Monday, December 31, 2012

What does another New Year mean?

We are on the precipice of a New Year.  At the time of posting this particular blog, the coming New Year is only hours away.

Many will be celebrating the arrival of this New Year with party hats, noise makers, digital clocks, falling balloons, confetti, and more.  But what does it mean?

As with every passing year, 2012 is a mixed bag.  There are the usual ups and downs, including the extremes: lost loved-ones, grief, sorrow, pain, as well as the ushering-in of new-arrivals, joy, gladness, and gain.    Success for some—desires fulfilled, dreams come true.  And failure for others—fallen hopes and dashed dreams; new starts and false beginnings, good endings and bad finishes.  And so it goes.

How does one face another year, especially if it is one filled with dashed hopes and failing dreams?  Much of our ability to recover and rise from the ashes has to do with our attitude, our mindset and heart and our ability to face Reality—the Truth about ourselves and the world we live in.

This takes a good amount of courage.  It also takes a great deal of humility, coupled with faith.

Why does it take humility?  Because we need to acknowledge that we cannot control everything.  We are not all powerful beings.  We are contingent and dependent beings.  There is a Greater Power beyond our little ole self.

Why does it take courage?  Because: we need to face the truth about ourselves, and do so without becoming despondent.  We have a great deal of faults and weaknesses that often add to our miseries and troubles.  That is, truth be told, we are often to blame for much of the grief that we bear.  Sadly, we usually choose to live in denial and avoid dealing directly with our terrible character flaws and weaknesses.

But, so as to not become despairing, we need also to keep faith and embrace the gift of grace; hence, our need of courage, humility, and faith.

But that is not all.  Fundamentally we need perspective.  We need vision.  We need a way of seeing Reality so as to make sense of what is happening, what has happened, and what will happen.

You know all that talk about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world that was supposed to have happened on December 21st of this year?  The hype on that could partly be explained by an intermingling and confusion of two distinctive perspectives on the meaning of time and our place in it.

To simplify, there are two views on time: The one is cyclical and the other is linear.

The Mayans had a cyclical view of time: as for example the four seasons, time goes around and comes around anew.  Hence, for the Mayans, December 21st of 2012 represented nothing more than a marked renewal of a five thousand year calendar time cycle, such as we mark January 1st as the renewal of a twelve month yearly cycle.

However, the Mayan cyclical view of time was confusedly coupled with the Biblical linear perspective of time.  In the linear view, time has a beginning and time will have an ending.

This is a teleological view of time: the understanding that final causes exist with a climatic purpose in mind.  That is to say that phenomenon is guided by a Greater Power and that we are moving toward a certain end.  The ending of time, in this view, is associated with great and dreadful apocalyptic events, which the study of Biblical eschatology is about: concerning last or final matters, as of death, judgment, and our future state.

I suggest we embrace the Biblical Linear view of time.  I believe this view more practically and realistically explains and deals with our human condition (our mental, spiritual, and physical reality and needs) and thus also provides us with a real and tangible hope for the future, for this life and for eternity.

I am sure the reader has nothing against the person of Jesus, who is called the Christ (as opposed, perhaps, to the institutionalized church).  Thus, read for yourself what Jesus says about time, life, death, suffering and pain, and His promise of something far better than we can now imagine.  Jesus definitely advocates a linear view of time—time as we now know it leading to a definite and climatic ending.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Guns, School Shootings, and Public Safety: What’s the Answer?

Arm our schools?!  Is this really the right direction to take?  Become more militarized in our behavior, attitude, thinking?

The irony is that it is the NRA, which constantly barks about freedom and protecting our constitutional rights, that is advocating a direction that will make us look and act more and more like a Police State.

I have no interest in militarizing our schools with armed security guards.  Neither do I have any interest in taking away the basic American right for a law abiding citizen to own a gun.  I want to have both, rights and safety.

I want the confidence to move freely within our public and private domains—be it our schools, our places of worship, shopping centers, amusement parks, national monuments, or within our halls of government and justice—without fear of being gunned down and without the irritation and fear of being manhandled by security forces who are trained to distrust and question every action and motive of casual pedestrians weaving his or her way through these same public spaces, minding their own business.

What comes to mind is the old saying, “Locks on doors simply keep honest people honest.”  Meaning, a determined thief or dishonest person will find a way to break in, no matter what, despite the locked doors.  Likewise, most determined killers will find a way to kill.  Still, we must make it as difficult as possible for intentional murderers to get their hands on assault weapons.

So of course we need security.  Every town, community, and neighborhood requires a well-trained and well equipped police force.  Nevertheless, I am troubled by this “Gated Community” mentality that we seem to be moving towards as a way of feeling safe and protected.

When we begin walling ourselves off by barricading our houses and militarizing our schools with uniformed or plain clothes security and police officers, we are no longer living freely.  We are living in deep fear and distrust—restrictive, defensive, and reactionary—and we have given up control of our greater expanded living space, the community at large.

And that feeling of a loss of control is translated into a sense of physical vulnerability.  Thus, we want to compensate that feeling of vulnerability with heavy armor.  We run out and buy more guns, arming ourselves to the hilt, in order to feel safer.  That, my friends, is a sign of weakness, not strength!  It signifies community breakdown not community empowerment.

The strength we need is inner, spiritual, moral, emotional, and relational strength.  We need the strength of a healthy community coming together, not a frightened and fractured community turning its defenses in on itself against its very own members.

We do need wiser and more effective gun management, gun control laws.  We do need to keep guns out of the wrong hands.  Good, reasonable, and effective laws affecting the types of guns sold and how they are sold and distributed can help us do this.  But we also need to deal better with the overall human factor, as for example, caring better for our society’s mentally ill.  For example, was Adam Lanza really a “Monster!”?  Or, was he a dazed and crazed young man who needed some real personal, psychological treatment and emotional attention?

There is much to learn here.  Will we take the time to really learn or will we simply jump into knee-jerk reactionary posturing and break into two camps, pro and anti-gun lobbying without getting into the deeper issues ravaging our society’s peace and safety?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Freedom! – For what, to what… from what?

Freedom is a core value, if not the foundational value of the American Way.

Politicians and special-interest groups often use the rally-cry of freedom to elicit support for their cause.  They stir up our defense mechanisms by telling us that the government is about to strip us of our basic rights and freedoms, and tell us to vote for them as champions of freedom against perceived government overreach.

Fueling our fiery passions with a rally-call to freedom, the end result is that they slyly manage to keep us from doing our homework.  Of course we want freedom!  So, without giving serious consideration to the actual implications of their platform and agenda and its consequences, we rally behind them: “Yah, down with government; up with Freedom!!”

But what is freedom?  What does it mean to be free?  You think you know, until you are forced to, let’s say, explain its meaning to a fourth grader, a ten year-old.  Then what do you say: “Freedom is to be able to do what you want, whenever you want, as you want—to do whatever we please.”  I don’t think so.

Freedom has its rules, regulations and limitations.  Freedom presumes knowledge and responsibility.  Freedom assumes self-control and self-restraint.  Freedom calls for respect and consideration of others.  Freedom requires staying within certain boundaries.  Freedom is never license to do as we please.

I am not free to play the piano.   Why?  Because, I have not learned the rules of playing the instrument—hand placement, finger movement, and chords, etcetera.  That is, I am only free to play the piano and to become a pianist only when I am willing to learn and to submit to the given rules and ‘regulations’ for playing such an instrument.  Likewise, I am not free to play the game of football unless I know and am willing to submit to the rules of the game.  Freedom in life, and in society, is the same.  It calls for the learning of, and the submitting to, life’s positive restrictions for individual and for community—truth, justice, equity, mercy, and love, for example.

And so, we are never truly free in life until we have learned to submit to the given rules and regulations that make for a positive, prosperous, good and just life.  For example, the freedom to drink to excess and become addicted to alcohol and/or drugs is not real freedom.  On the contrary, it is enslavement, which is ruinous and destructive to one’s personal life as well as one’s community.  But learning to submit to the principles and dictates of self-control, moderation, and self-discipline, for example, provides the freedom to excel and grow into a real productive and fruitful human being within one’s community.  In short, freedom demands that we submit to certain social boundaries and personal limitations in order to thrive as individuals and as a community.

Thus, freedom is not only a matter of being free from something but also being free to… to do and to be, to become.  The environment, the community’s setting and context, society and culture must make it conducive for a free people to thrive and prosper.  And that means a people’s willingness, as individuals and as a community, to admit personal limitations and accept a certain amount of social regulation, and to submit to the rules of the game, in order to assure that everyone has the potential to succeed.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dealing with Holiday Depression?

The Holidays can be hard on people and for various reasons.

Many dread the coming of the holidays because for them, the holidays mean the exact opposite of what they claim to be: For many, the holidays mean nothing more than hypocrisy, falsity, and fakery, all wrapped-up in tinsel and glitter.  For many, instead of inviting peace and joy, the holidays bring in sadness and turmoil.  Instead of inviting warmth and love, they usher in personal alienation and cold nights alone.  The contrast is just too painful.

This is truly sad.  I’d be depressed too, if that were the true essence of our holiday season.

The fact is: this world is a mess.  And we suffer for it.  There are the casualties of war, sickness, and poverty.  There are the misfortunes of broken relationships, and the anguish of unrealized and unfilled desires and dreams.  And there is the distress of our private personal agonies we dare not share.

And, on top of all that, there is the cold inevitability of our mortality—our eventual demise.  Life ends.  Good, bad, or indifferent, either we or our loved ones are forced to leave—when we least want it or are ready for it—and the finality of death cuts us off from everyone we love.

How then could we be of good cheer in such an environment, with such a reality, as that?

Well, that’s the point.  There is hope.  But first we must get beyond the tinsel and glitter and resist the crass commercialism and its call to indulge in base materialism as a means of escape, and reach back into the depths of the original Holiday meaning and embrace its core message.

The holidays used to be the high Holy-Days.  These were special days in which society was to stop the daily grind, get off the treadmill and contemplate life’s trajectory.  It was a time to reclaim the promises that God made to humanity and to remember how God has actually begun to fulfill those promises.

The birth of Christ, God’s Holy Anointed One, is the hope made real, of eventual peace on earth and goodwill to all.  It is the securing of God’s promise of a new world to come, a world that is without pain, sorrow, grief, and loss, where death no longer reins.  To us is born a Savior, who saves humanity from its own self-destructive ways, ways that have thus far only resulted in death and condemnation.

Yes, life is painful.  Yes, we suffer.  Yes, death cuts us off.  It’s all so very depressing.  But there is hope.  So don’t be sad.  Don’t fret.  Be not discouraged.  Take courage.  Have hope.  Keep the faith.  There is more to this world than meets the eye.  In Christ, the Messiah, we are guaranteed a coming of peace and goodness, justice and righteousness. In Him we will know, no more death and dying, no more pain or sorrow, no more loss.  And that, my friends, is worth celebrating, worth having a Holiday over—whether you are presently poor or rich, sick or well, living or dying.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and His Kingdom.  He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.  Isaiah 9:6-7 (Written roughly 700 years before Christ was born.)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah [Christ], the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom He favors!”  Luke 2:8-14

Christ was born.  He lived... he died, and then came Easter and the power of His Resurrection!  I am the resurrection and the Life, said He.  And last He said, See, I am coming soon, my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  Revelation 22:12-13

Monday, December 3, 2012

Job Success: Getting and Keeping a Job

Today we all know that there is no guaranteed job security.  One day you’re happily on the job, next day you’re sadly looking for a job, just like that.

Whereas one’s grandfather may have had, during his career, one, two, or three job changes at most.  These days the new generation may be looking at eight, ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty job changes in his or her career.  The times have changed.

So, how does one stay at the cutting edge of marketability for finding and keeping a job?

Here are some helpful hints.

1.    Be adaptable.  Learn to adjust to the work environment and to adapt to ongoing changes taking place.  Always be ready and willing to learn new skills. Take initiative in doing so.  Have a solid work ethic.  That is, be not only willing to, but actually do put in an honest day’s work for your pay.

2.    Develop transferrable work habits and skills.  What are these?  These are things like organizational skills, promptness and timeliness, problem solving skills, people-relational skills, reading and writing and communication skills.  Whatever your job is now, if you develop these kinds of skills, you are sure to be more marketable for the next job that you may be looking for.

3.    Do your present job well and thoroughly.  Don’t take short cuts.  Rather, seek excellence and become an expert at what you do.  Take pride in your work.  Do all that is required of you and then some.  Know what your company’s policies, programs, and procedures are and work accordingly and even offer valuable suggestions that might improve these.

4.    Be willing to take on further responsibility.  Grow in your job.  Take on leadership roles and develop leadership skills.  Accept responsibility for yourself.  Do not make excuses for your mistakes or a job poorly done.  Own it.  And then demonstrate by your extra effort that you can and will do better.  Show character and heart.

5.    When applying for a job, present yourself well.  Dress well, even if it is a job that will not require you to dress up.  Do your homework.  Find out as much about the company for which you are applying.  Know what they want, like, expect, and do.  If possible, get a feel for the company’s culture and ethos before you have your interview.

6.    And finally, become a lifelong learner.  Be willing to sign up for continuing education courses that your company may offer.  Become an adept student.  Broaden your horizons.  Read more.  Make a lifelong effort in developing your whole person—mind, body, heart, soul and spirit.