Monday, August 29, 2011

Disasters and More

Does is seem as if the world is experiencing more natural disasters and with more intensity, than ever before?  It certainly does.  If so, what does it mean?

Are we in the “End Times” or not?

My observation is that there seems to be two extreme positions to this question.

On the one side are those who roll their eyes with the “Here we go again” smirk on their face who laugh at all Believers and doomsday predictors.  As the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:4) warned us, they say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again?  From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”  In other words, what they’re saying to us is: “You’ve been predicting the return of Jesus for centuries now.  Where is he?  Get over it and get real.  He’s not coming back.  Deal with it.”

On the other extreme side are those who get out their flow charts, point to specific historical dates and timelines, events and characters, and match them up with Biblical prophetical statements and presto, they are able to predict the exact day if not hour as to when to expect Jesus’ arrival and the end of the world as we now know it.

For those of you who don’t believe, I admit.  We believers have sometimes made ourselves look ridiculous.  We have been arrogant in our self-righteousness and we have been foolish in our assertions at times.  So, we have lost credibility with you.  We are no longer taken seriously and so neither is the faith, to which we bear witness, taken seriously.

On the other hand, the non-believing position cannot really claim superiority.  Those who refuse to believe in God have a de facto belief in humanity’s knowledge and understanding as the measure of truth and reality.

Without God in the picture natural disasters and catastrophic events are merely happenstance happenings of nature.  There is no meaning behind the stuff of nature, its actions and reactions and its consequential results.  It just is and it just does.  And though we humans may impose meaning upon it, it virtually means nothing in the end; for, there is no Infinite Powerful Sentient Being undergirding nature with self-conscious intent and purpose.  For humans to impose meaning upon the universe, from our miniscule and finite position in the universe, is to simply kid ourselves about the nature of Reality.  It’s like saying, “Let’s pretend our lives have meaning and purpose,” when in fact we know it doesn’t.  That is to say, “Frankly my dear, Nature (the Universe) doesn’t give a damn!” whether we live or die or whatever.

Within this kind of philosophical world-view of Reality, we must become our own gods.  We pick and choose what we desire and where we will go with Nature, how much and how far we will take ourselves on this Starship we call Planet Earth.  We rule, use, exploit, and abuse her at will.  We’re ever increasing our attempts to master and control Nature, fighting the elements, building and rebuilding.  Having gone to the moon and back, we even hope to conquer Mars someday.

But, bring God into the picture and we are dealing with a totally different kind of Reality.  A Reality with God in the picture has intent.  If someone does something that is offensive to us, the first thing we ask is this: “Why did you do that?”  It is a question of intent or purpose.  It makes a hell of a difference to us, whether an action was accidental, where we attribute no blame and no fault, or intentional, where we attribute responsibility of guilt, blame and fault.  Which is it?

Having said that, consider this quote from the book of Psalms (102:25-28): “Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment.  You change them like clothing, and they pass away; but you are the same, and your years have no end.  The children of your servants shall live secure; their offspring shall be established in your presence.”

And again the Apostle Peter reminds us (2 Peter 3:10-12): “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.  Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?”

As for me, I look forward to Jesus’ Second Coming.  I am ready for a New Earth and a New Heavens, where there will be no more tears, no more sorrow, pain and suffering, which is contained in the promise of His Second Coming.  Maranatha!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Measure of Success?

Are you a success?  I mean are you personally successful?  I mean, is your personhood a success?

Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys, wins!”?

I beg to differ.  Sure, it’s said with tongue in cheek.  Still, we live as if it were ever so true, as if real success were measured by money, size of house, make, model and speed of car and so forth.  It’s dead wrong.

Neither money nor power is the measure of true success.  We’d like to think so because these things are tangible, measurable, and they do turn heads, eliciting great admiration and respect, and jealousy.  But such outer success is as permanent as one’s youthful good looks.

To measure real success we’d have to look at what’s going on within us, in our person—our heart and soul, our spirit.  That’s where the real quality of success lies.

For example, do you have a great career, nice house, sporty car, and great reputation but still find yourself bitter, angry, resentful, sad, depressed, lonely, and/or mad at the world?  Do you have everything that advertisements tell you that you should have and then some, but still find yourself being envious and jealous of others?  Are you always comparing yourself with others?  Are you proud, arrogant, greedy, selfish, dismissive and judgmental of others?  Do you think yourself better than others but fear that others won’t or don’t notice how gifted you are?

A truly successful person is one who has learned to be at peace within one’s self, to be content.  A successful person is one who has learned to love deeply and is greatly loved in return.  A successful person is one who has gained respect not for the wealth and riches he or she commands but for one’s genuine authenticity, trustworthiness, integrity, honesty, humility, fairness, and goodness.  A successful person is a balanced person, inwardly secure, and is not threatened by those who are more talented and/or gifted than he or she is.  I submit that few of us know this kind of success—partly because few of us aim for that kind of success. 

But when an economy turns sour and people lose their jobs, the difference between outward success and inward success begins to surface.  Stripped of our jobs, income, and career identities, we begin to ask ourselves who we really are.  Do we have value beyond things, cars, houses, and investments?

We do.

But without a job and steady income it sure doesn’t seem like it.

Perhaps we have been measuring our self-worth by a wrong set of standards.

It might help to remember that at the end of the day, when the twilight of our life is at hand and we are leaving this earth, it won’t be the amount of money that we’ve earned and collected over a lifetime that will matter.  Nor will it be the amount of property and the size of our investment portfolio that we leave to the next generation (though the beneficiaries will very much be concerned about those things).  Nor will it be our public personae, whether we have successfully made celebrity status in our particular field of expertise or career choice.

No, what God will look at is our inner person, what kind of person did we become over all the years given to us?  God will measure our success by the quality of our heart and soul.  God will see the fruit of our life, not the things of our life.  Fruit as in: peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness.  How successful are we in those terms?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Taking a Real Vacation?

Are you on vacation?  I bet not.

I bet that you only think you are on vacation and that you’re just going through the motions.

Oh yes, you are away from your desk.  You have driven or flown and traveled with your family to some hot summer spot.  The kids are playing, you’re doing a lot of eating-out and sightseeing and so, of course, you have convinced yourself that you are on vacation.  But you’re not.

Why not?

Because a real vacation begins in the mind, moves from the heart, and energizes the spirit.  And for most vacationers, that’s just not happening.

HOW TO TAKE A REAL VACATION

1.    Be There.  Hello!  Are you there?  Where’s your mind wandering off to, work, contracts, deadlines, negotiations, networking, cost evaluations, the bottom line?  STOP!  Tell your mind to vacate the work premises.  Truly turn it off and get away and be there with wife, son, daughter, family, and friends.  Turn off, tune in, and tone down.

2.    Decide whose vacation this is—yours, mine, or ours?  Is this vacation for you and your spouse or you and the kids’ or all of the above?  Decide upfront, here and now whose vacation this is and own it.  If this vacation is mainly designed for the kids, then keep it that way and be faithful to them for their sake.  Focus on them.  Be there for them and with them.  Listen to them.  Discern their wants and desires before they even have to tell you, if you can.  Contrary to the way you may feel, they want more than your money and the gadgets and thingamajigs that you can buy them.  They want YOU, your attention, your understanding, your approval, your presence, your love.  If it’s a vacation for just you and your spouse, well, don’t be distracted.  Need I say more?

3.    Decide your spending limits ahead of time but allow for unexpected splurging for the pure joy of it.  Don’t dig a money hole, that is, do not turn your vacation into a frightening debt experience, come this Halloween season.  Plan, save, budget, and enjoy within the limits of your affordability.  But plan to spend and to spend with a free heart and fearless indulgence.  If you’ve prepared well (we’re talking about money management here, which is a whole different subject) you should be able to enjoy yourself with utter abandonment according to your financial boundaries and limitations.  Yes, it can be done.

4.    Don’t rush.  Slow down and focus.  Don’t try to do it all.  Don’t come home needing a vacation from your vacation.  This means you’ve tried to do too much, too quickly, and with too short of time.  Be realistic with your vacation time, which includes time for traveling to and from, dealing with jetlag, and other time consuming expenditures such as waiting in line for your favorite ride or eating spot.  Since you can’t see it all, taste it all, grab it all, or take it ALL in, choose carefully and allow plenty of time to take in and absorb those once in a lifetime experiences that build the kind of memories that you truly want to savor.

5.    Decide ahead of time if this is an action vacation or a more passive vacation.  Do you want to DO or BE on this vacation?  Be clear as to what you want to “accomplish” in your vacation.  For some a great vacation means doing a lot of walking, hiking, diving, surfing, boating and what not, doing things.  For others a great vacation means simply “being” in the moment, sitting, observing, contemplating, reading and/or singing along to their favorite music.  Everybody is different, even among family members.  It’s best that the family negotiate this one through, ahead of time, and plan accordingly.

A real vacation should serve to re-energize you, giving you an opportunity to strengthen your most important relationships, family and friends, and should provide your heart and soul with a refreshing and renewing spirit.  It won’t just happen.  You must prepare and plan for it.  Begin by simply turning off all your electronic gadgets that keep you tied to your office or desk, your company or business.  You are on vacation, so keep that boundary sacrosanct for the sake of your own sanity and for the pleasure of your family and ENJOY!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Slutwalk, Anger, Blame, and the Freedom to Be

As a male, I will never fully understand or be able to fully empathize with a woman’s perspective.  There is no unisex, there are men and there are women, and we are different.  Nevertheless, whether male or female, all humans understand the need for personal safety and assume the right to have their personal boundaries and their dignity and honor respected.

Yet, as a male, I also recognize that women all over the world are generally given no fair share of the respect that they should have a right to expect.  A mere casual look at the state of women in the world as a whole should confirm this statement.  All over the world women are beaten by their husbands, used by men, overworked, underpaid, and relegated to second class status in terms of power and influence, economic freedom and independent decision making processes.  It’s an undeniable reality and a fact: women (and girls—teens) are regularly abused and sexually objectified and victimized by men.

It is no wonder that Michael Sanguinetti’s remark sparked a rage reaction that turned into defiant international demonstrations called SlutWalk!  This is what he said: “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”  He said this while speaking to a law class at the University of Toronto.  Talk about a classic foot in mouth statement!  I understand that he did apologize later.  Still, the cat was let out of the bag and the damage done.

This SlutWalk movement, if we can call it that, is fraught with multiple layers of issues: sexuality and sexual expression and sexual norms, gender relations and gender equality, social norms and social justice, religion and ethics, freedom of speech, and so forth.  That is, it’s not about what it’s about, as if it were merely a question of the way a woman is free or not free to dress.  The dress statement was simply a catalyst, igniting a much deeper social, political, cultural, and religiously explosive dynamic.

It would be too simplistic to say that ALL women are angry and that ALL men are clueless.  But that’s how it seems.  Still, it should be safe to say that we do have a problem.  We men and women have a problem with each other.  We’re apparently still at war.  The battle of the sexes is not over.  We are not acting like partners in this world.  We’re acting like enemies on opposite sides of a field, winner takes all.  And that’s our mistake.  With such an approach, one side loses while the winning side just buys time before the losing side attempts a counter attack to regain the upper hand.  And so, the war goes on.

Even religious faith and dogma (and not just in Christianity) has been used and continues to be used as a justification to keep women in a second class, lower status position under male dominance.  Again, it is no wonder that women are so angry.

So, let us keep in mind the following realities while we engage with, and tackle these issues:

First: We are connected.  Remember the point of the Butterfly Effect?  Nature, life, people, we are all interconnected.  Directly or indirectly, what I do does in fact affect you.  What you do will indeed affect me.  Therefore, no man or woman actually has an unqualified and absolute right to say “I have a right to do whatever I want because it’s my life to live as I want.”  We are social beings connected and interconnected to other human beings—parents to children, grandparents to grandchildren, siblings to each other, teacher and student relationships, employer and employee relationships, etc. etc.  Thus, all human beings must take into account the effect that their actions will have on other human beings—in terms of what they do and say, and yes, even in terms of how one may dress.

Second: This is not a perfect world.  Evil is real.  Bad people do bad things.  There are thugs and robbers, murderers and rapists, racists and bigots, and haters and destroyers of everything that is good and right.  Let’s not be naĂ¯ve.  Yes, we may have the right to walk the city streets at night alone and unprotected and dress anyway we want, but in some streets it is just downright stupid to do so.  We must be realistic and smart about our personal freedoms, our rights and privileges, as to when, where, and how we express them.

Third: All societies and cultures have their set of norms, social rules and expectations as to how people ought to act and behave both in public and private places.  Rules and norms may change and be modified over time but they are always there.  Generally speaking, it is always safer to stay within these norms than to stretch or break them.  One should be quite clear and self-aware when one pointedly chooses to break social norms.  It may be “cutting edge” behavior, “pushing the envelope” as it were, but that’s all the more reason why one should also expect strong reactions and not look for total sympathy and/or respect when you do deliberately disregard generally accepted rules of behavior and etiquette.

Fourth: All human beings have to answer to someone.  This is similar to the first principle (we are connected).  We are accountable for our actions.  None of us are absolutely free to do whatever we want.  If it hurts, destroys, damages, misleads or misdirects others, oppresses or causes harm to another person, we are responsible and must be held accountable for our actions and our words.  And it’s a two way street.  There are such things as “temptation,” “seduction,” “inducement,” “allurement,” and “entrapment.”  All actions have their motive and purpose—intention; therefore all actions must be held to account.

Fifth: All human beings are sacrosanct.  We owe it to each other to honor and respect one another, men and women, men toward women and women toward men.  This means respecting personal boundaries, physically and relationally, respecting another’s personal space—body and mind, emotion and spirit— so that “Do not touch me,” means exactly that, and “No!” means stop.  Slavery is over.  We do not have the right to command, control, or force others to do our bidding against their will, as if we own them.

Sixth: It is a Power issue.  Men use their greater physical strength, social, political and even religious power to continue to dominate women around the world.  This is why many women are “up in arms” and see this as a “fight.”  They want justice, freedom, and a share in the power.

As to the specific question of one’s clothing, consider this: if dress were really neutral, why do we have such sayings as “Dress for success” or “This is a black tie event”?  We dress certain ways for weddings and funerals and other ways for special events and occasions like a Beach party or Halloween party, for example.  So yes, the way we dress always conveys something of a social statement and seeks to elicit response—has impact.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Next Election let’s Vote Out all Extremists

Too hot, too cold, too small, too big, too high, too low!

Extremes just don’t work.

Salt is good, but too much salt ruins everything.  Honey is sweet, but too much honey is sickening.

Too much of any good thing is a bad thing and too little of any good thing results in weakness, neediness or want.

Too much ruins, and too little weakens a cause.

“Moderation in all things” is a good motto to live by.  Don’t you think?

Extreme positions are not only unrealistic but harmful.

Extreme positions are often held with haughtiness and arrogant self-righteousness.  Not good!  Furthermore extreme positions are usually neither practical nor productive nor positive in their effect, non-effective at best or badly effective at worse.

Art and architecture, song and dance, poetry, prose or drama, and the Beauty of Nature all avoid extreme imbalance and excess.

Thus, an “All or Nothing” approach in negotiating outcomes just doesn’t cut it.

There is always give-and-take.

A healthy life is a balanced life, work and play, leisure and exercise, wake and sleep, action and rest.

Congress needs to practice this simple motto.

Seek balance.  Avoid extremes.  Be moderate in all things.  Do what is healthy for the nation’s economy, which means avoiding extremes.

A centered, balanced and moderate, Congressional Representative is a good thing.

Next election, let’s vote out all extremists and vote in solid moderates who will be constructively practical and balanced.