October 9, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I never thought I would be embarrassed to be an American. But after 39 years in the republic, I have to admit my face is flushed. Our national soap opera’s cast of intellectually malnourished and self-aggrandizing windbags do their daily best to castrate one of history’s shrewdest political systems.
First of all, these Republicans and Tea Party yahoos have picked the wrong time to stand their ground. The time to fight the oxymoronically named Affordable Care Act was upon its writing and enactment. It does appear that it is going to wreak havoc on the healthcare system, and the country’s economy as a whole. But it’s too late. You lost. Hang the albatross on the necks of it authors, and let it become the economic boat anchor it’s destined to be.
Let the states and the courts fight it out. Let it run its course, and if it stinks, it will be repealed, or amended. The website failures alone represent the beginning of the inane pandemic of serial failures public sector controlled healthcare will prove to be. Conservatives, if your prophecies are true, then it will fail. You will get to say, “I told you so.” And then there will be negotiations.
For the record, I’m all in favor of a healthcare system that is balanced and offers service for everyone. In fact, there is probably enough common sense still in existence in this country to create a great system. Unfortunately, such notions of rational thought have apparently been banned in Washington. We’ve mapped DNA, put a rover on Mars and transplanted hearts. You’d think there’s enough global intelligence to create a nifty healthcare system that meets everyone’s needs. Then again, people are addicted to reality TV, Miley Cyrus and Candy Crush. So, perhaps we should assert there are only pockets of intelligence out there. But there must be a way to fashion something we can all live with.
However, I’m completely opposed to a federal government that forces me to buy insurance or be fined. I don’t care what politically-based votes the SCOTUS cast, forced purchases are unconstitutional at best, and sheer abuse at worst. And I’m completely opposed to the disproportionate financial burden this will add to the lower and middle class. Start digging into the plan costs, plan benefits and the loss of coverage from businesses some people enjoy currently. The realities are beginning to hit people squarely in the face, and pocket book.
Also…ask yourself why the national health system doesn’t apply to Congress. Why we continue to allow a ruling class tell us how to live is beyond me. In fact, this blatant hypocrisy shows us that Republicans politicians are no less aristocratic than Dems. If they had principle, they would insist on equality. They don’t. BUT…it’s too late, Repubs. You didn’t sell the country on ACA’s deleterious effects early on, and you lost the battle. So let it go. Find a new approach. Quit grandstanding.
Dems, you’re not off the hook….I believe in polite social discourse and speaking kindly, even in anger. This prevents me from expressing the litany of four letter words that come to mind when I think of the people who decided to close monuments, parks, roadways, parking lots, beach fronts, the Amber Alert website, Armed Services Network, memorials and other random national locations just for the sheer purpose of making a point. Furthermore, for the President of the United States to allow this sort of behavior is absolutely egregious. He should be ashamed. One phone call could change these vindictive actions. That would assume of course, that he is not the source of these choices. If he is the source, then he has truly dishonored the presidency. Don’t make it out like these closings are in any way to be blamed on the Republicans. That’s rationalization.
What I would like to know is, who specifically ordered these closures? I mean, will one person stand up and say, “I shut down the WWII memorial. Yup, that was me. I take full responsibility for being a donkey clown.” Or will everyone in this ridiculously non-accountable bureaucracy continue to hide behind the term “administration official”? If you’re proud of your work, do like your third grade teacher said, and put your name on it.
And furthermore, the geldings in uniform who have embraced the fleeting rush of elevated pseudo authority, enforcing these stupid decisions with threats of arrest or fines, are an embarrassment to law enforcement. The citizens of this country pay your salary. Tell your supervisor to quiet down because your collective boss, American citizens, are telling you to back off.
It’s total chaos that armed enforcers are literally pulling away freedoms. If we don’t stand up and say something, what is the next freedom this government will decide to demolish? The feds like to threaten states with withholding of funds for things like highway programs. What if a state decides to buck the ACA system? Based on what I’ve seen this week, it is not without possibility that these clowns could shut the highway down, not just the funds. What if someone decides you may not speak out freely against the government, hindering the rights to free speech? What if someone decides that your health coverage is limited to no more than two children?
Micah, that’s crazy talk. REALLY?? Ben Carson spoke out publicly against the leadership in Washington and was subsequently a target of an IRS audit. Yes, a Johns Hopkins professor and neurosurgeon was audited just after comments at the national prayer breakfast that pushed back on the direction the Obama administration was headed. Hmmm….let’s see. Is that a coincidence? What was their reasonable suspicion for such an action?
This administration not only shut down Mt. Rushmore, they put up cones at a scenic rest stop so tourists can’t even view Mt. Rushmore from the public freakin’ road.
Park Rangers, armed and arrogant wannabe cops in leprechaun green outfits, told a group of senior citizens on a tour in Yosemite to stop “recreating” outdoors, and leave. Stop recreating…really? Is that in the official federal code somewhere? Guys, the Navy Seals are out catching terrorists in Somalia. And you’re ordering gramma and grandpa to stand down for snapping some pics of a buffalo herd. Seriously, have some self-respect and go back to feeding Yogi and Boo Boo.
People, don’t stand by and pretend it’s all good. Don’t say, “It’s no big deal” or “that’s just politicians.” This kind of garbage must be refuted publicly. If you walk into a dimly lit restaurant, the first couple of minutes seem dark. But after five minutes of pupil adaptation, everything seems pretty clear. Don’t allow that to happen to the control of this government over the people. “We the people” make up this country. Not the other way around. Our rights are inalienable. They are recognized, not granted, by the governmental organization. If good people do nothing, our common rights will be demolished. We are watching it happen.
Republicans, find another way to test your ACA theories instead of holding press conferences and decrying President Obama’s refusal to negotiate. Throwing a tantrum doesn’t create change. Democrats, stop abusing the people with vindictive, spiteful and draconian attacks on our freedom. Bullying is not the way to accomplish anything positive in this country.
The solution to this whole mess is simple, but not easy. Term limits and/or a mass election of all challengers. Kick incumbents to the curb.
September 23, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner wrote Leadership Challenge, a fascinating book documenting years of research into the nature of leadership. In more than 25 years of studies and publications of their findings, they have surveyed more than 70,000 individuals on six continents. One of their key questionnaires asks participants to rank characteristics they value in a leader they would follow willingly. The number one response on every survey since 1987 has been honesty.
Not financially savvy.
Those who give their time and energy for a cause, or for a job want to know, above all else, that their leaders are honest.
What is honesty? At its core, honesty is honor. An honest person is honorable. This is more than simply telling the truth. Being honest means an embodiment of virtue that creates merit, worth, respect and distinction. The honest person is upright, fair, and principled in all of their actions. There is no space for compartmentalization. This person is noble. No exceptions. A person who acts in such a manner demonstrates nobility and honor consistently. Consistency is essential.
Nobility and honor occur through continual effort and long term exemplary behaviors. In other words, you can’t be honorable 47.6% of the time. Honesty is a lifelong pattern. That’s not to say someone can’t have a bad day. But if one’s life is marked by repeated acts that are not honorable, then that person cannot claim honesty as a character trait. Is this too exacting? Ask your spouse how they feel about you being 98% faithful to your vows? Some things require that we set the bar high. Consistent honorable behavior defines and distinguishes the honest person.
A life marked by distinction, respect and maturity exudes authenticity. We all like to be around people that are genuine. The honorable person is comfortable in his or her own skin, and this is attractive. The Leadership Challenge findings prove this is universal. The person of honor loves truth, light and transparency. Why? Because their character is unassailable, which brings confidence. Authentic confidence frees us from a facade, and stabilizes our footing. As honesty is valued, it expands. And with the expansion of transparent, authentic confidence, there is an exponential payoff for those who embrace it.
We can’t be perfect, but we can be honest. It’s a daily choice.
Simple, but not easy.
September 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Character is a composite of the traits of the inner soul. Character is our ingrained nature, our actual essence. Everyone has a facade of some sort. While this facade can be honed, crafted and presented for observation, character remains at our core. Image may have its effect, but it is not the real person. Our character can grow and change and become more mature. It can also waste and devolve and rot. But make no mistake, character is who we are.
How can we differentiate between facade and reality, between image and character? Watch someone under stress. Situations that involve stress chip away at the facade because when we face duress, we are no longer in complete control. As control escapes our grasp, we react. Our carefully crafted persona lags behind the actions that reveal character. David Powlison illustrates this concept with the image of a deteriorating bridge. The bridge appears normal until heavy vehicles cross it. The weight and stress reveal its cracks.
When I was a cop, I was on a drug investigation that went badly. A guy hopped up on powder cocaine tried to take another officer’s gun. My partner and I reacted. The narcotics gave the guy super human strength. It was a violent fight. In this deadly force situation, the other two officers and I stayed calm, and wore the suspect down. Perseverance in a life or death scenario revealed character. I had also been in a situation a couple of years prior on the same street, in which I was fighting a 350 pound dope dealer while an officer stood across the street watching. That situation revealed character as well. Who would you want to back you up? All of the officers wore uniforms, but not all proved to be effective police officers under stress.
A person is who a person is. No matter how they present themselves. No matter how much you want them to be who they present themselves to be. The only way to find out their true nature is to walk through something with them, or at least in relation to them. Watch how they react to a challenge, a disaster, a setback. Watch how they react to an opportunity, a gift, a win. Stress is not always negative. It’s just an element of force from an outside source. So, good or bad situations reveal character, and thus open the window to a person’s nature.
I have developed three goals in relation to character. First, I want to be consistent. I want to be the same guy on Saturday evening as I am on Thursday morning. I want to demonstrate honor under any circumstance. Second, I want my sons to learn character. I want them to see my mistakes, and hear me admit them. I want to teach them to remain strong during stress. I want them to be consistent so there is no lag between persona and reality. Third, I want to surround myself with those who value character. In Wild At Heart, John Eldredge slams posers repeatedly. I’ve grown to appreciate this mindset. I want to engage those who shed all pretentiousness and gravitate toward personal growth and consistency. I want to have community with transparent individuals, not an image.
Simple but not easy.
August 5, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I took a break from writing on the blog recently for a few reasons. The first is that I took a new job in June that is requiring a lot of mental energy as I attempt to assimilate reams of technical knowledge in the new to me audio/video/lighting industry. The second is that we decided to try football for the oldest two wild boys, and wow, six days a week of practices has been a grind. Lastly I’ve arrived at an interesting crossroad in life. Approaching 40 and staring down the corridor of the second half of life has lead to me to explore some fairly deep thoughts, at least deep for a slack-jawed redneck like me. I haven’t published much for public consumption, though I’ve been documenting the exploration.
I suppose I’ll begin to share them piecemeal. One aspect of the exploration is this, and maybe you’ve experienced it. Have you ever been on a lake in a boat and just let it drift? Just simply watched where the waves, the currents, the wind and other effects of open water have on a boat? The past several months ushered in a season of life that gave me the opportunity to be adrift. Not powerless or confused. Simply watching the effects of life. Experiencing the lulls, the ebbs and flows. Listening to water lapping the edges. Relaxing with purpose. Obviously if you drift too long, you will careen into a fixed object. Eventually you have to fire the engine and point the nose in a direction.
That’s where I’m at now. I’m not returning to the dock I left. I’m pointing to a new destination on the horizon and pushing the throttle forward. To describe it as liberating might be a touch cliche. So I’ll sum up the trip as contemplative and inquisitive. More Interrogative, less declarative. Yes, this is a shade ambiguous, but that is part of the journey. Exploring life’s values is not a laboratory experiment. I’m not sure what all I’ll find. If everything in life were straight lines, things would be pretty boring.
So, a toast to the second half of life’s travels! Simple, but not easy.
July 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Last week I read an interesting article by a guest on Michael Hyatt’s blog and found myself commenting politely my disagreement with a few of the author’s assertions, though not the entire article. You can read it in its entirety here to gain context, but here are the three things I pushed back on.
Use Short Words | Use Short Sentences | Use Short Paragraphs
In fairness, the author, a guy named Ray Edwards, who responded kindly to reader comments including my own, certainly can’t sort through all writing elements in one blog post. He wrote that you are more persuasive using short words, and that you should write to be skimmable and scannable. In our information age of weblogs, ebooks and self-publishing, I think I understand his point. Yet for some reason, “short, skimmable & scannable” seem to convey a lowest common denominator mindset that dumbs down writing.
Another reader, Tor Constantino (also an accomplished writer, and fellow Jim Gaffigan fan) who responded to my comment, said that statistics pointing to low reading levels in the US support this concept of writing shorter, easier to digest material. I write this tongue in cheek, but that sounds like an inverted version of the hyperbolic “jump off the bridge” question parents whip out on their peer pressured adolescent, doesn’t it? I mean if we follow that out, shouldn’t we simply write everything for four year olds? See Jane run. See Dick throw. See them in timeout for too much activity at recess. (Oops delved into a different rant.) We agreed that formulaic writing was to be avoided, and he challenged me to refine an illustration I used, which is as follows.
I thought of it this way. Pee Wee football and NFL football share the same objectives: run, pass, block, score touchdowns. However Bank of America doesn’t build $248 million dollar stadiums for Pee Wee football teams. The NFL integrates complex offensive and defensive schemes to achieve success at the game’s objectives. The pros execute these complexities in such a way that general fans can enjoy it simply for the fun of the game. Forgive me, I’m a Dallas fan…. If I see Tony Romo step back and fire a 42 yard completion to Dez Bryant, I cheer. I have to. He’ll soon be throwing an interception, and then a pity party.
What happens at halftime? Former coaches and players begin to analyze that same play. They draw on interactive monitors and break it down with trained eyes. They show how the running back picked up the corner blitz, the tight end curled to draw the linebackers close, the center pulled to the weak side confusing the defense into thinking it was a run, while another receiver drew the attention of the free safety with a post route, and boom Bryant is now in single man coverage in a mismatch, and so on and so forth.
From a consumer standpoint, it’s simple. I spill my Dr. Pepper and Doritos cheering for a sweet pass play. But to the trained eye, the offensive coordinator synchronized eleven oversized athletes into a symphony of motion achieving a highlight reel play. The pro quarterback would say something like, “East Right Flop, V Right all the way outside, Y Left, Fake 396 Bag, V Hinge, Z Puck.” If you were in the backyard calling this, it would be, “Get open. Go deep.”
I guess my point is that like pros who convert labyrinthine strategies into simple plays, good writers distill their thoughts without simply abbreviating their words. We should learn to craft words in such a way that they can be read, understood and applied regardless of their complexity. Mind you, I like to read books that force me to have my dictionary app handy. So some of this may simply be preferential. I do think the author of the article adheres to simplicity as much as brevity. And I am certainly an advocate for excising fluff. But I also want to be stretched intellectually. If you’re looking for more on this, pick up Alan Jacob’s book, The Pleasure of Reading in an Age of Distraction.
Simple but not easy.
June 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Some people talk and some people do. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “An ounce of action is worth a pound of theory.” To adequately describe my friends Keith and Jena Penner I must include the term action. Keith and Jena don’t spend much time theorizing, they move. Not rocking chair movement. I mean they accomplish things.
We first met the Penners in a church foyer in 2005. Our first visit to a new church left us alone as a family in a foyer standing awkwardly by a drink machine sipping coffee and pretending to be comfortable. When up walked a guy with an exuberant smile and outstretched hand, “Hi I’m Keith.” From that day forward we’ve been friends, sharing adventures from Winston-Salem to Manzini, Swaziland.
If you talk to someone about the Penners, one word you’ll never hear is “boring.” Their family represents the antithesis of boring. They have, shall we say, a quiver full of children – four biological children and three adopted. Needless to say, they know the meaning of the word patience. But they also know what it means to get moving and walk the walk. Having spent time in Uganda during their adoption process, they saw a major void in medical care for the people of that African country. They took action and now they are moving their family to Uganda to work with the needy.
Now let’s put this in perspective. Keith toiled for years to achieve the education and training that allows one to truly achieve the proverbial American Dream. Working as an anesthetist, Keith has excelled in his field professionally. As he is entering the sweet spot of his career, with more promotions on the horizon, Keith and Jena decided he should take his gifts to Africa.
WHAT?? Who does that? It’s people who place the needs of others above the comforts of this country. It’s people who value the eternal above the temporal. Seems like I’ve read of another One who abandoned the security of home for the needs others.
This blog is not to pump the Penner’s stock for the sake of flattery or their own glory. It’s to highlight an example that people really do respond to the call of laying down their lives for others. And this family needs our help. As they launch themselves by faith onto a different continent to serve the underprivileged people of Uganda, it’s our privilege to support them.
What can you do? They are hoping to leave in August. First, I want to encourage you to read their blog. Contact them. Tell them you’re thinking of them. Even if you don’t know them, drop them a line to encourage them. As exciting as international ministry can be, they will face challenges including homesickness. They need our personal support. Second, join Jude and me in supporting them financially by making a donation through their mission agency, Africa Renewal Ministries. It’s that easy. Let’s help Keith and Jena move forward.
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. Dale Carnegie
June 7, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I am not a yard guy. When I give someone directions to my house, I usually cap off the details with, “Look for the highest grass and the most toys in the yard.” In some neighborhoods, apparently unwritten rules exist for lawn care creating all sorts of fertilizer fueled competition. Fortunately for me, my neighbor and I usually compete to see who can go the longest without mowing. One year, we sponsored a field trip for a kindergarten class and made $20 a head for a safari tour through the elephant grass in our backyard. The teacher seemed a little put off by the souvenir machetes we gave the kids. So uptight…
Although my general lawn maintenance has gotten a little better in recent days, our front flower beds have been a trouble spot that Jude and I have avoided for years. When we moved into our little old farmhouse 12 years ago, the elderly lady that was the owner, had recently passed away. However, she left behind a house surrounded by foliage and beautiful flowers. She obviously had a green thumb.
Well let’s just say that over the years, Jude and I have run a nursing home for plants. As in, they come to us to quietly finish out their leafy life. Apparently we have a black thumb. The front flower bed has taunted me for a number of years with its overgrown bushes, roses, hostas and even a flower filled tree. This past Saturday Jude and I jumped in and dug out everything, and I mean everything. It was not fun. It was not easy. We dug, hacked, hoed, pulled, tilled, sweated, bled, got covered in dirt and repeated this process for hours.
Our last major hurdle was a small, but deep rooted tree that we attacked in a cumbersome combination of Jude standing on the base to hold it to the ground while I hacked at the exposed roots with a large metal pick tool.
As I whacked the root over and over, it occurred to me that if I had simply done this three years ago, the roots on the tree and its vegetative colleagues would never have been so thick and rooted in the ground. The removal process would have required effort, but not like the teeth gritting frustration we experienced.
Isn’t that the same issue we face in our own hearts? I know that I have seen personal development spiritually over the years. But there are some areas, some little flower beds in the yard of my heart, that need some extra care. What about you?
The longer we wait to go after heart problems like anger, bitterness, jealousy, pride or fill in the blank, the more work we’ll face when removing them. Every day we wait, their roots grow a little thicker and dive a little deeper until their presence becomes an unwanted fixture. Their seeming permanence becomes the new normal. Not only do they become difficult to root out, but when they are removed, it is more damaging to the surrounding environment due to digging deeper and wider.
How do you clean out stubborn heart issues? Get some help. It’s hard to do this kind of work alone. Acquire the right tools, you’ll need several. Don’t put it off. It’s worth it. When you’re finished, the unwanted garbage will be on the rubbish pile, and there will be fresh soil to plant something beautiful.
Simple but not easy.