Monday, May 27, 2013

Let's Be Honest, Shall We?

A certain entertainer who will go unnamed because I have no interest in vilifying individuals, had this to say about Bush and his administration, and I quote: "What is the difference between that terrorist and and other terrorists?" and later, "What do you call Bush when the war he put us in to date has killed almost as many Americans as died on 9/11....By most definitions Bush can be considered a terrorist."  When this entertainer was asked if he expected to be criticized for his remarks, he had this to say, "Bring it on, dissent is central to any democracy."  But does he really believe that?  Here is what he said later concerning those American leaders opposed to Obama's policies (Americans, mind you, you know, co-citizens with this entertainer and all the rest of us citizens living in the United States of America, land of the free, A DEMOCRACY): "The only thing left to Barack Obama to do is to work like a third-world dictator and just put all those guys in jail.  You're violating the American desire."  So this entertainer doesn't really advocate the democratic process of open and free dissent, except when it is convenient to his agenda and the agenda of those he wishes to align.

What I want to know is aren't we all getting tired of this hypocrisy?  May I remind us that Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and all the rest of the lesser notorious dictators all thought their systems were the right way and represented the "desire of the people".  And all of them put those people who disagreed with them "in jail"; only they weren't called jails; they were called concentration camps, re-education camps, internment camps, and labor camps--places where if the hapless "dissenter" couldn't be persuaded to change his or her opinion, he or she was tortured and slaughtered--all in the name of someone's idea of truth.  How many innocent people have been "sacrificed" for their leaders' policies in the last 100 years? 100 million?  "Oh, Bruce," people have told me, "you're exaggerating; it was more like maybe 10-50 million; besides we know better now; we are more civilized; we really know that system A would work and we now have the wisdom to make it work without all that bloodshed."  The entertainers remark unwittingly tells a different story--the true story: "I will get what I want, and I'll get it by any means necessary!"

Now before you get the wrong impression, I am NOT saying Obama or any leader in this great country is advocating the extremist policies implied by that entertainer's remarks.  My purpose is not to attack people, politics, or groups--regardless of which side of the aisle they might sit.  What I am attacking is the double standard.

If you really believe what I think that entertainer and most others do,"I will get what I want, and I'll get it by any means necessary!" then admit it openly!  Be honest! Stop with the shell-game, already.  But you won't do that.  And you know why? Because if you were to allow your ideology to debated in an open and totally free marketplace of ideas, where everyone must play by the same rules, where the press is required to truthfully represent each idea, and accurately report incidences (something woefully lacking at late in American journalism--another thing that should both anger and scare us in light of the great Twentieth century experiments I alluded to above), I strongly suspect your ideology would not stand up to the scrutiny.  And you know it, which is why you resort to intimidation and name-calling, all under the guise of free-speech, justice, and democracy; the very practices you accuse your opposition of, you practice.  You play out this double standard because it takes the eyes off your own duplicity.  Hypocrites!

I've seen this hypocrisy play out in homes all my life--I've been a party to it at times, to my shame.  It goes like this: "Don't you dare criticize me for X, or be angry if you had to wait for me, or challenge my eating habits, or criticize the company I keep, or the books I read, or the way I drive, or the way I eat, or the cloths I wear, and don't you dare say I live by a double standard when I want to use a weapon in an argument that I won't allow you to use!  Because if you do any of those things or things like them, you don't understand me, you are shaming me, you are not allowing me to express my feelings, you don't appreciate me, you don't love me, you are emotionally abusing me, you are controlling me, and on and on and on."  Okay, but if the person receiving this riot act attempts to hold the other person to those same standards the poor person will get, "you don't understand me, you are shaming me, you are not allowing me to express my feelings, you don't appreciate me, you don't love me, you are emotionally abusing me, you are controlling me, and on and on and on."  Hypocrites!  At least be honest and admit you want to be treated by a different and in all cases more tolerant standard than you will ever allow anyone else to operate, and be done.  But of course, you won't do this because everyone, even though they live the same way, will look askance at such honestly because they, as you, know deep down it is a lie--nay, it is evil.  Good Lord, you won't admit it because it might mean you won't get what you want; at least be honest about that.

We are all hypocrites, except unlike the entertainer quoted above, we don't get paid for it.  But we sure make everyone else pay for it with divorce, law suits, theft, betrayals, character assassinations, cheating, lying, torture, murder, war, bigotry, greed, abuses of all kinds, being marginalized, gossip, cliques, cronyism, terrorism, being ostracized, cruelty, hatred, and...did I leave anything out?

Do you really want peace on this planet, or is it you want to be comfortable by having it exactly your way?  If it's the latter, great!  I mean, I think it is a wrong viewpoint, but I ain't going to convince you of that because you aren't even honest enough to admit to yourself it is the standard by which you live.  How then can you possibly be open to any objective dialog?  Let's be honest, people.  There's a gigantic elephant in the middle of our global room with the words "selfish-ambition and conceit" painted on its side like the scarlet letter.  Let's either repent of it or lay our cards on the table and admit we live by it and we will continue to live by it.   Let's be honest, please! The smoke and mirrors are killing us all.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Anger Management

The topic of anger came up recently....I lost my temper.  And what usually happens happened: the strange mixture of yelling and silence, the pacing back and forth, the attending to tasks one wouldn't otherwise think of doing, the seemingly clever repartee, the flashing of probing looks, and the tense waiting for all of it to work its magic to persuade the other person to capitulate.  It was all a bunch of nonsense I should have outgrown years ago, because as always with such outbursts of anger, the person I was really angry with and who really needed to capitulate was myself.

There is valid righteous anger, where one is angry out of a genuine concern for the welfare of the recipient and the healthy restoration of all relationships involved.  It was with righteous anger Jesus overturned the money-changers' tables in the court of the Gentiles in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus was genuinely concerned for God and His relationship with us.  The very things meant to turn us back to God for needed mercy the church officials exploited to line their pockets--officials such as Annas who would quite soon delight in the crucifixion of Jesus.  And all of this was going on before the eyes of Gentiles--perhaps some who had come seeking the one true God--many who likely turned away in disgust at this spectacle of hypocrisy.  Jesus was angry, and He had every right to be so.  But He didn't use anger as a weapon for self-promotion, nor did it devolve into one.  Jesus' love for God, the observers and even those guilty parties was too deep for that.

Genuine righteous anger never becomes all consuming because its motive is love.  Unfortunately, even righteous anger can turn ugly in inexperienced hands, which pretty much encompasses all of us.  The fact of the matter is the most diabolical weapon wielded by those pursuing self-interest is "being right".

The anger Jesus expressed that day just before Passover two thousand years ago was righteous and rare--not the kind of anger most often consuming us, and certainly not the anger I allowed myself recently.  Jesus speaks to this far more common unrighteous anger in His so-called Sermon on the Mount.  Here's what He had to say, "You heard that it was said in ancient times, 'You will not murder.' Whoever murders will be liable to judgment.  I say to you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever says to his brother, 'brainless!', will be liable to the Sanhedrin [a judiciary body in Israel]; whoever says, 'Fool!' will be liable into hell."

Much could be said about this powerful teaching, but for the present I would have us observe one thing. If left unchecked, unrighteous anger will always escalate to some form of murder, be it literal killing--as in the case of Cain murdering his brother Abel--character assassination, or some variant of cruel subjugation of the recipient.  And for this reason the escalation leading to this end is a step-wise dehumanization of the recipient.  This is why Jesus teaches that the judgment becomes progressively more severe as one continues to vent one's anger with increasing venom; it is why one can with cold indifference, turn away from one's spouse after one's finished, or leave him or her devastated, or in thankfully rare situations, easily pull the trigger of a gun.  Because we have--perhaps without realizing it--dehumanized the other person to the degree he or she becomes in our mind nothing more than an object to be vanquished.

When we approach arguments by seeking to manipulate the issues, the presentation of the issues, or in any way intimidate the other person, we are in effect dehumanizing him or her.  This is why such arguments end badly and will raise themselves up again at some later time with a renewed and well-fed vengeance.

In order to avoid these unpleasant fates, we would do well to execute a little bit of anger management.  Unfortunately, in the heat of anger it is often too difficult to be objective because that's the way unrighteous anger possesses us.  We should try anyway, and if we can't, we should later, after we've cooled down, seek to understand what made us angry in the first place.  I'm telling you, 99.99% of the time it's because we were really angry at ourselves for some reason such as we decided for some self-serving motive not to do something we should have.  And instead of owning up to it we attempt to cover up our guilt by becoming angry with the disappointed person, and it quickly goes downhill from there.

When we discover the origin of our anger--regardless of what it might be--we need to reconcile with the other person so that the specter of dehumanization flees, and relationships are restored.  This is why the very next thing Jesus says is, "If, then, you present your gift upon the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and first go, be reconciled with your brother, and then upon returning, present your gift."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


As I have said in earlier blogs, I enjoy reading through the archives of Chemical Engineering News, which is the news magazine of the American Chemical Society.  It is like going back in time and listening in on real time conversations between people discussing current events and their take on what it all means.  Much could be written about those exchanges; suffice it for the present to say that not much has changed for Americans in the last 60 plus years; the names have changed, governments have changed around them, but the rancor, politics, and ills haven't.

One thing I enjoy doing while perusing these time capsules is to read the column that in the fifties and before was entitled, necrology.  This is just a fancy word for obituary.  I read the obituaries because I'm interested in seeing if there has been a significant shift in mortality age in the last sixty plus years--there has.  I'm also fascinated by the tributes written for the luminaries of science who had finally succumbed--names such as Fleming, Einstein, and Alder (who?).  But the main reason I read them is to honor those who have gone before me.

The vast majority of the names appearing in those memorials are names long since forgotten--forgotten because "out of sight, out of mind" and because those who remembered them are also long gone.  Some names I find in necrology, even though they left behind long lists of accomplishments, have been "buried with her name"--to quote the old Beatles' lyric. This makes me sad, so I resurrect them--if only for a brief moment--to celebrate their lives.  And after I'm done, I, with the majority of humanity, promptly forget their names.

The Bible speaks frequently about the transience of humankind: man is like a flower that grows up, blooms, withers and dries, to be blown away by the wind, and become no more; or, humankind is nothing more than a vapor; or, people are but ghosts who appear for a time, and are gone.  Yet at the same time, the Bible teaches the eternal value and worth God reckons humankind.  In Psalm 8 we read,

"Of what importance is the human race, that you should notice them?
Of what importance is mankind,that you should pay attention to them,
and make them a little less than the heavenly beings?
You grant mankind honor and majesty;
you appoint them to rule over your creation;
you have placed everything under their authority...."

Is this a contradiction?  If not, then why does the Bible assert such diametrically opposing ideas?  The Psalmist considers this later in Psalm 39 as he is being pressured to account for God's seemingly misplaced justice--that is, the interviewer who is basking in the wealth of this world, challenges the Psalmist's God for not so blessing the Psalmist who is obviously devoted to God.  Here is the Psalmist's reply,

"I was stone silent; I held back the urge to speak. My frustration grew; my anxiety intensified. As I thought about it, I became impatient. Finally I spoke these words: “O Lord, help me understand my mortality and the brevity of life! Let me realize how quickly my life will pass! Look, you make my days short-lived, and my life span is nothing from your perspective. Surely all people, even those who seem secure, are nothing but vapor. Surely people go through life as mere ghosts. Surely they accumulate worthless wealth without knowing who will eventually haul it away.”

Before we say anything about his answer to our question, it is notable how carefully the Psalmist avoids blaspheming God; the Psalmist waits through his temptation to give a careless response borne out of anger or intellectualism, and then finally speaks without speaking for God, who must speak for Himself because only God understands God.  We would all do well to heed the Psalmist's wisdom in this, especially in an age that wants quick answers--not even Google has access to enough information to allow us to speak for God.  Instead, the Psalmist answers our question by addressing the problem:  humankind has misplaced its trust.

The Bible calls us to consider our transience precisely because we have such great worth to our Creator.  When we stop and consider our insignificance, only then do we have a chance to turn back to God in humility, and seek Him as the only one who can provide us with the purpose, meaning, and abundant life--yes, eternal life--which, as the loving and personal God He is, He is ready to do.  When we ignore or pass-off our mortality, we so easily put our trust in all the things ultimately the least secure.  So the Psalmist says,

"But now, O Lord, upon what am I relying? You are my only hope! Deliver me from all my sins of rebellion!"

God wants us to enjoy creation with him forever, which is an abundant eternal life beyond words to describe.  But to get us to that place with Him, He must move us to loath our rebellion gushing from our hearts of selfish-ambition and conceit.  We must understand the joy and fulfilled existence God has created us for with Him is perfect and complete in itself, so there are no alternatives that will ever satisfy us.  Because God loves us so much, He is relentless in His effort to drive us back to Him, even if the prods He employs are painful and humiliating.

So consider the transience of your life in the present, and seek to invest the time you have in God's kingdom instead of attempting to build your own.  Join with the Psalmist who cries out to God:

"Hear my prayer, O Lord! Listen to my cry for help! Do not ignore my sobbing! For I am dependent on you, like one residing outside his native land; I am at your mercy, just as all my ancestors were. Turn your angry gaze away from me, so I can be happy before I pass away."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Good News and Bad News

I have good news and bad news.  Which would you like to hear first?

We have an original painting in our media room painted by our dear friend, Jane, picturing three guys waiting for something.  It is a fascinating piece, and Jane won't tell us what she was thinking when she painted it; so we are left to ponder a universe of possible meanings.  Anyway, when I see it I see three classic human responses to some future but imminent and also uncertain event.  One guy stares fixedly ahead with anxious eyes.  You see in his face a desire to look away, if for no other reason than to mitigate his stress level, but he can't bring himself to do it because somehow he believes he will better manage the coming disaster if he can prepare himself for it by watching it unfold.  Even though it is quite apparent to the observer his terror of anticipation is wreaking far more damage on the fearful man than any conceivable future event ever could, including death.  The second man reads a book as he waits.  Perhaps it's a book on seven things you need to know when....  But I doubt it.  This chap at least affects a sense of peace.  The third guy looks ahead as did the first person, but this one is smoking a cigarette.  As with the first, you sense he is anticipating something unpleasant about to happen; but unlike the first soul, this guy is shouting in his silence, "Bring it on!  Come on, give me your best shot!"  He waits with the alertness of a pugilist so he can be sure to hold the advantage over whatever menace is coming.  And if he can't, you believe he will fix it so he goes out with as many as possible.

Mind you, there is nothing in this picture to suggest any pending doom.  Everything appears quite innocuous.  One is pretty sure the only thing pending is the daily commute.  Indeed, this banality is corroborated by the shadow of a man standing in front of the scene but outside the view of the painting, cast over the pit where the three men are waiting.  From the shadow we know the unseen man is wearing an overcoat and a hat, and reading a newspaper.

Four men in this riveting scene are waiting for something.  It might be the 5:45 to the burbs, or it might be news--either good or bad, or as in the present case, both.  Which of the four persons are you?  Having met them through my mind's eye, which of them do you think would want the good news first, and which the bad?  And would their reasons be the same?  If they aren't--and I strongly suspect they aren't--will they be the same tomorrow, or the next day?  In many ways, human nature is like that mysterious anticipated thing in the painting: unpredictable in its continuity.

Well, I apologize to those who like to wait for desert because I'm going to give the good news first.  The good news is another person has chosen to serve and love Jesus; the person has entered into his salvation and there is great rejoicing both from me and from heaven.  What a beautiful thing it is to watch someone find true life.  God is good.

The the bad news is another witness to this glorious event has answered it with, "Hooray, another person's on our side!"  When I learned of this response to such good news, I became crestfallen.  Here's why.

Our world since the fall of humankind has been competitive.  It has partitioned itself up into a zillion us- and-thems.  I saw myself in this person's glee and wept inside.  It dawned on me I still do not see what Jesus accomplished for all of us on the cross with inestimable cost as being a great gift from a personal/infinite God longing to dwell together with His creation in order to love them forever in unending life; instead I see it as an argument to be won, a person to be added to the country club roster, or an advantage over an increasingly virulent opposition.  My concern is still more about my reputation, the club's reputation, the flock's survival, or my own glory.  Yet the world is populated by a humanity that wants deep down to just be loved and to love.  They don't realize this longing drives them to do all the abhorrent things they do--because all things done outside of God's kingdom are abhorrent because they are fundamentally the seeking of truth in a certain lie.  And I look for ways to win these souls over, not realizing such a motive only drives them further away--drives them away from the only hope any of us have for being sated by the living water flowing freely from our creator through His son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ--the very love we are desperate for.

So I make this public confession, and I ask forgiveness from whomever might be reading this.  Then I would ask them to look beyond my flawed motives and the faults of all those confessing the name of Christ to see God waiting with open and loving arms to hold them in His love and life forever.