Respect

Leave It Where You Found It

“In racing…your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle.”[1] 

         That is how Denny, the race car driver, explained the race in the splendid novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain. In other words, keep your eyes focused on the road ahead. If you look at the wall, you will hit the wall.

Let It Go

The introspective impulse of our age insists that we focus on the wall. It tells us to walk backward, always focused on the past. Appreciating the past is healthy; fixating on it can be deadly.  

         It really all comes down to a question: How important is your future?

         All the time and energy spent excavating the past, reacting to others, or getting angry represent an enormous waste. Could that drive could be better utilized in moving us forward in our own life’s purpose?

         Kimi Gray was a lifelong tenant of Washington, DC’s public housing. But she had an idea; what if tenants managed, even owned, their units? Could they begin to build equity? Would that translate into greater care for the property?

         As a lifelong Democrat, she pitched the idea to everyone she knew in her camp. When her passion failed to ignite anyone there, she dared to reach out to “the enemy.”

         President Reagan’s HUD Secretary, Jack Kemp, listened. After they talked, he introduced her to his boss. To make a long story short, Reagan signed a bill allowing tenant ownership of public housing. He then handed Kimi the keys to her own public housing unit. Her resident management corporation would administer the transfer of units to residents.

         A few days after that ceremony, I spent an afternoon with her. After talking of many things, I asked Kimi how she had been able to navigate all the personalities and polarities of “Washington” and do it so successfully for so long.

         Her voice, spoken from the language of her street, carried wisdom for everyone: “I always leave shit where I find it.”

         “What do you mean?”

         “Some folks gotta analyze it, play with it, or throw it on others. Not me; I see it, I keep walking. Leave it where you found it.”

         So simple, so intelligent. Keep walking. Leave it where you found it.

         Later, she told me about her encounter with a famous Washington power broker soon after the White House ceremony. After deriding the whole idea of resident empowerment, he said, “Kimi, don’t you know the Republicans are using you?”

         She replied, “But, I got the keys!” Her answer perfectly modeled her motto.

Ignore the Wall

We don’t have to engage, explain, or react to everything. We have no obligation to make sure everyone is happy. Our economy invests great energy and dollars to pushing people to do something. And, when we are continuously prodded by anger, outrage, bargains, and other provocations we tend to become reactive. We wait to be told when, where, how, and why to click, buy, be afraid, exhibit outrage, etc.

         But, to do that keeps your eye on the wall, not the track. We don’t have to live like that. Your life does not belong to marketers, politicians, news media, or any other power center. You can ignore the wall and keep your eyes on the prize.

         Just walk away. Leave it where you found it.


[1] Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain (New York: HarperCollins, 2008)

Warriors in the Rain

My dad was one of the survivors when a Japanese bomb sank the American aircraft carrier Princeton on Oct. 24, 1944. Naturally, he came home with very specific ideas about the Japanese. And, just as naturally, those ideas took root in the soil of our family.

Twenty-seven years later, my wife and I took my parents on a vacation to Japan. Although Dad seemed happy to be going, he grew increasingly somber as we traversed the country. I did not realize the full meaning of his journey into the heartland of a still-vivid enemy.

After one day of sightseeing, we all emerged from the subway at Tokyo’s Akasaka Station into a heavy rain. With no umbrellas, we faced a walk in the downpour to our hotel, which was two blocks away.

Immediately, a well-dressed Japanese businessman came up behind my parents and held his umbrella over them. He got drenched as he graciously and silently walked them all the way to our hotel. When we were all under the portico, he simply bowed and walked away. Dad shouted, “No, no, come back.” The man turned and walked back to Dad.

In that moment, those two men — clearly about the same age and undoubtedly veterans of the same war — stood face to face and shook hands. Neither said a word. But volumes passed between the eyes of the old warriors; each knew that he knew that he knew.

The son of one of those warriors saw it all. And what I saw that day in a Tokyo rainstorm changed me deeply. Things I had long assumed, things my father had conveyed to me, took a mortal hit that day. Over time, they totally fell apart.

More than 40 years later, that incident continues to speak to me.

I think part of the reason that moment was so life-altering was that no one was trying to change, or even enlighten anyone. An unrehearsed real-life moment had simply produced an updraft that carried its participants above and beyond some old bigotries. The moment gathered its power from its purity and spontaneity.

Although education is one of the basic functions of civilization, life’s most educating moments are nearly always unplanned. They remain free of human design. Life has a way of teaching its own lessons. It doesn’t need human torque.

When humans work at changing other humans, the result is inevitably dehumanizing. Whether the changers are left-wingers or right-wingers, believers or infidels, dreamers or scoffers, whether they are motivated by sales or by God, the message comes through loud and clear: Respect is contingent on purchase. Human value is subject to someone buying someone else’s concepts or commodities.

The movie The Big Kahuna features three industrial lubricant salesmen — Larry (Kevin Spacey), Phil (Danny DeVito) and the evangelical Christian Bob (Peter Facinelli) — at a convention in Wichita. In one very penetrating scene, Phil tells Bob:

“You preaching Jesus is no different than Larry, or anybody else, preaching lubricants. It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha, or civil rights or how to make money in real estate with no money down. That doesn’t make you a human being. It makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids, find out what his dreams are — just to find out — for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation, to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore — it’s a pitch — and you’re not a human being. You’re a marketing rep.”

That scene goes to the heart of what it means to be human. On what basis do we grant respect and value? Is intellectual agreement a prerequisite to friendship? Must we remake people before we can love them?

Or can we, like a Japanese warrior I once observed, step out of our bunkers in order to be genuinely compassionate to those who are different (and who may even have tried to kill us)?

As far as I can tell, very little (if any) serious change is wrought by human planning and force. Real change occurs when a serendipitous something — a birth, a death, an act of kindness, an act of brutality, a moment in the rain — pushes us out of the smallness of our world into larger truths.

“Love your enemies” is not a harmless and naive religious platitude — it is one of the largest truths in history. Embracing it carries us beyond our own borders and connects us to a larger revelation of what it means to be human.

Boundaries

After firing too many personal questions at me, the hospital’s admitting rep barked, “Do you have an Advanced Medical Directive?” When I nodded, she snapped, “We’re gonna need that.”

Having lived my life in God’s loving embrace, I believe I will, when the time comes, walk through the doorway to the other side of life with confidence and peace. I’m also confident that Joanne and our children can make any decisions necessary for my care or my body.

The medical industry loves them because of convenience and efficiency, but no one is required to execute an “AD.” I only have one for my family; they can use it however they wish in the totality of what seems right at that time. I will never give it to the industry.

Rough Answers

The core truth of that episode for me was that a large organization, literally holding the power of life and death, appeared oblivious of my personal space and boundaries. Every day they handle human life. But, in my case, they didn’t show the restraint, respect, or care matching their role and power.

Perhaps my case was unusual. But I felt like I was in an auto body shop; people who did not know or care about me banged, slammed, jerked, and hammered my heart into conformity with their preferences and needs.

Since that day, seventeen months ago, I’ve been increasingly sensitized to a societal disregard or ignorance of boundaries. Our ethos seems to be inching closer to if I see it and need it, I can take it. That leads to the social condition described by an ancient proverb, “The poor man utters supplications, but the rich man answers roughly.”[1]

Too many people live on the receiving end of harsh hands and rough answers.

Do we really not know that the landscape of health, wealth, mortality, property, income, and identity is very personal real estate? If I – regardless of my legal authority or job description – were to ask someone for his or her salary, social security number, credit score, urine sample, or Advanced Directive, I’d do so very gently, carefully, and contritely.

And I would fully understand if they told me to go to Phoenix.

The Restraining Force of Law

Although they were not all Christians, America’s founding fathers accepted the Christian idea of “the depravity of man,” meaning that every human is born with a serious defect, a corruption of thinking and behavior. Because of that, we humans are prone to living a self-centered life, a life that is naturally all about me.

A primary evidence of that “me-ness” is our failure to recognize and respect boundaries. For example, infidelity is far more than a sensual search; it’s also a rejection of boundary lines. How many people, on a sexual quest, pause long enough to consider the terrain of the other person’s health, character, reputation, income, family, or future?

Laws exist because of human depravity; they restrain the rush of anarchy. Today, as so many voices despise and reject law enforcement, I often think of Thomas More’s words to William Roper in A Man For All Seasons: “This country’s planted thick with laws, from coast to coast…And if you cut them down… d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”[2]

We should all pray that the rampant and increasing lawlessness in our society does not become a hurricane of social chaos. And we should all do what we can to stop the removal of the boundary lines that protect people, property, ideas, and traditions.

What If?

Every religion on earth proclaims a version of The Golden Rule – usually rendered “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is the most perfect law ever conceived.

So, what if we all…

  • Do to others what we would like done to us?
  • Live slower, more thoughtfully, and more respectfully?
  • Ask ourselves in every situation, “How would I want to be treated right here, right now?”
  • Teach our children to, first, see and then to respect boundary lines?
  • Wait to be invited across a boundary rather than invading it?
  • Stop wearing steel spikes as we walk across territories of the heart?

 

And finally, what if we all extend kind hands and speak gentle answers?

[1] Proverbs 18:23 taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. www.Lockman.org

[2] Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons, (New York: Vintage Books, 1990). P 66

Who Cares?

Well into her 90s, Mary Chinn, my mother, continued to walk a mile a day, clean her kitchen floor on her hands and knees, and take care of all housework in the Kansas home she and Dad built a half century ago.

A few weeks ago Mom, now 94, fell in her home one evening and broke her hip. After hip surgery and a couple weeks in rehab, Mom returned to her life in her beloved home. But, it was not going to be that simple. An array of services and personnel seemed to move in with her. They were all fine people and they supplied essential services – meals, laundry, physical therapy, etc.

We were all grateful.

But that beautiful care rode in on cold steel efficiency. For example, a simple medical alert button, worn around the neck, came with requirements that would steal some humanity. My brother Carl happened to be at Mom’s when the nurse gave instructions about the button. He explained it all in an email to our brother Vernon and me,

“Paramedics will go straight to the refrigerator when they come into the home of an elderly patient with a button. They want to see medical care contacts posted right there, a calendar of her medical care, and any DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) letter. But in order for all that to happen, a lot of pictures of grandchildren, friends, missionaries, and funny clippings from 40 years ago must be taken away.”

That Ragged Old Flag

Mom was also told that she couldn’t walk into her own yard; the lawn did not provide sufficient stability; she could trip and fall. Of course, we understood.

But then Mom began to get uncharacteristically cranky. She pushed back against her caregivers. She seemed to need to reclaim her space.

And then Vernon noticed something. Her irritation seemed related to the US flag that has flown from its mount in the front yard for several decades. When Vernon told me that I realized that Mom had mentioned that flag in every conversation I’d had with her for several weeks.

Then we all began to get it.

No one will ever understand Mom apart from Dad. And no one will ever understand Dad apart from his service on the USS Princeton in World War 2. He was on board the Princeton when she was commissioned and he was still on board October 24, 1944 when she was bombed and slid under the water to her grave. Dad was one of the survivors. October 24 was almost as large as Thanksgiving in our house.

That flag meant something – no, that’s not right; it meant everything – to Dad. He knew and followed all the rules of displaying an American flag. And when he fell in his last battle, Mom picked up the flag. She had to carry it; in death, Dad’s mission became hers.

And then one day, strangers, 70 years her junior, walked into her home and told her to stop it.

What Are We Doing To Others?

Institutions can deliver services, but they cannot care. Whatever they design will inevitably dehumanize the very people they serve. Care must be delivered in a human way or it will feel imposed. In other words, a “what” cannot care; only a “who” cares.

Jesus spoke the most perfect law of all time: Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

The pure inability to even see that simple law may be why we end up with a health care system that makes a 94-year-old woman gaze at her own DO NOT RESUSCITATE order every time she goes to her refrigerator. And, of course, we understand that it’s an acceptable trade-off, that she must remove a half-century of photos and corny jokes in order to make room for those officious 8 and ½ by 11-inch papers.

We live in an age of professional caregivers. But those who care must first see and engage those in need. And that begins with the simple and very human wonder of making eye contact. Look at the person. See and anticipate his or her true needs. Stand there until you understand the nooks and nuances of another human’s life. Ask questions of them and those near them.

For example, shouldn’t caregivers give enough attention to know if an elderly person would prefer to fall in her own front yard, caring for the flag, than wasting away in a shivering fetal curl at the nursing home when she’s 106?

What if…we could all actually take time to understand other people’s needs, fears, priorities, and values? Do you think that might help us to do unto others what we would like others to do to us?

What We Once Knew About Sex

As a society, we used to know that human physiology is specific, harmonizing, and immutable. So why is it now controversial to know or affirm that sexual intercourse – this goes there – is an integral part of love and procreation? Have we really forgotten that is the way the species endures?

Humans are kaleidoscopic bundles of flesh, personality, spirit, lineage, assets, liabilities, attitudes, fears, humor, hopes, dreams, etc. All those factors are threads in a larger tapestry of life; they cannot be separated without damaging the whole cloth. We bring all that to every relationship. The fact that, in romance, we are primarily aware of sexual desire does not mean the other dimensions are not present. They are all right there…in our dinner conversation, on the dance floor, or in bed.

We seem to have forgotten that the main objective of human sexuality is to bring new people into the world. Naturally it is best if those new people are born into safe and healthy societies. That’s why we impose laws, “rules of engagement,” on sex. Society has a vital interest in governing sexual impulse.

Healthy cultures have always known that sexual intimacy should only be released within the safety of legal, religious, familial, financial and emotional commitment.

In that sense, we once regarded a woman’s beauty as a gift from God. We agreed; it belonged to her, not to those hustlers and looters in the shadows waiting to steal it. Everyone knew that losing that gift would place her at a disadvantage (we also knew it would not be the same kind of loss for a man).

Naturally, parents, extended family, and, in fact, the whole village supported her vigilance to keep her sexuality in the “bank” where it was safe and could grow. Then when she came into a relationship with the right man, and a firm foundation was built for their future and offspring, she could make a judicious (and joyful!) decision to draw it out of her account and place it in their account. We knew it was a very real part of the “investment capital” that she brought to the marriage.

That is arguably the main reason sexual violations are so destructive of personal lives and the whole social fabric. The theft is enormous. Even though the violations have existed throughout human history, the fact that they are illegal is vital to societal health. Deviations must be seen as, well…deviant. But when a whole culture changes its mind about sexuality, it represents a major loss of identity. What follows is not pretty: Abandoned or aborted children, sexual slavery, rape, prison, proliferating disease and poverty.

What the hell did we think would happen when we allowed sex to be ripped from the tapestry of life? What persuaded us to move male – female relationships away from deep and wide commitment? Where were society’s adults when the corrupt and the silly decided that sex exists for personal indulgence, entertainment and other mercantile purposes? How did societies ever decide that men and women could abandon their spouses and children?

When Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Up Close and Personal proposes marriage to Robert Redford, she mentions her need to have him around in the morning.

He, the typical modern male, counters, “But you already have me around in the morning.” And she replies, “But I want to know you’re legally required to be there.” Smart woman.

Marriage is not a “straight jacket,” “just a piece of paper” or a relic of ignorance. It is entirely reasonable and necessary structure for people seeking a reliable foundation for life. Just as the law pre-qualifies sexual partners (for the health of the species), it also builds a legal “house” for them to live in. This is serious stuff. The law is the rebar in the concrete foundation of joined lives.

I do not admire the cultural voices who work to convince society that:

  • Marriage is an archaic, exhausted and pointless concept.
  • Remaining free of attachments – wild as the wind – is the ideal for men and women.
  • Sex is just a physical act; no need to make it complicated.
  • Pornography is mainstream, accept it and move on.
  • Getting women drunk or drugged is funny.
  • It’s OK for cute little stinkers like James Bond or Bill Clinton to satisfy themselves at the expense of the woman’s estate.
  • Children do not need mothers and fathers who are committed to their children and to one another!

 

All those positions are profoundly aberrant and toxic. They destroy individuals and communities.

It took society a long time to forget sexual sanity. It will not return to rationality anytime soon. But, I often wonder, what if some reasonable people joined with others in order to live in hope and sanity? I remember when driving drunk was considered funny. Thanks to MADD, it’s not anymore. We remembered what we had forgotten about safe driving.

So, in the same way, what if more cultural voices encouraged us to reach for the very best we can be. Could we, as a society, remember what we once knew about sex?

One Man

Stephen Talty’s book, Agent Garbo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2012), tells a spectacular story of one man’s enormous contribution to the Allied victory in World War 2. Viewed through the lens of today, this story is unbelievable.

Here’s the short version.

In 1941 Juan Pujol Garcia was a 28-year-old chicken farmer in Barcelona. Unalterably opposed to Hitler and the Nazis, he walked into the British embassy in Madrid and asked for a job as a spy. Of course they rejected him. So he went to the Americans. They were not impressed with him either.

Then Pujol asked the enemy for a spy job!

After hearing his emotional and bombastic profession of love for Hitler, the Germans accepted him…if he would relocate to England. Instead, he moved to Portugal and convinced the Germans that he was writing reports from England. When they told him to hire some agents, he created a fictitious network of 27 spies.

At that time, British Intelligence was an oxymoron (they were seriously considering staging the Second Coming of Christ as a means of defeating the Germans). But they soon had enough intelligence to realize that a very proficient Nazi spy was undermining the Allies. Finally, Pujol had gained the respect of British Intelligence!

When he went back to them, they accepted him as a double agent and code-named him “Garbo,” for he was surely the best actor in the world. He was theatrical, emotional, daring, and brilliant. And maybe nuts.

Agent Garbo’s greatest role was his support of D-Day. To create the illusion of an Allied strike 200 miles from the real one, he contrived a completely fabricated million-man army, led by General Patton. Under Pujol’s direction, the British built thousands of wood or inflatable decoys of tanks, boats, airplanes, hospitals, and other wartime necessities. Patton, like an actor, even made a speech in his fictional role.

The Germans bought it. Furthermore, Pujol had the audacity to convince the Germans that the real D-Day invasion was a scam. Even after D-Day! Although they assigned an army to Normandy, they kept a far larger force at the fake site. Clearly, without Pujol’s masterful deceit, D-Day would have cost thousands more lives than it did.

It is one of the most astonishing stories I’ve ever read.

How was it even possible that a man who had no training as a spy and failed at everything else in life became an essential voice to, both, Hitler and Churchill? He, a double agent, is the only spy to be honored by both Germany and England.

So many contributed to the success of D-Day. But Juan Pujol Garcia probably achieved more than any other individual.

Beyond my high recommendation of the book, Agent Garbo really challenged me. Could one person achieve such bold and sweeping things today? I don’t know. But it’s an important question.

It seems that today we live inside a screaming wind tunnel that blows everything into conformity with acceptable patterns. As a result, the distinctives of individuals are contoured into the most “aerodynamic” uniformity possible.

Progress seems to take as much as it gives. I love living in this age; I would not want to live in any other time or place. But it does seem that we’ve lost our view, and our honor of, grand individuals. We all seem to identify with our group.

That is why Agent Garbo is such a mesmerizing artifact. It gives the reader a clear view of a time when individuals sure seemed to matter more than they do today.

Perhaps the leveling of structures in our time will release individuals to achieve great things again.

Sailors

In the summer of 1992, while driving a dirt road in Pratt County, Kansas, my 70-year-old dad saw his own tractor, driverless, rolling across a field pulling a land leveler. He felt a chill; he knew his brother Harold had been driving the tractor and leveler rig up to his place near Pratt.

Dad soon saw Harold lying on the ground beside the road. Frantic, he stopped his pickup and ran to his brother. Harold was fully conscious, but Dad could clearly see that was going to be a real bad day.

Harold’s death was an earthquake in the Chinn family. Youngest son, playful and funny, and the spark of life in every family gathering, his death left a wide wound across our landscape. But it blew a deep and ragged hole right through Dad’s heart. He never recovered.

From that day it seemed that Dad’s strong mind began to melt. The distinct shapes of his personality began to droop and dissolve. His confidence tottered. He still went to his beloved shop, but he stopped repairing and making things. He just stood amidst his tools and cried; he didn’t know why.

Dad served on the aircraft carrier, USS Princeton, in World War 2. He was on board for every day of her 19-month existence. Her sinking on October 24, 1944, in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, was the central moment of his life. From that day Dad seemed to live in the shadow of the Princeton.

Dad and Mom made their last visit to our home in Northern Virginia in the spring of 1995. In preparing for their visit I wanted to find something that would engage Dad again, some spark that would animate his wonderful and vivid personality.

In 1995 the very colorful Admiral Arleigh Burke was one of the last living commanding officers from the Pacific theater of the war. And he had participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Two weeks before my parents’ visit, I learned that the 93-year-old Admiral lived in nearby Fairfax, Virginia. So I found a phone number for his home.

When Roberta “Bobbie” Burke answered the phone, I introduced myself and told her about Dad. I told her that Dad would be there in a couple weeks and asked if “the Admiral would be open to a visit from another sailor.” Bobbie immediately exclaimed, “Oh, yes, he would so love that! Please come.” She gave me their address and we agreed on a date and time.

When my parents arrived, I handed a new biography of Admiral Burke to Dad. He thanked me, scanned through it and told stories he recalled of “31-knot” Burke. Then I told him that we had an appointment with Admiral Burke the next day. Dad’s smile revealed his anxiety; he had never met an Admiral. Even after 50 years of civilian life he still thought like an enlisted man.

Dad asked too many questions about protocol and social courtesies as we drove from our house in Reston over to The Virginian apartments in Fairfax. He grew silent as we entered the building. Finally we stood at the door. I knocked. Very quickly, an elderly man, standing with a walker, opened the door and smiled. “Jack,” he barked and grabbed Dad’s hand. Dad relaxed; he heard an invitation to a safe place.

We spent two hours in the Burke living room. Bobbie gracefully vanished from the distinctly male gathering, as I’m sure she had often done in 72 years of marriage to a Navy man.

I watched in astonishment. A former Chief of Naval Operations, a major player in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, an Admiral who had a class of destroyers named after him sat with an enlisted man, a Kansas railroader, a Sunday School teacher. But their eyes glistened at the same heartsounds of battle, loss, and heritage. And they burst into synchronous laughter at the same details and nuances of Navy culture.

I’ll never forget Dad’s face as Burke told him of watching Dad’s beloved Princeton, through his binoculars, explode and sink.

The 20th century had taken these two men to vastly different places, but as children of God they shared an enormous familial heritage. I saw them touch their shared bond as brothers. Class distinctions blew away like dust; they were sailors.

As we prepared to leave, Bobbie bid us farewell with a deep glowing sadness. Admiral Burke, with his walker, escorted us to the elevator; he clearly wanted to extend the moment as long as possible. He and Dad shook hands, “Come back anytime Jack.” They both knew they would never meet again.

Admiral Burke died 7 months later. Two thousand people attended his funeral; President Clinton delivered the eulogy. Burke’s tombstone at the Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis carries a one-word epitaph, “Sailor.”

Dad lived another 10 years. The slide that began with Harold’s death continued. But that incredible day was a clear announcement that human value has nothing to do with the illusions of rank, class, wealth, or productivity. Our value, our royalty, flows from the Fatherhood of God.

Far more than we realize, we are all His children. We have infinitely more in common than we have in conflict. May we all discover our shared family bond…even with those who may seem so different or so far away. They really aren’t.

Confidence

We all ride a ball that is 8 thousand miles in diameter and moves 67,000 miles an hour in its perfect orbit around the sun. Our whole solar system is traveling about 45,000 miles per hour through our galaxy, a galaxy that is 100,000 light years wide and contains about 200 billion stars. And all those stars move in their own orbits. And never bump.

How was or is it ever considered wise (or cool) for humans to swagger around our planet, insisting that the vast and synchronous universe, darnedest thing, just came blowing in one day? Just as a great martini doesn’t just happen, most people know they and the universe didn’t either. They are instinctively confident about a creator. Of course, individuals have the right to deny it, but how could belief in creation ever be viewed as stupid or scandalous?

Let’s look at another issue, sex. Consider that people are born male or female. The mosaic of sensuality, desire, love, compatibility, lineage, and the transmission of values and identity through family is obvious and sweeping. That some may dispute sexual design or choose to live in same sex relationships does not invalidate male and female sex as pivotal in civilization.

Come on, folks; it is not ignorant to assume a Creator of the universe or the familial pattern of society. It is fine for individuals to dispute or deconstruct such ideas. But for a whole culture to do so is like losing confidence in gravity or osmosis.

This is not a free expression issue. And I don’t have a problem with the contrarians. My real question is, “how does a society lose confidence in reality?” For example, gender is no longer assumed. People in academia, psychotherapy, sociology, and other professional areas know they can lose everything by writing or speaking in “male” and “female” terms. How does that happen?

To answer that, we have to first look at the basic units of a society – human beings.

Humans have wondrous capacities – moral, ethical, spiritual, physical, intellectual, computational, etc. A mature person is one who keeps them all in some kind of balance and perspective; after all, they are gifts, not sources of identity. They are adjectives, not nouns. We would never call a person “an ethical” or “a spiritual.” Uh-oh. It seems that one of those, intellectual, did somehow become a noun.

And “intellectual” does have a weird effect on those who take it on as an identity, similar to the grotesque human sculptures of extreme bodybuilding. To overemphasize anything creates an aberration.

Now, I know people who handle their intellectual gift with grace and humility. But they are like a stripper at a family reunion; they keep it on a chain. That gathering is just not the appropriate arena for showing their stuff.

Family reunions and other micro-societies should reveal and reflect the Apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NIV). Too many intellectuals do not seem to know that. They and other elites (like journalists, politicians, and entertainers) pretend to possess “secret knowledge.” So they grab the microphones and presume to become our guides into their esoteric wisdom.

But, wait a minute. Life’s big question is “Who am I?” It is not “How do I display dazzling logic?”

Stephen Covey wrote, “People cannot live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. The key…to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about, and what you value.” Restoring cultural confidence requires that we first know who we are. That solid foundation is essential to navigating change.

Change comes through many voices, even those we call intellectuals. Yes, of course, Rachel Carson changed the way cultures and nations view the environment. We will always need those voices, but those voices also need to think, write, and argue within cultural confidence. That is a “keel.” It keeps our vessel from capsizing in strong winds.

Joanne once had a doctor who assumed that his area of expertise gave him the right to intrude on our territory. When he grew visibly irritated that we didn’t properly react to his dire assessment, we corrected and bounced him back to the small “box” of his value. In complying, he became a valuable voice. He even admitted later that he was wrong; he saw an illusion.

Over the past few years, we have witnessed a parade of illusions (in all disciplines and across a wide spectrum of philosophical and political views). All were championed by elite voices that should have been tested first. Perhaps a renaissance of recalling our foundations would equip us to better manage the voices.

Remember.

Risky Sex

Several years ago, Vanderbilt University and the Nashville Police Department designed a Rate-Your-Risk test. “Rate your risk” for…being robbed, raped, stabbed, shot, or murdered. The project director was a former FBI agent.

One of the questions was “How many acts of adultery have you committed within the past two years?

Now THAT question blows all the smoke out of the room. Reality Time at the Ranch: If you’ve developed improper sexual attachments, your risk of being assaulted or murdered has just red-lined.

Hmmm, “Sir, are you saying that sex could have ramifications beyond the moment?”

At a tip from Jesus Creed, I just read a very wise essay on sex. Risky Sex by Michael Hildalgo examines our culture’s shallow and vacant approach to sex. Yes, I do know that others have excavated that ground. But this one is good enough to warrant your time.

Sample quotes:

…“Safe Sex” is a myth. What protection is there to prevent to intertwining of minds, hearts, and souls that happens when two people are joined together sexually?

“Sex, by its very nature is not safe. It is the ultimate act in giving your whole self away to another person. It requires vulnerability that no other relationship asks for. It is to be fully exposed to another human being. It’s putting your full naked self out there as a gift – that’s risky.

“…This is why so many people have sex with so many people, and feel more and more alone. Somewhere, deep inside their heart, something is being ripped apart and taken from them, and nothing can protect that. What they mistake as a physical act, can cause emotional and spiritual heartache.

“Make no mistake, sex is risky – and what is at risk is our hearts and souls.”

I think this essay can be very helpful to parents as they shape a morality worth integrating into lives and legacies. The piece provides nuanced, textured, and trustworthy ways of thinking about sex. It lifts the topic out of the immature, mechanical, and soulless approach that is so pervasive in our society.

Questions & Answers

A famous American politician once boarded a Washington to Los Angeles flight, settled into his first class window seat, and prepared for a long nap.  The aisle seat was empty; he expected no intrusions.

But a young man approached and asked if an equally famous and very controversial Muslim minister could sit with him a few minutes.  The politician recognized that the Muslim could have come directly and forced the issue.  Instead, he acted in wisdom and grace by sending an emissary.  Quite contrary to his public personality, he did not storm the gates.  The politician told the young assistant that he would glad to talk to the leader.

A minute later, the grandiloquent and polarizing minister slipped into the seat.  They ended up talking almost four hours.  They spoke of days of childhood; of parents, siblings, and spouses; and of triumphs and tragedies.  The politician told me, “I liked him very much.”

I thought of that story recently when I read a new poll from the Pew Research Center.   The poll sought to identify the “political typology” of respondents.  As I scanned the questions, I realized I would not answer any of them.  They were too cold and reductive.

For example, on the issue of immigration, the only choices were:

  • Immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents.
  • Immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health.

 

Think about the innumerable reasons and patterns behind immigration.  They are as complex and mysterious as the kaleidoscopic patterns of global weather or infection.  The survival choices faced by some people are myriad, brutal and heartbreaking.

Yet, an arbitrary set of questions tries to reduce all of that into a flattened and simplistic binary code.

People are magnificently complicated and unfathomable bundles of flesh and spirit.  Contradictory and endlessly variegated.

An African-American friend once told me, “As a black man, it is more important to me that you respect me than that you understand me.”

Those words changed my life.  In that moment, I knew he spoke for everyone on the planet.  We must respect, handle carefully, and wait to be invited into the secret gardens.  Respect should precede understanding.  We just cannot regard anyone lightly.

To slice-and-dice the human bundles, for whatever reasons, is to disrespect and dehumanize people.  Yet, the structures of today’s life do exactly that with increasing frequency and severity.

As I pay for a bag of bolts at the hardware store, the gum-chewing clerk – one third my age – suddenly blurts, “What’s your phone number?”

The only appropriate answer is, “None of your damned business.”

At the grocery store, I give a twenty-dollar-bill for $19.37 of merchandise.  The clerk says, “Want to give your change to a homeless shelter?”  Think of it; the free market now trains agents to ask that people robotically break off a piece of themselves for an amorphous notion.

I choose to bless people because of the generosity of God in my life.   But I do that on my (and His) terms.  I am very careful about opening the private garden of my thoughts or feelings to strangers.

I resent being merchandized, politicized, and…groped!  I sometimes wonder why and how our society ever granted such audacious authority to the TSA and other bureaucracies.  Or, how our personal information become digitized and open commodities.

Why and when did we first allow the barbarians to crash through our gates?  I think it may have started with our lack of vigilance and self-respect when asked personal questions.   In the words of Hosea 7:9, we gave our strength to strangers.

Perhaps refusing to answer intrusive and reductive questions from strangers will be the first step in reclaiming what we have lost.

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