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Even Geniuses Can Be Wrong

August 12, 2015

My two heroes in life are Mickey Mouse and Albert Einstein. einstein1_7Mickey reminds me to not take life too seriously and Al reminds me to question everything. While Einstein was a genius in the world of science, he seems to have missed the mark in predicting the future.

In reading Einstein’s writings, it’s interesting to see how people turned to him for advice on a variety of subjects outside of science. He thought it strange, but rarely hesitated to give his opinion. Since he approached life logically, as he did science, his responses were often illuminating for their simplicity.

In the book “The World As I See It”, Enstein addresses critics as a profession, definitely showing his since of humor.

“To see with one’s own eyes, to feel and judge without succumbing to the suggestive power of the fashion of the day, to be able to express what one has seen and felt in a snappy sentence or even in a cunningly wrought word – is that not glorious? is it not a proper subject for congratulation?”

In this same collection he addresses the condition of the world (1933) and looks forward to a better future. He states, free development“In my opinion, the present symptoms of decadence are explained by the fact that the development of industry and machinery has made the struggle for existence very much more severe, greatly to the detriment of the of the individual.” He does, however, foresee a brighter future when he says, “A planned division of labour is becoming more and more of a crying necessity, and this division will lead to the material security of the individual. This security and the spare time and energy which the individual will have at his command can be made to further his development.”  He goes on to say, “…we will hope that future historians will explain the morbid symptoms of present-day society as the childhood ailments of an aspiring humanity, due entirely to the excessive speed at which civilization was advancing.”

While this prediction is optimistic nothing has changed.  This could be written today and be as accurate in its observation. We have developed even more machinery to simplify our lives but have allowed our lives to be increasingly complicated. He foresaw a future where people could spend more time in the arts, literature, and the pursuit of helping his fellow man. Instead, we seem to spend more and more time keeping up with technology.

The world, or life in general, is  better now than in 1933. We have more labor saving devices, better living conditions in developed countries, and more free time. The speed at which new things are brought about is astounding, and it becomes hard to remember how we survived without the conveniences we so easily take for granted. But can we honestly say that we’ve bettered ourselves?

We read about the hours people spend glued to the boob tube, how we need to unplug from all the devices we now use as extensions of our appendages, and we do not need to look very far to see those in need around us. The spare time and energy Einstein was hopeful about, have been used more to promote the individual and less to the collective benefit of all.

One condition that Einstein notes is the lack of great men, leaders, in proportion to the rise in population. He felt that this would be corrected as the world found itself better off. We now have three times as many people in the world and far fewer great men and women. The current slate of presidential candidates as Exhibit 1.

So for all his abilities in the realm of science, Einstein fell short as a predictor of the future. His hopes were noble but he forgot how as much as industry and machinery may change, the human race does not.

He was also appalled at how, “in two weeks the sheep-like masses can be worked up by the newspapers into such a state of excited fury that the men are prepared to put on uniform and kill or be killed, for the sake of the worthless aims of a few interested parties.” Maybe he wasn’t as far off the mark as I think!

 

If Only Christians Were Actually Christlike

August 5, 2015

Did you know there are zombies in the Bible?  zombiesOkay, not really zombies, but people who came out of their graves and walked through Jerusalem. Matthew 27:52-53 says that when Jesus died on the cross, the moment he gave up his spirit, “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’s resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” There are two things about this passage. One, they came out of the tombs when he died and hung around the cemetery for three days before going into the city. Imagine taking flowers to a loved one’s grave on Saturday morning and running into a bunch of dead people sitting around waiting for Jesus to come out of his tomb. Second, when did you ever hear this passage mentioned in a sermon? This is a hard one to explain since an event like this would surely have been the lead story on the Fox News version of Jerusalem’s media. To my knowledge there is no historical record of dead people walking around the city, not even in the writings of Josephus. This passage raises more questions than it answers.

Another passage not often preached about is Matthew Chapter 23, known as the Seven Woes (actually in Matthew there are only six in the original manuscript). This is the place Jesus rails against the Pharisees, the religious right, the fundamentalist of the time. He not only rails against them he curses at them. Matthew 23:33 – “You snakes! You brood of vipers!…” Those are not nice words. It is interesting that the only times Christ seemed to get angry, was when he was addressing the Pharisees. When he was dealing with “sinners”, he shows love, compassion, and forgiveness. Sadly, the woes he leveled at the Pharisees, are valid today for some modern day Christians.

All but one of the “woes” begins with, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” One begins with, “You blind guides!” Just replace Pharisees or guides with fundamentalist/religious right and you have modernized these verses.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.” 44fd7c0025This is the first woe. Does this happen today? Ask a gay person, a divorced person, an unwed mother, an addict, a homeless person, a woman considering an abortion,or a transexual, just how many churches open their doors for them.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one,you make him twice as much the son of hell as you are.” This is the second woe.  Wow, Jesus isn’t happy here! Does this happen today? Ask a Christian who drinks wine, smokes pot, plays cards, doesn’t always go to church, doesn’t read the Bible much, is divorced, or who doesn’t tithe (gives ten percent of their income to the church), if they have ever been accused of not being Christian, or at the least, a “lesser” Christian. That last phrase has always cracked me up, you either are or you aren’t, like being pregnant.

Woe to you blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing: but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.” This is the third woe.  There is more to it but it comes down to the same thing. Basically, Jesus is saying if you give your word, stick to it, don’t try to weasel out of it. One could say if your going to use the Bible as the word of God, don’t pick and choose which parts you apply and which parts you ignore.  pick-and-chooseDoes this happen today? I have always found it interesting how the Bible can be used as a rule book, as opposed to the love letter it was intended to be. How many people want nothing to do with Christianity because of the inconsistency of Christians?

The last three, and the one not in Matthew, all relate to making a show of one’s religion while not dealing with the more important matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. The Pharisees were so caught up in how they looked to the world and the rules, they had forgotten what God is about.  Does this happen today?  When was the last time your church opened its doors so the homeless had a roof over their heads? Or when was the last time your fellowship hall was used to feed the homeless? And I don’t just mean turkey at Thanksgiving. Has your church ever allowed any of those rooms that sit empty all week to be used for an AA, or other addict recovery meeting?  If God is love, where is the love being shown to a world that struggles just to get by everyday?

The showing off of one’s religion has moved even to Facebook. How many times have you seen someone post their location on Sunday while at church? “Look at me, I am worshipping God!” Jesus would post back, “Woe to you blind guides!” And he would not be talking about your GPS.

The Pharisees set themselves up as the example of what it meant to be godly. The religious right has assumed that role today. If Christ was loving, forgiving, compassionate, and non-judgemental, where are his followers that emulate those traits?

Getting Rid of A Dead Skunk, Stinks

July 14, 2015

streetThe sun was breaking over the horizon, bringing a golden glow to the street. The sound of the waves breaking on the shore provided  amusical backdrop. The air still as the wind had yet to stir. There in the middle of the street, a dead skunk. During the hours before light broke through the night, this small fluffy, black and white creature who had been foraging, had tried to simply cross the road. Fate had placed him/her in the path of an oncoming motorist, oblivious to the destructive power of a two ton vehicle.

Now the creature lay still, an impediment to the flow of morning traffic as drivers had to veer to keep from causing further damage to the lifeless body. As the sun rose higher and the day warmed, the odor from this poor soul began to waft, bringing awareness to its fate. By noon the fragrance was strong enough it began to permeate through open windows into the homes lining the quiet neighborhood. As windows were shut and the day grew warmer it seemed no one cared about the poor dead animal lying just outside their doors.

I had recently been introduced to and downloaded an app called Citizen Connect. It’s a service provided by Santa Cruz County to report problems, register to vote, pay taxes, or get information about county services.  Going to the section on problems, I looked for a way to report the dead skunk. The list of reportable problems included abandoned vehicles, dead birds, pests, standing water, environmental issues, graffiti, illegal dumping, potholes, and illegal grow. I am assuming this last one meant marijuana and not uncontrolled ivy.  Nowhere on the list was a category for dead skunks. I clicked on dead birds and added the location info with a message that this was a skunk.  After about an hour there was no response from the check status section, nor had anyone called.

My next step was to Google getting rid of a dead skunk which led me to Animal Control. I called the main number and after patiently waiting through the automated message, I hit the appropriate menu selection. After about 15 rings and no answer, I looked at the web site again, and started dialing individual numbers for the different department heads.  The general manager’s number went to voice mail, the field officer’s number said it was no longer valid.

It was time to call the sheriff. When the dispatcher answered, I explained the issue and asked who should I call  to remove the skunk. The officer was very understanding and gave me the number for the County Road Department. I called them and was told they did not deal with dead animals because of the possibility of disease. They suggested I call Animal Control.

Going back on Google to Animal Control, I finally found a number to report roadkill. Dialing that number produced a voice mail, so I left a message as to where the skunk still lay and added that it was an additional hazard as cars were having to veer around it into oncoming traffic. It was now about 2pm.

Around 4pm I opened the door and sniffed. The skunk was still there.  Around 4:45pm the odor had dissipated. I looked  and the creature was  gone. Who actually removed it, I have no idea but it had been disposed of and the air was clear.

All of this happened on a Friday. On Monday I got a call from Citizen Connect regarding my report. I explained that it had all been taken care of, after having made numerous calls to the different agencies, The man from CC said they did not deal with dead skunks and that I should call the County Road Department. I explained that I had and told him their answer as to why they don’t pick up dead animals. I told him that Animal Control actually is the place to call, even though I never did connect with anyone. He said he was glad it was resolved and glad that Citizen Connect was able to help. He said goodbye and hung up before I could react to that.

Who removed the skunk? I have no idea, but if sadly, this ever happens again, I will simply grab my shovel, a couple of garden trash bags and remove it myself.  Oh, and a pair of disposable gloves so I don’t get infected by any “disease” it might be carrying. While the skunk may give off a pungent aroma, it is nothing compared to the stench of dealing with government bureaucracy.

 

 

Why I Want To Live In The Land Down Under

May 25, 2015

AustraliaAny place one lives has its positive and negative aspects. When you consider Australia, it is no exception. Sure there are towns like Wagga Wagga where spiders fall from the sky en masse and cover the area in spider webs. Then there are the, as one Aussie called him, “wanker” politicians like Barnaby Joyce, who gave Johnny Depp fifty hours to take his dogs back to America or he would have them killed. Yes, they do drive on the wrong side of the road, but I would have to say that for me the positives outweigh the negatives, which is why I would love to live in Australia.

The list of positives starts with mandatory voting.  Anyone 18 or over must show up at a voting site or they will be fined.  In the United States the voter turnout in 2014  was 36.4%.  That means about one-third of the population is deciding which idiots run the country and what laws  affect all of us. Maybe the results would not change, but I would like to think that the more voters who turn out, the better off we all would be.  Another aspect to mandatory voting is that it seemed to me that Aussies were better informed as to what they were to vote on.  If you make people vote, they just might pay more attention to what they are voting about. I am sure some Aussies just tick off a box so they can say they voted, but my impression is they are in the minority.

Another positive is mandatory vaccinations.  With the exception of medical reasons, every child must be vaccinated.  The U.S. has not required vaccinations, and California is still debating the issue. Even if California passes a bill, the only other states that make vaccination mandatory are Mississippi and West Virgina.

While, as I said, Australians drive on the wrong side of the road, I think I could adapt.  They do have an abundance of is roundabouts, as opposed to four way stops.  Roundabouts are more efficient in moving vehicles through these intersections. There are also more traffic cameras to discourage speeding. We all know that speeding is a major cause in many accidents.

They, like the rest of the world except the U.S., Liberia, and Burma, use the metric system.  Kilometers, kilograms, Celsius, are the measurements for distance, weight, and temperature.  The metric system, based on ten, is far easier to use than ours. When I went into the deli section of a supermarket and was about to buy salami, I felt like a dunce when I had to ask if anyone knew how many ounces were in a kilogram, but the store clerk was very friendly and knew the answer.  I can only imagine the look a Safeway clerk would give a customer who asked the reverse here.

Which brings me to one of the biggest reasons to want to live in Australia.  The people are extremely friendly.  There seems to be a spirit or attitude that says life is good down under.  Maybe because most people are in better physical shape and are enjoying life more, they are friendlier.  Whatever the reason, it just felt good to be around them.

Part of that feeling has to do with their pride in being Australian.  This is probably best shown on ANZAC day.  This is like our Memorial Day except they do a better job of honoring those who have fallen.  ANZAC day is the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey on April 25, 1915.  If you want to know more about this, Peter Fitzsimons book Gallipoli is an excellent account. The day is a combination of reverence (in the morning) and celebration (in typical Aussie fashion, a lot of drinking).

That brings me to the final two reasons to want to move there. The weather is awesome and they do drink a lot.  Sydney has on average 340 sunny days per year, but more importantly, the water temperature ranges from about 66 degrees to 75 degrees.  Oops, sorry, that should be 19 to 24 degrees Celsius.  As for the drinking, they have more holidays than we do and therefore more opportunities to imbibe.

Given all of the above, it would not take much for me to move to Australia.  Whether or not that will ever happen, I do know that just thinking about it reminds me to take life a little easier, enjoy every day, and to stay stress free.

“Four Dead In Ohio”

February 2, 2015

One of the joys of getting older is listening to classic rock and letting it rekindle memories.  The other night I was listening to Neil Young’s “Four Dead In Ohio“, which brought back thoughts of what things were like “back then”.  The song was written about the massacre that had occurred on May 4, 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio.  During a student demonstration protesting our involvement in Vietnam, and particularly our bombing of Cambodia, the Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds killing four students and wounding nine.  Some were protesters, some simply bystanders. This picture was a dramatic expression of the senselessness of the massacre.

Kent_State_massacre The question that crossed my mind was, how many    people today would know what this picture or the song is about?  Probably anyone born before 1959, but would someone who is around 20 know?  This was one of the catalysts that helped to bring about the end of that war.

Things have changed quite a bit since that era.  Today, those in uniform are considered heroes. A soldier in uniform is likely to be thanked as they pass by. Many times, someone offers to pay for their meal if they see them in a restaurant. In 1970, and a little before and after, a soldier was more likely to be spit at or called a “baby killer”.  I remember in 68′ not wearing my uniform on a flight home for just that reason.

Another huge difference was the way the war impacted life.  Any male between 19 and 26 was eligible for the draft.  If you were male, you were either drafted, or figured a way not to be.  The nightly news was a constant reminder of the cost of the Vietnam War, body counts were announced from both sides. Today, the military fighting in Afghanistan, and those that fought in Iraq, are really only thought about by their families and relatives.  Most of us go about our daily routine without thinking about today’s conflicts.  News stories about these wars are buried on page five or six of local papers. Ironically, today, the majority are what Creedence Clearwater Revival called “Fortunate Sons” back in 69′.

The only things that haven’t changed are the lies the government tells and the willingness of politicians to send young people into combat.  The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which allowed the escalation of the war in Vietnam, was as much a fabrication as the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Both, based on slivers of truth, were used to justify our involvement in wars that should never have been fought.  In Vietnam 58,209 dead, 153,303 wounded.  In Afghanistan and Iraq 6,717 dead, 50,897 wounded, and counting.  This doesn’t include the over 100,000 Vietnam vets who have committed suicide and the numbers of suicides from the two recent wars.

The picture from Kent State shocked a nation and made us rethink just what the hell was going on.  As long as we don’t remember it, or are not confronted with the reality of war, we  will continue to stand by and allow young men and women to die needlessly.  Will it take another “Four Dead In Ohio” for us to care?  Or as Bob Dylan said, “How many deaths will it take……….?

 

There is a difference…

January 27, 2015

When I taught a course on the practicality of ministry at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary, the school required students to read a book on the subject.  This could be assigned at any point during the course and the verification of it being read was left to the individual instructor.  I chose to have my students write a paper, only a couple of pages in length, about their reaction to the topics the book covered.  This assignment was given along with the class synopsis and was due the first day of class. While some balked at the timing, I told them they would thank me later when their other classes buried them in homework.

In the instructions I was very clear that I wanted their reaction to the subject matter, especially topics like women in ministry, which was and still is a hot potato.  I was very clear that I had read the book, knew what it was about, and only wanted their reactions.  In spite of it all, I would receive papers outlining the content, no reaction comments, just simply telling me what the book discussed.

Now understand that these were college graduates, in a masters’ program.  In high school or even grade school students are asked to write book reports, but you would think at the college level they would learn how to write a book review.  What I discovered is many of them did not know the difference.

It seems that this is not limited to my seminary students.  If you go to any book review section of Amazon, Goodreads, or just about any site that publishes amateur reviews, this is a common occurrence. Many “reviews” are simply summaries of what a book is about. These are not reviews, they are  book reports.

If I go to Amazon to find out about a book, I will read the synopsis provided by the publisher to see what it is about.  But if I scroll down to read a review, now having an idea of the content, I want to know if this book is compelling, a good read, exciting, a page turner, a disappointment, worth my time to purchase.  Often, I only find a rehash of the blurb I have already read.

This isn’t really that hard.  The difference between a book report and review is rather simple. One is just a summary and the other an analysis.  The problem lies with our education system, it teaches one to summarize, to spew back facts, not to analyze, or to think critically.  We are taught facts and asked to recite them back but rarely to examine the implications of those facts, what do they mean for us?  There is an old joke about why did George Washington cross the Delaware? But the real joke  is we were only asked when he crossed it?

One would think that at the college level students would be doing more analyzing than summarizing, but in my experience this was not the case.  I remember being in college and there were several of us who had been in the military.  We often challenged what a teacher was saying, and could hear the gasps of other students – How dare we question a professor?  It wasn’t until I was in a doctorate program that it became common for a real discussion, give and take, to take place.

Why do people have a hard time expressing how they feel, or what is important to them, or what does this or that mean to them?  It is because we were never, or rarely, taught or allowed to express ourselves. A great example of this is in the film The Dead Poets Society, or a more recent example, but with a little less impact, The Gambler. Both of these show the frustration of a professor trying to get a reaction out of their students.

A fallout of all of this is that we often do not question what we read or hear.  We read or listen to the news and just accept what is given to us.  Questioning has almost become unpatriotic. Ironically, as I was writing this I was given an article about the day Albert Einstein died, April 18, 1955.  The story is about a LIFE magazine reporter who was able to take photos of the family at the crematorium and a few others, like the casket being loaded into the hearse.  I say ironically, because as one of my heroes, Einstein reminds me to question everything.

So next time someone asks you, “How was that book?”, I hope you will give them more than a summary of what it was about.  Give them the emotion it evoked, the impact it had on you, whether it affected the way you think.  Good or bad, what was your reaction?

Oh, and always question what you read, what you hear, what you are told. How else are we going to learn? How else are we going to expand our viewpoints? How else are going to be able to get along with each other?

Happy reading!

 

 

Can You Hear Me Now?

January 4, 2015

Listening“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” –Bryant H. McGill

In the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Sounds of Silence” there is a line that says, “People speaking without listening”.  It seems to me that it is rare today to find someone who actually listens.   We have a lot of conversations during each day, but how much listening is taking place?

Have you ever shared something with someone who as soon as you have finished, and sometimes before, they relate what you have just said to something in their life?  A person who is actually listening would ask a question or two, or would, at least, offer a comment of some kind related to what you have just said.  Sometimes as you are sharing information you can see the other person’s brain working, just waiting for you to finish so they can jump in with what surely is more important to them than what you have said.

In the episode of Frasier titled “Breaking The Ice”, the character Roz (Peri Gilpin) is talking about a problem she has and Kelsey Grammer injects how is father has never said, “I love you” to him.  She responds with, “Maybe if he had, you wouldn’t be so emotional needy that when a close friend asks for your advice, you steer teh conversation back to your own problem”!  That is a great question.  Why are people so needy that they can’t listen, at least for a minute or two, without sharing their own story?  Is it the only way we can converse, by relating a fact from our own life?

When I used to do pre-marital counseling I had an exercise that helped teach a couple to listen.  I would have them sit facing each other, knees touching, toes touching, holding hands.  One of them would then tell the other ten reasons why they loved the other person.  Maintaining eye contact, the other person could not respond until all ten reasons were said. Then they would switch roles.   It was amazing how hard it was for the listener to remain still and quiet.  Often about half way through the listener would turn to me and say, “So I can’t respond yet?”   By the way, this is a great exercise for any couple having an argument, get in position and let each of you say how they feel without responding until the other is done.

It is said that listening is an art, a skill.  Evidently, the majority of us are neither artistic nor skilled.  To me this seems odd.  When did we all stop being listeners?  If you think about it, we begin life as listeners.  As children we are listeners, at least at first.  I guess maybe this is where we begin to tune others out.  How many times have you heard a parent say, “Listen to me, pay attention”?  By the time we reach adulthood we have developed the skill of not listening.

Sadly, to gain back a skill we should have never lost, we need to relearn the art of listening.  Books and DVDs are made to help us, at an expense of course.  But the expense of not listening is worse.  Not only is money lost in companies, but lives can be lost if one is not listening.  From a man using an elevator when not hearing that there was a fire above, to an airline pilot mishearing taxi instructions that led to a fiery crash, to who knows how many deaths when a nurse or doctor mishears, causing latrogenic deaths.  For most of us, the consequences are not so high, but how much better would our relationships be if we listened?

The reason therapy works, often, is that we simply have someone who will listen to us.  Just imagine how much better the world would be if we all took the time to listen, especially to someone with whom we disagree.

Thanks for listening!

 

 

 

 

 

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