What Did Jesus Die For?

The two key principles and the most important tenets of Christianity are that:

1.         Jesus died for our sins

2.         Jesus was God incarnate

I have heard many Christians and priests say that “If Jesus was not raised from the dead and is not the son of God than our religion is a farce.”  I think both premises are faulty and show that most people do not really understand what Jesus died for.  I would like to dispute the first premise that Jesus died for our sins.  Many people have already challenged the second premise. 

Jesus did not die for my sins.  As much as it might hurt your feelings to know this, I seriously doubt that he died for your sins either.  Jesus was born some 2020 years ago.  That is at least 1900 years before either you or I were born.  Jesus did not know either of us.  He did not know me and frankly I can’t really think of any sins that I have committed that would be worth dying for.  However, I can’t speak for you.  But even assuming that you are a serial killer, Jesus would not have had any way to know about your aberrant lifestyle. 

So, what did Jesus die for?

Maybe Jesus died for his naivete.  Did Jesus really think the Scribes and Pharisees and Romans were going to lay down their hatred for each other and commit to a new religion that broke with sacred traditions?  Religious beliefs and protocols that they had been practicing for hundreds of years.  This was an egregious overreach on the part of Jesus, if we assume that he was naive enough to think that he had a chance of changing them.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Maybe Jesus died because he had a martyr complex.  Did Jesus perhaps believe that his only path to the acceptance of his new ideas was by sacrificing himself?  Did Jesus think that once they killed him, his murderers would all suddenly feel compassion and for his precepts?  If he did, then he seriously underestimated the difficulty that people have in accepting new ideas. 

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Maybe Jesus died because he miscalculated his popularity.  Perhaps Jesus was taken in by the cheering crowds when he entered Jerusalem that Passover weekend.  He may have assumed that they would stage some kind of an uprising or protest to protect their new Messiah.  Instead they chose to save Barabbas and not Jesus.

“And behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”

Maybe Jesus died because he trusted his apostles too much.  Much has been made of the perfidy of Judas who sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver.  Much has also been made of the cowardice of his 12 apostles who spent the time that Jesus was being interrogated and executed in hiding lest they be crucified with him.  It would be accurate to say that they were not particularly good at having Jesus’s back. 

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

So, what did Jesus die for?

Jesus did not die for fame.  The story of his dealing with Satan on the mountain clearly shows that Jesus could not be tempted by fame.

Jesus did not die for glory.  He had no desire to be the Messiah that the Jewish people wanted. He said many times that his kingdom was not of this world.

Jesus did not die for wealth.  Jesus led a life of frugality and poverty.  He believed in giving more to others than he received in return.  Jesus said that if someone sues you and gets your shirt, you should also give them your coat.

Jesus did not die for power.  Jesus believed in giving to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and he never attempted any coups of the power structure that existed among the Jews.  Jesus made it clear that the first should be last and that a leader must be a follower. 

So, what did Jesus die for?

If we accept that Jesus was no fool, there must have been something especially important that Jesus knew was worth dying for.  I believe that there was, and Jesus clearly knew what it was.  By his death, Jesus could show the world the power that was in this idea.  Perhaps the only idea that Jesus would have been willing to die for.  By dying for this idea, he made more changes in the world than could have been brought about by war, famine, disease, or political intrigue.  The measure of his influence can be appreciated in the following verses:

One Solitary Life by James Allan Francis (1926)

He was born in an obscure village, The child of a peasant woman.  He grew up in still another  village where he worked until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book.  He never held an office.  He never had a family or owned a home.  He didn’t go to college.  He never traveled more than 200 miles from the place he was born.

He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness.  He had no credentials but himself; he was only thirty-three when public opinion turned against him.

His friends ran away.  He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial.  He was nailed to the cross between two thieves.  While he was dying his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth.

When he was dead he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.  Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he is the central figure of the human race,the leader of mankind’s progress.

All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on earth as much as that One Solitary Life.

So, what did Jesus die for?

Jesus died for the most elemental force in the universe.  Jesus died for love.  Not a love for things, money, or material goods which our societies are obsessed with today.  Had Jesus loved these things, he would never have died.  He would have been hailed as a hero and honored in the halls and palaces where the rich and famous lived. 

Jesus died because he preached love for humanity.  When Jesus was born, there was no sin in the world for loving things too much.  The same is true today, but Jesus preached that love for things and money was evil and sinful when life revolved around the acquisition of these things.  It was not money itself that was evil but the means that people used to acquire money and fame and power.  Jesus preached that it is not wealth which is sinful but the worship of wealth.  This is a distinction that is ignored and not well understood by many in all religions today.

People could live with a Messiah who preached love for things.  The Prosperity Gospel so popular among televangelists and some Christians preaches that money and wealth are God’s blessings for Christians who do good works.  Even mainstream Christians do not see any evil in piling up hoards of money while the income inequality in our country grows.  Money is viewed as a blessing for hard work and faith in Jesus. 

But Jesus taught that money was the root of all evil.  The sin was in loving money and wealth more than the human beings in your culture.  It was a sin to have so much when others had so little.  It was a sin not to help the poor and the sick and the needy.  But just like now, the people blame the poor for being poor.  “If they are poor, it is their own fault.”  The poor are accused of being lazy or stupid.  The sick are blamed for being sick.  If they get the Covid 19 virus, it is their own fault.

Jesus died because he condemned the mindless and greedy acquisition of money and material goods.  Jesus would have been appalled to hear people say that “I love my car.”  Or “I love my new shoes.”  For Jesus, love was for people not for things.  The very use and associations of the word love today speaks to the values that people hold in our society.  There is more love of things today than there is love for people.

Jesus gave a new commandment to the world when he told his disciples:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus was a radical and radicals never fare well.  Nothing could be more radical in Jesus’s time or our time than to preach that you should:

  • Love the poor
  • Love the sick
  • Love the needy
  • Love the oppressed
  • Love the dispossessed
  • Love those different from you culturally
  • Love all people including people of a different skin color
  • Love the immigrants without a home
  • Love the downtrodden
  • Love the Ex-Felon
  • Love people who have different sexual orientations

2000 years have passed and if Jesus were alive today, he would be tried and found guilty of heresy and executed.   His crime would be “Preaching Love.”

Jesus died because he exhorted others to love all people.

P.S.

I wrote the above blog with thoughts of Father Sthokal in my mind. A man who loved all people. Father Sthokal passed away on August 11, 2020. I attended many retreats when Father Sthokal was Retreat Director at Demontreville. He was 98 years old and a Jesuit for 78 years. He received licentiate degrees in philosophy and theology and a master’s degree in English from St. Louis University. He talked like a common man but had the mind of a genius and the heart of a truly compassionate individual.

101 Reasons Why I love the Chinese – 我愛中國人的101個理由

 

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Let’s start with the most obvious reason.  Without the Chinese there would be no Chinese restaurants.  No egg rolls.  No chop suey.  No fortune cookies.  No egg foo young.  No dim sum.  No cute little sayings to make me think about my life.  No Confucius.  No wonderful tea.  No China plates.  But the biggest reason, is that without the Chinese we would have no one to hate.

China being half-way around the world, makes an ideal enemy and scapegoat.  Let anything go wrong in the USA and we can blame China.  We can blame China for the Corona Virus.  We can blame China for a system where communism seems to work fairly well.  We can blame China for having the audacity to become a world power.  We can blame China for Tik Tok.  We can blame China for a complicated language that seems difficult to learn.  We can blame China for huge buffets with unknown foods that taste wonderful.  Have you ever been to one of the Chinese restaurants where they have a gigantic buffet full of great Chinese food?  Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  Of course, I always eat too much.  The third go-around is what usually kills me.

We can blame China for all our economic problems.  If things are going bad in the USA, it must be because they have stolen all of our ideas.  If our stock market declines, it must be because they have stolen all of our patents.  If our GDP is in the tank, it must be because they have stolen all of our great innovations.  If our country is in deep debt, it must be because the Chinese have a flourishing successful economy.  And now they want to steal a cure for the Corvid-19 virus.  How selfish these Chinese can be?  Don’t they realize that we will be more than happy to sell them a cure for the virus at billions of dollars of profit for our drug companies.

A major reason why I love the Chinese is based on the old saying that “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  My biggest enemy on the face of the earth is a man so despicable, so immoral, so degenerate that he has no scruples or conscience about destroying thousands of lives as long as he can get what he wants.  The man has identified the Chinese as America’s biggest enemy.  That is reason enough for me to love the Chinese.  Not only are they the enemy of my biggest enemy, but if a man who lies every time he breathes is now telling me that the Chinese are my enemy, I can seriously doubt that anything he tells me about them is true.  If he says that they cannot be trusted or that they are trying to destroy our country, I am not about to believe one single word of what he tells me.

Another reason I love the Chinese is based on something that Muhammad Ali once said when he was asked why he did not want to be drafted during the Vietnam War.  To quote Ali:

Muhammad Ali. Speaks With Journalists After The Sentence For Refusing To Enlist. 1967.

Muhammad Ali. Speaks With Journalists After The Sentence For Refusing To Enlist. 1967. (Photo by: EyeOn/UIG via Getty Images)

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?  No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end.  I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars.  But I have said it once and I will say it again.  The real enemy of my people is here.  I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom, and equality.  If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow.  I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs.  So, I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

Times have not changed since Ali refused to fight a war that we now know in hindsight was unjust and immoral.  A war with China would serve no more purpose than the war in Vietnam served or the war in Iraq served.  Except to kill millions of people who are doing no more than we are in the USA and just trying to make a living.  I have no desire or need to fight China.  China is not destroying Democracy in my country.  The Chinese have expressed no hatred for me or desire to come over and kill Americans.  The Chinese have not started any wars with the USA, nor have they threatened to start a war with us.

In 1989, Karen and I obtained permission to visit mainland China.  The occurrence of our visit coincided with the death of Communist General Secretary Hua Yaobang in April 1989.  The uprising associated with what has been called the “1989 Democracy Movement” had already begun when we arrived.  We stayed in China for three weeks.  We left a few days before the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4.  In fact, we left just a day before the airports in China were closed for foreign travel.

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We traveled to China by ourselves.  We were not on a tour nor did we have a guided itinerary.  We arrived in Shanghai.   We went south to Huang Zhou, then we went northwest to Huangshan or the Sacred Mountains.  We then went east to Nanjing and then finally back to Shanghai.  We traveled by foot, train, bus, bicycle, and rented car.  On our trip we met many wonderful Chinese people.  Some took us on local tours of their cities.  Some hiked with us.  Some invited us over for dinner. Some became our long-time friends.  Some even emigrated to the USA and have become citizens here.  No one expressed any hostility towards us during our travels.  No one cursed us.  No one insulted us.  Many desired to speak to us about our country and some simply to practice their English.   Let me tell you one funny story that happened while we were walking about.

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One day while Karen and I were out sightseeing, a bunch of soldiers saw us and came over to engage us in conversation.  Everywhere we went, people wanted to talk to us.  There were about fifteen soldiers in the group who were all heavily armed.  They jostled to take turns talking to us.  We had been warned about staying away from politics while in China but somehow the conversation drifted to our respective political leadership.  Someone asked who our president was.  I noted that George Herbert Walker Bush was our current president.  Immediately, the person who had asked me this question replied in clear English that “Your president is an asshole.”  Now, I had not voted for Bush nor did I particularly like him.  However, my immediate reaction was defensive as my country had been attacked.  I replied without thinking “Your chairman Deng Xiaoping is an asshole too.”  Karen caught her breath.  I thought she might have a heart attack.  Suddenly, a voice said “You are right.  He is too.”  Everyone started to laugh ridiculously hard.  We went our way amidst many hand shakes and pictures that they wanted to take with us.

I bought Karen her wedding ring in China.  We were married three months after we returned from our trip.  Several years after we returned from China, Fu Xibo, a man we met in Shanghai who helped us to arrange some of our travel while in China contacted us.  We had met Fu and his wife Mary and his daughter Dan Dan in Shanghai.  We had been invited to their apartment for dinner and we had traveled on part of our trip with Xibo.  We had many things in common and we quickly established a bond together.  We kept in touch via email after we returned from China.  Nevertheless, I was surprised at the request Xibo made.

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Xibo expressed a desire to immigrate to the USA with his wife Mary.  He wanted to know if we would sponsor him as a US citizen.  Despite our friendship, I had my doubt or perhaps qualms.  I would be financially responsible for Xibo and Mary if they had no visible means of support.  I had to submit three years of my tax returns to show that I had the financial ability to support Xibo.  Karen and I discussed this and the resultant problems it could cause us financially.  I am not a rich man.  We lived in a house that Karen bought in 1970 for thirty thousand dollars.  I was working as a consultant and educator.  We had about a $100,000-dollar yearly income between the two of us.  Nevertheless, we decided to support Xibo and Mary in their desire to become US citizens.  It was perhaps one of the best decisions we have ever made in our lives.  We have never had any regrets.

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Xibo and Mary now live as retired senior citizens in San Francisco.  Their daughter Dan Dan (Diana Fu) married a wonderful Chinese man in the states and has become a full US citizen.  Dan Dan and Woo have two sons and a daughter.  Xibo and Mary have become the day care providers for their grandchildren.  It is a job they undertake with joy and passion.  They are ensuring that the children learn Chinese and appreciate their cultural heritage.  We have visited them in San Francisco twice during the past few years and they have come to Wisconsin to visit us.  Xibo still has an apartment in China and wants us to come again to Shanghai and see the many changes that have taken place since 1989.  I love Xibo and Mary.  We have become Aunt Karen and Uncle John to Dan Dan and honorary Grandma Karen and Grandpa John to Aidan, Braydon and Corrina, the three grandchildren.  They are in the picture below with Dan Dan and her husband Wou.

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I do not see the Chinese as the enemy of our country.  I see a country that in 2020 has 1,439,323,776 people according to UN data.  The Chinese population is equivalent to 18.47% of the total world population.  It is a country whose immigrants have helped to build the United States.  It is a country that fought with us against the Japanese in WWII.  It is a country of hardworking industrious people who all want the same things we do in the USA.  Freedom, equality, and justice.  I can think of nothing more despicable than using the Chinese as a scapegoat for our own economic problems.

I have been a business educator and management consultant for over thirty years now.  I have advised some of the largest organizations in the world on process management and quality improvement.  I have worked with leading experts in the field of business management.  If there is a single thing that I have learned in my thirty years of consulting, it is that we make our own problems.  Business leaders will tell you this.  We are responsible for our economy.  China is not responsible.  We claim to embrace capitalism because competition is vital to a growing robust economy but then we attack China because they are a competitor.  Business leaders look for solutions to problems.  Politicians look for easy answers and scapegoats.

  • Blame China for the virus that our leaders have helped to spread.

“Despite ample warning, the U.S. squandered every possible opportunity to control the coronavirus. And despite its considerable advantages—immense resources, biomedical might, scientific expertise—it floundered.” — “How the Pandemic Defeated America,” The Atlantic, Ed Yong, September 2020.

  • Blame China for our national debt that relies on loans from China.

“Japan and China own about 5.2% and 4.6% of the U.S. debt, respectively. Japanese-owned debt doesn’t receive nearly as much negative attention as Chinese-owned debt, ostensibly because Japan is seen as a friendlier nation and the Japanese economy hasn’t been growing at a 7% clip year after year.” — How Much U.S. Debt Does China Own?

  • Blame China for cheap imports that Americans readily buy.

“Suppose, overnight, Americans stopped buying Chinese products. Some store shelves would be empty, and prices would be higher. One way or another, our economy would shrink.”  Forbes, May 2020

  • Blame China for stealing trade secrets but trade secret theft is a common occurrence among US companies.

“The National People’s Congress of China amended the Anti-Unfair Competition Law (AUCL) in April 2019 to protect the trade secrets of companies doing business in China.  We consider these changes to be major improvements to Chinese trade secret law, giving more protection to companies doing business in China.” — Trade Secrets 2019 Year in Review

Its about time we stop blaming the Chinese for our problems.  Think very carefully before you point any fingers at the Chinese.  No doubt they engage in some unfair trade practices.  No doubt they steal some trade secrets from us.  No doubt they have spies in the USA.  But you are a complete fool if you do not think that we are not doing the same thing to them and other countries.

Trump Administration Proposes $86 Billion Spy Budget to Take On Russia and China — New York Times

“When we understand people;
when we understand situations;
when we understand what matters;
when we understand the why’s, the what’s and the how’s;
when we understand the trigger of actions, we least inflict pain on ourselves and unto others.”  ― Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

 

 

 

Joy and Sorrow

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Joy and sorrow are the Yin and Yang of existence.  One day we find joy and the next day we find sorrow. 

I found joy when my first daughter was born.  She was premature by a few weeks and so we could not take her home right away.  It was in 1967 and I was in the birthing room with my ex-wife Julie when Christina was born.  Both of us could not have been happier.  Over the years, I found joy in spending time with my daughter, taking her to the library, racing her on her bicycle, going to the boundary waters with her and taking her out trick or treating on Halloween.  I found joy watching her grow up.

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I found sorrow when my first wife and I separated in 1982 and I had to leave my daughter behind.  I found sorrow when my daughter Christina started college and decided she did not want to talk to me anymore.  I have found sorrow for the past 30 years or so at no longer seeing my daughter or even knowing where she lives.  I find sorrow that she never calls me or cares about having anything to do with me.

I find joy with my wife Karen when we sit and talk and eat together, now for nearly 40 years.  I find joy when Karen is happy, and we exercise or travel or go for walks together.  I find joy in helping her to stay healthy and knowing that she appreciates my efforts.  I find joy in growing old together and watching us both develop wrinkles together and claim similar aches and pains.  Our companionship is one of the greatest joys of my life.

I find sorrow when I think too long about what is too come.  I have seen too many elderly couples decline and it is often a sad sight.  I find sorrow when I think that in not too many years, Karen or I could be facing our final years by ourselves.  I find sorrow in thinking too much about what might be and how it might happen.

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I find joy in my writing.  I love the process of putting ideas into words.  I love getting comments on my blog and I love seeing the Google analytics regarding how many people are reading my rants and thoughts.  I love responding to people who leave comments.  I love the task of finding new ideas and themes to write about.  I love the community that I often find with other writers.  Something about the very word itself though unspoken is beautiful and magic.

I find sorrow in running out of new ideas and the occasional barren oasis that seems to sit in front of me as I struggle to find something to write about.  I find sorrow in feeling that I am not making any difference in the world with my writing.  I find sorrow when I compare my stats to others and think that some people get more readers in a day than I get in a month.  I know I should not compare myself, but I do anyway, and it always makes me sad.

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I found joy in getting to make amends with my father and mother before they died.  He died at 60 years of age and my mother died at 67.  I had hated my father and I was apathetic towards my mother.  I found joy in knowing my mother better and understanding the demons that she had to deal with.  I found joy in confronting my father and having him apologize to me for the misery that he caused my sisters and I when we were growing up.  I spoke at his funeral and found joy in the words I gave because I told truth.  My father had changed before he died, and I could see that in his friends and his new family.

I found sorrow when I was growing up with my family.  Hardly a day went by when I was not tormented or blamed for something by my father.  I found sorrow because my sisters and I were isolated and could not even find support in each other.  I found sorrow in my life as I felt so alone.  Later when I heard the song “Motherless Child”, I knew I was that motherless child.  A counselor years later told me it was because children expect their mothers to protect them.  I found sorrow in that it was not until my mother died that I realized how much misery she had in her own life while living with my father.  She had little time or energy to protect her children.  All of whom were abused by my father.

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I find joy in nature.  I run, ski, bike, swim canoe, camp and love being outside.  I find joy in the forests, in the lakes, in the ocean and in the mountains.  I find joy in flowers and watching the trees bloom and the leaves turn colors in the fall.  I feel joy in staring at a moonlit sky and looking for falling stars, constellations, and comets.  I find joy in sunshine and a cloudless day, but I also find joy on a rainy day with clouds billowing and promises of storms to come.

I feel sorrow when I see a tree hacked down or a lake defiled with oil and garbage.  I look at the sky and feel sad that we put up so much junk in the air that people are choking, and asthma has become common.  I find sorrow in the polluted oceans and in manicured lawns where water is wasted growing grass that has no reason for being there.  I feel sorrow that we put development over nature and destroy vast acres of beautiful land to put up parking lots.

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I receive joy from my exercising.  I love the feel of the mountain runs that I do each morning.  I love the stretch from yoga each evening.  My body feels so alive when it is moving.  I have done scuba diving, skydiving, bike racing, marathons and two triathlons.  I have never been a major competitor but the joy and fun of racing with others is indescribable.  The joy of being one big family even if only for a few hours.  Celebrating life and the ability we have as athletes.  No one regardless of how they do or how late they finish is ever ridiculed or laughed at.

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I receive sorrow and pain from exercising.  Some days it is hard to get up and go out.  Some days I feel sad wondering when my last run will be, and when I will no longer be able to handle the inevitable falls on the trails.  I have had sorrow from Morton’s neuroma, plantar fasciitis, back pains, hip pains and sesamoiditis.  Some of these problems have taken me years to overcome and some I have had to adapt to and live with.  I have sat for hours and picked cactus spines out of my legs and feet and arms.  There might not be a great deal of sorrow in this activity but there is a great deal of pain.  I think sadly of some of the longer runs I once did and some of the longer bicycle trips I once took and some of the week long canoe trips.  I know that I no longer have the energy for any such trips.  They are now sadly only memories that are slowly fading away.

My greatest joy in life has come from reading and learning.  I would rather die than not have a book to read or the chance to learn something new.  The joy I find in books is ineffable.  I want to learn the rest of my life and continue to find new things that will excite me.  I find joy in challenges to my ideas and beliefs.  I find joy in discovering that I was right, and I find joy in discovering that I was wrong.  Books have always been dearer to me than friendships.  Books bring me to places that I have never been.  Books help me to meet people that I can only dream of meeting.  Books do not desert me at 3 PM in the morning or chastise me for putting them down.  I find joy in history, science, mathematics, politics, psychology, spirituality, biographies, dramas and plays.  Books were my companions when I grew up and they were my family.  Books gave me unconditional love and were my steadfast friends.

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Books have brought me great sorrow.  I read the Little Match Girl a dozen times or more and each time I cried when I read this story.  Countless other stories and events have 83909b1f6d72b56470333621cbd1ebf2-the-little-match-girl-hans-christianbrought sorrow to my heart over the years.  Life does not always end happily.  Lives do not always find the justice and honor they merit.  I have felt sorry for the heroes and heroines who did not get the fates they deserved.  If only I could somehow right all the wrongs and set history on the paths it should have taken.  I find books tell me about my shortcomings and highlight areas where I need improvement.  It is always sorrowful to find that I am not as good as I would like to be.

Writing this has been cathartic.  For me, the writing itself is mixed with elements of joy and elements of sorrow.  So joyful to remember some things.  Remembering others so very sorrowful.  Some remind me of the joy still in my life.  Some sorrows make me want to live my life over.  But would it be any different?   Would it be any better?

What are the joys and sorrows in your life?

The Three Boxes of Life:  What Does the Coronavirus Have to Do with Them?

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In 1970, Richard Nelson Bolles wrote what was destined to become one of the most famous and useful books of all time.  Richard Nelson Bolles was an Episcopal clergyman and the author of the best-selling job-hunting book, What Color is Your Parachute?  It became an international best seller and was widely adopted for use by job seekers, employment counselors, human resource development people and educators.  It has been in print since 1970 and has been revised annually since 1975, sometimes substantially.

Bolles-AZ QuotesOstensibly, it was just another book to help job seekers find work.  However, Bolles wrote more than just tips on writing resumes and job letters and where to find work, he wrote a bible on how to live a better life and what work could really mean for us.   Bolles gave us a broader vision of work and the role it could play in our lives.  Bolles vision of work was more than just the idea of productivity and pay.  At the core of Richard’s concept of life was his idea that life could be divided into three boxes:  Work, Play and Education.  But there is a novel twist to Bolle’s ideas about work, play and education that no one had ever put forward before.  Before we go into his unique idea, let’s examine each of the three boxes.  After this, I will present the truly revolutionary idea that Bolles had about them.  Finally, I will discuss the implications of Bolles ideas to the present coronavirus crisis that we are facing today throughout the world.

Work:

For most people work involves making a living.  Bringing home a paycheck to pay the bills.  For Bolles, work meant passion and purpose and meaning.  Work could be so much more than just a 9 to 5 grind.  However, before this could happen, the job seeker must fully understand their life, loves, passions and goals.  Bolle’s book was designed to help the job seeker undertake these tasks.  Armed with this information, a job seeker could look for work that provided meaning and purpose to his/her life.  Work would not just be 9 to 5 and go home and relax.  Work could be exciting and challenging.

Education:

We typically go to school from first grade to perhaps college or grad school and then education for the most part ends.  We might join a company that provides some job-related education or tuition reimbursement for work related training.  Typically though, after you are out of school, you are on your own for education and training.   No workplace that I have experienced practices or believes in the need for life-long education and training for their employees.  Dr. W. E. Deming (who was a mentor for the company I joined after finishing my Ph.D. degree in Training and Organization Development) created his famous 14 Points for Management in which two of his 14 points addressed this issue directly:

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Point 6:  Institute training on the job.  Dr. Deming believed that continuous training was needed by all employees if continuous improvement was to become the norm in a workplace.  Training was job specific and job related although it could also involve things like cross training or training for a new job or new tasks.

“People are part of the system; they need help… Many people think of machinery and data processing when I mention system. Few of them know that recruitment, training, supervision, and aids to production workers are part of the system.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

Point 13:  Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.  Dr. Deming was a visionary like Bolles.  He believed that education for all employees was an ongoing part of any job.  Education went beyond job specific tasks to include life skills, human relations skills and skills for happiness and creativity.  Many employers are willing to adopt Dr. Deming’s Point 4 but are much more reluctant to embrace his Point 13.

“What an organization needs is not just good people; it needs people who are improving with education… There is no shortage of good people… Shortage exists at the high levels of knowledge—and this is true in every field… One should not wait for a promise of reimbursement for a course of study… Moreover, study directed toward immediate need may not be the wisest course… Advances in competitive position will have their roots in knowledge.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

I have written quite a few of my blogs on the issue of education.  Simply type “education” in the search box and you can see some of my ideas on what a life-long education system could look like.  Many of my ideas have roots going back to Ivan Ilych, Paulo Freire and John Holt, however Dr. Deming and Richard Bolles also played a significant role in the formation of my ideas.

Play:

Now here is where it gets really interesting.  How many employers do you know that want you to play at work or to have fun while on the job?  Save it for vacation time, right?  Or as one oft heard idiotic comment goes “We work hard and play hard!”  Sorry, but play should not be hard.  Play should be fun.  Play should not encompass meaning or purpose.  Play is about being and not doing.  It is about enjoying the moment and living simply for the present.  We play when we get home from work with our spouses or with our kids, but work is reserved for productivity.  Get the job done and play later say most employers.

Bolles Revolutionary Idea:

What if we combined work, education and play?  One day when I was doing some training in Deming’s 14 points with about 20 hard rock miners down about 2000 feet below ground.  I was in one of the training rooms in INCO’s Thompson Nickel mine in Thompson, Manitoba.  I always liked teaching on site with workers since if they did not understand a concept, we could go right out into the work area and I could show them how the idea applied.  This was not simply theory, but real-world experience coupled with theory.  Dr. Deming always said that “Experience without theory teaches nothing.”  My corollary to Deming’s point was that “Theory without experience teaches nothing.”  Thus, I strove to integrate theory and experience in all my teaching and training.

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On this particular day, we were in a room off one of the mine tunnels (known as drifts to miners) and I was lecturing about education and training.  I was suddenly mindful of Bolles’ ideas that life would be more exciting and productive if we could integrate work, education and play.  In other words, schools would be about more than just learning, organizations would be about more than just productivity and families would be about more than just relaxation and play.

sea-777x437I posed a general question to the miners’ present.  “What if we integrated work, education and play in your jobs.  What would life be like for you,” I asked.  There was silence for a moment.  I did not know if I would get a response.  Suddenly a hand shot up.  I recognized the man and asked him what he thought.  I never would have guessed his reply in a million years.  It was perfect but it still astounded me.  He said very simply “I would not know whether it was Monday or Friday.”  To this very day, I cannot think of a more profound or telling comment than that.

Unfortunately, in classrooms all over the country you see students often engaged in educational activities that have no bearing on purpose or meaning.  Little attention is directed by educators to find ways that student work could actually be made more meaningful by finding ways that students could profit from their activities.  Even worse perhaps are the responses by educators towards children having fun in the classroom.  In the early years of education there is often time for classroom fun but as students progress in schools from kindergarten to college, the fun is systematically wrung out of the curriculum.  Schools are designed to be serious activities and thus have little place for fun and playful work.

In most workplaces, managers are much more concerned about productivity than they are in workers having fun.  Fun times are allocated to off work activities or more likely to activities when the worker goes home.  IF you want to play, you do that with your kids when the job is over.  There is little or no effort in human resources departments to help managers find ways to integrate play in work.  There may be time allocated towards training by some HR departments but again, that is as far as it goes.  If an employee or the organization can benefit from more education, that is the employee’s responsibility and not the companies.

Home life is where we go to relax.  We have enough education at school.  We have enough work at our job.  We go home to watch sports on tv, to play with our kids and to spend time with spouses and friends.  How many people read anything beyond fantasy and romance novels at home?  How many people go home and do an online course for fun in English or history or physics?  We have grown to hate these subjects that were imposed on us by our schools so most of us never want to hear about them again.  Even if we know that education should be for life, it is difficult to find classes that are not geared towards getting a degree or a diploma or a certificate.  Many of us take up hobbies like gardening, wood working or playing an instrument because we see these activities as fun and less purposeful than the stress we associate with learning and education or the work we do to make a living.  I have friends who love woodworking and make some beautiful objects.  They have no thought of selling these and do it for fun and the gratification of creating something.  Most often they give these to friends and relatives without consideration of remuneration.  To put these on a paying basis might take the fun out of the activity for them.

20110907101009home-ecOur work activities at home are generally allocated towards improving our living conditions.  We work on repairing our appliances, roofs, etc. because we either enjoy doing it or because we are trading our time for money.  If we hire someone to do it, it will cost us money that we might not be able to afford.  We may not have the skills to so some work that needs to be done, so we are often forced by necessity to contract out needed repairs.  Some people have never learned how to cook and so either spend extra img_7363money on prepared meals or they often eat out.  I never learned any wood working skills when I was in high school because these classes were deemed “general education” and I was in the “college track.”  The home economics classes mostly dealt with sewing and cooking and were largely populated by girls.  Even today in most high schools, girls dominate the home economics classes and boys dominate the construction related classes.  There is admittedly more cross over then when I was in school in the sixties, but it is by no means 50-50 in gender distribution.

Conclusion:

I would like to conclude with some observations from the present crisis in relation to integrating work, play and education in our lives.  There is no doubt that we are in a crisis of perhaps unprecedented proportions.   As I write this, we have no idea when it will end or how many people will die as a result of this virus.  Thus, it is hard to look down the road and see any possible positive outcomes or merits that could come out of this disaster.  Yet, I do see several trends that have emerged and portend some major changes in the future of work, school and play as we know them traditionally.

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In terms of work, more employers are allowing their employees to work from home.  This was an idea that had merit many years ago however, most employers were loath to let their employees out of their sight.  I am sure you have heard the comment: “But how will I know they are doing their work and not goofing off?”  Sad, that any employer would have so little faith in their employees that they could offer this lame excuse.  Not only are many employees more productive by working from home, but it allows them to integrate their work lives with their family lives often to very positive advantage for both families and employers.

Another major benefit to the world comes from the decreased air pollution by eliminating a significant proportion of automobile traffic.  In addition, we will be seeing a decline (unfortunately offset by Corvid 19 deaths) in highway fatalities and accidents. More people will be productive by simply eliminating commute times that add nothing to the bottom line in organizations.

Homeschooling-pro-and-conFrom teachers and many educators, we hear the lament that children will miss three or more months of schooling.  Unfortunately for the teachers that feel this way, students may miss out on “schooling”, but I think not on learning.  Many studies have shown that students home taught learn more and score higher on standardized tests than public school students.  I have been working in high schools as a substitute teacher for three years now and much of the work I see being done in classrooms can easily be accomplished from home.  Whether or not students working from home are less bored with the subject matter remains to be seen.  Nevertheless, there are plenty of opportunities for children to learn from home at their own pace and to some extent be more excited by a custom curriculum which suits their needs.  There is obviously a great deal more that can be done in this area to create customized education programs.

Finally, we have a new breed of hero/heroine.  Traditionally, we have viewed soldiers, fire fighters, police officers, nurses and doctors as involved in heroic activities.  This is still true in the current pandemic.  However, now we have added a new dimension to the world of heroism by recognizing service workers, food handlers, truck drivers, delivery people, retail workers and many other groups who are risking their lives to help the rest of us stay home and safe.  Never before did anyone think of a retail store clerk putting toilet paper on a shelf as doing a heroic job.  If you have been to any store lately, you will certainly see the risk these people are taking.

Millions of ordinary people are losing their jobs or out of work and not getting a paycheck because of this pandemic.  Yet, we can clearly see that the ordinary person whether working now or not was responsible for the great economy we had.  The loss of stock value, the decline in GDP and the possible coming depression shows to what extent the “Economy” is a product of ordinary people doing extraordinary work in ordinary times.  The economy never was and never will be a product of politicians, billionaires or the stock market.  Dr. Deming said this about the common worker, and it bears repeating:

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These comments from Dr. Deming directly reflect on his Points Number 8-9-10-11-and 12.

“I’ve seen how deeply plant workers appreciate it when somebody recognizes and respects the storehouse of knowledge they accumulate day to day on the job. Giving people the opportunity to participate in improving the product pays off, because workers realize security isn’t worth a hoot if the product is shoddy.” — Dr. Deming

When we finally overcome the monster that is terrorizing our world, we must begin the task of restoring honor to people who work for a living by paying decent wages and not allowing .1% of the population to control 40 percent of the wealth in our country.  We must continue to allow people to have more joy, fun, meaning, passion, education and purpose in their lives by integrating these factors at home, at school and at work.   We must start to do more research and to invest more in long term goals for health care, education, infrastructure and the environment.  Unless we value these goals as much as we value the daily stock quote, we will become as obsolete as the dinosaurs were.  Dr. Deming always said: “Survival is not Compulsory.”

P.S.

I found this “Letter to the Editor” in my local paper the day after I wrote the above blog.  I think it summarizes pretty well how some people feel about our present system of employment and work.  

Casa Grande Dispatch, Thursday April 2, 2020

Editor, Casa Grande Dispatch:

As an American who was born in 1941, I ain’t lookin’ like no “spring chicken.” That should not mean it is OK to wring my neck to save the U.S. economy. I am not quite ready to die for a chronic boom and bust system that excessively enriches a few at the top while marginally supporting ordinary workers. An economic system that also must periodically be bailed out by taxpayers — also to the benefit of those at the top — is not worth dying for.

I might be willing to sacrifice for a stable and sustainable economy that recognizes the primary value workers add to the economy both in the creation of wealth and as consumers. If 70% of GDP is generated by consumer spending, it should make sound economic sense for corporations to pay the worker/consumer a living wage along with regular increases and a strong benefit package. I am old enough to remember a short period of time when that was what corporations did while still remaining profitable. That was also a time when the American middle class grew and prospered.

Try me again when work is valued at least equally with investment and inheritance. Try me again when there is an institutionalized economic system that guarantees economic fairness for all who work and support for all who cannot. That might be something an old person like me would be willing to die for because it would truly help my grandkids and my country. In the meantime, those who are still looking for senior citizens to sacrifice for this yo-yo economy — consider starting with the politician who came up with the idea in the first place.

John T.

Tucson

 

The Man Who Was Smarter Than God

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Once upon a time there was a man who was smarter than God.  At least that is what his friends said behind his back.   Michael was indeed one of the smartest men you could ever meet.  Now some might call this a blessing while others might call it a curse.  His mother was fond of saying that “ignorance is bliss” while his father believed, (though he did not practice it himself) that intellect and knowledge was everything.  A man who was smart enough could rule the world.  His father continually berated Michael to think and to use his intellect.  Michael’s father demanded that Michael read only non-fiction and in an argument stick to the facts.  The only things that mattered in the world were facts, data and evidence.  Emotions ruled stupid people and decisions based on emotions were decisions that were stupid.

Michael grew up with very little respect or tolerance for anyone or anything that was not logical and rationale.  When the first Star Trek series became popular, Michael was surprised at the admiration for Lt. Commander Spock.  Many people saw Spock as the epitome of logic and rational thinking versus Kirk’s impulsiveness and McCoy’s rampant emotionalism.  However, Michael saw Spock as divided between emotions and intellect.  He could not accept that Spock was a role model for logical thinking.  Nothing was as important to Michael as mind and intellect and the ability to ignore and suppress emotions. This of course had its negative side as far as Michael’s social aspirations were concerned.

Michael had few if any male friends and zero female friends.  Men did not like Michael because they feared his put downs and lack of acceptance of their often biased and illogical thinking.  Michael was very intolerant of what he saw as inept thinking and has no qualms about correcting anyone.  It was hard to deny that Michael was usually right, but this meant that being around him would make you feel inferior and stupid.  No one wants to associate with anyone who makes them feel insignificant.

Michael was attracted to women and would have liked to date and have a social relationship with the opposite sex.  However, most women saw him as wooden and unemotional.  This was a state that Michael was rather proud of.  Moreover, compassion and love were traits that Michael saw as incompatible with a rational human being.  There traits would lead to decisions based on emotions and not logic.  Dates that Michael went on with the opposite sex usually lasted less than an hour and calls for a second date by Michael would always go unanswered.

Somewhere along the line, some of Michael’s friends (more like acquaintances really) tagged him with the moniker “The man who was smarter than God.”  This was the source of endless jokes and laughter, all of course behind Michael’s back.  Michael grew more and more isolated from any human contact, particularly after his mother and father passed away.  Michael never even bothered to attend their funerals.  “They are dead” he reasoned, “So my going to their funeral is not going to bring them back.”

As the years went by.  Michael became lonelier and lonelier but also richer and richer.  Michael was a genius with computers and also finance.  He invested his money earned from writing software programs into a stock portfolio that he managed.  This portfolio grew to nine figures and Michael never had to worry about working for a living or where his next meal would come from.

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Michael loved to take walks to break up his work and enjoyed being outside.  One day while taking a walk, he stopped at a little bench in a park and sat down to take a short rest.  A young man about 16 years of age walked up to the bench and sat down next to Michael.  “Hi,” the young man said, “My name is Joshua and I am special.”  “That’s nice,” replied Michael, hoping to end the conversation quickly.  “I am running away from home” came back a reply.  “Oh”, said Michael, not particularly caring why.  “Nobody likes me” explained Joshua.  “My sister makes fun of me and my mom and dad don’t do anything about it.”  Somewhat curious, Michael asked “Where are you going to go?”  “I always go to this bench until its time to go home” said Joshua.  This did not make any sense thought Michael, so he continued the conversation to find out more about this strange boy.

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Joshua was fifteen years old and a developmentally disabled child.  He had suffered a fall when he was very young which left him with a severely diminished cognitive capacity.  He also suffered from some physical limitations.  He was now in high school but spent most of his time in special needs classes.  From early on, his family told him he was special.  They were very loving parents and did their best to help him cope with his limited capacities.  They knew he would never be able to live on his own.  His older sister Inez, whom Joshua loved dearly, frequently became exasperated with him.  She did not quite have the patience of his mother and dad, but right about now, she would go out looking for Joshua.  The typical pattern was that Joshua would become angry with her and “run away from home” to this park bench.  Inez would come and “find” him and take him home.  She loved him as much as he loved her.

The conversation finally ended when Inez showed up.  Joshua introduced his new friend Michael to Inez.  She said hello to Michael and that she was very happy that Joshua had a new friend.  Joshua asked Michael if he could come to visit him after school sometime if he did not live too far away.  Michael reluctantly agreed thinking that he would never see Joshua again.  In some respects he regretted this since he actually felt a stirring of compassion towards Joshua and he was moved by Joshua’s openness and lack of pretentiousness.  Goodbyes all around and each left to go home.

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A few days later, much to Michael’s surprise, who should knock at Michael’s home but Inez and Joshua.  Inez said that she would drop Joshua off if it was okay with Michael and pick him up in an hour or so.  Michael agreed and spent the next hour or so talking to Joshua about many different things.  Joshua was surprisingly able to comprehend many things that Michael would bring up and they had some interesting if eclectic conversations.

Michael learned that Joshua loved science and animals and nature.  He also learned that Joshua’s parents were not very wealthy.  Michael deduced that they did not have enough money to buy some of the things that Joshua wanted and that they often struggled to buy some of the things he needed.  Apparently, the fall did more than just brain damage to Joshua and he had some severe internal injuries which needed ongoing treatment.  Joshua never complained though and saw most of these hardships as simple facts of his life.

al_roker_marqueeThe first day that Michael and Joshua spent together turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months.  Each week, Michael and Joshua would spend at least an hour together.  Some days, Michael would play video games with Joshua and other days they would do “walk and talks.”   Inez would drop Joshua off and Michael would take Joshua home.  Michael looked forward each week to seeing Joshua and spending time with him.  Michael often tried to buy Joshua some of the things that he wanted, but Joshua’s parents were very proud and explained that they would prefer that he did not.  Michael accepted their request but would take Joshua out for a hamburger or pizza whenever possible.  His parents did not mind this as Joshua had a prodigious appetite.

A few years went by and Michael s life became less lonely and much happier.  Michael greeted people on the street and spent time talking to other people without correcting them or giving them advice.  Every week Michael and Joshua would get together.  Then one week, Joshua did not come by.  Michael was disappointed but simply thought that some event had come up and Joshua had to attend it.  The following week went by and again no Joshua.  By now, Michael was very worried.  He called Joshua’s parents.  Inez explained that they were at the hospital with Joshua who was very sick.  She said she was sorry she had not come by to tell Michael about it, but things had been rather chaotic.  She said Joshua had asked about Michael and when would he come up to visit.   Michael told her that he would go right now.

When Michael arrived at the hospital, he found Joshua in bed with many tubes sticking out of him and his worried parents at his bedside.  Joshua looked up when Michael entered his room and his face turned into a big smile.  “I knew you would come,” he happily exclaimed.  “I am dying,” he whispered to Michael.  “But don’t worry about it, I will be OK.”

Michael stayed for awhile until Joshua fell asleep and then went out of the room followed by Joshua’s parents.  “We are very sorry we did not call you sooner”, they apologized.  “We always knew this time would come but we thought he had a few more years.”  “Isn’t there anything they can do?” replied Michael.  “No”, said his father.  “We wish there was, but they have done everything they could.”

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Michael came up every day to visit Joshua for a week.  Then one day, when he came to the hospital Joshua was no longer in the room.  The nurse explained that Joshua had died in his sleep the night before.  Funeral arrangements were made by Joshua’s parents and Michael attended the wake.  At the funeral, Michael gave his condolences to Inez and Joshua’s parents.  Michael was nearly as devastated as they were.  Joshua had a simple funeral, but Michael made sure that there were plenty of flowers there.

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Michael went home and for the next week did nothing and said nothing.  Then one day, he thought.  I am not going to forget Joshua.  I am sitting on a pile of money that is not doing anything for anyone.  I am going to start a home for “special” children where they can come each day to play games, have meals and interact with toys that their parents could not afford for them to have.  My home will have first class aides that are well trained in caring for special needs children and we will have all the security needed to ensure that these children have a safe and secure environment when not home.  This will be someplace that parents can drop their children off when they need a break or rest.

So Michael started this home.  It had the capacity for about 150 children.  The home had numerous playrooms, security cameras in each room and a full kitchen staffed by cooks with degrees in dietary nutrition.  The home was free to qualified children which was based on need and not income.  Parents would fill out an application and it was reviewed by a board of professionals versed in the needs of special education children.

Michael came each day and spent at least four hours at the home.  During these visits, he would meet the parents of each child and spend time with all the children to find out how they were doing and what they liked and did not like about the home.  Michael was constantly making improvements to the home.  When he was not at the home, he was using his genius to earn more money that he would then plow back into the home.  Michael named the home: “The Joshua Home for Very Special Children.”  Michael was admired by parents and loved by the children for the care and compassion he put into this home.

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Twenty years or so when by and Michael passed away.  In his will, he set up a foundation and trust to manage the home.  Every penny he had was put into this foundation.  Michael specified that he did not want an elaborate funeral and wanted a very simple burial.  Despite his request, the number of people that called to inquire about his wake and funeral soon dictated that his request would go unheeded.  A number of unnamed benefactors put up money to have the funeral moved to a larger venue.  Even with a bigger church, there was standing room only.  Estimates were that over a thousand people attended Michael’s “simple” funeral.  Many people stood up to talk about his generosity and compassion and all the children that he had helped not only with the home but often with medical expenses and care that they could not afford.  And no one referred to him as: “The man who was smarter than God.”

The End

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Dick Doyscher: A Man for a Few More Seasons

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The world is full of extraordinary people, but Dick Doyscher is not one of them.  Therein lies the problem.  We are inundated with news of extraordinary people, some stupid, some evil and some great.  We have become accustomed to news of people who have won 4000 gold medals, who have made $50,000,000,000 dollars with a new line of running shoes, who are four year old virtuosos that can sing the Soprano role of Gilda in Rigoletto and dance “Thriller” better than Michael Jackson could, or nut cases who have gone out and shot 45 people with a single round that we ignore people like Dick.  Dick is not extraordinary, but he is remarkable.  To paraphrase the “History Guy”, Dick deserves to be remembered.

As we get older, we no doubt read more and more obituaries.  The typical obituary is not like an obituary for Princess Diana or Kobe Bryant.  People write books about the rich and famous.  The typical obituary for the common person is one or two paragraphs long usually ending with something like:

“They worked as an air conditioner repair person for thirty years until they retired.  After retiring they took up gardening and were known for helping their neighbors plant flowers.  They were loved by all and will be dearly missed.” 

Perhaps a beautiful life rolled up into a few paragraphs and a short sweet ending.  You still know little or nothing about the deceased except that they loved flowers and died.  So sad.

Well, I wanted to say something about Dick while he is still alive.  You should know why he is a remarkable individual because I am sure it will not be listed in his obit. He is now 80 years old as he loves to remind us.  He is fond of saying, “Well, when you are as old as I am.”  I think he knows this drives me crazy.  I will perhaps never be old enough to say “I told you so” to Dick since he will either a.) always be older than me or b.) when I turn 80, he will not be around anymore.  So really, I am writing this blog about him as a way of getting even with him for all the times he has flaunted his age in our library group.  But before I tell you why he is remarkable, a short background on how I came to know Dick.

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Ten years ago when we moved to Frederic, I discovered a bunch of guys (See the “Old Library Guys”) who meet daily in the Frederic Public Library for free coffee and donuts.  There are about seven or eight of these guys who are sometimes joined by wives or women in the library.  We are not gender exclusive, but our conversations tend to be around politics, cars, guns and local goings on.  A few years ago, we created a “Last Man Standing Bottle.”  We purchased a bottle of “Old Grand Dad 114 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey” (Seemed appropriate) and sealed it in a wooden case with seven of our names on it.  Two of the men on the bottle are now deceased.  Dick and I remain among the living with three other men.

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When I first met Dick, I cannot say that I was impressed.  He was a retired mechanic with a younger attractive wife (Gladys, who I will talk about later) and no formal education beyond high school.  Dick liked cars and guns and Lorie Line.  He did not show much interest in reading the great books, traveling to exotic places or listening to classical concerts.  He did like one pianist name Lorie Line than he had heard but felt little need to explore other pianists.  I nicknamed him “Dick the Stick.”  This was short for “stick in the mud.”

By all known stereotypes, Dick should have been a classic Red Neck.  Now even Red Necks can be kind and caring individuals and you might be thinking that perhaps Dick the Stick was a kind individual who lent money to other people and helped them dig their gardens.  If so, you would be dead wrong.  Dick does not believe in lending money.  He says we should go to the bank for that and he does not do much heavy lifting since he has a bad back.

So nothing remarkable about Dick yet.  But as the years went by, I started to learn more and more about Dick.  Politically, he did not conform to stereotypes.  He is one of the most open minded and creative political thinkers I have ever met.  He argued with me for years that the USA is in a sort of decline like the Roman Empire.  It took me several years to come to believe that he is probably right.  Nevertheless, he supported Obama and even voted for him despite his belief that we were wasting our time voting.

Many of our politicians seem to thrive on fear or greed.  Many of the constituents that continually reelect these self-serving politicos swoon to the melody of greed and fear.  The politicians pander to these base needs as they extort more and more money for their never-ending re-election campaigns.  The broader interest of the world is suborned to the petty greed and fear of their constituents.  Dick is not swayed by either fear or greed.  Dick is clearly a global thinker who sees beyond any narrow horizons to think about the good of others and not just his family and friends.

Now Dick has been a hunter and still has a cache of guns in his house.  But again breaking stereotypes for such men in the North woods, Dick is no supporter of the NRA nor some of the rabid positions they have taken on gun control.  Dick is a pragmatist when it comes to gun control and supports an element of sensible controls without trying to take all guns away from the second amendment supporters.

54bd1b7c4e715_-_trophy-wife-george-hamilton-1209-04-deI mentioned his “Trophy Wife” Gladys.  I will probably have to duck some punches when she next sees me for this slight, but the standard stereotype is an old guy that marries a younger woman who is a gold digger willing to give up her youth and beauty for money and support.  Gladys loves to travel, but Dick the Stick says, “My traveling days are over.”  When I first heard many years ago that Gladys was going on an exotic bike, hike or kayak trip, I thought to myself “Well, Dick, you will never see her again.  She will find some kayaking stud and that is the end of your relationship.”  To my surprise, Gladys returned home.  Over the years she has gone on many trips abroad without Dick the Stick and always comes back.   Dick is more than supportive and never questions her trips or the financial aspects.  He is one of the least jealous men I have ever met.  They respect each other as individuals, and each pursues interests both together and apart.

Gladys the “Trophy Wife” mirrors another remarkable aspect of Dicks character.  Both are very caring individuals without being obvious or obtrusive about it.  Dick befriended Brian Rogers who was one of the men in our “Last Man Standing” group.  Brian had cerebral palsy and was becoming more and more disabled from the disease.  Dick seemed to know just how to help Brian and they became very close.  Brian would not take charity or help from anyone and was very independent.  However, they formed an almost symbiotic relationship with Brian helping Dick with his depression and Dick helping Brian with his cerebral palsy.  It was a beautiful relationship which ended when Brian died.

Dick has helped other men in the group who need help.  I am often surprised by his ability to transcend insults or sometimes mean-spirited attacks by people in our group.  He will forget the insult and if he sees that the person needs help, Dick will make a phone call, pay a visit or extend a hand to help.  I will say “Screw him Dick” and Dick will say “He is not feeling well” or “He has had a string of bad luck.”  I will stick by “Screw him” but not Dick.  He is always willing to forgive and forget any slight that I have seen leveled at him.

His wife Gladys works part-time with a community church, but I have often seen her at other churches where she helps out with the events or dinners.  Many of the churches in our community have an aging population and need help with volunteers because of the older ages in the church.  Gladys has done more than her share to help other churches.  I mentioned that she mirrors Dick, but it is fair to say that it works both ways.  Dick mirrors Gladys in her compassion for others.

beaver tshirtNow less this sound too much like a soap opera, I should point out some of the character flaws that are obvious with Dick.  He once had a battle with some beavers that resided on his property.  These beavers were adept at building a dam using a stream that flowed near a road leading to Dick’s house.  The dam would cause the water to back up flooding the road.  Dick would go out there and break up the dam but faster than you could say “Dick the Stick” the beavers would rebuild the dam.  I asked Dick why he did not shoot the suckers.  Dick replied that he promised Gladys that he would not kill them but try to get them to relocate.  So periodically Dick would come in with his back aching from breaking up the dam and I would say “Give me your rifle and I will shoot the suckers for you.”  Dick would never do this.  I finally bought him a t-shirt with “Beaver Advice” on it.

new-2018-summer-vladimir-putin-t-shirts-menI mentioned that Dick does not want to travel anywhere (Except maybe Duluth).  I would attribute his “been there, done it” to a possible birth or brain defect but to be fair Dick did go to England, Peru and a bunch of other countries when he was younger.  Furthermore, unlike some people, he is always interested in hearing about the travels of Gladys and others in the group.  I am going to Russia this coming year and I keep telling him that I am going to have an audience with President Putin.  Dick often jokes about Putin and his strong political resolve.  I may bring him a Putin t-shirt when I come back from Moscow, assuming that I am allowed to leave the country.

Well, “That’s all Folks” as Porky Pig used to say.  I am not expecting Dick to go anytime soon.  But in case he does, you will all know some things about him now that probably will not be in the Frederic Inter-county Leader.  I think he is a remarkable man and maybe if he reads this, he will remember me in his last will and testament.

 

My Four Best of Everything:  – Part 3         

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This is Part 3 of my four best of everything.  In this final part, I would like to share with you my four favorite ideas.

For those of you who missed Part 1 and Part 2, this was my introduction.

This week I am doing what I call my four best of everything.  Everything that matters to me anyway.  Perhaps I should say it is my four favorites of everything that I admire in the literary world because best is such a qualitative term.  There may be little difference between the word favorite and the word best, however, using the term best is more provocative and usually ends up in arguments or debates.  Since I do not want to be judgmental, I will use the term favorites in the text of this blog.

I am sure that each of you reading this will have some ideas concerning your favorites in these areas.  I invite you to put your ideas or thoughts concerning your favorites in my comment sections.  The more ideas you have the better.  Don’t be shy.  Use any language you want to share your ideas with the rest of the world.  Let us know what you like and why you like it.  Plenty of room in the blogosphere.

My Four Favorite Ideas:

internal-coverIf you think about the ideas or premises or nostrums that guide your life, you will soon notice that we have many ideas that along our journey we have adopted.  The sources of these ideas are vast.  Fairy tales and children’s stories give us ideas such as “A stitch in time saves nine” or the “The race does not always go to the swift” or “Those who do not plan ahead may starve in the winter.”  Many of our ideas about living no come from our parents and family.  My mother used to say such things as “Ignorance is bliss” and “If you give them enough rope, they will hang themselves.”  My father was fond of saying “Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.”  He also used to like to say, “You have nothing to fear from the dead, only the living.”  These two later beliefs have guided a great deal of my life.

As we grow up and go to school, leave home and get a job, we no doubt pick up more ideas that we will covertly and sometimes overtly use to guide our lives.  By guiding, I mean we will use these ideas to make choices that impact the direction of our lives.  One of the many ideas that I carry in my brain came from Dr. George Box of the University of Wisconsin.  He said, “All models are wrong, some are useful.”  This premise has guided much of my working life.  I have used this Box’s thought when consulting to find a more productive way of addressing organizational changes that are needed in a client’s business.

However, since this blog is about the best or at least my favorites, I need to start discussing my four favorite ideas.  There is no particular relevance to the following order.

There is No Truth:

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Obviously, if you accept my truth, then it poses a paradox.  How can this be true if there is no truth?  But in many ways, that is the nature of most truths.  They are paradoxical.  If they are relative, they are not always true which is a contradiction.  If they are absolute, there are usually exceptions that can be found which makes them false.  What a dilemma!  From the time we are born we are taught to say the truth, speak the truth, search for the truth, but we are all liars.  We don’t know what the truth is and there are many times we would not say it if we did.

If someone came to your front door and said, “Is your mother home, I want to kill her”, what would you tell them?  Would you admit that she was home, if she was?  I doubt it.  We all say we want the truth, but the fact is that many of us will never find the truth because (As our leaders believe) and as Jack Nicholson said, “You can’t handle the truth.”

A friend of mine explained his version of the truth to me several years ago.  He said “Imagine a bookshelf with five shelves.  On the bottom shelf, I put things that people tell me that are opinions and unsubstantiated or uncorroborated pieces of information.  As time goes by and I find more evidence in support of this so called “truth”, I will move the bit of information to the 4th shelf.  Each time I get more evidence it goes up a shelf.  On the top shelf, I have things that I believe are true beyond a ‘reasonable’ but not absolute doubt.  For the time being, I accept the top shelf ideas as true, but I hold out the possibility that I will later find some bit of evidence that invalidates even this Top Shelf truth.”  I like this model of truth.  Let me give you an example of how it plays out for me.

About two months ago, I came across an article that said “In 30 years, all beef and diary farms will be dead.  Things of the past.”  Living in Wisconsin, I was astonished by this bit of information.  I did not put much credibility into the idea.  Given my predilection for cheese, steak and butter I could not reasonably accept any truth to this idea.  Nevertheless, I put it on the bottom shelf of my “Truth Bookcase.”  A few weeks later, I was attending the Annual Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus in Minnesota. This past year it dealt with the environment and global changes to it.  I was surprised when one of the speakers echoed the same idea that I had heard a few weeks ago.  Namely that diary and beef farms would in twenty or thirty years mostly be a thing of the past.  I moved this thought up a shelf.  Two days ago, I was reading the local newspaper and they had an article about diary farms in Wisconsin.  According to this article, ten percent or 800 diary farms in Wisconsin went out of business this past year and there was no sign that the trend would not continue.  I was astounded. I had no idea that the diary industry was so shaky.  I moved the original idea that at least diary if not the beef industry would be gone in thirty years up another shelf.  Two shelves to go.

Thus, truth becomes a process. It is not a final goal.  There is no final absolute truth.  It is a nominal, like in quality improvement that we can never reach.  We can only get closer and closer, but we can never reach a truth that is God like.  The truth that humans can know will never be infallible.

Everything Will Change:

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This idea seems so obvious that I almost ashamed to list it as one of my favorites.  Nevertheless, I keep having to remind myself that “This too will pass.”  Life is a stream of events and even if Santayana was right in that “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”, there is still nothing in the past that will ever be recreated exactly as it happened one hundred or one thousand years ago.  Heraclitus was also right when he said, “You never step in the same river twice.”

All is change.  If we could see the atoms of time that surround us, I am sure that we would see a stream of “time” atoms that are flowing like a river with swift currents and eddies and backwaters.  This is the flow of time and the river of change.  Sometimes going backwards but inevitably surging forward and sweeping everything out of its way.

We poor humans are caught up in this river and we must do our best to keep from drowning.  We are swept along like so much flotsam.  The river of time that we are in is invisible to the naked eye, but this does not stop it from changing the lives of those swept along by its currents.  Every day, we deal with new events while the old events keep playing out.  A continuous series of changes.  New wars, new disasters, new diseases, new horrors all mixed in with new ideas, new joys, new births, new technologies, new celebrations.

There are those who we say are “stuck in the past.”  The good old days never die for many.  We see the sad efforts that many have to hold onto the past or to “Make America Great Again.”  Why, can’t things just be like the were when I was a kid?  Movies were twenty-five cents and a bag of popcorn was ten cents.  The good guys were good guys and the bad guys were bad.  Police officers walked the streets and helped people in need.  It was happy days.

African Americans were denied voting rights and the basic liberties as stated in the constitution.  A women’s place was in the kitchen and a man was the undisputed king of home.  White people won all the wars they started, and Indians stayed on the reservation.  Mexicans came over to pick tomatoes and then went back home.  A child’s place was to be seen and not heard and the World Series was the greatest sporting event in the world that only White Americans played.  Oh my!  What ever happened to the good old days.

You Can’t Take It with You:

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Who says I can’t take it with me?  I sure as hell am going to try.  Like Pharaoh, I am going to build a big mausoleum and I am going to put my house, motorcycles, cars, rings, watches, shoes, clothes, wife, kids and anything else I own right beside me when I die.  I am going to collect the biggest batch of things that the world has ever seen, and I am going to have it all buried with me.  Isn’t that what life is all about?  Collecting stuff, collecting things.  Shopping for more stuff and more things until we drop dead.

Maybe I am getting carried away here a bit.  Of course, I can’t take it with me.  Pharaoh might have had it buried with him, but it did not take the tomb raiders long to take it back.  Maybe you can get something that can’t be taken away?  A building named after you.  An airport or street named after you.  A testimonial placed somewhere in your honor.

Alas, people are fickle.   Buildings get torn down.  Name places change with the whims of those in power.  There are only so many airports and streets and there are millions of people clamoring to have their names in places that they think will insure their posterity.   You can’t even take fame with you.  In a hundred years or so no one will remember who you were.

One of the famous tropes among baby boomers is remembering where they were when JFK died. I once asked one of my freshmen college classes this same question and to my astonishment got blank looks.  I could not believe it when one of them said, “Who was JFK?”  Who will remember you when you die?  Maybe your wife and a few friends assuming they outlive you.  So what can you take with you?  Fame, fortune, power, money?  What did Marc Anthony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar say: “The Evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”  There is nothing on this earth that you can take with you.  There is nothing that will outlive the entropy and erosion that will destroy all the mightiest monuments that have ever been built.  Everything else is an illusion that you take with your to your grave but that is as far as it will go.

Love is the Only Real Purpose in Life:

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You can spend your life looking for its meaning or you can spend your life trying to find its purpose.  Your search will uncover many ideas but none of them will ever suffice.  Nothing will satisfy your quest until you realize that love is the only purpose a human life exists for.  Every prophet who ever existed recognized this simple truth.  Love is the only thing that gives life meaning and purpose.  It is so simple that it escapes many of us.

We look for purpose and meaning in our work, our jobs, our acquisitions, our accomplishments, our credentials and our status, but none of these give us happiness.  The only satisfaction we get in life is from loving others.  The individual who does not know love for others lives a lonely unhappy life.  Love is the power that makes life worth living.  As Jackie Wilson sang in his song Higher and Higher: “You know your love, keeps on lifting me higher and higher.”

I sometimes think love is one of life’s great mysteries.  I have spent a great deal of my life asking the question “What is love?”  I am 73 years old and I am still puzzled as to what love really is.  Is love the same as passion?  Is love good sex?  Is love caring for someone else?  Is love simply wishing no harm for anyone else?  Does love need reciprocity?

People use the term love for many things.  I love my car.  I love my dog.  I love my Nikes.  I love you.  I love him.  I love her.  I love everybody!  Jesus said that love was more than just words.  Love exists in the doing.  How do I show my love for others?  “Greater love has no one than this, that they will lay down their life for another.” – John 15:13.   Do I need to die for someone else to show true love?

I don’t believe that loving things is love.  I don’t think loving my car or my Nikes is true love.  For that matter, I do not think that loving my life is true love or even that loving my wife is true love.  I think true love is a more intangible quality that we can only approximate.  To know true love is to be a lover in a more universal sense.  True love seems most evident during a crisis.  I think that the people who stayed behind on the Titanic to let others have a seat in the lifeboats were true lovers.  I think Harriet Tubman (who ran the underground railroad) was a true lover.  I think Martin Luther King was a true lover.  Lovers are not perfect people by any means, but they know that life is more than just loving oneself or even another single individual.

Let’s be clear here.  I love my wife and I love my sister, but does that make me a true lover?  Not necessarily.  What if I love my wife and sister but I hate immigrants?  What if I love you but I hate Black people or Latino people or people who belong to another religion or another country?  To know true love one cannot hate anyone.  Today we hear a vocal minority decrying “haters.”  However, these same people hate Democrats, liberals, Non-Christians, Gays, immigrants and minorities.  They may love Trump, McConnell, Nunes, Christians and Republicans but they are more haters than lovers.  Jesus did not say “Only love those who are related to you or whom you like.”  He did not say that you can pick and choose who you love.

Love is the most important journey of our lives.  To find true love is to find a love for the world both in concrete and abstract terms.  It is to love globally as well as locally.  It is to love non-kin as well as kin.  It is to love the rich as well as the poor.  It is to love the sick as well as the healthy.  It is to love Democrats as well as Republicans.  Probably no task is more difficult, but no task has more promise for humanity and for our own souls.

Well, this concludes my best of everything series.  In Part 1, I covered some of my book preferences.  In Part 2, I covered more literary ground and in this final Part 3, I have covered some of the ideas that I think are my favorite guides for trying to live a good life.  I am certainly no exemplar of any of these ideas.  I journey down the path and get stuck in some bogs.  On other days, I take a wrong turn.  I often hesitate when I should be charging forward.  On some days, I even go backwards.  My life has regrets, recriminations and misgivings that would fill an NFL stadium.  I know right from wrong and still too often choose the wrong.  But one of my other guides is “do not kill the message because you don’t like the messenger.”  You may need to find your own guides, but you won’t go wrong with any of the four that I have described in this blog.  Try them and let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

Was Jesus a Failure?

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It’s Christmas time again and everywhere we look we see violence and mayhem, greed and avarice, poverty and hunger.  Mankind’s inhumanity to others and a total disregard for the welfare of the earth dominate the news every day.  Watching the hearings concerning Trumps impeachment has been the low point of the year for me.  Rhetoric, obfuscation, innuendos and fabrications dominate instead of truth, logic and evidence.  Christmas is a cruel joke only made worse by the amount of crass commercialism that is exhorted in the name of Jesus Christ.

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Satan sat on his throne listening to my above missive and thinking “Ha, Christ was a failure and I have won another soul.  Do you hear me God?  You sent Moses with a message.  You sent Noah with a message.  You sent dozens of your prophets with a message.  You sent your only son to carry the same message and no one really gives a dam.  There is not one Christian on earth who loves everyone.  Every single Christian hates someone else.  Catholics hate Jews.  Protestants hate Catholics.  Evangelicals hate non-evangelicals.  The right wing hates the left.  The left hates the right.  Rural Americans despise urban Americans.  The rich hate the poor and the poor hate the rich.”

God heard Satan and simply said to him “You are wrong.  There is much love and compassion for others in the human race.”

“Yes”, said Satan, “for members of their own tribes.  For people who look like them, talk like them, live like them, think like them, but for others there is only hate.  I challenge you to find ten Christians who do not hate someone else.”

God replied: “Will you leave humans alone this Christmas if I can find ten good Christians?”

Satan_before_the_Lord

Satan confidently answered, “Of course, but only if you agree on a limit of ten days to find your ten good Christians.  That way, I will still have time to ruin Christmas for as many families as I can if you do not find them.”

“Agreed” said God

Two days went by and God could not find ten good Christians who did not hate anyone else.  Satan laughed, “I told you so.”  God then requested that he be allowed to find only five good Christians who did not hate anyone else.  So confident was Satan that he readily agreed to this change.

Two more days went by and God could not find five good Christians who did not hate anyone else.  God was getting desperate.  “What” he asked Satan, “if I could find just one good Christian who did not hate anyone else?  Would you concede that Jesus was not a failure?”

“Okay, I am so confident that there is not one good Christian on Earth who does not hate someone else that I will give you this last chance.  But on one condition” said Satan.  “My condition is that you will get two more days to find your good Christian but if you do, then I get four days to test your Christian to see if they really are a non-hater.”

God accepted Satan’s conditions and went in search of a single Christian somewhere on the face of the earth who did not hate someone else.  God had to expand his search beyond America but in less than two days, God thought he had found his loving non-hating Christian.  It was a young girl in India.  Her name was Aindrila.  Aindrila was eight years old.  She lived with her mother, father and her pet cat in a little village in Mizoram, India.

Every night when Aindrila went to bed she prayed for all the people in the world.  14159276-cute-little-indian-girl-in-a-greeting-pose-isolated-white-background

“Now I lay me down to sleep and pray the Lord my soul will keep.  Please watch over my mother and father, all the people in India and all the people in the world.  Please help everyone who needs help and keep everyone safe.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul he will take.  Amen.”

God presented his good non-hating Christian to Satan, but Satan only laughed. “We will see.  I have four days to test if your so-called good Christian really is so good.”

The next day, Satan sent two young teenagers to Aindrila’s house to torture and kill her cat.  When Aindrila found the dead body of her cat, she cried for several hours.  That night when she went to bed, she prayed much as before except she added a verse:

“Please God watch over the boys who did this to my cat and help them to see the error of their ways.  Amen.”

Satan was somewhat chagrined, but he decided to up the ante.  The next day, he put a hole in the path of Aindrila as she walked to school.  Aindrila fell in the hole and broke her leg.  It was a very bad break and Aindrila was taken to the local hospital.  They fixed the break but told Aindrila that she might have to walk with a limp because of the injury.  Again, that night, Aindrila went to bed and added the following verse to her nightly prayers.

“God, thank you for sending me such good health care and bless the people who fixed my leg the best they could.  Please watch over them and take good care of them.  Amen.”

Now Satan was very angry.  “OK God, you asked for this fight and you are going to get it. We will see if your good Christian is really good or not.”

The next day, Aindrila’s parents were going to work on their usual bus ride.  Satan saw to it that a drunk driver smashed into the bus killing only Aindrila’s parents.  No one else on the bus was injured.  Satan laughed and laughed.  “This should do it”, he thought.

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Somewhat later that day, the local constable along with a social worker came to find Aindrila at home.  When Aindrila answered the door, they told her that both her parents had been killed by a drunk driver that morning.  They were very sorry for her loss, but she would have to come with them.  Because she had no other relatives, they were going to take her to live at the local orphanage.  She would have to stay there until she was eighteen or someone wanted to adopt her.  They thought this would be rather unlikely though.

Aindrila was relocated at the orphanage where she seemed sad and despondent.  Nothing the kindly Sisters of Charity could say to her seemed to shake her out of her melancholy.  She cried until she went to bed that night.  Unlike previous nights, she went to sleep without saying any prayers.

A few hours after Aindrila went to bed, she awoke with a start.  She did not know where she was.  It took her some time to orient to her new surroundings but once she did, she turned over to go back to sleep.  Suddenly, she thought “I have not said any prayers tonight.”  She climbed out of bed and made the following prayer:

“Dear God, thank you for the wonderful parents you gave me.  I know you took them away today, but I am sure that you had a good reason for doing so.  Thank you for finding a new home for me with these nice nuns.  Oh, and please help the man who killed my parents find a good life.   I forgive him for what he did and I hope you will too.  Amen.”

Satan listened to the little girl saying her prayers and conceded.  “Dam you God, you win.”

And God said “If there is only one person on earth who is not a hater then it was worth sending my son Jesus and Jesus was not a failure.

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“Be the reason someone smiles.  Be the reason someone feels loved and believes in the goodness in people.”  ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

3528 – Tuesday, September 3, 2019 — Love versus Hate:  Does Hate Trump Love?

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God calls us to love others, just as he loves us.  We show love to others by forgiving, accepting and honoring them.  —  From a quote in a Lutheran Church Brochure

Pick up a newspaper any day of the week.  How much love do you see?  Very little I would bet.  How much hate?  Pages and pages of hate.

  • Man kills seven and injures 31 with assault rifle.
  • Woman with five DUI’s kills mother and daughter in auto crash.
  • Israeli bomb attack kills fifteen jihadists.
  • Terrorist bomb kills 35 soldiers in Iraq.
  • Trump encourages beating up protesters.

I propose that you will find at least ten times more hate in the news than you do love.  But that is not news to you or anyone else, is it?  Newspapers exist to sell advertising, and nothing sells like hate, violence, gore, mayhem and disasters.  The crème de la crème is reserved for serial killings, mass killings and family murders.  Local news is full of crime stories from places that are thousands of miles away and that no one has ever heard of.  Bad news and hate crowd out the good and love that society has.  In a way it is ironic, since so many people in the world regard themselves as Christians.  Christianity professes to follow the teachings of a man named Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ (for those of you who might be unfamiliar with him) was a big advocate of love and peace.  Jesus told his followers “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  — John 13:34.  Jesus is also reputed to have said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  — Mathew 5:44.  Another irony, considering that numerous Christian churches have supported racism and hatred towards Blacks and other minorities.

One would think that particularly in those parts of the United States dominated by Christian churches, love would blossom like a million flowers.  You would expect that in the so called “Bible Belt” you would see evidence of love and not hate everywhere you look.  If any place was against prejudice, discrimination, bigotry and ill will towards their fellow human beings, it should be in the Bible Belt.  Another irony, since according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the South has more hate groups than any other area of the United States.  Even more confusing, are the Christian ministers who preach hate and use Christs name to justify it.  This is a recent map of hate groups in the USA.

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A few Sundays ago, Pastor Joe Major of Louisiana’s Faith Baptist Church gave a guest sermon at the Philippines church of Pastor Logan Robertson.  You’ll never guess what Major talked about.  In a sermon titled “Make the World Straight Again,” Major told the raucous crowd about how all homosexuals were inherently pedophiles and that’s why they deserved to be executed.  Several years past, the Rev. Steven Anderson quoted passages from the Old Testament to the congregation of his Faithful Word Baptist Church about the kinds of people God hates in Tempe Arizona.  Anderson told worshipers he interprets these passages to include Mr. Obama and that he prays for the president’s death.  Is it ironic that Anderson believes he is a Christian and promotes hate in the name of Jesus?

But enough looking at hate, what about love?  Can we find examples of love in the world?  Do we even know what love really is?  We all know the quote about “love is kind, love is patient, etc.”  But what is the difference between love and compassion or between love and mercy or between love and charity?  What about the role of forgiveness?  Can we have love without forgiveness?  Should we forgive everyone?

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

and your night will become like the noonday.  —

Isaiah, 58:9-10

Love can not exist in the dark.  Hate brings the dark.  Love is extinguished by hate. In order to have love, you must eliminate hate.  The two cannot go together.  Love opens the door.  Hate closes the door.  Love leads to mercy.  Hate leads to revenge.  Love leads to compassion.  Hate leads to scorn.  Love leads to forgiveness.  Hate leads to vendettas.  Love leads to charity.  Hate leads to greed.   If you want to bring love into the world, you must work to eliminate hate.  Love cannot blossom in a soil that is contaminated with the poison of hate.

I think we are love deprived today.  I mean real love.  Not love of things.  I love my car.  I love my new watch.  I love my blender.  This is not love.  This is idolatry.  It is a Madison avenue con that has been foisted on us to buy stuff and more stuff.  No where in the world do people own more stuff than in America.  Rich or poor in this country, we all have the disease of stuff.  We buy and sell and buy more stuff.  A t-shirt exhorts us to “shop till we drop.”  The midnight madness sales during the Holiday seasons are an ironic example of what it means to be really crazy.  Ironic, because when things matter more than people, we have a world that is truly mad and insane.  We have a world without love.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King

 

 

When I Die?

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“Every now and then I think about my own death.”  Martin Luther King was only thirty-nine years old when he said these words and shared his thoughts about what he wanted his life to stand for.  I think about these words a great deal these days but more in connection with my own life.  The thought that someone only 39 years old had to contemplate the ramifications and implications of death is alarming.  No one should have such worries until old age.

“It is necessary to meditate early, and often, on the art of dying to succeed later in doing it properly just once.”
― Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before

I don’t know when I started to think about dying but at age seventy-two, I suppose it is worth reflecting on.  Wasn’t it Socrates who said that the “Unexamined life is not worth living?”  Death is one part of life that many of us may put off thinking about until perhaps it is too late.  I have had ample evidence that death is inevitable.

My grandfather died at the age of fifty-six when I was only eight years old in 1954.  My father died in 1985 when he was 60 years old and I was not yet forty.  My mother died in 1994 when she was 68 and my oldest sister died in 2002 when she was fifty-five years old.  I have had many other relatives and friends who have already departed this world at an earlier than expected age.  I seldom am surprised anymore by anyone else’s death.

Every now and then I think about dying and how I will succumb to Charon.  Will I go willingly? Will I go honorably?  Will my life have meant something?  Will I have made a difference in the world?  The how, when and where of death holds fascinating opportunities for reflection.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
― Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Occasionally, I think about going out of this world, fast.  I had a Yamaha FZ1 up to 160 mph on the I35 going to Duluth one morning.  A crash at that speed might not have been going out in a blaze of glory, but it would have been quick.  I wonder if it would have been painless?  That would be a plus.

Sometimes I think about going out heroically.  I dive into some icy river or rush into a burning house to save some poor soul.  I don’t make it.  Will the world remember me as a hero or some idiot with heroic aspirations who failed at his hero task?

Part of me would like to die in bed.  I think of the remark that Clive Cussler made that the best way to go is in bed with your accountant telling you that you are ten dollars overdrawn in your account.  I would die peacefully with my beloved Karen and sister Jeanine at my side.  I would use my last breath to tell them how much I love them.  No pain but no heroic antics either.  Sort of a blah death in a way but it does have an appeal.

I was doing a morning run this week when the thought of dying kept intruding into my run.  I sometimes think about how long it would take a bullet to hit me when I run in the mountains and desert.  There are always some folks who seem to prefer shooting near the park rather than in the approved shooting ranges on the other side of the Casa Grande Mountains.  I can hear the boom of their shots echoing across the desert valley.  I wonder precisely how long it would take a stray bullet to strike me?  A friend of mine said much less than one second.  I count the seconds anyway after I hear a boom and wonder what my last thoughts will be.

Regrets-of-the-Dying-2-938x489

Death accidently shot while running in the mountains would no doubt be a fast but ignominious way of dying.  I am opting for something a little more glamourous.  I think about the headline in the Casa Grande Dispatch the next day.  “Man accidently shot while running trails in the mountains by MORON exercising his Second Amendment rights.”  Man and MORON would be linked for all eternity.  How will anyone weave this into my eulogy?

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”
― Banksy

Some of you reading this might be thinking “This guy is really morose, maybe even suicidal.”  The experts say that reflecting on death too much might not be healthy and might be evidence of suicidal tendencies.  However, (as you might expect) other experts say that reflecting on death is a normal and even important aspect of aging that may help prepare us for the coming trials of old age.  A quote I rather like goes like this “Old age is not for the faint of heart.”

My sister (who seems to know everyone in the State of Rhode Island) is five years younger than I am and manages to go to at least one or two funerals a month.  I avoid funerals, but I prefer them to weddings.  While funerals may be no more honest than weddings when it comes to the things people will say about the departed, at least funerals preclude any errant delusions of grandeur (For example, living happily ever after).  How many newlyweds will manage to live happily ever after?

I have always said (half-jokingly) that I want to go first.  I want Karen to live on long after I pass away and have a good life.  Many of the things I do today are in a sense to help prepare for that eventuality.  I had expected that Karen would no doubt survive me as women generally live longer than men.  Besides, my life has been lived much faster than Karen’s and thus I have used up more of my “thread of life.”  However, with old age I have had second thoughts on this expectation.

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
― Shannon Alder

A few weeks ago, I was sharing a bottle of Brandy and some cigars with two friends, when I said that I hoped that I would go first as I could not think of being alone in this life without Karen.  One of the other men astonished me when he said, “I want my wife to go first.”  I immediately assumed that he was being selfish but being curious I asked him why?  He explained very sincerely that his wife had been quite sick and that he had no one else to take care of her.  He did not want to leave her alone without his help.  I was moved by his charity and unselfishness which suddenly made my position seem quite the opposite.  Selfish!  Selfish!  Selfish!

Another joke I have often made was that I married a nurse so that she could take care of me when I was old and feeble.  I always thought this was funny.  In the last few years, I have had a different perspective.  My spouse (who really is a nurse) is getting older and frailer.  The wear and tear of aging is very visible in new creases, new lines, slower movements and lower energy levels.  The realization hit me like the proverbial brick a few years ago that I might be taking care of her rather than the other way around.

a course in dying without bird

I doubt that anyone who knows me would ever think of me as a “caregiver.”  But I have always been a pragmatist and so I have started taking some caregiver classes and classes on aging.   I have also taken one on the various aspects of Dementia and Alzheimers.  I will grow old along with my spouse and do what I can to take care of both of us.  I may not always believe that the “best is yet to be” but I will do my best to help make this possibility a reality.

assisted-dying

“To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils.”
― Socrates

I don’t want to glamorize getting old but neither do I want to disparage the possibilities that old age has for many of us.  I will never know the how, when or where of my dying, but I can live my life the best I can and each day try to be the best person, husband, friend, father and neighbor that I can be.  Each day life offers me more choices to grow old with dignity.  To face the difficulties of aging more boldly and maybe even heroically.  To paraphrase Martin Luther King, when I die:

  • Don’t tell them about my titles
  • Don’t tell them about my degrees
  • Don’t tell them about my jobs
  • Don’t tell them about the books I wrote or the places I have been
  • Tell them I wanted to be a good person and was honest enough to know that I usually fell short.

Time for Questions:

Do your ever think about dying?  What do you want to be remembered for? How would you like to die?  Do you think you will go fast or slow?

Life is just beginning.

“In the end, I won’t say that I have ‘NO REGRETS’ because that would be bullshit.  I have more regrets than I can count.” —  J. Persico

 

 

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