

High school and higher-educated citizens in America used to turn-out for congressional (mid-term) and presidential elections in much greater numbers. But participation in the political process has dropped precipitously in recent years.

I am hearing more and more these days, especially from younger adults in America, that it doesn’t matter whether they vote or not, that the system is rigged. How cynical. Even more cynical in my opinion are those saying things like, “Neither political party represents me,” and, “Politicians are all the same; all they care about is getting themselves re-elected.” I have even heard the idea recently expressed that not voting is actually an alternative way of voting — expressing one’s dissatisfaction with the political system’s status quo.

My reaction to all of this is concern, fear actually, about what this means for democracy in America as we older citizens, the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers, decline in numbers. Combined with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which not only allows but encourages greater influence on state and federal governance by corporations and other special interests, this trend points to the end of government-of-by-and-for-the-people (if ever it truly existed at all) and the ultimate establishment of a plutocracy, worse yet, maybe even a new version of Fascism.

a2-educationalHigh school and higher-educated citizens in America used to turn-out for congressional (mid-term) and presidential elections in much greater numbers. But participation in the political process has dropped precipitously in recent years. Where 80 percent or better used to turn-out for national elections, now the percent has dropped to 50 or less. Compared to the rest of the world’s countries in which people vote, even where voting is not compulsory, Americans are far less likely to be involved in the political process. But why?

Statistically speaking, in any election with twenty or more votes being cast, the chance that any one vote will determine the outcome is extremely low — virtually nil. Studies show too that a single vote in a voting scheme such as the Electoral College in the United States has an even lower chance of determining the outcome. Further, studies using game theory, which takes into account the ability of voters to interact, have also found that the expected turnout for any large election should be zero. So, one might ask instead, why should we even bother?

The factors in deciding whether or not to vote are: P (the probability that an individual’s vote will affect the outcome of an election), B (the perceived benefit that would be received if a person’s favored political party or candidate were to be elected), D (originally stood for democracy or civic duty, but today represents any social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting), and C (the time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting). P times B plus D must be greater than C before a person will vote. (The basic idea behind this formula was developed by Anthony Downs in An Economic Theory of Democracy. published in 1957.)

Obviously P is a non factor. Further, considering the ensuing deadlock in Washington on issues that Americans care about, things like immigration, tax policy, equal rights for women and gays, and gun control, B has lost ground as a factor too. That leaves D, the sense of civic duty or the social and personal gratification that one derives from voting, as the prime factor in countering C, the inertia factor.

One could argue that D, the sense of social and personal gratification that African Americans derived from voting in the last two presidential elections, was the reason that Barrack Obama, the first African American to be nominated for President, handily won the White House for two terms. A large segment of voters was motivated to get off the couch and go stand in long lines to cast their votes as never before. It could be too that Hillary Clinton, because she is a woman and likely to be the first of her gender to be nominated by a major political party for President, will likewise be elected.

I believe that this factor, the social and personal gratification that one derives from voting, is at least in part the motivation for Republican controlled states to pass voting restriction laws and modified/reduced early voting dates and the numbers of polling places in urban areas, thus impacting voters who would most likely favour Democrats. Republican politicians have actually admitted this.

Can one be justified in believing that neither of the major political parties in the United States, the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party, represents them? No, not in my opinion. Believing this is simply a choice which rationalises one’s cynicism. One has only to compare the political platforms of each party, if they are inclined to do so, and assess which one aligns more with one’s beliefs and priorities. That neither party seems to be able to advance change, to move the ball down-court in the current political environment, does not mean that neither party conforms all in in-part with one’s beliefs. There is something for everyone in one party platform or the other.

Does not voting, in and of itself, constitute a vote, protest or otherwise? No, in my opinion, choosing to believe that it does is just more rationalisation for cynicism. Choosing not to vote is not a protest, not in my opinion. It is submission to the rigging of the system that we all abhor — at least those of us who have had nothing to do with the rigging. So, if one lacks the requisite sense of civic duty or the sense of social or personal gratification that comes from participation in the political process, one might more honestly just say, “I don’t care.”

Are all politicians the same? Are all motivated only by getting themselves re-elected? Of course not. But I would agree that too many are motivated primarily by personal interest. It is a human failing.

Given the political landscape in the United States, it is easy for me to understand the cynicism of many citizens, especially those among the gen-Xers and millennials who tend to be more cynical anyway. But can we allow this trend of decreasing voter turn-out to continue and risk the demise of democracy altogether? Yes we can. We can allow special interests, corporations and the wealthy to take total control of our elections. But should we? I say no. Emphatically, I say NO! That is why I think that we should consider the following: restoring the Voting Rights Act in its entirety, which the Supreme Court has recently all but nullified; reversing Citizens United which declares corporations to be citizens too; redefining what and how redistricting can be done by the states, and; amending the Constitution to implement term limits for Congress. We should also make voting universally easy for citizens — all citizens. I would not even oppose some form of compulsory voting, for when liberty and equality are in peril, extreme measures become necessary. The question is, are we at that point yet?

Whether you agree with me on this topic or not, I would very much like hear your opinion. Please feel free to post a comment.

Published in: on April 13, 2015 at 12:03 am  Comments (4)  
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In the Spirit of Equity ~ For on Earth There Is No Equality

I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” It’s an ideal not possible in capitalistic economies, especially those that shun or are suspicious of every aspect of socialism, like public schools, Head Start, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

scales of justice“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. ‘The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’”

~ Mark 12:28-31

Neighbor, you ask? Of whom was Jesus speaking?

Surely you recall the parable of the Good Samaritan. So, would not the unemployed father across town be your neighbor? How about the woman taking care of your children so that you can go to work? How about the part time employees of the largest, most successful retail sales corporation in the world?

Among those of us who know Him, can there be any doubt about how God wants us to treat these neighbors? Does He not want us to treat them fairly and impartially — equitably – not withholding or denying them a living wage? Yes. Even so, this is a tall order. It’s the best we could possibly do because, as we all know, on earth there is no equality.

I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” Notwithstanding the great and inspiring words in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” there is no equality. God has not given to each of us in “equal” measures those things that can be measured in human terms. Some of us are born in the bosom of advantage and luxury. Others are born and reared in poverty and perpetual discouragement. No, there is no equality. Yet God commands us to love one another, whether rich or poor — to treat others, our neighbors, with equity.

What does equity look like? I’ll tell you what I think it looks like. It looks like a society in which children don’t go hungry, where they all go to schools where loving teachers are encouraged with enough time and compensation to be the best teachers they can possibly be – schools where vaccinations and school lunches are freely provided. It looks like a society in which a day’s pay, for those willing to work, is at least sufficient to subsist on, to pay for a day’s worth of shelter, food, clothing and medical care. That’s how it seemed to be when I was growing up, which may have been illusionary I admit. But it surely is not this way nowadays, not for everyone.

No, I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” It’s an ideal not possible in capitalistic economies , especially economies that shun or are suspicious of every aspect of socialism, like public schools, Head Start, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

After retiring from a career in the military, I was hired by a firm providing engineering and programmatic support for military materiel procurement programs. Launched into this follow-on career by my successful involvement in operational test and evaluation for the U.S. Army, it wasn’t long before I was made a branch chief in one of the firm’s many departments. Test and Evaluation was my specialty and I was made a manager because I attracted customers who were willing to pay handsomely for my help. I could have been an ineffective manager, but that had nothing to do with my promotion. It was my expertise in the discipline that got me promoted.

I began to build my team, hiring first a young man who a customer of mine, a former co-worker, wanted to help. He wanted to help not because he was particularly good at anything, but because he was a friend. It soon became evident that he would not be contributing much to the collective effort. But he was now mine to groom and to supervise, which added to my workload. Next, I looked for a new hire that could provide help with human factors engineering. With this hire, I was quite fortunate; the man I hired did excellent work and could write rings around my first hire. My third hire would have been a highly qualified aerodynamics engineer, someone who could serve as my deputy. But, owing to contract constraints and externalities, my branch never quite grew sufficient to justify this third hire. I did interview some candidates though. One was particularly impressive.

She was a graduate of the Navy’s Post Graduate Engineering School and a C-141 pilot. She, a major in the Air Force, had worked in test and evaluation and in the program management office for the new C-17 cargo airplane. Her resume was on the top of my pile of candidates’ resumes when my boss called me in to inquire about my search for a deputy manager. “Who’s your first choice?” he asked.

When I told him, he rolled his eyes then said, “Yeah, I noticed her when she came through for the interview with you. Nice Stems?”

“Sir? Nice stems?” I asked.

“Legs,” he said. “She has nice legs.”

“Yes, she does. But what has that got to do with anything?”

“That has everything to do with whether we can offer her the position.”

“Why is that?” I asked naively.

“For one thing, this is a business for men. Most of your prospective customers would have no confidence in her ability to do the job, even if she could leap higher than all her male competition. Next, were we to hire her and pour time and effort getting her up to speed in this male dominated culture of ours, within two or three years, she’d be engaged and or pregnant. Her new husband, likely another service member still on active duty, would be reassigned to Timbuktu and she’d be gone. No, not her. Who’s your second choice?”

Yeah. I get it. I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.”

What does the Bible say about equity?

In Mattew 20:1-15 we read: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first. And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’”

“And whatever is right I will give you…”

Yes, I understand that, in this parable, Jesus was talking about salvation, and the master of the house represents God. He was talking about how the Father will reward even those who come to Him in the eleventh hour. But it also illustrates how a godly employer, seeing his laborers’ needs, should satisfy them according to his ability to do so.

Yes, I understand why so many have difficulty with the idea of “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” But why can’t we at least make better efforts towards equity?

What a progressive idea! Yeah, but it’s a Christian idea too. Is it not?

Please feel free to leave a comment. I would enjoy dialoguing on this subject.

Published in: on March 13, 2015 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Forgiveness ~ A Spiritual Gift if Ever There Was One

Learning how to forgive others is one of the most unnatural duties we have as Christians. It goes against human nature.

forgivePreparing our hearts and minds for the holy days that lead up to Eastertide – for which Lent is intended – one must consider what Christ Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection was all about. One word comes to mind: forgiveness.

The Scriptures are replete with admonitions about the importance of forgiving one another – like, for example: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Yet Christians struggle with this. People of all faiths do; we are human. But some have a greater capacity for forgiveness than most. And so, I find it curious that the Apostle Paul did not specifically include forgiveness as a spiritual gift in any of his epistles found in the New Testament. Surely God is concerned with our ability and willingness to forgive, and Paul was very much aware of this. In Ephesians 4:32 Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Yet he did not list forgiveness as a spiritual gift. I wonder why.

The spiritual gifts are found in three New Testament passages attributed to Paul: Romans 12:6-81 Corinthians 12:8-10;28-30, and Ephesians 4:11. They are: Administration, Apostleship, Discernment, Evangelism, Exhortation, Faith, Giving, Healing, Tongues and the Interpretation of Tongues, Knowledge, Leadership, Mercy, Miracles, Pastor/Shepherd, Prophecy, Serving/Ministering, Teaching, Wisdom. Perhaps Paul intended for us to understand that forgiveness is included in the gift of mercy, like pastoring and shepherding are part and partial — likewise, serving and ministering. I don’t know.

A person recently accused me of behaving in an unchristian fashion toward them, but said that she forgives me. Be not concerned about her accusation, friends. I’m not, for I know that she was just being hateful. It’s who she is. But her accusation got me to thinking about just what forgiveness, in a Christian sense, means.

Learning how to forgive others is one of the most unnatural duties we have as Christians. It goes against human nature. It’s a supernatural act that Christ Jesus was capable of. And so, I believe it requires a gift of the spirit. When we are hurt by someone, we want to hold a grudge. We want justice. Sadly, it’s hard for us to just trust God with that.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

If we cannot take revenge, then we must forgive. God commands it. But how? How can we let it go when we have been hurt unjustly?

The answer lies in understanding the Trinity’s role in forgiveness. Christ’s role was to die for our sins. God the Father’s role was to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and to forgive us. Today, the Holy Spirit’s role is to enable us to do those things in the Christian life that we cannot do on our own, like forgiving others.

Refusing to forgive leaves an open wound in our heart, our soul, which festers into bitterness, resentment, and depression. For our own good, and the good of the person who hurt us, we simply must forgive. But this doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting. It doesn’t mean that we have to also trust. It simply means that we will be kind and tenderhearted toward the persons whom we forgive – that we will not seek to get back, that we will set aside blame, and that we will be open to the others’ apologies. It means allowing new beginnings.

In his book, Landmines in the Path of the Believer, Charles Stanley says: “We are to forgive so that we may enjoy God’s goodness without feeling the weight of anger burning deep within our hearts. Forgiveness does not mean we recant the fact that what happened to us was wrong. Instead, we roll our burdens onto the Lord and allow Him to carry them for us.”

My friends, if we trust God for our salvation, we must trust Him also to make things right. He will do so, according to His plan for us, when we forgive. He will heal our wounds so that we can move on.

Please feel free to post a comment in response to this. I would enjoy discussing the subject.


Published in: on March 5, 2015 at 7:18 pm  Comments (7)  
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A Modern-Day Prodigal Son

But, what does the father say?  He says, “My children, I love you all dearly and everything I have will be yours someday. But we have to celebrate and be glad, don’t you see? Your brother, my sons, and your father, my grandchildren, was dead to us. But he is alive again. He was lost to us, but now he is found.”

prodialsonI know you can’t read the words that comprise this piece of art. They are from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 15 verses 11 through 32. My dear wife bought it for me years ago when one of our three sons was lost to us for a time, and then returned. In case you don’t recognize the passage, it is the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus told it ages ago to people gathered around to hear his teachings. These people included tax collectors and sinners. But the Pharisees and other rabbis were there too, listening but not hearing.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Imagine, if you will, this modern-day equivalent to the parable.

A man has three sons, one by a previous marriage, the oldest. For personal reasons having had nothing to do with anything done to him by his father, his step-mother or brothers, decided to alienate himself from them and from his very own children as well. He did so for the sake of a new relationship, a new wife. For five long years his family heard nothing from him, save for Christmas cards sent cruelly and disingenuously by his new wife, a jealous and controlling woman. Time passed; hearts grew bitter and resentful. Then, one day, after the son’s new marriage relationship had hit a breaking point, the son reached out to his father, saying that he is sorry and asking for forgiveness.

What did the father do? He did exactly what the prodigal son’s father did. He enthusiastically raced out with open arms to welcome him back.

But the son’s brothers aren’t so anxious to have the elder son back. Neither are the son’s children. They are still hurt. They are angry, and who can blame them? “Don’t trust him,” they say to their father and grandfather. “Consider all that he has done to us, the lies that he has told. He is a drunkard, a thief and a liar. He abandoned us when we most needed him. He must first atone for his behavior.”

But, what does the father say?  He says, “My children, I love you dearly, all of you, and everything I have will be yours someday. But we have to celebrate and be glad, don’t you see? Your brother, my sons, and your father, my grandchildren, was dead to us. But he is alive again. He was lost to us, but now he is found.”

In the parable as told by Jesus, the father represents God, of course – God who loves us all despite our sins. He longs for us to turn away from sin and to come home. But who is the eldest son? Why, he is us, we who are Judgmental and unforgiving – we who would punish the repentant sinner until… until when?

Please feel free to post a comment if you wish.

Published in: on March 2, 2015 at 3:28 pm  Comments (1)  

The Spirits World ~ Why We Alcoholics Drink

It’s like what one of my sons recently said, “… a medicine and a poison.”  Yes, it is a medicine, a dependable old chemical friend that provides existential relief. But it’s also a friend that will stab us in the back if we let it.

ManhattanBecause of recent events in my life, and in the lives of certain loved ones, I am reposting this article, this testimony, from over a year ago. In doing so I hope that it might serve as inspiration for all who happen across it and chose to read it. Why? Because I believe that all of us who drink alcohol regularly or frequently, whether alone or socially, and do so because we like how it makes us feel, are, on some level, alcoholics. It’s time for us all to stop equivocating, to know what it is we are doing, to acknowledge our addiction.

I come from a long line of alcoholics. The earliest one that I know about was my maternal great grandfather, Joseph Anderson. Although he held a fairly high station in the Melchizedek Priesthood of the Mormon Church, he imbibed quite often. My mother told me about it. She said that, as a little girl she often stayed with her grandparents and that she overheard her grandmother, her mother and her aunts talking about it. It was a source of considerable family shame.

There was a swing mom told be about hanging from a tall, old cottonwood tree just outside the bedroom window where my mother slept. Her grandpa Joe had hung it there for her, but would sit in it himself at night and sing to himself while drinking his homemade wine. This made a lasting impression on mom. We laughed about it occasionally, mom and me, when we would sit drinking together in her kitchen. Yes, mom taught me well.

The affliction, if we can call it that, seemed to skip over my mother’s mother, although my grandma could gulp down an occasional toddy herself, and do it with considerable aplomb. But mom’s biological father, or so I’ve been told, was not only a heavy drinker, but a drug user as well.

The affliction hit my mom hard. A lifelong heavy drinker like her Aunt Mic before her, another early alcoholic in my family that I know about, her drinking finally took her life. Mom died from a diseased liver.

Mom was married four different times and had several other men in her life; all of them were alcoholics including, I presume, my biological father whom I never had a chance to meet before his death. And then there is me and my siblings, half-brothers and sisters all. But I won’t speak of our lifestyles except to say that I like manhattans best. I like them on the rocks sans the cherry garnish. They are my favorite libation. Libation – now that’s an interesting word – it’s defined as a drink poured out to a deity. Sometimes I will drink two or three manhattans in a day, the first while I am preparing an evening meal for my wife and myself. The last is often left half empty, the first two and a half having put me soundly to sleep. But I never drink when we have our little darling, my great granddaughter with us. Neither will I take more than one drink before driving or drink anything when I think that I might have to drive somewhere. I go days, sometime weeks without drinking anything. And, before my retirement from multiple careers, I never missed a day of work because of my drinking. That means that I’m not really an alcoholic, right? No, that just means that I am a more responsible alcoholic than some.

I know that my drinking, the amount that I drink, is not healthy for me. I know too that it is not healthy for my marriage relationship because it worries my wife. Although my mom was little concerned about how her drinking affected relationships in her life, she knew too that her drinking was not physically healthy. Still, she drank. Still, I drink.  But why? When asked that question, according to my mother, my great grandfather answered, “I just like the way it makes my silly head feel.” But do we who like how it makes us feel like it to death? Yes, often, too often.

What do the Scriptures have to say about drinking? A lot actually, most of it warnings about drinking to excess and drunkenness, like this passage from the Book of Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.”  But there are also passages from the Gospels like this one from Mattew 11:18-19, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” And let’s not forget about the first miracle that Jesus performed, the turning of water into good wine at the Wedding in Cana. According to John 2;1-11, “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.'”

The rub seems to come then, not from the drinking itself but from drinking to excess.

There is a great article that I’ve found in the professional journal, Psychology Today, called, “The Benefits of Addiction: Why Alcoholics Drink.” It restates and confirms that there is a body of evidence recognizing the correlation of alcoholism in successive generations, thus suggesting a genetic component to alcoholism. But it says, “People who believe in the disease theory are dumb. They can’t help it, so we shouldn’t mock them. You see, they don’t have enough human insight to answer the question, ‘Why do alcoholics drink even though it hurts them?’ Other than by positing that they have some inbred disease that compels them to drink, that is.”

Wow! Now that hurts. It says that I can’t blame those who came before me for my affliction. It’s my affliction and I own it.

According to this article, drinkers like me have discovered that the experience of drinking alleviates deep-seated anxieties, anxieties that all of us have about ourselves and about our lives. Some call these anxieties pain. In other words, alcohol provides more than just a temporary camaraderie to alcoholics. It’s like what one of my sons recently said, “… a medicine and a poison.”  Yes, it is a medicine, a dependable old chemical friend that provides existential relief. But it’s also a friend that will stab us in the back if we let it — a friend that could eventually kill us either softly or roughly. From this friend we derive psychological benefits which are hard to relinquish. This is why those of us with the affliction, whether genetically predisposed to or conditioned to by association or experimentation, find it hard to walk away from. The worst of it for us, the afflicted, is that when stress in our lives becomes severe, we will often turn to it in excess.

One last quote from the referenced article: “People who have learned to allay their anxieties and fears, to feel good — or at least okay — about themselves while intoxicated, to gain some sense of control that they otherwise are bereft of — well, those are hard people to persuade to give up the bottle. Which is what AA and the 12 steps are selling — “Step over to the sunny side of the street where I live — it’s much better here.”

Please feel free to leave a comment to this posting. I would enjoy dialoging on the subject.

Published in: on February 26, 2015 at 10:53 am  Comments (5)  
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Generosity ~ A Spiritual Gift

Maybe a ten percent tithe for some of us isn’t really so extravagant at all. Maybe those of us who are richly blessed and have the Spiritual Gift of Generosity need to re-prioritize our giving – dig a little deeper. Maybe some of us who are richly blessed need to cultivate this Spiritual Gift.

After finding out that someone had nominated me to serve on the Stewardship Committee at my church, I thought – What is it about me that someone thinks would qualify me for this ministry? Without an answer to that question yet, I went ahead and said, yes, anyway when I was asked because I had told my pastor that I was willing to serve in whatever capacity the nominations committee thought appropriate. Subsequently, I felt called to sign up to teach in my adult Sunday school class on the subject of generosity. Maybe that was a coincidence, maybe not. But something was stirring within me about the subject.

I agreed to go to a leadership training program a couple of Sundays before scheduled to teach my lesson. There, I signed up for the finance breakout session following the keynote address. It was the closest thing to stewardship and, as it turned out, it was what everyone in group wanted to talk about. After an excellent presentation on budgeting and auditing, the lecturer asked if there were any questions. One man raised his hand then stood to ask, “Are there any here whose churches are not struggling with finances?” Silence. Every United Methodist church represented in the Dallas Metro District that day was struggling. The first question was: Why? The next was: What can we do about it? Answers to the first question came from others; all I could do was sit and listen; I had no clue. One man said, “I think it’s because church attendance is down.” Another said, “I think it’s because all the generous givers are dying off.”

I considered all that I had heard that day, then I started preparing for my Sunday school lesson. I ignored the chapter in our study guide book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. It mostly talked about why we should all tithe according to Scripture passages from the Old Testament.  That whole idea seemed out of date to me — judgmental. I prepared a PowerPoint presentation to guide and facilitate discussion on generosity. I was prepared, I thought. But just before teaching, I told our pastor what I was planning to teach. He told me to tell my class that generosity is a Spiritual Gift. Hmmm, I thought. I had not heard that idea before, and I almost considered not showing my PowerPoint at all, but basing the lesson entirely on that one idea, that generosity is a Spiritual Gift. If that were true, I thought, since giving is less than it once was, is the current generation spiritually deprived? And, if so, why?

What are Spiritual Gifts? I knew on the spot that I had to talk about that. I had to talk about it because my pastor was right. We need to know the role that each of us has to play in the financial work of the Kingdom. While all of us are called to give, God has ordained some people to be super-givers. Check out this passage from Romans 12:6-8, which deals with spiritual gifts in the church:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Many of the things that Paul lists in this passage are spiritual gifts that we are well familiar with: Some people are gifted in prophecy, others in serving, others in teaching, others in encouraging, etc. In fact, you may have spent time in your church or on your own studying these spiritual gifts, trying to determine which of them is most active in your life. But did you notice, hidden in the middle of verse 8, the scripture mentions generosity? “If it is giving,” the passage says, “then give generously.” Wow.

I went ahead with using my PowerPoint, intending to weave into the presentation the idea that generosity is a Spiritual Gift. My first slide listed the Chapters in our study guide book and the title of the day’s lesson. I announced that I was departing from the study guide approach to the subject.

  • The Practice of Radical Hospitality
  • The Practice of Passionate Worship
  • The Practice of Intentional Faith Development
  • The Practice of Risk Taking Mission and Service
  • The Practice of Extravagant Generosity
  • Excellence and Fruitfulness

My next slide was this, the definition of extravagant.



  • Lacking restraint in spending money or using resources.
  • costing too much money.
  • exceeding what is reasonable or appropriate; absurd.

My next slide simply asked the question: What is the most extravagant thing that you’ve ever done concerning money? Everyone who responded to the question mentioned things that they had done for themselves… expensive cars, ocean voyages. I was thinking about the money I gave to my church years ago to create a quite garden for people to rest in, to meditate in, to pray in. I called it the Grandmothers’ Garden, dedicating it to the memory of my own dear grandmother. Why? I thought. Why do I remember something that I had given away rather than something I had purchased for myself? I don’t know the answer. But, in all humility, I suspect it’s because I am part of that generation of generous givers that gentleman in the finance class I sat in on mentioned. Others in my class are younger than me. They are very much in the Baby Boomer generation. Not to brag, but I barley made the cut; having been born before the end of WWII, I’m officially part of the Mature/Silent generation – the Greatest Generation.

The following information, part of which I shared with my class, comes from Dr. Jill Novak from the University of Arizona and Texas A&M. Here is a link to the information which appears at the Marketing website. The URL is: Mind you, the following do not describe everyone in the two oldest living generations. The characterizations are general in nature according to Dr. Novak.

Mature/Silents, born 1927- 1945, went through their formative years during an era of suffocating conformity, but also during the postwar happiness: Peace! Jobs! Suburbs! Television! Rock ‘n Roll! Cars! Playboy Magazine! Mature/Silent men pledged loyalty to the corporation, once you got a job, you generally kept it for life. And they are the richest, most free-spending retirees in history. They have a strong sense of trans-generational common values and near-absolute truths. They are disciplined, self-sacrificing, and cautious as well.

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, come in two sub-sets: 1. the save-the-world revolutionaries of the ’60s and ’70s; and, 2. the party-hardy career climbers (Yuppies) of the ’70s/’80s. These are the “me” generation. They tend to be self-righteous and self-centered. They have bought it now and they used credit to do it. They’re also too busy for much neighborly involvement, yet strong desires to reset or change the common values for the good of all. They want change, but aren’t so keen on changing themselves.

Even though their mothers were generally housewives, responsible for all child-rearing, women of this generation began working outside the home in record numbers, thereby changing the entire nation as this was the first generation to have their own children raised in a two-income household where mom was not omnipresent.

The aging of Baby Boomers will change America almost incomprehensibly; they are the first generation to use the word “retirement” to mean being able to enjoy life after the children have left home. Instead of sitting in a rocking chair, they go skydiving, exercise and take up hobbies, which increases their longevity. The American Youth Culture that began with them is now ending with them and their activism is beginning to re-emerge.

Yes, the Great Givers are a dying breed.

My next slide quoted Scripture – Matthew 6:21: For where your treasure is, your heart will be also. I asked my class what it is that they most love about our church. Almost everyone said that they love our Sunday school class best. One lady said, “Our great missions program.” Had I been asked, I told the class, I’d have said, all the opportunities that the church affords to be in service to others: The Caregiving Ministry that I lead, The Children’s Program that our little great granddaughter derives so much from, The Helping Hands Ministry, The Handy Man’s Ministry, The United Methodist Men and The United Methodist Women. But then, others in my Sunday school class, though engaged in many different missions and ministries, are mostly Baby Boomers, the Me Generation.

My next slide addressed the dual problem of a rising cost of living while the disposable income in most households has long been on a downward trend. Yes, the Consumer Price Index – Unchained has been up and down, the chained index has gone up and up with the costs of education and healthcare skyrocketing. Why is this? As a retired teacher of economics I can tell you that the unchained index reflects actual spending – the substitution phenomena.  When people have less disposable income, they spend less or substitute preferred goods and services for something else.


It’s like the elderly halving their prescribed medications, cutting their pills in-half to make them last longer, this so that they can afford to eat too. It is true that many in our society today are struggling. So I was not surprised when one of the ladies in my class shared that she knows her married daughter and her daughter’s husband have to squeeze hard to be able to afford giving the church just fifty dollars a month. Forget about tithing. Giving ten percent of their disposable income would mean they couldn’t afford to put gas in their cars to get back and forth to their jobs.

So, it becomes clear why many churches are struggling financially in today’s world. It is clear too that they will struggle more and more in future years, at least until the economy improves for the middle class. In the meantime, what are we to do? Well, I suggest that those of us who are blessed with more will need to give more. Maybe a ten percent tithe for some of us isn’t really so extravagant at all. Maybe those of us who are richly blessed and have the Spiritual Gift of Generosity need to re-prioritize our giving – dig a little deeper. Maybe some of us who are richly blessed need to cultivate this Spiritual Gift. After all,

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

~ 2 Corinthians 9:7

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 2:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Social Contract ~ Why We Have Government

Private enterprise cares nothing about the poor! This is so abundantly clear to me; opportunity does not, never has, and never will trickle down from the good fortune of the few. 

It puzzles me why so many don’t get it, that government is not the problem as President Ronald Reagan suggested. As it is today, it certainly isn’t the whole solution. But to the extent that it is not the solution, we have only ourselves to blame. We have allowed the money changers to gain control of it.

These are words that people have come up with to describe what is meant by a social contract, one like that which we are all part of by being citizens living under the Constitution of the United States.

Private enterprise cares nothing about the poor! This is so abundantly clear to me; opportunity does not, never has, and never will trickle down from the good fortune of the few. It is from us, the workers and consumers in this country, more than from their own efforts, that the privileged few owe their good fortune.

Government is not only the guarantor and protector of the social contract, it is the facilitator and arbiter as well. If you doubt this, read the Preamble to the Constitution — again.

Yes, there are a “thousand points of light,” as George Herbert Walker Bush proclaimed. But left to these alone, to individuals, benevolent corporations, churches and private charities, to help the less fortunate, millions more would be standing at road intersections with cardboard signs begging. Millions more would be living in shanty towns again. And how many of us stop to offer aid to those who are already begging? No, government is the most efficient way to alleviate suffering and to build scaffolds for the disadvantaged, perchance to restore the middle class. Government compels us to do our part, to contribute to the general welfare, to do our civic duty.

By all means, continue giving to churches and private charities. But “Render unto Ceasar” as well, for ours is a very different Ceasar from the government that was ancient Rome. Ours, if we choose to let it be, has been elightened by history, by great thinkers, and by religious teachers. Ours has been inspired by great leaders such as Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, Roosevelt (both of them), Eisenhower, Kennedy and yes, the Reverend Doctor King. We need merely to drive the money changers out of Washington as Christ did to the money changers long ago in the temple of Jerusalem. He did this as an example for us.

Please feel free, whether you agree or not, to leave a comment in response to this posting.

Published in: on August 2, 2013 at 10:31 am  Comments (4)