Hamilton: Early lessons still apply

I just finished reading Alexander Hamilton, the 731-page opus that the current Broadway play is based on. Author Ron Chernow claims, with extensive research, that Hamilton was one of the nation’s most influential founders. He was George Washington’s right-hand man, among many other things.

I underlined various phrases, sentences and quotes throughout the book, published in 2004, that seem applicable even today. I haven’t seen the play, but if it’s anything like the book, it’s easy to relate to, as well as a wonderful history lesson.

I’ve divided the applicable parts of Hamilton into nearly a dozen themes, which should give me plenty of fodder for this post and several upcoming ones. Perhaps we as Americans can understand a little of who we are today based on how we began as a nation.

Here’s the first theme I’ll discuss:

The authority of central government

… (Hamilton’s) encounters with the two obdurate (American) generals (in 1877, at age 22) strengthened his preference for strict hierarchy and centralized command as the only way to accomplish things – a view that was to find its political equivalent in his preference for concentrated federal power instead of authority dispersed among the states. (p. 103)

hamilton book

Hamilton, as a top aide to General George Washington in battles against the invading British, ran into two American generals who didn’t respect Washington’s leadership. Washington supported his youthful aide’s admonishment of the “obdurate generals,” both of whom refused Washington’s requests to send some of their troops to help him in New Jersey.

The future of the nascent nation was in serious doubt at this point, and Washington hadn’t yet earned the respect that would eventually propel him to become our first president. The British – and the French – had strongholds on our soil, and Washington needed all the help he could get to establish the Union.

 

… the Constitution transcended state governments and directly expressed the will of the American people. Hence, the Constitution began “We the People of the United States” and was ratified by special conventions, not state legislatures. (p. 574)

 

The division between federal and states’ rights provided one of the first debates in our country. It wasn’t a simple discussion then, and it still isn’t today. Immigration, same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana: Are these federal or state issues?

How about standards for public education? Road repairs? Police issues?

Who gets the final say?

In 2017 on illegal immigration, the federal government gets the final say. Here’s stories of two undocumented immigrants, one of whom in Willard, Ohio, was deported to Mexico this morning (July 18, 2017) and the other in Ann Arbor, Mich., who faces deportation, also to Mexico, on Aug. 2.

 

http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2017/07/willard_father_says_goodbye_to.html

http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2017/07/ann_arbor_council_takes_stand.html

 

Both have families in the United States, and have lived here for well over a decade. The stories are gut-wrenching, and that’s the media’s point. Policies affect specific people.

But officials of the federal government, in the form of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), see the bigger picture. In the Ohio case, as reported by Cleveland.com:

 

According to ICE, “Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly has made it clear that ICE will no longer exempt any class of individuals from removal proceedings if they are found to be in the country illegally.”

 

That’s two sides of the same coin: Living in the U.S. illegally while at the same time contributing to society here.

Which side should prevail?

Hamilton most likely would have sided with the Trump administration on this issue:

 

Hamilton probably had the gravest doubts about the wisdom of the masses and wanted elected leaders who would guide them. This was the great paradox of his career: his optimistic view of America’s potential coexisted with an essentially pessimistic view of human nature. His faith in Americans never quite matched his faith in America itself. (p. 232)

 

In the same vein is this quote later on in the book:

 

“… it is long since I have learnt to hold popular opinion of no value.” (p. 476)

 

Why did Hamilton have this paradox? He felt that he knew how best to run the new country, which angered his opponents. (Hamilton was a federalist and his opponents, led by Thomas Jefferson and others, were republicans, by the way.) He studied European models extensively, even though he never visited Europe, and read voraciously about numerous topics – finance, politics, government, military force, the judiciary and many others.

 

If politics is preeminently the art of compromise, then Hamilton was in some ways poorly suited for his job. He wanted to be a statesman who led courageously, not a politician who made compromises. Instead of proceeding with small, piecemeal measures, he had presented a gigantic package of fiscal measures that he wanted accepted all at once. (p. 324)

 

Hamilton had proposed an extensive, detailed system of banking, finance and public debt that intertwined with each other, that once established became impossible to overturn or replace. This might be Hamilton’s greatest legacy today. (More on that in a future post.) His economic system required federal oversight since its scope was so broad, and states’ rights advocates opposed it on those grounds.

Jefferson was one of Hamilton’s primary antagonists throughout his political career.

 

“I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government,” (Jefferson) told (James) Madison. “It is always oppressive.” (p. 311)

 

One of those oppressive acts was enacted during John Adams’ presidency at the end of the 18th century. Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts that did four things:

  • They lengthened from five to 14 years the period necessary to become a naturalized citizen with full voting rights.
  • The president was given the power to deport, without a hearing or even a reasonable explanation, any foreign-born residents deemed dangerous to the peace.
  • The president was given the power to label as enemy aliens any residents who were citizens of a country at war with America, prompting an outflow of French emigres.
  • It became a crime to speak or publish “any false, scandalous or malicious” writings against the U.S. government or Congress “with intent to defame … or to bring them … into contempt or disrepute,” with the guilty facing a stiff fine and a prison sentence. (p. 570)

Sound familiar?

Less than a month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court enacted a temporary travel ban for certain people from six primarily Muslim countries, which President Donald Trump has declared as terrorism hot-spots. The court is to take up the issue again in October.

In 1798, Hamilton supported the Alien and Sedition Acts – even though he himself was an immigrant, born in the British West Indies. He was upset with the writings of certain foreign-born journalists, to the point that he was willing to support radical measures to silence them.

Jefferson took the high road.

 

Jefferson professed a serene faith that the common sense of the people would rectify such errors. (p. 572)

 

Eventually, Jefferson’s faith prevailed.

Whether Hamilton’s harsh view of public opinion or “the common sense of the people,” in Jefferson’s words, will prevail in today’s political climate remains to be seen.

A few things I’ve learned over the years

‘If I tell you what I need …’

I spent one summer in northern New Jersey during my college years, when my parents lived there. I volunteered for a week at a summer camp for disabled people, taking care of a man in his 50s with cerebral palsy. I brushed his teeth and shaved him, cut his food into bite-size pieces and helped him get around in his wheelchair. I don’t remember his name.

http://christian-overcomers.com/

During our first evening together, we had a get-to-know-you chat. “If I don’t tell you what I need you to do, my needs won’t be met,” he told me in his slurred speech. “If I tell you what I need and you don’t do it, my needs won’t be met.

“But if I tell you what I need and you do what I say, we’ll get along just fine.”

I’ve never forgotten that. We had a wonderful week together.

(Little did I realize that 35 years later, I’d be getting paid to do very similar things. That advice still applies.)

The right type

typewriter

In 11th grade I took a typing class. I was the second-fastest typist in the class, and the fastest guy. A few years ago I applied for a job that required a typing test. I reached 63 words per minute.

I’ll never be a stenographer, but that skill has served me well over the years.

First love

In fifth grade, I had a friend named Jeff. I don’t remember the context, but one day he blurted out, “I love all people.”

Light bulbs popped inside my heart. He was on to something.

It didn’t work out

One job I had lasted eight weeks, with a business-to-business marketing firm. Early on I was assigned a project for our biggest client. I wanted to know how the client planned to use the piece I would design; I figured I could do a better job with the project if I understood its purpose.

conference-room

My boss called me into the conference room and told me never to ask that question again. What the client did with the piece is none of our business. Since we billed by the hour, if the client wanted us to revise it later, use it as is or throw it away, we would bill accordingly, and that’s all that mattered.

I was done. Two weeks into the job, my creative spirit was crushed. I lasted six more weeks on insignificant projects, then was let go.

A year or two later the company, more than 30 years old, folded.

I did not celebrate when the company closed. Good people lost jobs, people I still occasionally keep in contact with. We all moved on.

That job wasn’t the right fit for me. It happens. Not their fault, not my fault. I learned some things about myself there.

Finding loyalty and affection

Growing up, we had a dog. In married life, we’ve had cats. We have two now, a brother and sister.

Cats on blue chair

Butterscotch and Punkin greet me when I wake up in the morning, and when I come home from work. They like attention. They like being petted, and Butterscotch rolls onto his back and likes me to scratch his belly, like a dog would.

Dogs and cats are loyal, affectionate and loving. Their love is simple and uncomplicated, unlike human love – in every way. Perhaps that’s why so many of us enjoy pets. They don’t judge. They respond to affection with affection (most of the time). If only we humans did that …

Quiet times

Silence is a gift.

My first car after college had only an AM radio that died when the car was less than two years old, and I never got it fixed. I kept that car 18 years, which means I drove in silence for more than 16 years. My prayer life was never better.

Also, my whole adult life I set the alarm early and have been the first one up. I value that “quiet time” before the routine and non-routine of life begins. I focus on what’s most important and start the day with a calm spirit, which (most of the time) I carry until my head hits the pillow at night. This helps me get through the ups and downs that life throws my way. (Including but not limited to crazy drivers.)

The dollar isn’t almighty

paid in full

Living debt-free also is a gift, one we can give ourselves.

We paid off our mortgage early when our sons were middle school-age, so throughout their high school and college years we lived debt free. We still do. The peace of mind that comes with that is priceless.

We’ve always lived within our means and pay off our credit card every month.

Before our boys were born, we both had good-paying full-time jobs. We could have taken trips to Hawaii every year and bought fancy cars and houses, but we chose not to pursue that lifestyle. We chose the “family life” instead and never looked back. To this day we have no regrets about that.

Good call

I worked in a call center for 2.5 years. (I wasn’t one of those pesky telemarketers; I received calls from customers and answered their questions. Or, I offered a survey to customers after they bought a certain brand of car.)

call center

After working as a professional journalist for more than 25 years, a call center may seem like a big letdown, and financially it was. But because we lived within our means (see the previous entry), we could afford this.

I met people there I never otherwise would have met, some who I still keep in contact with today. I learned skills I otherwise would not have learned. Because I was one of the oldest workers there, I was a de-facto leader, so I had to set a good work-ethic example. Which was not hard for me to do.

No job is beneath me. I’m grateful for every experience I’ve had.

And yet … retirement is around the corner. I think I’ll be ready.

Defending a dress code

Someone asked online the other day whether the church I attend has a dress code, saying she didn’t have “dress-up” clothes and didn’t want to feel out of place. I responded by saying, no, there’s no dress code there. Come as you are!

She said thanks.

Someone else took that a step further, saying that any church that has a dress code is being exclusive.

I let that go because I didn’t want to get political over a sincere question. But I do have a response.

Dressing up

While churches should welcome all who visit, I grew up in a church that did have a dress code. I wore a suit and tie to church as a teenager. (Perhaps that’s where my lifelong rebellion to ties comes from.)

While a suit and tie (or a long dress) is not a symbol of comfort, it has a specific purpose. Those who wear formal clothes, in a business or church setting, are showing off their best side. Formality shows dignity and respect to those we interact with.

Again, formal clothes are not meant for comfort (although they shouldn’t be distractingly uncomfortable). They serve a higher purpose. We are giving our best. We have standards. It costs money to buy formal clothes, and in certain settings, they are necessary.

Weddings and funerals require more than T-shirt and flip-flops. Why? Respect for those we are honoring.

Dressing down

Having no dress code on Sunday mornings is fine, to make sure that no one is excluded. But I think we’ve taken that thought too far. We are so casual, we’ve forgotten who the God of the universe really is. It’s hard to offer respect in a T-shirt and flip-flops. We can start there with God, but should we remain there our whole lives?

I’m reading the book of Leviticus in the Bible with a group of friends. It’s a long list of rules for animal and grain sacrifices, purification rituals and standards for daily living. It’s hard reading. Does it even apply to 21st century America?

Oh, yes. My study Bible offers this commentary:

 

We may be tempted to dismiss Leviticus as a record of bizarre rituals of a different age. But its practices made sense to the people of the day and offer important insights for us into God’s nature and character.

 

Israel, from the day God formed the nation, had to follow different rules than every other nation did. Israel was set apart. Its standards for living were much higher. The Israelites didn’t always appreciate that. At one point they wanted a king, solely because every other nation had one. God said He was their king, but that wasn’t good enough for them. God said fine, but you’ll have problems as a result. And they did.

Holy standards

The higher standards remained, even as Israel rebelled.

The Ten Commandments, as well as all the Levitical laws and rules, didn’t apply outside Israel. But inside Israel, they did.

God had something special planned for the nation. The higher standards benefited Israel as much as it did giving God the honor and respect He deserved. Do not commit adultery, for example: When we do commit adultery, the side effects are obvious and horribly damaging. But we do it anyway, don’t we?

As Christians who inherit this lifestyle, we are held to this higher standard. It’s easy to point fingers at us when we fall short. We all do, you know, whether we admit it or not.

Here’s the kicker: Those outside the church by definition aren’t following God’s standards. They follow their own man- (and woman)-made rules, many of which are based on Biblical principles (again, whether we admit that or not).

Where God’s standards and man’s standards differ is where we clash. Hard. It’s difficult to find compromise when we see life through different eyes. I’m not talking Republican and Democrat; I’m talking much bigger than that. I’m talking Christian and non-Christian.

Those two groups read the Bible differently, and here’s the explanation. Do we read Leviticus, for example, as a list of bizarre rituals, or insight into our holy God? Same words, two totally different meanings.

Best foot forward

The business world understands this better than the church does. Business executives put their best foot forward to lure customers to their product or service. If a business cuts corners, customers eventually will find out – and leave for a competitor.

High standards have a cost. Businesses have to put out time and money to research and build the best products and services, and then they charge us accordingly to consume them.

With God, the high standards are a lifestyle choice. That choice affects the way we think and live, the lens through which we see life. Are we willing to submit to a high standard, or not?

There are consequences and side effects whichever choice we make.

With God, it’s not a decide-once-and-live-happily-ever-after decision. Perhaps that’s why so few people accept God’s standards. It’s a daily thing. When we fall short, we ask God (and each other, when necessary) for forgiveness. Then we do it again. Forgive, and be forgiven. Seventy times seven times, in Jesus’ words.

I wish more people in the church understood holiness. In our efforts at being casual, it’s a lost theme.

But God is God and the standards remain, whether anyone follows them or not. Israel learned that the hard way over time in Old Testament days. I fear we are learning that the hard way today as well.

Real life

bangladeshRescuers today search for survivors and bodies after Tuesday’s massive landslide in Rangamati district, Bangladesh. (The Associated Press)

It’s hot outside this week.

That’s been the lead story (or close to it) on the six o’clock news every day. Glad they told me it’s hot. Wouldn’t have figured it out otherwise.

I did learn something, though. We’ve had an official “heat wave,” which is three consecutive days of 90-degree temperatures. We tied a daily record here in the Cleveland area twice this week, with 93 on both Sunday and Tuesday.

We’ve long had a fascination with weather in this country. TV stations hire as many meteorologists as they do news reporters. (That’s an exaggeration, but probably not a big one.) The news radio station I listen to in the morning gives a weather update every 10 minutes (because listeners tune in and out quickly, and the station wants to ensure everyone hears a weather report).

Weather effects

Does weather change our plans often?

The people I work with like spending time outside, but when it rains, we don’t do that. When the sun shines, we use sun block – lots of it. When it’s humid, we limit our time outside to short stretches. In the winter we don’t sit outside because it’s too cold. We enjoy indoor activities.

So yes, weather does affect our plans.

Personally? Not so much.

I like being outside in all types of weather. I walk or jog year-round. In winter I wear layers of clothing. I don’t don a scarf because I like the fresh air on my face. There have been days I’ve chickened out because I didn’t want to deal with the cold, mostly because of my fingers – the first part of me to get cold, even with two pairs of gloves on.

In the summer, I like being outside when it rains. On a hot humid day, especially, rain feels good.

I’ve been out a few times when it’s rained so hard my shorts and T-shirt get as drenched as they do in the washing machine.

When a thunderstorm passes by, I’ll sit on the front porch and watch it. Lightning and storm clouds are cool (as long as nothing gets hit and catches fire).

We are blessed in the Upper Midwest that we rarely get severe storms. The occasional tornado or damaging thunderstorm is about it.

In the extreme

Extreme weather makes the national news frequently. Severe tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, the occasional rock slide or mudslide affect various parts of our country and world.

Wildfires are another story. Some occur naturally; some are the work of humans, either intentionally or not. They can and do cause severe damage. I can’t imagine being in the path of an out-of-control wildfire.

Fire is wonderful when it’s confined to the barbecue grill or backyard pit. It’s essential to operate a stove, furnace and your car. We need to treat those flames and sparks carefully, as we all know.

Weather makes the news internationally, too. Just now on https://weather.com/ I see a story about a Bangladesh mudslide that has killed at least 140 people and caused massive destruction. Wow.

Bangladesh, east of India, is a densely-populated country of 161 million people. Poverty is deep and widespread. Formerly East Pakistan, Bangladesh came into being in 1971, when the two parts of Pakistan split after a bitter war.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-12650940

Because of its poverty and population density, weather events frequently have extreme consequences there. This is yet another reason that those of us who live in the United States can be grateful.

While weather dominates the local news this week, we can give thanks that it’s not nearly as severe as Bangladesh is enduring right now – or, perhaps, other parts of the U.S. We do need to take precautions, though, as the newscasters repeatedly tell us: Stay hydrated (water is best), don’t overdo the sun (skin cancer and sunburn are real) and watch out for bikers and pedestrians on the road.

‘Real’ life, ‘real’ power

Why talk about the weather when there’s “real” news to talk about, such as ongoing – and new – intrigue in Washington, D.C.? Because not everything in life demands controversy. Not everything is a life-and-death matter. (Although the weather can involve deadly situations.)

Politics is a game that some people play well, and most people play poorly. Depends who you ask who plays politics well or not.

Weather, on the other hand, is what it is. Weather is real life. Today, it’s hot. Tomorrow, we might get thunderstorms. Sunday, it’s supposed to cool off. (We’ll see if that weather front actually reaches us on Sunday.) We plan accordingly, and adjust as needed. We compromise. We make it work.

We enjoy the weather, we avoid it or perhaps we endure it, if we work outside and it’s uncomfortably hot, for example. We delay children’s ball games when lightning strikes nearby, because we fear the worst.

We spend too much of our lives that way. We fear the worst, so that’s how we live. We expect bad things to happen. Even regarding weather.

I’ll stay on my porch when thunder and lightning dominate the sky. Storms reveal nature’s power, and our helplessness, in a way. There are forces out there bigger than us. Much bigger.

We respect them. Because we have to.

Because with weather, we deal with life as it really is.

Disappearing colors: What if?

Imagine discovering that a color has vanished! How would it change a life, a town or a world?

Youthful Destination Imagination participants in the Fine Arts challenge this spring had to answer that question and create an eight-minute skit about it. DI, as it’s called, requires other elements in the skit as well.

It’s awesome to see what elementary, middle school and high school students do with a question like that. As the Region 16 (Cleveland area) challenge master in Ohio for that challenge, I saw some creative solutions. I saw more creativity at the statewide event several weeks later.

Without pilfering any ideas from teams of young people that I saw, I decided to come up with my own answers. What do colors represent? What would life be like if a certain color disappeared?

As with all Destination Imagination challenges, there is no one correct answer. Red, for example, has many “meanings” – danger, anger, blood, courage, sacrifice, a sunset, autumn, lips, heart, passion and energy, to name a few. What does “red” conjure up in your mind and soul?

What might happen if a color vanished, and could we get it back? Here’s a few ideas to stoke the creativity in all of us:

Black

black

Black represents justice, as portrayed in the robes of a judge or clergy.

With no justice, it’s every man and woman for themselves. No laws or morality exist to reign in abusive behavior. There are no such things as right and wrong, because there’s no one to define them, and no respect for anyone who would try to determine them.

To find black, we’d have to discover – before we killed ourselves off – that setting standards higher than ourselves is essential to our survival. There has to be a higher purpose than self-centered idealism. A judge somewhere will have to enforce laws that all of us must follow, whether we agree with them or not, or we will perish as a human race.

Blue

blue

Blue means cold. No cold means no snow. No ice, outside or inside. No cold drinks, only lukewarm sodas or milk.

No refrigerators, since cold doesn’t exist. Meat and dairy have to be eaten as soon as they are processed. They won’t last long enough to buy at the grocery store.

Antarctica disappears. We have one less continent on Earth. And all of the oceans and seas are warm enough to swim in, year-round (even Lake Superior, for my up-north Michigan friends).

No coats needed, or long pants. Every day is warm or hot. Sunburn proliferates, since we can’t put ice on it. No icing a muscle cramp either.

How do we find blue? We discover that the ocean is deep, and it’s cold down there. We’ll draw up that deep water and spread it around Earth, re-creating cold.

Brown

brown

Brown is soil. With no soil, nothing in nature grows. No grass. No flowers. (No weeds.) No trees.

With no plants, we’d have no strawberries, no blueberries, no other colorful fruits and vegetables. Animals would have to eat other animals almost exclusively. They couldn’t hide in the shade of those non-existent trees.

As with blue, we’d have to dig deep to find brown. A deep layer inside Earth would harbor soil, which is dirt down there. When exposed to sunlight and water, dirt would gain the nutrients it needs to become life-giving soil.

Gray

gray

Gray signifies old age. With perpetual youthfulness, we lose everything old age represents – wisdom, experience, long life, discernment, silence at times, patience, perseverance, deep knowledge about any subject.

We would have to learn by our mistakes, over and over, with no wisdom to teach or guide us.

If we survived long enough to see this, we’d discover, for example, that two vehicles colliding head-on frequently causes a fatal crash. So, we’re not going to drive like that, which increases our life span – and our experience and wisdom.

Gold

gold.png

Gold reveals wealth. If no one had wealth, then everyone would have the same standard of living. Wealth is a relative term, which needs poverty to define it. No wealth means no poverty. We all have the same bank accounts.

Which can’t last long, because a creative mind or two will find a way to increase wealth and productivity. Is money a finite resource that can’t expand when someone gains wealth? If so, wealth comes at the expense of people who then become poor.

Green

green

Green represents new growth, especially in springtime, or youth. With no green, we lose all that youth represents: inquisitiveness, energy, enthusiasm, willingness and ability to learn, a body and mind that are still developing.

We would be born “old,” like Adam, which means our values are set and difficult to change, also like Adam. We are already developed, never growing. We can’t handle a second career or move to a new town, because youth teaches us to be pliable, and that ability is gone.

We become experts in our field but can’t learn a new skill, since that requires growth. And we can’t handle change.

To find green, we discover we have ears. We can listen to what others say. By listening, we hear ideas we hadn’t heard before. That’s how we learn a new skill.

And that’s how we become young.

Orange

orange

Orange exudes warmth and happiness. Take those away, and we’re left with indifference and sorrow.

With no happiness, what is there to live for? Life expectancy will plummet. We find no pleasure in anything, only drudgery. Pleasurable things don’t even cross our mind.

To find happiness, we’d have to do something unintentionally that sparks enjoyment in us. A hug, perhaps. A high bowling score. A beautiful painting. A delicious meal.

Pink

pink

Pink reveals femininity. Imagine if there were nothing or no one feminine among us. We’d lose sensitivity to anything, deep feelings, romance, attention to detail, family life, beauty, knowledge of upcoming trials and possible trouble, inner strength, calm in the storm … love. So many things.

Please, God, bring back pink. Help us to see the beautiful strong soft side of life all around us.

Purple

purple

Purple shows off royalty – power, inheritance, lineage, wealth and status. With no royalty, there’s no inherited leadership. Our leaders would have to fight for prominence, since there’s no line of succession. We don’t elect power and status; we forcibly take them. At least, we think we do.

Those of us who are subjects can take them away. Perhaps we just won’t give power and status to a leader we don’t want to follow, and instead follow someone else.

Would we be better off without purple?

Red

red

Red means anger. Wouldn’t a life without anger be wonderful? No screaming at politicians, no teachers’ strikes, no sibling rivalries, no boss-employee charades … we would all get along with each other just fine.

For example, Democrats and Republicans would actually respect each other. They’d listen to each other and, surprise, solve problems.

We could treat each other honestly and respect the outcome, whatever it was.

A world without red, in this scenario, is a good thing.

White

white

White reveals honesty. With no honesty, we wouldn’t trust each other in our families, as drivers on the highway, in the classroom, in our politics or in our friendships. We’d break rules, then lie about it. Why not? Everyone is doing it.

To discover honesty, we’d have to realize that when we lie, we’re hurting ourselves as much as we are others. If I’m not honest with my wife, I can assume she’s not honest with me, if honesty doesn’t exist. What kind of a marriage is that? Either we trust each other or the marriage dies.

Honesty must win.

Yellow

yellow

Yellow represents brightness, sunshine. With no sun, only night remains. All is dark. We can’t see anything, as though we lived in a coal mine; our eyes are useless.

We depend on electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When the electricity goes out – as it surely will on occasion – we can’t see our fingers in front of our faces. We must remain in place until someone fixes the electricity. Hopefully someone has a flashlight that works.

We’d better develop batteries that last a long time.

With no daytime, we’d be tempted to sleep in a lot later than we do now. Our productivity would fall. Our energy level would drop.

To find yellow, we’d have to find a way to let the sunshine penetrate the darkness enveloping Earth. We could invent a huge light that connects the ground with the atmosphere and beyond, providing a way for the sun’s light to connect with our light and make it permanent.

 

Discovering what’s real

Back in the day, I wrote an occasional column for The Saginaw (Mich.) News. I received far more feedback from one column in particular than I did for any other. The headline on that column, published Oct. 24, 2006, was:

Fake news pundit doesn’t help, could hurt Spirit

I was writing about “fake news” almost 11 years ago. Many readers didn’t appreciate it, either.

Who was the “fake news pundit?” None other than Stephen Colbert.

What is the “Spirit” that I was referring to? The minor league hockey team that called – and still calls – Saginaw home. The team name is the Saginaw Spirit.

spiritmascot

The Spirit had held a contest to name a mascot. Colbert found out about it, entered a name and won the contest. Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle.

In the column, I said I didn’t think Colbert and the cumbersome mascot name he entered would help the Spirit much. (So much for my prognostication. Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle lives on today.)

I went further, though: I wrote that Colbert’s persona opposed the family values that the team stood for. Colbert, on his show The Colbert Report, which aired from 2005 to 2014, bounced back and forth between his real self and his alter ego, which centered around his essential rightness about the issues of the day, according to one reviewer.

Several readers told me to lighten up, to take a joke, that in his personal life Colbert is a strong family man. Good points, all.

But life then, and even more so now, is a combination of real and fake, with fake too often taking center stage in our lives. Was I wrong to point that out in 2006?

Real vs. fake

What’s worse, today we often don’t know the difference between real and fake. It’s not as simple as moving between a real self and an alter ego. For many, I fear the alter ego has become real.

When my alter ego clashes with yours, we have a disagreement we can’t resolve. Because the clash isn’t about what’s real. It’s about our perceptions of reality.

book-of-discipline

I first saw this a long time ago in the United Methodist Church. I worshiped in that denomination for many years. One of its core foundations, according to The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, is this “theological guideline:” Scripture, tradition, experience and reason.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, “believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience and confirmed by reason.”

In other words, we need to understand those four concepts in that order: Scripture first, then tradition, then personal experience and finally reason.

But many in the United Methodist Church change the order. They start with reason or experience, and use Scripture and possibly tradition to justify their experiences.

An immovable clash ensues.

Case in point: homosexuality.

Elsewhere in the Book of Discipline is the statement that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Some people within the church have been trying for a half-century, since the 1960s, to remove that language from the Book of Discipline. They say experience and reason come before Scripture, and find various Bible verses to justify their position.

Because they read the Bible differently than the “Scripture first” folks do, they come up with a different conclusion.

Reality exists

So, which side is right? Which is “real” and which is “fake?”

Depends who you ask.

I can give all the arguments I want for my position, and those of you on the other side won’t change your mind. And vice versa.

Does that mean reality doesn’t exist, or that reality is in the eye of the beholder?

No. Reality does exist.

velveteen rabbit

As a child I read The Velveteen Rabbit, a children’s book first published in 1922 that chronicles the story of a stuffed rabbit and his desire to become real, through the love of his owner.

The owner, a small boy, at first preferred more modern and mechanical toys. Eventually the boy’s nanna gave the rabbit to the boy to sleep with to replace a lost toy, and the stuffed rabbit became his favorite toy.

The Velveteen Rabbit helped the boy through a serious illness; when the doctor ordered his room disinfected and everything in the room – including the rabbit – destroyed, the rabbit learns what it means to be real.

In real life, as with the Velveteen Rabbit, it often takes tragedy or a crisis to discover what reality really is. When something meaningful is lost, what remains?

One of my Facebook friends posted this recently:

The truth of the matter is that, in many ways, we’re all fakes. Facebook is “fakebook” where we put only our best face forward because we all long to be loved. We present portraits of ourselves we hope will get us love. But the good news is that God loves us REALy. He sees the REAL us and says, “I love you. You were made by Me. And my arms are open to you.” True, deep joy is found in the grace of the cross. He really is the answer.

Truth

When trying to discover “truth,” a good friend offers this litmus test: If it’s true for me, for my 100-year-old grandmother in Oklahoma and for a starving child in Africa, then it must be true.

I can’t determine truth on my own. Truth must be true for you as well as for me, or it isn’t truth.

Even more than that, it must be true for all people in all cultures in all nations in all time periods, past, present and future. That’s how we determine truth.

When I took on Stephen Colbert in 2006, I picked the wrong fight. “Fake news” and “real news” are much bigger than that.

For real.

Giving thanks, every day

Things I am thankful for today:

 

Good health

The ability to donate blood (most of the time) www.lifeshare.cc

A good job with a supportive supervisor, a great staff and flexible hours

Hector, the student I mentor in Cleveland

Monopoly, his favorite game (and Robert’s at the center where I work)

Greater Cleveland Volunteers http://www.greaterclevelandvolunteers.org/

The American Red Cross www.redcross.org

Interstate 90 (I spend a lot of time on it)

Interstate 480 (a great connector to places I go)

Good friends, locally and across the country

My wife

Our three sons

My parents, who are still doing well in their 80s

My sister

Good health throughout my family

 

Jesus Christ

The Bible

Discernment

Insight

Silence

Quiet time nearly every morning for decades

Pittsburgh-based Summers Best Two Weeks, a summer camp where I gave my life to Christ in 1975 www.sb2w.org/

 

Our two cats

Our previous cat, Paws

Coffee in the morning

The ability to write

The ability to edit, including my own copy

LinkedIn www.linkedin.com

Facebook www.facebook.com

The Christian Blog Collection

An Internet hearts game https://cardgames.io/hearts/

A good book (I’m reading Hamilton, which the Broadway musical is based on)

Re-connecting with high school classmates

Seeing some classmates at a picnic last summer for the first time in more than 35 years

 

Food on the table, something I never take for granted

A place to call home

Money in my wallet

My 401(k), future pension (I hope), future Social Security (I expect), as secure a financial future as I could wish for

Ability to tithe

Ability to be financially generous at times

Going out to dinner with my wife every Sunday after church

 

Time to walk/jog once or twice a week

Jogging in a warm spring or summer rain

Working up a good sweat

Colorful fall leaves

Cold winter air on my face

Good balance on an icy bridge

Buds on trees in the spring

Deer

Birds overhead

Occasional turkeys on the property at work

 

The lawn mower we bought in 1988 that still runs

The 21-year-old car I drive

The Chevette I drove for 18 years

My work van, which has 193,000 miles on it

A sweater my grandmother made for me that I still occasionally wear in winter. Grandma died in 1980

Our nearly 33-year marriage

July 24, 1975: The day I gave my life to Jesus

The red Schwinn bicycle I rode as a child (I still have it) www.schwinnbikes.com/

An indestructible hand-crank pencil sharpener that sits on my bedside table

My Indian Guides vest (it’s a tight fit, but I can still put it on, sort of)

Our card table, which was our first dining room table back in the day

 

Michigan State University https://msu.edu/

Classes that challenged me to think

The Magic Johnson-led basketball team that won the NCAA championship my freshman year

The beauty of the campus

University Reformed Church, where I met and married my wife https://www.universityreformedchurch.org/

Bailey Hall, the dorm where I lived all four years at MSU

 

Ames United Methodist Church, where we raised our children http://ameschurch.org/

The Ames softball team

Playing on that team with all three of my sons

The opportunity for my wife and I to both be leaders in that church

The youth directors who taught our sons so much

Sunday School classes

The 12-week membership class, which I helped lead for awhile

Small groups, one a couples group and the other a men’s group

A summer Bible study or two

Monday night basketball in the church gym

The structure and accountability of the United Methodist Church http://www.umc.org/

The chance to serve on a couple of statewide committees through the church

 

The Saginaw County CROP Hunger Walk, which continues to raise thousands of dollars to feed hungry people locally and worldwide https://www.crophungerwalk.org/saginawmi

Ultimate Frisbee on Saturday mornings

The annual Thanksgiving morning Ultimate game

Playing Ultimate in 8 inches of virgin snow

Mom’s Thanksgiving dinner (no matter how the Lions did)

 

The Saginaw News, where I worked for 24 years http://www.mlive.com/saginaw/#/0

Accountability, with respect

Proofreading to keep mistakes out of the newspaper

Participating with News employees in the federal summer lunch program, thanks to the leadership of one of the reporters

A clear mind on deadline

 

The beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula http://www.michigan.org/hot-spots/upper-peninsula

Snowplows in winter to keep the roads clear

An engine heater in my Chevette on sub-zero January mornings

Pickford, my first home after college http://www.hsmichigan.org/pickford/

The Wallis family for frequently inviting this single guy over for Sunday dinner

Learning to drive in a region with no traffic lights and only a few blinker lights

 

Friends everywhere I’ve lived

Brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere I’ve lived

Wonderful co-workers at all of my jobs

Opportunities to volunteer in the communities where I’ve lived

The future hope of Heaven https://www.gotquestions.org/heaven-like.html

 

I could update this list every day. What are you thankful for today?

See the big picture

The devil is in the details.

According to Wikipedia (not my usual first source for details, but useful on occasion), that phrase refers to something that might seem simple at a first look but will take more time and effort to complete than expected.

This applies to numerous issues in today’s America. We get caught up in one or two details that we think make our point, and ignore other details – or, more important, the big picture – which might prove that we really don’t know what we’re talking about.

I’m becoming more of a big picture person these days. Details are important, of course, but only as they fit into the grand scheme of things.

Let’s start with a couple of Facebook pass-along one-liners that I often ignore, but these two got my attention this time.

Adultery

homosexuality

This post, by an ordained minister, defends homosexuality by saying that it’s not in the Ten Commandments, while adultery is.

My response:

Homosexuality is one form of adultery. Sex outside traditional marriage. You’re right, though; we’ve too often ignored the “traditional” adultery.

That generated a couple of responses:

Yes, traditional marriage such as marrying two of your cousins who happen to be sisters (Genesis 29), or a rape victim being required to marry their aggressor (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

 

I have always thought it a very curious obsession, especially when read within the context of the chapters that surround it (e.g. no shellfish, no mixed garment clothing … I routinely break lots of those, but I don’t see anyone demonizing me for my impure behavior.

Given the objectively far more serious things humans can do to one another (e.g. murder, assault), it just seems like small potatoes for flawed humans to judge other humans so harshly based on what they deem are “bigger” flaws.

Here’s another one:

ignore

Don’t wear clothing of mixed cotton and wool! Leviticus 19:19

As long as we’re looking at “the context of the chapters that surround it,” let’s show that both of these posts do not do that. The Genesis 29 passage refers to Jacob marrying Leah and then Rachel. That wasn’t his first choice, but he followed the rules set by the girls’ father. The man married off his own daughters that way. And in the Genesis time period, when there weren’t very many people around, marrying cousins was not unusual.

The man buying the bride he raped is not “traditional” marriage, nor does the Bible call it that.

The Leviticus passage is even sillier. The quote is just one part of one verse that starts, “You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind …” My version of the Bible ends that verse this way: “… nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.” (The wool and linen, not cotton, passage is actually Deuteronomy 22:9-11, which proves the person who generated that post didn’t do his research.)

From gotquestions.org is this response:

https://www.gotquestions.org/different-types-of-fabric.html

The rule against wearing different types of fabric was not a moral law. There is nothing inherently wrong with weaving linen and wool together. In fact, the ephod of the high priest was made of linen and dyed thread (Exodus 28:6-8; 39:4-5). The dyed thread would have been made of wool. This fact is probably the key to understanding the prohibition. The ephod of the high priest was the only garment that could be woven of linen and wool. No one else was allowed to have such a garment. Apparently, this rule was to place some distance between the high priest and the people, with the ultimate purpose of reminding Israel of how holy God truly is.

Read the entire Bible before posting such comments. God supports “traditional” marriage, in many places in the Bible, for a reason. We can pick and choose a verse to say just about anything we want it to. But put it in the context of the entire Scriptures, and you’ll understand what it really says.

And God’s holiness is a major theme throughout both Testaments.

There are other big-picture topics that we miss as well.

The Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James

The Cavaliers had a 7-10 won-loss record in March, then lost their last four games of the season in April and gave up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference to the Boston Celtics. Those of us worried about details were afraid that the Cavs weren’t ready for the playoffs as they limped into the post-season.

Not to worry. The players themselves all along were thinking big picture: repeating as NBA champions. They didn’t care, really, about their March record.

So far, they haven’t lost a playoff game yet this year. They swept Indiana and then Toronto, winning eight consecutive games, most of them easily,

Will they win the NBA championship again this year? Time will tell. Their big-picture focus has them prepared to do just that.

Retirement savings

saving

Nearly half of families in the United States have no retirement savings at all, the Economic Policy Institute says.

The median for all families in the U.S., which means half have more and half have less, is $5,000 in retirement savings.

However, according to the EPI, the mean retirement savings of all families is $95,776. That means the rich are getting richer and the poor are staying poor, because many of those who have retirement savings have a nice nest egg.

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/12/heres-how-much-the-average-american-family-has-saved-for-retirement.html

We are caught up in an instant-gratification society: I want it, and I want it now. Many of us aren’t willing to delay gratification. Some of us can’t, certainly, but some of us can and just don’t.

We let money control us, rather than taking control of our bank accounts.

More of us need to think long-term. We need to see the big picture.

Driving habits

I encounter this every day. If we would set our alarms five minutes earlier every morning, we might not be in such a hurry to get to work in the morning. Or to hurry back from lunch. Or to hurry … wherever we’re going.

Notice the rest of us, and get where you’re going. Just get there. And let me get to my destination too. I shouldn’t have to slam on my brakes because you can’t control your vehicle.

Here’s another one: I wish we understood that when we’re turning left at a major intersection and we block traffic when the light turns red, we’re causing gridlock. If we truly paid attention to traffic patterns, we’d understand that we’re not getting where we need to go any faster by blocking traffic. Indeed, we’re slowing others – and ourselves – down. Really.

Look up. Pay attention. Observe red as well as green. Things will go smoother. I promise.

Again: Just get there.

Obama’s legacy

obama.jpg

I see posts that say former President Obama was the best president this country has ever had. I’ve seen others that say he was the worst.

Please. Legacies aren’t determined five months after the president leaves office. It takes time, possibly decades, for history to show how a president affected the country.

Obama was the first black president; that’s obvious and historic. What he did, however, will take time to evaluate. That’s true with every president.

The long view

It takes time to read the entire Bible, to win a pro sports championship, to save enough for retirement, to determine a legacy. The devil really is in the details.

Winning long-term is so worth it. Even if I can’t see the results today. Look up. Think big. Think long.

That’s the winning formula.

When real life gets tough …

Job/career. Family. Church/volunteer activities. The foundation underneath all three of those pillars is my faith in Christ.

Thank you, Stephen R. Covey, for helping me discover that about myself.

A long time ago, I read Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of the seven habits includes writing a personal mission statement. He offers guidelines on how to do that (habit 2: Begin with the end in mind).

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-people/?gclid=CPPh5OWPz9MCFQMcaQodpsAP4g#gsc.tab=0

I discovered that my life has those three pillars, with my faith as the bedrock of each. Over time, I’ve seen cracks in all three pillars, some cracks bigger than others. My faith has kept the pillars from crashing down.

Covey’s first habit is “Be Proactive.” One of the subheads in that chapter is “Act or be acted upon.”

It’s so easy to reject that advice, to say it takes too much effort, or the results may not turn out the way we want them to.

But the alternative is even worse. I know people who choose not to engage life at all, unless absolutely necessary. We spend so much of our energy trying to escape real life, because real life is hard. It often doesn’t go the way we’d like it to.

So, we set up alternative worlds:

  • Pokémon.
  • Movies and TV shows, sometimes.
  • The casino. (Do you really expect something for nothing, a big jackpot for an output of a few dollars? The American Dream has never been about that.)
  • Social media. Many of us interact only with people who have views similar to ours. Hey there: Look up from your device to see the world around you.

Not all “escapes” are bad things. Sometimes we need to refresh ourselves for the real life we find ourselves in.

But even in our own fantasy worlds, we should follow the values we’ve decided are worth keeping.

I can’t say I’ve always done this. I know the theory, but putting it into practice is hard.

My job/career pillar was the first to take a hit. A big hit. I had a great job that allowed my wife to be a stay-at-home mom for our three sons. After 24 years with the same company, my job was eliminated as the company downsized.

Over the past eight years, I’ve had six jobs in three states, and twice was out of work for 11 months. When stuff like that happens, you find out whether your personal mission statement is written well or not. Was I prepared to handle such a major shake-up in my life?

Yes and no. It’s been a major struggle, since as a man I feel the need to provide for my family, and I’m convinced I’ll never have a “secure” job again. Any company, any career, any job can disappear. When Jesus said build your treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), he wasn’t kidding. Treasures on this earth can be taken away very quickly.

That’s real life.

Because I’m married, my wife has taken this roller coaster ride with me. When I get an out-of-state job, she comes to the new town not knowing a soul, and with no connections. It takes time to find a niche, to make a house a home, to begin to feel settled in a new community. We’re still working all that out. It hasn’t been easy, and still isn’t.

In a new place, we have to find new social opportunities as well. These also take time.

Our faith is a huge help in these situations. We can find brothers and sisters in Christ, who read the same Bible and follow it, no matter where we go. Instant connection. It takes time to develop friendships, but having faith in God can ease that transition.

I like to put my faith into practice, to get involved in the community where I live. I was a leader in the Saginaw County (Mich.) CROP Hunger Walk for many years, an annual 10-kilometer event that raises money and awareness for hunger issues locally and around the world. Here in Elyria, Ohio, there is a CROP walk, but the leaders here aren’t passionate about it. In Saginaw, it was a nearly year-round event as we sought new ways to reach people and connect with the community. Here, the committee meets once, the same people show up, the same people walk, they raise some money and they’re done.

They don’t need me.

I’m not one to force myself on people. Perhaps I should have tried to light a fire under them, but I didn’t feel the passion myself to do that. So I let it go.

I also enjoy mentoring elementary school students. I did that for a year here, then the program disappeared. I recently started mentoring a fourth-grader at a school in Cleveland, a half-hour down the highway.

Why do that? Because volunteering is one of the pillars of my life. I need to do things like that to feel fulfilled.

Covey says we should tweak our personal mission statements every so often, even though the main points remain the same. I haven’t tweaked mine in years. My statement has become a part of me, guiding me through uncertain times.

I’d encourage you to write a mission statement of your own, if you haven’t already done so. It will be different than mine is, for sure, possibly very different. That’s a good thing.

What gets you up in the morning? Where do you find meaning in life? You won’t find it in any fantasy world.

Time to get real.

Saturday

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

and you will not listen?

Or cry to you “Violence!”

and you will not save?

Why do you make me see wrongdoing

and look at trouble?

Destruction and violence are before me;

strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack,

and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous –

therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

  • Habakkuk 1:2-4

 

I ask this question of God all the time. Maybe not in those exact words, but the question remains.

When will good prevail?

I know it will eventually, but what about today?

We just celebrated the holiest week on the Christian calendar. Such wide-ranging events, such wild swings of emotion:

  • Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in a surprising act of servanthood. (Have you ever washed someone’s feet, or let someone wash your feet? It’s humbling, almost degrading.)
  • Jesus crying out in anguish to his father, asking for the unfolding scenario not to happen. “… yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39)
  • An unfair – and illegal – trial in the middle of the night. Jesus remained silent through most of it.
  • The horrible crucifixion on Friday.
  • Jesus’ life-altering resurrection on Sunday.

Wait a minute. There’s one day in that week where nothing seemingly happens. Only silence.

Saturday.

The day between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Habakkuk wrote his essay about 600 years before Jesus lived, but he easily could have written it on that Saturday. Jesus promised that he would rise on the third day, but it hadn’t happened yet. There’s only the sorrow of death. Tomorrow hasn’t come yet. What about today? What do we do now?

In a very real sense, the year 2017 is taking place on Saturday. Yes, the resurrection has occurred, but the final victory hasn’t come yet. The Bible promises that it will. Eventually.

What do we do in the meantime?

In my personal journal, I concluded a Good Friday entry with this paragraph:

 

“It’s a nice day today, Father. I don’t feel it. Birds singing, flowers growing, window open, sun shining. A beautiful spring day. Where You die, and I sin. Sunday is coming. Eventually.”

 

When will good prevail? It already has, and still is. I often have a hard time seeing it, though.

It’s easy to focus on the negative, personally and globally, and live my life there. Sad. Frustrated. Disappointed. Angry, perhaps. Knowing that Sunday is coming, but not seeing it.

Our church gave us a Holy Week devotional that I found helpful. The Saturday entry includes this thought:

 

“The promise is clear: Jesus will rise. But the grief and pain are so overwhelming, nobody can hear the promise now. Nobody can remember the promise. Saturday is the day of such emotional pain, that it seems impossible to remember the promises of God. Isn’t it true that much of life is lived on “Saturday?” We’re so beleaguered by our circumstances that we forget what God has said … We doubt in the dark what God has said in the light … We cry out for help, but God does not listen.”

 

I get that. I put my head down when I’m jogging to watch for potholes and dog poop on the path, but I don’t see what’s ahead of me: a curve in the trail, deer in the woods, other walkers or joggers coming towards me. How far to the bridge over the river or to the overpass I’ll cross under? Am I paying attention?

My life expectancy and health give me another 30 or 40 years here on Earth. That’s a lot of Saturdays. Can I wait that long for Sunday?

The devotional continues this way:

 

Learning to live on Saturday is learning to exercise faith despite the pain, and clinging with all we’ve got to God and the promises he’s made. God will make good out of evil. God will bring joy out of mourning. God will bring light out of darkness. There will be a Sunday. Lord, I believe.

 

Habakkuk gets an answer from God to his plea:

 

“Look at the nations, and see!

Be astonished! Be astounded!

For a work is being done in your days

that you would not believe if you were told.”

  • Habakkuk 1:5

 

Wow. Is that message relevant in 2017? Why not?

Sunday is coming. Sooner or later.

That gives me hope. I don’t have to live with Saturday’s pain.

None of us do. Sunday is promised. The resurrection is proof, and Jesus’ second coming is undeniable. No one knows when that will happen.

Until then, it’s Saturday.

Good and evil co-exist. We need discernment to discover which is which. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it isn’t. Searching for good when evil often reigns is the definition of Saturday.

It can be done, but it’s hard.

I’m ready for Sunday.

I’ll conclude this essay with the final thought of the Bible:

 

“The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

  • Revelation 22:20