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

missing in our mission

I’ve decided I’m not too keen on this concept of being “religious.”  So many of us seem too religious.  We are religious about our work schedules, our workouts, eating, drinking, reading, looking good, our morning crosswords, shopping, iTunes accounts, iPods, iPads, iSomethings, word choices, kids’ sports, etc.  Being religious has little to do with faith, friends.  “Religious” simply means devoted to a cause or activity.  I’ve known many who are wholeheartedly devoted; and yet many omit any acknowledgement of the divine.

 

Repeatedly in current societal mantras — also, often, with no acknowledgement of God — I am hearing the calls for justice… for social justice, for a just social standing.  The reason so many advocate for the widows and orphans and poor and disabled is because such persons have no social standing; there is no prestige attached to their position.  And so, some loudly articulate the need for social “justice.”

 

How can we provide social “justice”?  What can — and should — we do for the least of these? … for the most vulnerable?

 

… feed.

 

… give a cold drink.

 

… invite in.

 

… clothe.

 

… care for when sick.

 

… visit when imprisoned.

 

Each of the above compassionately and effectively ministers to the least among us.  We should thus be generous in the above provisions.  Many, in fact, are “religious” in their attempts to both advocate and provide.

 

Fascinating to me still, is that many religiously attempt to both advocate and provide but offer no acknowledgement of God.  And yet, each of the above socially “just” provisions is deeply rooted in biblical exhortation.  It thus then blurs the supposedly nonporous boundary between what is church and what is state — especially when one advocates for social justice as a role of federal government.  We are then asking government to do what God has commanded — albeit, what God has commanded the individual… what God has commanded for you and me.

 

For many “religious” persons — most likely myself, too, at times — we ignore that individual command.  We oft abdicate our role in providing for the least among us.  We can sit back, shout the name of Jesus, but do we actually engage in the feeding and giving, inviting and clothing, caring and visiting?  Some will be called to work in the field; others will be called to contribute monetarily.  But it is equally, arguably hypocritical to stand back, acknowledge God’s exhortation to the individual, but then, do nothing to provide for those who have lesser.

 

Once again, friends, we find a societal issue where far too many are firmly entrenched on a supposed right or left.  The solution is not compromise.  The solution is to dissipate man-created, partisan opinion and do what we are individually called to do.

 

What are we called to do?

 

Feed.  Give.  Invite.  Clothe.  Care for.  And visit.

 

What else?

 

Acknowledge God.

 

If we do one without the other — even though the call for individual social provision is actually historically, biblically beseeched — then something is missing in our mission…

 

… most likely something that is prudent and wise.

 

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

who?

Who will lead us now?

 

Friends, I’ll be honest.  Actually, I think that’s a fairly funny saying.  If we say, “I’ll be honest,” does that imply we were always previously dishonest?  The Intramuralist will always be honest.

 

I am concerned at the levels of polarization in this country.  I am worried about the increasing intensity.  When we spoke Tuesday of the Wisconsin election, we called it “the national hotbed of polarized politics.”  That’s not necessarily a good thing.  To be polarized means to be divided.  And to be divided completely contradicts a united state of America.

 

So my call is for wisdom.  Specifically, my call is for wise leadership.

 

Who will lead us wisely?

 

To lead us wisely means to put aside personal pursuits.

To lead us wisely means to forgo ingrained ideology.

To lead us wisely means to cease rhetorical division.

 

Who will lead us wisely?

 

To lead us wisely does not necessarily mean compromise.

To lead us wisely does not mean absent of strong opinion.

To lead us wisely does not mean free from all emotion.

 

Who will lead us wisely?

 

To lead us wisely means to have a proven economic, social, and moral plan.

To lead us wisely means to communicate that plan respectfully.

To lead us wisely means tirelessly and compassionately working to unify all people through that plan.

 

The plan of any good leader does not have to be agreed upon by all people.  It should always be communicated, however, with respect for all people, and the ways in which the effectiveness of the plan will be measured must be tangible and clear.

 

Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) kept his job Tuesday night.  Democrats attempted to recall him because of his desire to limit collective bargaining due his perception that unlimited public contracts negatively affect the state budget.  Let’s watch and see what happens to the state budget now that his plan is in effect.  At the same time, let’s be sympathetic to those union workers who now have to pay a little more.  Let’s work to understand their frustration.  Yet again, let’s see if his plan works.  Will Gov. Walker lead Wisconsin wisely?

 

From a national perspective, will Pres. Obama lead us wisely?

 

I would like to say “yes.”  I can’t at this point.  Pres. Obama, as much as I respect him, often uses words that feel intentionally divisive to me.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But I’m uncomfortable with blaming seemingly all failure on the previous administration while attributing all success to self.  Economically, especially, that seems illogical to me.  And thus, it doesn’t seem like wise nor courageous leadership.

 

Who will lead us wisely?

 

The persons who will lead us wisely will be morally-grounded.  How they feel will not evolve with the prominence of polling data.  They will say what they mean and mean what they say.  They won’t say one thing to one audience and something else to another.

 

Who will lead us wisely?

 

The one who will lead us wisely will do so with cords of human kindness… with submission and respect… and with a clear recognition that leadership is a humble calling…

 

There is zero arrogance.  There is no use of the pronoun “I.”  There exists only the sobering reality recognizing that wisdom evades most who attempt to actually lead.

 

Respectfully,

AR

on Wisconsin

Today’s the day Wisconsinites gather for more than a Packer game.  (Granted, Lambeau Field seems far more unifying.)  Today is the recall election for the state’s chief executive.  For more factual details on what has progressed to this point, please read our week old post entitled “Discerning What Is Wise.”  Today’s respectful opining focuses instead on what’s actually at stake.

 

In order to genuinely discern what’s at stake, step one is to whittle away the rhetoric.  If you read hyperbolic editorials or listen to the latest rhetorical robo-call, you may hear the following, actual claims:

 

“The Final Battle In The War Against Unions Is Underway”

“Wisconsin Can’t Wait”

“Governors Declare War on Nurses and Teachers”

“Governor of the Year:  Scott Walker”

“We Hate Walker!”

 

Scott Walker has been Wisconsin’s CEO for only 18 months, and yet, in that brief period of time, “America’s Dairyland” has been transformed into the national hotbed of polarized politics.  What’s synonymous with polarized, political hotbeds?  Rhetorical abundance.  Factual manipulation.  Limitless passion.  Record distortion.  And a total disrespect of dissenting opinion.

 

(Note:  more people in Wisconsin need to read the Intramuralist.)

 

Clearing away the rhetorical chaff, there exists no Wisconsin “war.”  Last I observed, while American armed forces fight bravely in Afghanistan, there is no war on women, no war on teachers, no war on Christmas, contraception, etc.  Let’s not disrespect our troops by claiming military conflict where it doesn’t exist.  Hence, there is no “war” in Wisconsin.  The origin of this conflict rests in the question of whether or not collective bargaining should be limited.  That is not war; that is a question… a question on which reasonable people disagree.

 

What is the long term impact of union contracts on state government?

 

And a secondary question that all reasonable people must also wrestle with:  do labor unions funnel money to their candidates who, if elected, then return the favor by approving overly generous contracts?

 

Stop.  Take a deep breath.  Refrain from emotional argument.

 

Our opinions on the appropriateness of collective bargaining limitations say nothing about how we feel about teachers.  That is an emotional argument simply serving to ratchet up the rhetorical volume.  I had some great teachers; in fact, thanks to clever Mr. Cunningham, I’m now consistently utilizing my genuine interest in current events!  And allow me to not speak solely of my own experience, as I’m also incredibly thankful for my sons’ educators, especially those who unselfishly empower my youngest, having special needs.

 

Yet how we feel about our teachers does not correlate to the relevant question.  What is the long term impact of union contracts on state government?  How have public employee pensions and insurance affected state budgets?  Those questions must be asked and answered without all the rhetorical and emotional interference.

 

Notice California — a beautiful state currently strangled by massive debt.  Public pensions have been a significant contributor to this noose. (FYI:  Be careful when researching this issue; many partisan writers will claim an inaccurate percentage, omitting the key accounting issue of underfunding pensions, with some state funds scheduled to run out as early as 2017.)   According to Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA), “Three times as many people are retiring as are entering the workforce. That arithmetic doesn’t add up. In addition, benefits, contributions and the age of retirement all have to balance. I don’t believe they do today. So we have to take action.”

 

Agree or disagree with the approach, the origin of the Badger political hotbed is a result of one state taking action.

 

Gov. Walker asked public employees (exempting law enforcement and firefighters) to pay 5.8% of their salary toward pensions and a minimum of 12.6% toward health insurance premiums.  Previously in Wisconsin, employees paid little to nothing for pensions and an average of 6% toward healthcare.  While the jury’s still out on long term implications, in these short 18 months, a clear majority of objective sources conclude that Wisconsin’s economic climate has improved.

 

Thus, the question:  what is the longterm impact?

 

If rhetoric stays out of the way, today Wisconsinites might be closer to answering that question.  The rest of the country will most likely also answer it soon.

 

Respectfully,

AR

illegal

This week Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a ban on super-sized soft drinks in New York City.  While his stated goal was portion control in an effort to reduce obesity, it was ironically amusing, as the announcement came 24 hours before National Donut Day, an observation the mayor’s office previously, publicly, and enthusiastically proclaimed.

 

Controlling soft drink size, however, is not the bottom line over which we should gulp.  After all, this is merely one law aspiring to control our behavior…

 

In West Virginia, only babies can ride in a baby carriage.

In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal to sleep in your refrigerator.

And in Flint, Michigan, we could each be arrested for donning those lovely, “saggy pants.”

 

The question is this:  how far should the government go to control individual behavior?  Does the government have that responsibility?  Is the government even capable of legislating that behavior?

 

Some legislation possesses greater credibility for legality consideration due to the targeted behavior having a proven, clear, and negative affect on another living being.  That’s the legitimacy in the legislation to curb indoor smoking; secondhand smoke causes health risks for those adjacent to the smoker.

 

That’s the legitimacy in the effort to ban abortion.  Aborting a fetus stops someone else’s heart.  The point is that individual acts such as smoking and/or abortion have a proven, clear, and negative impact on someone else.

 

The challenge then for any democracy is the extent to which behavior should be controlled when the negative impact on someone else is not proven and clear…

 

… such as soft drink gulping…

 

… such as homo or heterosexual activity…

 

… such as you-name-it.

 

Friends, I am not suggesting that all individual behavior is good and noble and right.  My question is more in regard to whether or not the government should legislate our isolated behavior.  When government attempts to control individual actions, government struggles to adhere to fluctuating standards of morality; government often overreaches; and government also inches toward policy more associated with Marxist and Communist thinking.

 

Allow me a rather relevant example…

 

One criminal activity has been especially glamorized with the evolution of society…

 

… in the name of love… in finding one’s soulmate… often veiled by celebrity…

 

Paul Newman, Julia Roberts, and Jerry Seinfeld — each of their marriages began via adultery.  Society has become numb to that behavior.  I speak not judgmentally, friends.  Many of us have been hurt or even engaged in such activity; we’re each capable of error.  My concern, however, is that society no longer sees adultery as not good, not noble, and not right.

 

The relative thinking here is that adultery has long been attempted to be legislated.  From early Roman law to the onset of American, adultery has been defined as criminal activity.  In many states still — from New York to North Dakota — adultery is illegal.  Government has attempted to curb this unhealthy, individual behavior.

 

(Dare the Intramuralist go out on a limb here, but…)  The legislation has been ineffective.

 

My point is this:  there are some behaviors that while currently viewed by as unhealthy or wrong, government is still incapable of stopping.  Government cannot supersede the spirit within the man.  Conviction comes via truth — not via government.  Also, we are motivated to find that truth when we are allowed to experience the consequences of our behavior.  When government removes the ability to experience the motivating consequences and repercussions of our individual actions and choices, we have moved further away from democracy and further still from wisdom.

 

Enough for now.  Pass the Diet Coke.

 

Respectfully,

AR

the chosen

Over the holiday weekend I witnessed it once again.  It’s been around seemingly forever, and yet it still can make me uncomfortable.  Obviously, it makes many uncomfortable; otherwise, society wouldn’t struggle dreaming up creative ways to avoid it.  We instead label the struggle and scheming as something else… something that sounds better… but something it’s not…

 

One by one, the kids lined up.  The boys to the left, the girls to the right.  The oldest maybe 13, the youngest near 5.  Time to choose.

 

“I pick you!” said the first captain, after quickly yet carefully assessing the potential prowess of the 20 plus peers before him.  “I pick Jackson!” said the next.  And so the process continued until all were chosen.

 

The frail little 5 year old was last.  The look on her face revealed little from a faraway glance.  I wondered how she felt being chosen last.

 

Chosen last.  Even worse?  Not chosen.

 

Therein lies the problem.  That’s what’s hard and often uncomfortable.  When people are selected for various activities or honors, someone is always chosen last or not even chosen.  I don’t like it on “Survivor.”  I didn’t like it in Saturday’s whiffle ball game.  Witnessing the one chosen last makes me uncomfortable.

 

My sense is that such discomfort is shared by more than me.  No ethical one appreciates another inherently deemed as “the worst of these.”  So the question is:  what are we to do?  What are we to do with the one with the perceived less ability?  Less prowess?  Hardest circumstances?

 

Those questions have historically been challenging for society to wrestle with.  We either ignore the discomfort — or in a currently increasing mantra, we work to keep that selection process from ever happening.  Allow me to illustrate…

 

When prom was hosted by Kaynor Tech High School in Waterbury, Connecticut this month, the principal of the school altered the selection process for king and queen.  Proclaiming that everyone deserves “the same opportunity,” Principal Lisa Hylwa — rather than allowing students to vote for the winner — had prom participants instead put their names in a box; the teenage royals were then drawn at random.  Yes, a random king and queen.

 

According to Hylwa, a chosen king and queen could potentially “spark jealousy, mean behavior, or bullying.”  The random drawing was, in her opinion, wiser.  In other words, the principal desired to keep the selection process from ever happening.

 

Now as admitted at the onset of this posting, it’s uncomfortable to witness the one chosen last or the ones never chosen.  Yet it seems equally painful (and reeking of a very stiff, political correctness) to suggest that the election process must cease to exist.  The reality is that not all persons are qualified for prom king, not all politicians can win an election, and not every basketball player will be selected in the NBA draft.

 

It seems to me that there is an increasingly developing mindset that each of us should be so qualified — that we should have this “fair shot” or opportunity at all.  The challenge is that the full manifestation of that logic is absent of the truth that we are each created with different gifts; we aren’t all equal.  We each have different skills, different gifts, varied intensities of ambition, work ethics, and God-given abilities.  To ignore them — and eliminate any process of election — seems equally uncomfortable.  Man can’t control something God created.

 

Friends, I don’t have all the answers; don’t conclude I feel that I do.  My strong sense is simply that this idea that all must have equal opportunity is creating an entitlement sense that lacks the wisdom to recognize individual gifting.  To eliminate the selection process — and thus any voting of kings and queens — is unwise.

 

FYI:  My youngest son was a part of Saturday’s whiffle ball game.  Of the 20 plus kids, he was one of the last chosen.  Did I mention he has Down syndrome?  Yet did he grimace and fret as it neared the end of the selection process?  Was he upset about being picked close to last?

 

That adorable 10 year old jumped up and down, eager to play, thankful to be a part of a team.  He has many gifts — most not exhibited on a base path.  He knows that.  Hence, if we could all be a little more like him…

 

(P.S.  He does have a great arm.)

 

Respectfully,

AR

discerning what is wise

One week from today a historic election will be held in the Badger state.  For those comfortably identified as a “political junkie,” it’s actually rather fascinating.  For those who prefer politics be kept far more than even an arm’s length away, it’s an event that will fly completely below all radars.  Yet for the Intramuralist, it reveals the wisdom — or rather, lack of it — in the established political process.

 

First, briefly, the basic facts:

 

  • Republican Scott Walker was elected Governor of Wisconsin in Nov. of 2010.
  • On Feb. 15, 2011, the “Scott Walker Budget Repair Bill” was introduced.
  • Details of the bill:  The stated purpose was to help fix unbalanced state finances by cutting benefits for most union employees (law enforcement and firefighters were exempt).  Union negotiations (for all but wages) became limited.  State employees were required to contribute 5.8% of their pay toward pensions and at least 12.6% toward health care.  (See the Green Bay Press Gazette for a more specific summary.)
  • On Feb. 17, 2011, Democrat state senators walked out and left the state, in order to prevent the bill’s ratification.
  • Large protests occurred; protestors hailed from multiple states.
  • In March, the bill was signed into law.
  • Efforts ensued to recall multiple Republican state senators who supported the legislation, costing millions of dollars.  When elections were held in August, most senators kept hold of their seats and Republicans thus kept control of the Senate.
  • A recall election was then pursued for Gov. Walker (state election rules require a governor to be in office at least 1 year prior to pursuing recall).
  • This coming Tuesday, June 5th, is that election.

 

Here’s what the Intramuralist finds foolish in this process…

 

First, I’m astounded by any adult whose means of dealing with undesirable circumstances is to run away.  I’m reminded of my 13 year old; he’s still maturing.  There are times when we have some tough conversations, and often, those are conversations he prefers not to have.  What’s one of his current coping strategies?  “I’m not having this conversation!”  And then he storms away.  I don’t care about party affiliation.  Have the tough conversation.  Stand proud and respectfully articulate your point when you disagree.  Otherwise, there’s great question for the need of maturing.

 

Second, the decision to recall Gov. Walker was made only a few months into his initial term.  I am struck by how partisanship so often trumps reason —  whether you are calling for Walker’s recall or the impeachment of a president.  Unless engaged in obvious criminal activity, give the elect their initial term.  If you are satisfied, vote for him again.  If you are dissatisfied, vote him out.  But don’t allow partisanship to masquerade as any sense of wisdom.

 

And thirdly, notice the massive amount of money by those desiring to oust Gov. Walker — and those who support him.  Estimates vary, but the reality is that Wisconsin has spent millions on these recall efforts.  For the 8 state senator recall races, an estimated $31 million was spent.  In the Governor’s recall election, that amount is expected to soar.  (Hmmm… wouldn’t those millions actually help fix the budgetary problems?)

 

Evidence of even more impurity?  Millions of the contributions opposing and supporting Walker are coming from organizations and people outside the state of Wisconsin.  In order words, non-Badgers are badgering the Badger elections.

 

Friends, whether you are engrained in a firm Republican or Democrat stance, if you believe your party’s establishment and the election strategy is pure, you are either unaware or ignoring the facts.  The fact is that too much money is involved in politics.  Money is polluting the system.  Without a doubt, it’s currently polluting the otherwise beautiful state of Wisconsin.

 

The fundamental question in the state of Wisconsin — the argument that the Intramuralist believes should be wrestled with and the argument over which good people will still disagree — is what is the long term impact of union contracts on state government?  Is there any truth to the belief that unions funnel money to their candidates who, if elected, then return the favor by approving overly generous contracts?  What is honorable?  What is good?  What is good for the economy?

 

While serving as the original impetus for the protests, the campaigns are no longer discussing the long term impact of collective bargaining.  The economic conditions in Wisconsin have been improving.  Yet due to the massive amounts of money distorting the political process, people and parties are now simply attempting to get “their guy” elected.  Hence, neither the Badger nor the watching non-Badger can easily discern what is wise.

 

Respectfully,

AR

teaching our children well

On Memorial Day weekend, the Intramuralist salutes our veterans and those in active duty.

 

I’d like to say the rest of us are empathetic.  I’m not sure that’s actually true.

 

You are brave.

You choose sacrifice.

You know loss.

 

When those 3 aspects are combined, most of the rest of us pale in comparison…

 

The bravest person I know is my 8 year old son.  Having survived a life-threatening illness as an infant — in addition to the repair of a congenital heart defect — he continues to know no bounds and uniquely encourages the multitudes, not allowing his disability to equate to a limitation.  He both humbles and amazes me.

 

The person I know who has most willingly chosen sacrifice is one of my dear college roommates, Sara.  Sara is a determined Air Force Academy graduate who had ample, excellent opportunities awaiting.  She and her husband have instead chosen to raise their family — and live their entire adult lives — ministering to a needy, Asian people group, void of authentic hope.  Sara’s greatest goal is to love the people there well, even though her extended family (and most modern conveniences) remain thousands of miles away.

 

In regard to knowing loss, let me sympathetically submit that I have sadly known many who have known gut-wrenching grief — those who have lost spouses, those who have lost children, those who have lost a friend or family member who have meant the absolute world to them.  I cannot imagine the depth of the heartache.  Yet amidst the agony, I’m uncertain whether any compare to those who have witnessed multiple peers perish beside them.  At any given moment, the thought has to go through your head, “that could have been me.”  To see that loss… to experience that loss… to actually feel that loss… I would think it would significantly impact your view of the world, your grasp of reality, and your level of gratitude.

 

For this Memorial Day weekend, the primary activity of the Intramuralist household is competitive baseball for our older 2 boys.  Today, in fact, in my role as an assistant coach, I watched our middle son’s team struggle through what they deemed a painful loss.  A few handled their despair somewhat less than maturely.

 

With my son in the car on our prolonged drive home, I asked why the drastic change of his countenance.  “I hate to lose,” he muttered.  For an 11 year old boy, I understand.  I also understand these young men don’t comprehend real loss.

 

“Son, perhaps it’s time to instead talk about gratitude,” I smiled subtly.

 

To those who are brave, who have willingly chosen sacrifice, and who know loss like no other, thank you.

 

Thanks for teaching us well.  A blessed Memorial Day to you… to your families, too.

 

Respectfully,

AR

 

(Originally published on Memorial Day weekend 2010.  My boys are now 15, 13, & 10.  P.S.  They still aren’t all that fond of loss.)

dear graduate

I know this time of year you are perhaps bombarded by words of encouragement, affirmation, and a plethora of gifts.  Enjoy!  You have worked hard and accomplished much.  Granted, some of you have worked harder than others, but the reality today is that this is a unique accomplishment for each of you.  The future is bright.  You have decisions to make.  And those of us watching desire to spur you on.

 

The Intramuralist thus has a few words to share with you, but know this beforehand:  what is shared today is the same regardless of the road travelled or current societal state.  How fragile is the economy, how promising is the job market — each matters less than what I share with you here.  My words will always be the same…

 

First.  Foremost.  Always…

 

Get wisdom.  At all costs, get it.  Cherish it.  Embrace it.  Many things in this world will come and go.  Life will change.  You will experience hardships and joys that are currently inconceivable.  In order to handle each of those well, it is vital that your character is marked by wisdom — more than anything else.  It matters not how rich you are or poor you are if you have not wisdom.  The perceived success of a fool will never be sustained.

 

Next, guard your heart.  Guard everything that flows from it.  I am not encouraging the construction of emotional barricades — obstacles that in the long run are more compatible with foolishness.  No, I am speaking to content.  What’s in your heart.  Keep your mouth free from perversity, and corrupt talk from your lips.  Remember that garbage in your brain means garbage will come out of it.  What’s in your brain impacts your heart.  Guard it.  Keep it pure.  Purity is one of the few things you can never retrieve.

 

Also vital, don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young.  Be an example.  Be an example in what you say, in the way you live… in love, faith, and in that purity.  It is true that we cannot control how other people think; we don’t have to.  Learn that now.  But don’t give those around you — regardless of age — a reason to look down on you.  Your youth is not a liability.  Rather, it is a gift.  A contagious gift!  There is a freshness and a clean-slate-attractiveness that prompts the rest of the world to watch you.  Use that gift well.  Be intentional in what you say, how you live, what you do.  One of the biggest mistakes people make this day — also regardless of age — is that they fail to be intentional.  They let life “just come to them.”  And then they get to the end of a day or the end of a year or perhaps the end of a life and think, “What did I do?”  “Where did my time go?”  “What did I actually invest in?”  Have an answer to that question.  Invest in what is good and pure and noble and right.

 

Know, too, that there is right and wrong in this world.  That’s a hard thing to admit.  We don’t like to acknowledge the wrong, and the reality is that many persons acknowledge wrongful thinking or behavior in irreverent ways.  Yet if you fail to acknowledge the existence of wrong and/or evil on this planet, you will be more be susceptible to the accompanying foolishness.

 

One more thing:  act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.  It’s a 3 part process, and many become passionately unbalanced because they omit one of the imperative parts…

 

If you are just but not merciful, your heart has hardened; a hardened heart hurts its possessor most…

If you are merciful but not just, you have lost your ability to reason.  There are reasonable consequences for actions and choices.  Those consequences empower growth.  The challenge is that we typically don’t like to experience any negative; we prefer an easier way…

And if you fail to be humble, an arrogance will begin to permeate all you think and do.  You will think too much of yourself.  Instead of seeing all things as a gift from God, you will think of yourself as a gift to all things.  That boastful perch will impede your wisdom — regardless of your IQ score.  Intelligence matters far, far less than wisdom.

 

Well done, graduate.  Have fun.  Life should be fun!  Remember the future is bright.  Pursue it with joy.  As you keep your focus on what’s ahead of you, encourage one another.  Serve.  Reach out to those who have lesser.  Learn from waiting.  Learn more from suffering.  Watch your words.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Don’t wear yourself out to get rich.  Don’t trust your own cleverness.  Let love and faithfulness never leave you.  Resist bitterness.  Avoid comparison.  Don’t envy.  Value wisdom.  Value wisdom most.  Be intentional.  And always remember:  there is hope for you.

 

Blessings… always…

AR