Year: 2022

Wisdom on a Cracker

“Laughter is carbonated holiness.”

Anne LaMott

Why do we love and remember great quotes?  

       The best ones serve truth, wisdom, humor, inspiration, encouragement, and other qualities in very short lines. Succinctness and lucidity are vital parts of their power. Despite their brevity, they leave nothing else to be said.

       For example, you can read voluminous books and watch infinite videos on the human condition, but the Apostle Paul captured the whole sweep of that territory in sixteen words, O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24, New King James Version). 

       As in many things, less is often more in quotes. The “less” stays with you. “More” wouldn’t have improved it or made it stick. Extraordinary quotes deliver wisdom on a cracker. 

       Former UN General Secretary Dag Hammarskjold understood that. He stated his whole reason for living in a prayer: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.” Twelve words as prayer, mission statement, and autobiography.

       Teilhard de Chardin caught lightning in a bottle when he wrote: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” 


       So did Richard Bach: “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.”

       Teacher, author, and guru Ram Dass delivered a wonderful reminder about gentleness: “We’re all just walking each other home.” In the same sense, Philo of Alexandria wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

       Wendell Berry expressed another fine view of community: “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”

       Ann Voskamp drove straight to the headwaters of a good life—humility: “Receiving God’s gifts is a gentle, simple movement of stooping lower.” 

       Goethe wrote with wonderful and concise clarity. For example: “Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” And I often recall Goethe’s generous view of people: “Treat an individual as he is, and he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

       An old African Proverb captures a persistent and painful reality: “When bull elephants fight, the grass always loses.” 

       Sometimes a great line blows all the smoke away, leaving nothing but the plain and simple truth. P. J. O’Rourke was a master of that: “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

       Likewise, Paul Batalden analyzed every person, family, marriage, organization, action, or policy with his simple statement: “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” Think of that the next time your golf ball hooks into the lake. You perfectly designed your swing to do that.

       Something in me changed when I heard my friend, pastor Dale Smith, say in his Sunday sermon,“Where did we ever get the idea that all problems are to be solved?” In a flash, I saw my view of problems: just fix (or kill) it, box it, and ship it far away. Since that day, I’ve tried to hold problems before God, seeking what He may say or do to me through it. 

       As he always did, Jim Rohn delivered true wisdom when he said: “You must get good at one of two things: sowing in the spring or begging in the fall.”

       The towering American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote one of the great social realities in The True Believer (Harper & Row, 1951): “A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”

       And that recalls James Q. Wilson’s summary of our times: “Once politics was about only a few things; today, it is about nearly everything.”

       But when those views ignite my cynicism, my friend and pastor Glen Roachelle reminds me to look past the visible and remember, “Sometimes we have to accept confusion and ambiguity while we wait for the contractions of history to give birth to a new era.” 

       Billy Graham laid nine simple words together in a momentous challenge: “Get to know people you’ve been taught to avoid.” 

       I once heard James Carville speak a very astute code for prudent living: “The best time to plant an oak tree was twenty-five years ago. The second-best time is today.” 

       And the truth of a line can sometimes ride in on laughter, as Former Senator and Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy knew: Running for president is like coaching footballyou have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it is important.” 

       So did Pope John XXIII, when he told his Italian audience, “Italians come to ruin most generally in three ways: women, gambling, and farming. My family chose the slowest one.”

       You’ve just read 21 of my favorite quotes. If you want a few hundred more, go to my website’s STOUT WISDOM

       And, please, I’d love to hear your own favorite quotes. 

What Bernie Brings

When Joanne and I decided we wanted a dog, our checklist was very specific: an old dog, a tender, obedient, and docile dog. A slow and sane dog. Big as a buffalo, he would take down intruders and sit on their chests till cops arrived. But also, a dog that would sleep most of the time and be gentle and loving to our family and friends.  

       So, of course, we got a puppy. 

Bernie, our Micro Bernadoodle, was and still is sweet and cuddly as a kitten. But docile? Sane? Obedient? He gallops like a horse, barks at snowflakes and leaves, and tackles our guests as we helplessly protest. In response to my commands, he cocks his head in a “Come on man, help me here” look. 

       Our living room looks like a daycare center. Bernie chews tissue paper, steals our shoes, and gnaws on furniture. When he scatters garbage over the floor, he stands within the carnage, wagging his tail, fully expecting a reward. 

       He also seems determined to join our human world. Standing on his back legs at our game table, he pats the tabletop with his paws… Hit me, Cowboy! During the recent Super Bowl, Bernie ran into the living room with a chew football. He danced around like Matthew Stafford in the pocket, presumably waiting for me to hit the front door, going out for his Hail Mary.

A Gift

Bernie is also a gift from God, one that “keeps on giving.” 

       For example, he has given us life beyond our ruts. After twenty-five years of empty nesting, Joanne and I may have grown a little complacent. We’ve lived in a latticework of delightful routines—parlor games, hanging out with friends and family, feeding our coffee addiction, slow drives through Middle Tennessee’s hills and hollows, and watching Jeopardy!

       That all changed the day Bernie cut across our self-centered lives. Our new “baby” pulled us into caring for him. Oh, the synergistic beauty of God’s caring creation. Bernie needs food; Joanne and I have fingers and opposing thumbs. 

       When Bernie first arrived, we caged him every night. And he accepted it. Until one night, about midnight, when he just started barking. That marked his rejection of his cage. He won. Since that moment, Bernie has slept all night, every night, on the floor outside our bedroom door. A silent sentry. 

       I didn’t understand what happened till I told that story to my friend Ian Wallbrech. He explained that Bernie was a born and bred protector. When I caged him away from us at night, I depressed his life’s purpose. He needs to guard us. But we have to release him to do that. As Tom Cruise said to Cuba Gooding in Jerry Maguire, Bernie barks to us, “Help me…help you.”

Flexibility and Patience       

Look; Bernie is more than a pet. Like all creation, he presents a window on the divine power, eternal nature, and invisible traits that fill the universe (see Romans 1:20). Since none of that arrives through human choice or creativity, we need great patience and flexibility if we are to ever discover it.

       My cousin Casey Chinn, a professional photographer, recently wrote a profound insight in a blog on how to take better landscape photos (I highly recommend the whole thing):

“Don’t be so focused on what you were seeking that you miss the other gems that might be there right in front of you. Learn how to respond to what nature gives you. If you wanted sunshine but instead you got rain, find things that look best in that soft subdued light… you might get something even better than pure sunshine when the fog rolls in… sometimes, you just have to be willing to sit it out and see what happens.”[1]

       We all live in stormy weather, cultural and spiritual. So, what do we do when we want sunlight, but get rain? Pack up and go home? Or could we wait for our eyes to adjust to the magnificent and magical gift of new light forming out there? Can we see the awesome mystery that flickers in and out of view as it moves over us? Might we adapt in the face of change?

What If?

What if we found the patience and flexibility to discern new shapes and sounds? Like Christians recognizing their Lord’s design in people of different faiths? Or vice versa? What if aggressive, gentle, introverted, militant, peaceful, or inspirational people could find value in their opposites? What if leftists or conservatives discovered wisdom in the other group?   

       In other words, is a tornado just a tornado, cancer only a disease, or a dog just a dog? Do they also bear messages about the glory of God?

       If I only recognize Bernie as a dog or “my pet,” then I cannot see the gorgeous mystery of the Lord’s purpose. Bernie brings the unexpected, uninvited, and inconvenient truths I need to live fully and maturely within the vast sweep of life. 

       Good boy!


[1] Casey Chinn, “Tips for Taking Better Landscape Photos,” Casey Chinn Photography blog, February 16, 2022, https://www.caseychinnphotography.com/casey-chinn-photography-blog/blog_posts/tips-for-taking-better-landscape-photos

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