big “if’s”

In the words of one famous (for, uh, not necessarily always good reasons) ex-California governor/actor, “I’m back!”  It’s been a special 3 weeks.

 

First and foremost, many thanks to our guest bloggers, who over recent weeks have creatively encouraged, inspired, informed and made us think; they were vocal about the shooting in Colorado, the heartache at Penn State, the partaking of fiction, moving, accountability, abortion, respectful dialogue, faith, fear, and the inability of government to create jobs.  We heard from men and women, liberal and conservative, of various faith and demographic backgrounds.  We even heard from one self-identified “little kid with some big beliefs.”  (Way to go, Becca… way to go…)

 

So question:  why do we do it?

 

Why on the Intramuralist do we even entertain the concept of a Guest Blogger Series?

 

Great question.  Granted, the series always provides this semi-humble blogger an opportunity to refresh, renew, and “recharge my batteries,” so-to-speak, thinking of what next we should discuss.  I am thankful for the time to intentionally reflect, attempting to discern whether or not the Intramuralist is staying consistent with our purpose in both content and expression.

 

What is our purpose?

To model respectful dialogue.  We do not have to each possess the same opinions; in fact, as a society, we are fairly incapable of that.  But if we are to be a mature, wise people group, we must grow.  I believe we grow through respectful dialogue.

 

Respectful dialogue, however, is not something to be assumed.  Some may argue, no less, that it is even rare…

 

While away, for example, as several of you noticed, a bit of a societal stir took place when one congressman suggested there existed a difference between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” rape.  Last this current events observer knew, rape is rape, as articulated by both current presidential candidates.  However, in one discussion I witnessed, a gentleman used the controversy to verbally attack VP candidate, Paul Ryan; the gentleman (although the “gentle” is debatable) referred to Ryan and his Republican colleagues as persons who “keep trying to make it legal for husbands to rape their wives.”

 

Excuse me, friends, but that is not respectful dialogue.  That does nothing to advance healthy conversation.  It is also not a helpful articulation that encourages us to discern truth, develop solution, and individually grow.

 

The primary reason we host our annual Guest Blogger Series is because it gives you, the reader, an opportunity to hear from someone different than me.  While I appreciate your sincere interest and commitment to the Intramuralist, I also wish to uphold our blog’s primary principles:

 

1.  We value humility.

2.  None of us have life all figured out.  And,

3.  We each need to listen better, often, and more.

 

The Guest Blogger Series allows us to model each of the above.  Agree or disagree with the perspectives expressed, the varied opinions by others have the potential to prompt growth…

 

if we listen…  if we intentionally humble ourselves.

 

True, those can be big “if’s,” but they are necessary indeed.

 

And so I return to you, refreshed, recharged, and ready to go.  Friends, we have things to discuss!  So join with me in the dialogue.  Contemplate.  Consider.  Comment.  Agree or disagree.  Add perspective.  Add an ‘amen.’  You may even add a ‘what-were-you-thinking?’  But most of all, let us humble ourselves and listen to one another.  Let’s discuss.  Let’s grow.

 

A special thanks to our special bloggers… can’t wait until next year!  You spur us on.

 

Respectfully… always…

AR

the trail

[Note:  Today is day 9 of 10 in our annual Guest Blogger Series.  Please remember:  the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed.  The goal is respectful articulation.]

 

 

I’ve started hiking a nearby trail, running some with my daughter (the things we’ll do for our offspring like no one else!) increasing distance & endurance daily, decreasing our time per mile.  The trail we use has become familiar ~ the same stones to traverse the creek, the same logs across the trail to hurdle… but inevitably, daily there are the fallen sticks that somehow newly appear in my path.  As I speed along the route, I kick some aside.  For others I must slow and bend to grab and toss them aside.  Once in awhile they’re large enough that two of us have to work together to move, and occasionally there’s something new fallen, big enough that we just decide to climb over or step around, creating an alternate route in the trail.  I think of the significance of these as I hike… when do we choose to clear the existing trail… and when we create an alternate route, while clearing the path for the younger ones behind… letting them see that process, while enlisting my child’s help.  Eventually they may go before me and make my path level, as I have begun with parents having a less steady gait, now into their eighties, as well as for the generation to come.

 

At the same time, I’ve been reading philosophy.  Plato envisioned all we see as shadows of some real patterns being cast by a fire outside a cave where we are bound.  I see some truth in what he imagined.  There must be a plan, a pattern, an ideal intended for us to recognize and rise to embrace something higher, more solid, more eternal, and real yet than this world.

 

As I kick branches from the trail, gaining agility and grace, making it almost like a dance step while trying to keep up my speed, I maintain the path worn here by others before me, sometimes making detours, trying my best to secure it for those that will follow.  I ponder the bigger picture:  who cleared this trail in the beginning?  Who is it that I trust, who decided this route best?  Am I sure this turn is the best choice…?

 

I’ve made missteps.  I’ve slipped on wet ground and prayed a thankful landing without injury.  I’ve lost my balance trying not to slow while hurdling a series of fallen logs and tumbled brush, losing some skin and blood (and having to return for gear that flew off unnoticed while I focused on examining my injury.)  In all, I trust an unseen (but real) presence there to thank and call out for help, to one who knows and sees and cares and has a plan that works it all for my good.  Without that, continuing this trail would be rather pointless.

 

I meditate on the choices and conflicts in the world today.  The differing paths that have woven through history and now shape our current perspectives, traditions, and decision-making — personal and political.  As I heard Eric Metaxas, at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, “Thank God that we now argue over how to help the poor, not whether to.”  Progress over the centuries?  Yes!  Now what?  Among all the questions for our world and nation, how do we cease the arguing and progress in peace?

 

I consider the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the USA, as it relates to my belief in God who loves all nations, tribes and tongues of people equally, and exists in holiness beyond what can be attained by a human nation, whether or not we claim or agree to be “one nation under God”.  As much as we may want to offer “liberty & justice for all,” we know that only God will ever be able to fully do it.  I feel compelled to maintain my allegiance alone for him, and thus, to serve the world he’s put me in out of that undivided allegiance.

 

I am grieved by the political/spiritual battle around the issue of marriage.  As I heard one admit recently, haven’t we already allowed the biblical definition of marriage in our country to go by the wayside years ago? … by legalizing “no fault divorce,” among other impurities?  When we talk of the parameters of biblical marriage, I fear most of us have missed what it is — and could yet be a most beautiful reflection of the faithful, relational nature of God.  Am I — are we — willing to confront the “plank in our own eye” before humbly reaching out to others with the authority of God’s love?

 

Only one thing I know for sure.  There is one who said, “I am the way…”  What authority did he have to claim that?  How can we know he is trustworthy to believe?  Big questions, for sure.  Brief answers?  His life claims were recorded hundreds of years before he appeared.  He lived a life of complete integrity.  Instead of dying off quietly, his followers were themselves willing to die while continuing to proclaim his truth, assured there was more beyond their death here.  They said this was the Creator of the world and that he had come to exhibit the very definition of love.

 

How do I know what words to speak that will last?  …what decisions to make in the myriad of choices in life?  …which route to take and who to call when I see I’ve mis-stepped?  How do I come to peace in my relationships and in the world at large?  I have to believe that the one who made me, beginning with the mathematically amazing, statistically unbelievable universe we live in, knows.  The one who was willing to die for me, I believe I can trust to work all things for my good.

 

The trail starts and ends with him. And in between, He continues to be the way…
… If my people will humble themselves and pray… and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways… then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

 

Respectfully,

REH

 

 

[Intramuralist Note:  REH and I became friends as kids at camp a couple decades ago; she has since earned an MA in counseling… and continues to spur me — and many — on.]


fear itself

[Note:  Today is day 8 of 10 in our annual Guest Blogger Series.  Please remember:  the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed.  The goal is respectful articulation.]

 

“Solar storm barreling towards Earth”

The headline made me stop and click on the link to read the July 14, 2012 AP article by Alicia Chang.

Solar storm. Barreling. Barreling towards Earth.  That can’t be good.

“A solar storm is due to arrive on Saturday morning and last through to Sunday, slamming into Earth’s magnetic field.”  (Emphasis mine).

Instinctively my heart races a little faster after reading the first sentence in the article.  Barreling and slamming definitely have me a little worried.  I just know this solar storm is big and dangerous.

Fear. Invisible, but potent fear enters my body with the air I breathe.

The fact is, reasons to be frightened are everywhere we turn. The radio, TV, and the Internet literally scream fear into our lives: shootings, climate change, social change, you name it. Our political pundits are especially skilled at pushing our panic buttons.

In his first inaugural address, Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Why is that? What are the ramifications of being fearful?

  1. Chaos instead of clarity: When panicking we tend not to think clearly or rationally.
  2. Cowardliness instead of courage: Self preservation trumps caring for others. Our survival instinct kicks in when we are faced with the imminent demise of our existence, livelihood, or even our way of life.
  3. Division instead of unity: Fear makes us trust less, and when we trust people less we are more apprehensive about engaging with them, which in turn, fosters unwarranted prejudice instead of true discernment.
  4. Pointing fingers instead proposing a solution: When busy playing the blame game, we often find ourselves too preoccupied with discovering who’s at fault instead of uncovering answers.

If being fearful causes us to toss out reason, can we choose to overcome our apprehension with something more constructive? Is it time for us to collectively take a giant step back and breathe some non-anxious air into our lungs? Is time for us to be courageous, confident, and informed?

Instead of reacting instantly to problem with deep dismay, ask questions, gather knowledge and find solutions.  And have a little faith; faith in each other, and perhaps faith in something bigger than us.

Oh, and the solar storm…

The next sentence in the article read:

“Scientists say it will be a minor event… We don’t see any ill effects to any systems…”

And so I click on the next article, “Are Farmers Markets Safe?”

Respectfully,

Sharon

 

[Intramuralist Note:  As one who has long been impressed and inspired by friend Sharon’s musings, see more at www.sharonsiepel.com.]



the moving process

[Note:  Today is day 6 of 10 in our annual Guest Blogger Series.  Please remember:  the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed.  The goal is respectful articulation.]

 

 

After over 30 years in a home that had seen the rearing of children, the hospitality of neighbors, the hosting of family gatherings, I engaged in the daunting task of MOVING.  Oh, it was time, and I was excited about the new home we had purchased.  Even the term “downsizing” was appealing. Nevertheless, “daunting” was the right word.

 

Closets held too much clothes; shelves held too many books; storage areas contained too many long unopened boxes; furniture was unusable in the new house.  But where to begin?  Sorting, pitching, saving I knew, but what should go into each category?  Goodwill and I became personal acquaintances.  Chin families needed clothes and linens.  Salvation Army picked up furniture.  Records and books went to the Half-priced store (for little in return).  My piano went to grandchildren.  (Notice, no garage sales… that’s not for me.)  High school and college papers and classroom lesson plans I purged… with some reluctance.  At times I did feel as if I were “downsizing” me.

 

But I saved other treasures of sentiment as well… gift books with special notes written in the cover by the giver, my dad’s violin, my mother’s dresser, dishes that were their wedding gifts, the first dress I sewed for a 4-H project at age 12 (white fabric with frisky pink lambs on it), pictures and professional recognitions.  Items likes these are touched with love and memory of events and people dear to me.  I’m not saving just the item, but the warmth therein.

 

However, I have discovered that often a process has many other applications.  I wonder if it would not be wise to evaluate just what intangibles we are hanging on to, that which has no real value and should be  purged as well:

 

— a self-regret based on “woulda-coulda-shoulda”

 

— a resentment that others have achieved what we have not

 

— an ego which prevents us from seeing the good in others

 

— a prejudice that blankets collectively people we don’t even know

 

— an anger that we nurse and rehearse because we won’t admit we might be wrong

 

— an unwillingness to forgive because that might give a gift to one who doesn’t deserve it… when it really is a gift we give ourselves

 

— an excuse to live not as we are called to by serving and loving others

 

Yes, I found the moving process though laborious, yet liberating as well.  Shedding “stuff” simplifies life.  But wouldn’t letting go of negative attitudes and hostilities be even more simplifying?  More freeing?  Wouldn’t each day be more peaceful without carrying around a load of burdensome feelings and inner turmoil?

 

Consider trying it. This is a process that doesn’t require a change of address… only a change of heart.

 

 

P.S. Thanks, Intramuralist… and I don’t miss a thing I left behind.

 

Respectfully,

DL

 

 

[Intramuralist Note:  DL has poured insight into me for decades; most of the time, I listened.  Well done, Madre… well done.]


stepping on the truth box

[Note:  Today is day 5 of 10 in our annual Guest Blogger Series.  Please remember:  the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed.  The goal is respectful articulation.]

 

 

I want the truth. But … do I … really? Sometimes I feel just like the recipient of the infamous line from A Few Good Men, who was told, “You can’t handle the truth!”

 

Hearing hard things makes me wilt a bit inside, even when I purposely place myself in a setting where everyone is encouraged to speak the truth. Over five years ago I joined a group of five women who meet every other week to share life stories, encourage one another, and challenge certain bad habit patterns and distorted thinking.

 

I like to call our time together “stepping on the Truth Box.” But we really call it PDP, which stands for Personal Development Plan. The group was formed to teach some assessment tools for life coaching, but as we began to share life stories and get motivating, growth-oriented feedback, our meetings became like dope. By the time the reminder for our next gathering pops up on my calendar, I’m usually emotionally dragging a bit, in need of my PDP fix.

 

Someone always cries. Last time it was me. I was gently challenged to check my victim mentality when it comes to my chronic illness. Initially I found the words tough to hear, but so often I do need another voice spoken into my life to clearly see the truth. That day I needed a leg-up to get on my Truth Box.

 

When communication directed at one of my many vulnerabilities hits the “ouch spot,” I have to examine why the sting. If the words are true, why do they sometimes hurt? Maybe it has to do with a skewed self-image or a false reality. If I maintained a realistic view of myself, knowing I had flaws, dropped stitches, and natural shortcomings, wouldn’t it be easier to hear truth?

 

In order to avoid emotional pain, some might suggest adapting a thicker skin approach to life but perhaps more permeable skin would serve me better. The callousness of thick skin doesn’t allow for the flow of truth and grace. And maybe that’s the missing component, a dose of grace mixed with the truth. I like Webster’s definition, “a disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy or clemency.” Truth always tastes better delivered with kindness.

 

The other day when I received truth from my PDP sisters, it came with plenty of grace.  🙂

 

Receiving hard stuff takes practice. The steadier the diet of truth, the easier it is to digest. My self-awareness learning curve keeps climbing thanks to caring people in my life willing to say the tough stuff.

 

I like living in the emotional place where I can unabashedly articulate my strengths AND my weaknesses. If you have a criticism of me, it may bruise my ego a bit to hear it, but if I want to move forward in life then, “bring it on.” Just please don’t forget the measure of grace.

 

Respectfully,

Caroline

 

 

[Intramuralist Note:  Caroline is wise woman.  I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again; I appreciate both her fondness and knowledge of baseball, the bible, and good beer.]

partaking of fiction

[Note:  Today is day 3 of 10 in our annual Guest Blogger Series.  Please remember:  the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed.  The goal is respectful articulation.]

 

Numerous parents over the past two decades have approached me with grave concerns over what their children are reading. Their concerns are wide-ranging and unpredictable.

Some say that their children should only read ethically solid or specifically Christian literature; anything else would be too morally relative, as moral standards in this country continue to digress. In fact, I taught for a year at a Christian school whose curriculum oversight committee refused to allow its students to read anything besides specifically Christian literature. To repeat, I taught there only a year.

Some parents allow their children to read a small selection of secular fiction, but they fret over it. (“Should they really read these books with obviously sinful or ‘ethically-challenged’ characters?”) Others take a very relaxed stance, allowing their children to read whatever their hearts desire, but not helping provide any kind of filter through which to read and understand this literature.

Same goes for movies, only more so. Since it is such a visual medium, movies are more scary to parents, who approach them with fear and caution — and rightly so.

This all begs an important question: What standards can we apply toward viewing/reading fiction?

The obvious answer is biblical: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Then they look at the work of fiction to see what is lovely, honorable, and just.

This is an excellent standard for a start. Let’s consider adding more to this list of criteria.

First, realize that “whatever is lovely” wants us to dwell on truth and beauty. Also realize that “whatever is true” includes not just beauty but also the whole truth about, well, truth. What’s true and real is that this world is full of sin. It’s ugly, and it warps everything it touches. And evil is evil; it is to be avoided, not desired.

How best to show that evil has consequences? Depict it in all its ugliness, and watch the consequences unfold. Well-written fiction will do just that. However, sugar-coating the truth provides an unrealistic picture of the “real world.” Does this mean that students should read every kind of pulp fiction out there? Absolutely not. Find good fiction that shows the true tension of good versus evil, that shows the repugnance of evil. Take a careful look at what happens when people give in to it.

Some of the dark literature of modernity will provide excellent examples. I want my students to read about the cry of man’s heart: “What do I do with the darkness I have inside me?” In realistically-depicted fiction, we can see what happens when man cries out for a savior and then tries to save himself, or invents his own savior, or destroys himself in pursuit of a better life. Perhaps he creates a whole new society in which everything can be manipulated so that human emotions and attitudes can be tightly controlled. We see how successful that is in Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World, Hunger Games, Divergent, Anthem, and Atlas Shrugged, to name just a few. And can a student learn something from the failed experiment of the creation of a new society? You bet.

The naked, ugly truth is that deep down, man cries out for a savior. That heart-wrenching agony can be clearly seen in Romans, in which Paul tells the truth of man’s situation: the things I want to do, I don’t do; those things I don’t want to do, I do. Then Paul cries out “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  Isn’t this what every person despairs of, at some point in his life? What kind of sugar-coated, romanticized fiction ever depicts ugly, unbearable truth like that? Rarely does Christian fiction do it well.

However, look at Picture of Dorian Gray, Heart of Darkness, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example. The futility of trying to overcome one’s weaknesses by creating some sort of hero oneself is portrayed in all of its dark brutality. Did these authors know the one, true God? Some will argue the answer; however, it is clear that these authors realized the futility in their own lives and expressed it clearly.

Can a non-Christian depict the truth in his work of fiction? For an answer, take a look at Les Miserables or A Tale of Two Cities. (Some will argue that Dickens was a Christian; we will not take up that argument here — someone else can. We do know that Hugo was an avowed pagan.) What about revenge and its devastating results in The Count of Monte Cristo? The beauty of reconciliation and repentance is laid out clearly in all these books. Did God use these men? I would argue that yes, he did — and does.

So how do we approach literature with our children? Teach them the truth of the Law and the Gospel. Man is sinful and cannot save himself. He desperately needs a savior and tries to fill the void with his own works and inventions. Dead in his own sins, God reaches in and pulls him up out of the grave and into life. How tragic for those who have not been made alive by God!

Let’s see how this is played out in literature.

(For more reading on how to view literature from a biblical worldview, see Reading Between the Lines by Gene Veith, The Twelve Trademarks of Literature by Jeff Baldwin, and How to Read Slowly by James Sire.)

Respectfully,

Shaunna

[Intramuralist Note:  For more of Shaunna’s wit & wisdom — which she has long, generously shared with me, see www.writingrhetorically.com.  LOVE her emphasis on discerning rhetoric!]

one huge question

A great discussion occurred at the ballpark yesterday.  In one of those slow moments, hoping to teach our children well, one young person asked one huge question…

 

“What does it mean to sacrifice?”

 

Ah, terrific question!  She has heard the word often in today’s culture…   “shared sacrifice”…  “a sacrificial lamb”…  “sacrifice bunt”…  “sacrifice fly”…  “hard choices and shared sacrifice”… “all must sacrifice.” 

 

And then one seemingly discerning parent chirped in, “I don’t think many today have any comprehension of what it means to sacrifice.”  Touché.  Hearing the word and knowing what it means are two totally different things.

 

Man cannot sacrifice that which costs him nothing.

 

 

Sacrifice…  what it is…

 

An offering of something precious.  Precious.

A giving up of something for the sake of someone else.

Selfless.

 

 

What it’s not….

 

An offering of something worthless.  Worthless.

A giving up of something for one’s own sake — i.e. for publicity, attention, or “impression management.”

Selfish.

 

 

What today’s culture often acts as if it is…

 

Something we expect of someone else.

 

 

At this point in our fans-in-the-stands conversation, with now multiple adults chiming in, I suppose our one young person may have been overwhelmed, but to her credit, she listened attentively for a final question, confused with culture’s overuse of a word that made little sense…

 

“So what’s the opposite of ‘sacrifice’?”

 

A short pause and then…

 

“Indulgence.”

 

“Entitlement.”

 

“Expectation.”

 

 

Hence, all the Intramuralist offers this day is one simple question in response:

Which is more prominent in today’s culture…  sacrifice?  … or indulgence, entitlement, and expectation?

 

I wonder what the long term impact is… indulgence without consequence, entitlement in place of individual responsibility, all arguably, while feeling entitled.  I wonder how the prominence of such self-focused, guised virtues affects people and policy…

 

Perhaps that discerning parent was right.  “I don’t think many today have any comprehension of what it means to sacrifice.”   Hearing the word and knowing what it means are two totally different things.

 

Respectfully,

AR

the error of our ways

Typical of my family’s summer evenings, I had opportunity to watch another youth baseball game yesterday… (actually, I watched about 4 games yesterday.)  Good thing I love that sport.  While yes, the pace can seemingly eke along at times, all the strategic nuances of the game can be fascinating…  well, not always as fascinating as the fans.  Yesterday, I decided to observe the fans…

 

 … the yellers… the screamers… the strong, silent types… the knowledgable… the casual observer… the college scholarship hoper… the sibling who’d prefer to be elsewhere… the devoted family… the team mom… the always encouraging… the discouraged… the focusers on the positive…

 

Before my son began playing, I observed the loyalists at the game on the field before us.  The red team was to my left — the blue team to my right.  Note that these kids were 13 years old…  competitive baseball, but 13 nonetheless.

 

The red team’s parents cheered only for their team.  The blue team’s parents likewise cheered only for their own.  On a side note, my observant younger son and I enjoyed cheering on the good plays regardless of team color.

 

As the game progressed with the score remaining close, the intensity also evolved.  I noticed a little more enthusiasm.  A little louder cheer.  And a little more dramatic disappointment when the diamond’s circumstances didn’t match the fans’ desires.

 

These fans weren’t unique.  They didn’t seem different than any of the fans gracing the sidelines of the 31 other fields in this tournament.  Truthfully, they didn’t seem much different than you and me.  Still, one thing bothered me most…

When the first baseman dropped a foul ball, the opposing fans cheered.  

When the shortstop made an error, the hoopin’ and hollerin’ continued.

When a pitch went wild that allowed all runners to advance, screams of delight went shrieking through the stands.

 

In other words, the cheers were no less in enthusiasm and volume than when a great play was made.

The fans cheered just as loudly when their sons did well as they did when the other teams’ sons messed up.  In other words, it mattered not how their own sons succeeded.  The means justified the end.  If someone else erred, it was irrelevant if their own son benefitted.  All they seemed to want was for their kid to win.  Truth be told, I’m not sure those parents are any different than you and me.

 

Previously this week I had a conversation with a friend who suggested the means didn’t matter.  It was fascinating to me.  He recognized that while the means may not “look good” or be saturated with obvious integrity, sometimes that was necessary to get the desired end result.  We were talking current events — not even baseball.

 

Cheering on the errors was nowhere more evident than on the game immediately preceding my son’s initial playoff game later in the day…

 

Ahead 12-3 going into the top of the last inning, the Elks’ defense suddenly gave up 10 runs, changing pitchers 4 times in less than 3 outs — attempting to somehow stop the so-called baseball bleeding.  With each run and pitcher alteration, the intensity ratcheted up another notch.  In the game.  In the stands.

 

Going into the bottom half of the inning now down by 1, the Elks first play was a slow dribbler toward second — a seemingly easy play.  The ball then went methodically right through the second baseman’s legs.  The crowd, no less, went wild!  Cheers (and jeers, of course — not from the strong, silent type) were dependent on the color of your team.

 

Question:  do we celebrate the error of another if we stand to benefit?  Does it matter to us if someone else screwed up?  Do we even care about those people?  Or do we simply cheer if something good happens for us?

 

Many seem to cheer — socially and politically and even at baseball — because of what they personally receive —  because of how they personally perceive the benefit.  I feel at times like often that’s more important that what’s fiscally responsible, constitutional, or even what is good.  I’m reminded of the 20-something I overheard talking about the new healthcare law.  She didn’t care what was in it; she was just happy that she didn’t have to pay for insurance any more.  In her words, she could “blow it on something else.”

 

Often, it seems, we’re solely focused on our own benefit.  On winning.  On us.

 

I wonder if we do that in far more places than youth sports…

 

Respectfully,

AR

not special

As commencement speeches become snoozingly predictable and rhetorical, creative overtures are especially appreciated.  One address, given last week by English teacher David McCullough at a Massachusetts high school, was not appreciated by all.  The now ‘gone-viral’ speech is colloquially known as “You’re Not Special.”  The following words are extracted verbatim from McCullough’s message:

 

“Commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism.  Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue.  Normally, I avoid clichés like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field.  That matters.  That says something.  And your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all.  Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same.  And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.  All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special.  You are not special.  You are not exceptional.

 

Contrary to what your U9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.”

 

If you watch the video, you will find the teenage crowd attentively chuckling in response.  My sense is that McCullough intentionally worked to speak to the graduates in a language they’d understand.  Once he knew they were ‘with him’ — interested in what he was actually saying instead of lured to sleep by another predictable or rhetorical overture — that’s where McCullough left sarcasm behind and shared his central message… a message to a culture that so easily focuses on self…

 

… where we think we’re the most talented athlete…

… where we think we’re the brightest politician…

… where we think we’re the greatest, best, most grounded, solid, exceptional, experienced, gifted, intelligent, successful, you-name-it…

 

… where we’re so focused on our own ‘specialness.’

 

Hence, having their attention, the wise English prof adds:

 

“… We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  We have come to see them as the point – and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.  No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it…  Now it’s ‘So what does this get me?’

 

… If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning.  You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness.  (Second is ice cream…  just an FYI)  I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning.  It’s where you go from here that matters.

 

… Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction.  Be worthy of your advantages.  And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect.  Read as a nourishing staple of life.  Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it.  Dream big.  Work hard.  Think for yourself.  Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might.  And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer…

 

… None of this day-seizing, though, this YOLOing, should be interpreted as license for self-indulgence.  Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct.  It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things.  Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view.  Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.  Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly.  Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion-and those who will follow them.  And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.  The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.  Because everyone is.”

 

That was his point.  Everyone’s special.  But we can’t allow that to cause us to think too highly of ourselves.  Too many people do.

 

Respectfully,

AR

scanning the headlines

Scanning the headlines from the week in review, I find the following actual leaks and laments…

 

Game On!  2012 Battle Lines Are Drawn

 

Bloomberg Versus the Big Gulp

 

Wisconsin Race Seen as National Barometer

 

Bill Clinton Said What?

 

What’s the Matter With Bill Maher?

 

Why Dems Don’t Want to Talk About Economy

 

Walker’s Example: Courage Rewarded

 

Post-Wisconsin Overreaction Commences

 

Presidential Race at a Tipping Point?

 

The Unions’ Biggest Loss Was in California

 

Big Government Has Paralyzed U.S. Economy

 

Dems and GOP Blast White House Over Leaks

 

Obama’s Revealing Press Conference

 

“Spain Seeks Bailout”

 

Sorry, but when I spend too much time focused on the above, it exhausts me…

 

Wisconsin, Washington… Washington, Wisconsin.  Obama, Romney… Romney, Obama.  Rhetoric, rhetoric, and even more rhetoric.  Impression management.  Egad.  It makes me tired just thinking about it.  How can we focus on what is good and pure and right, when so much works to distract us?

 

And then I’m reminded this week of my dear friend, Phillips…

 

Phillips was leaving an MLB game, when she noticed a man frantically running nearby… running toward her actually.  And while in this society, so many fake both need and sincerity, Phillips knew she had to stop.  Stop.  She had to help him.

 

Quickly she discerned the man was in dire need.

 

“Do you have a cell phone?!  Can you call 911?” he yelled.  “I think my friend’s having a heart attack!”

 

His friend was slumped over at the wheel.

 

I can’t imagine what those minutes were like… when life and death hang in the balance… when all other concerns melt in momentousness.  And yet here was my friend, calling 911, her fingers holding tightly to the wrist of a fading pulse, her heart grappling with the sobering reality of what was happening:  one life.  One soul.  The moment one good man died.

 

On the weeks where I struggle watching the headlines — distracted by what is not good, not noble, and not right — my struggle is that so much of this world focuses on the wrong things.

 

Thank God for people like Phillips… people who know what is good.

 

And noble.  And right.

 

Thank God.

 

Respectfully,

AR