Simplify

May 18, 2021

I sat with my bowl of oatmeal (porridge) this morning. Note: sorry keto or paleo people, but whole grains with their fiber is an excellent way of taming cholesterol and triglycerides. I thought about how I used to eat oatmeal what I would call American style–with a lump of brown sugar and raisons.

One day I considered that. Why add sugar? And raisons are not my favorite. I pitched the sugar and added fresh fruit instead of dried (less sugar there, too). I discovered I liked the flavor of the cereal itself.

When I was introduced to coffee, I added milk and sugar. I found I was drinking more coffee when I began working in manufacturing. I noticed the additives–powdered cream surely cannot be healthy. We add too much sugar to everything. So, one day I simplified. I drank just the coffee. It can have a wonderful flavor all by itself. Especially so when you get a direct trade coffee pour over or french press. But I digress.

Of course, then product development people (I was once one of those) began perfecting caffeine delivery systems adding foamed milk and shots of sugary syrup with the fancy Italian name of latte–but that’s another story.

Our lives often become complicated by the additives we accumulate. Possessions, activities, acquaintances who drag us down.

Sometimes, we need to metaphorically step back from ourselves and take a look at our lives. And strip away the unhealthy habits and possessions. Discover the true flavors of living in the present moment shorn of all the peripherals that distract.

Simplify. It doesn’t have to be boring. It can be liberating.

Dealing With Anger

May 17, 2021

I drove up the road to pick up my pizza order. With a couple of pizzas nestled comfortably on the heated seat beside me, I headed south for the short drive home.

The road has three lanes of traffic through the business district, narrows to two lanes after crossing over an Interstate highway, then narrows to one southbound lane as we pass through a couple of miles of farmland.

Ahead were perhaps a dozen cars bunched tightly together. Not as bad as NASCAR, but you get the idea. Except that I’ve allowed several car lengths of space between the line of cars and me. Approaching the last merge there is a Jeep ahead of me closely following the dark car in front. A white pickup truck is in the right land and must merge or run out of road.

The pickup speeds up a little. There is no room between the Jeep and dark car. The Jeep does not yield. The white pickup does not yield. I am allowing plenty of room for the pickup. He does not back off and at the final instant is able to squeeze in. Triumph!

Did I mention the line of cars? We all are traveling at approximately the speed limit for the next mile to a traffic light. Where we all stop. Nothing gained for the moments of tension.

When I drive my car the media system automatically connects to my iPhone and plays the next podcast queued up. Andy Stanley is speaking on anger—specifically mentioning “road rage.” I love these little coincidences. He’s quoting from the letter from James.

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask.”

Anger is not a primary base emotion. It has deeper causes. Insecurity, fear, greed, envy, wish to get ahead of others, pride. James gives some advice.

Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Humility, setting aside our striving to be one better, putting others first—these are antidotes. These are also a lifestyle pleasing to God, especially practiced in every little way.

Beyond Freedom

May 14, 2021

Freedom is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl

When I was in grad school, I studied freedom. I looked at it from various angles. However, every angle was from the point of view of an adolescent, privileged, white guy. Viktor Frankl, whom I had read as an undergraduate, was a Jewish psychotherapist who studied freedom from within a Nazi concentration camp.

Privileged, white, adolescent guys lived for freedom. We hated the other side of the coin Frankl discusses–responsibleness. I wonder how many of us Baby Boomers still around continue to harbor those feelings.

Jesus talked about freedom. I was puzzled. Then I realized–he meant freedom from a social system that was built upon following rules. And those who studied the rules could play the power game of “gotcha” over those who merely were trying to survive until another day. It was something like someone said in a movie or novel once, “I practice the Golden Rule; he who has the gold makes the rules.”

Paul wrote an entire letter on this topic. The letter to the Galatians is all about freedom. Throwing off the shackles of the old Laws (rules) left you free to live in the Spirit.

Living in the Spirit is freedom. It is also responsibility. We are responsible to love God and to love our neighbor as ourself.

You don’t get either/or. You get both/and as a follower of Jesus.

Turn The Problem Over

May 13, 2021

You are looking at the wrong side. Just turn it over, that is all you ever have to do, just turn it over.

Nero Wolfe’s personal chef Fritz Brenner to detective right hand man Archie Goodwin in Please Pass the Guilt by Rex Stout

Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe character was the exact opposite of his contemporary Earle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason. Overweight, New York City, pompous and arrogant versus handsome, urbane, action-prone. I’ve read the entire series of each several times.

Here, the words of genius come not from the “genius” himself (Wolfe), but from the Swiss chef that clues Archie in on where to look to solve the murder mystery.

I was reading the same week Effortless by Greg McKeown. He quotes German mathematician Carl Jacobi, “One must always invert. Turn the problem around to the other side. Assume the opposite–then what?”

Do you have a personal problem you are trying to solve? Perhaps looking at it from another point of view. Perhaps take the other person’s point of view and study they problem if it’s a relationship thing.

You are studying some spiritual writing–perhaps John or Luke or Paul or some quote of Jesus in the Christian Bible. Or perhaps an ancient or modern writer like Augustine or Max Lucado. You are stuck. “What did they mean?” you wonder.

Perhaps just pause and then change your point of view. Assume they meant the opposite of what you were thinking. Then consider it.

Sometimes I wonder if understanding Jesus and his interpreters you need to be less read in theology and more read in studies of the world–psychology, farming, geography, history.

Just change your thinking. Reading widely in a number of genres helps. That, by the way, is the path to creativity.

Note: I also like the Robert Van Gulik series of 7th Century China, the Judge Dee mysteries. He was the Dutch ambassador to China before World War II and a China scholar. More contemporary, I enjoyed the “alphabet” series about Kinsey Milhone by Sue Grafton.

Are You a Drag?

May 12, 2021

Yes, I wish that for just one time

You could stand inside my shoes

You’d know what a drag it is

To see you.

Positively 4th Street, Bob Dylan

We really don’t know what impact we have on others.

Many soccer referees have talked with me over the past ten years or so and say, “I remember when you offered this suggestion…”

I try to watch what I say. My mom was always on the borderline of depression. I always watched carefully to see where she was and tried to be careful about what I said. Sometime she was just fine. Other times just one word would cause some large reaction.

I’ve known many other people who occasionally react with anger or other strong emotion to something I might say. This is tough for me. I’m an observer and always wanting to point out some odd observation. Or, I love playing with words and may have some quick quip about something someone says. I more than 50 years of marriage, I think my wife has appreciated approximately none of those quick observations or quips.

Even trying to watch for my impact on others, I’m still surprised when someone like the referees I cited mention something I said that was impactful in their lives.

Then I listen to Dylan and wonder how many people feel that way…about me. I can still remember a remark a cousin made about my geeky inability to fit in.

Self-awareness is actually a discipline to cultivate. The early 20th Century psychologist Roberto Assagioli talked about the ability to picture the scene you are acting in as if you are observing from just above it. See yourself acting out with others.

If you could do that (I’m speaking from experience), you’d immediately change your attitude and behavior. You’d stop yelling at the clerk or the child. You’d pause and help someone pick up what they had dropped. You would let that car ahead squeeze in to the traffic lane.

In other words, to cite the words of Jesus, you’d treat others as you would like to be treated.

Then you wouldn’t be the object of Bob Dylan’s penetrating observation.

The Proof of the Pudding

May 11, 2021

It’s amazing where your early morning mind will take you. I began with contemplating Jesus’ words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. These point to the importance of doing what he says (by implication, doing what you say). It not what you say, but what you do, that counts in the end.

However, the phrase “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” popped into my mind as an analogy. But, I wondered, just what does that phrase mean? Fifteen minutes later, I was in Scotland with pictures of haggis and listening to Robert Burns and the joys of haggis and a dram of Scotch. Then I got thirsty (not hungry, I don’t eat organ meats on purpose). Then I remembered where I was going.

Does your mind ever wander like that when you are reading something Jesus or Paul or Peter or John said? Or when the preacher/pastor is speaking? Or even when your spouse is talking? Oops, I digress again.

Pudding in the old English (actually today, too) sense doesn’t mean a sweet desert. It’s some gross form of sausage. And you wouldn’t know if it was any good–or even going to kill you–until you ate some of it.

I’d really have to stretch to apply this to Matthew 7–except that the proof (test) of whether you are a follower of Jesus has less to do with how much you know and very much to do with how you treated the last person you saw and how you will treat the next person you meet. “Do to others as you would like them to do to you. That is the law and the prophets.”

(See, I didn’t waste all that research, although when I was dishing out my oatmeal for breakfast just now it looked sort of funny to me.)

Slow Down, Accomplish More

May 10, 2021

Slow down 

You move too fast 

You gotta make 

The morning last, just 

Kickin’ down 

The cobble stones 

Looking for fun 

And feeling groovy.

Paul Simon, 59th Street Bridge Song

Henry Ford imagined a new way to build cars. Productivity per person in manufacturing increased tremendously in the 20th Century and prosperity followed.

By the 1980s continuing until today, much work is done by “knowledge workers” sitting in front of computer screens. No one (or very few) are imagining new ways to do this work. Productivity lags, people are frustrated, work never ends thanks to the always-on mobile phone.

Well, one person is thinking about it. Cal Newport. I am in the midst of his latest book, A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload. His previous best seller changed the way many of us thought about work–Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

You can sort of summarize the latest book with a quote from a 50s-60s comic strip by Walt Kelly, Pogo. One time, Pogo, the title character–an opossum in the Okefenokee Swamp, said, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.”

In this latest book, I’ve gotten to a section where, after discussing Henry Ford and increasing productivity making Model Ts, brought up the story of a German entrepreneur Lasse Rheingans. He looked at the way people worked in his small company. He then told the employees–you will work 5-hour days. Come in about 8 and leave about 1. When you leave, you’re done. No more work. No more checking emails. No more on-call. You should be able to get all the important work for the company done with 5 5-hour days per week.

How?

No social media during those five hours. Severely restricted meetings. Severely restricted email checking. Two years down the pike, the concept is still working.

He did hire some outside coaches to help the employees through withdrawal. They showed that it was in their best interest to not check all those distracting apps. They also encouraged stress reduction through mindfulness and meditation. And physical health through exercise such as Yoga.

Rheingans’s goal was for everyone to slow down; to approach their work more deliberately and with less frantic action; to realize that they were’ running all the time without getting anywhere.’

Cal Newport

I bet that no matter what we’re up to, this is sound advice.

Pause. Breathe. Ahhhhhh.

What if

May 7, 2021

Perhaps the most powerful phrase for creativity.

What if…we didn’t live here, but elsewhere?

What if…I could work at a more meaningful job?

What if…Jesus meant what he said?

What if…I lived as if what Jesus said was meant for me?

What if…I didn’t comb through Paul’s writing looking for a list of rules but instead took Paul for what he said about living freely with love?

What if…I really practiced loving my neighbor?

What if…we all really practiced loving our neighbors?

What if…we became like a child and asked that question often?

I have two active blogs and two that I started for specific purposes and ended. Altogether I’ve written about 5,000 blog posts. That’s about 1.5 million words. What if I had not experimented with the first one back in 2003? What if I had turned them into a couple of books?

No, We Do Not Have the Right To Say Whatever We Wish

May 6, 2021

There seems to be a movement of people speaking loudly who feel they can say (or write, same thing) anything that comes to mind. Or, even bypasses the mind.

There are times I need to remember the wisdom of the Apostle James, brother of Jesus.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

James 3

How easily our words belie the status of our hearts. How easily we use them to hurt others. We think we are so smart, but an untamed tongue (or typing thumbs) openly reveals to all how not smart we are.

People used to think I was smart when I was young. In reality, I was just quiet. I didn’t open my mouth and reveal my ignorance. Many of us today (including me) need to practice that same discipline.

Ease of Use

May 5, 2021

I got up this morning, and, as always, I prepared for making coffee and taking my supplements then grabbed my iPhone.

No, I don’t check social media or email–except to see what Jon Swanson’s latest thought is. I awaken my phone with a tap and face ID, tap an app icon and check the weather, tap another app icon and pop up my Hey email client and check out 300 Words a Day, and I tap a third app and get a report on my night’s sleep from my Sleep Number bed.

This morning there was a flashback to the early days of personal computers. I used to buy a motherboard, serial cards, graphics cards, display cards, and whatever else I was playing with. I’d assemble into a case (I must have rebuilt a half-dozen computers using the same case). Then an operating system was installed. Then applications. Each was time consuming to install and tricky to use.

And Steve Jobs said in the late 80s that he wanted to build a computer that anyone could easily use.

The iPhone came in 2007 with the app store not long after. And he did it. Grandmas pick up an iPhone and click apps and send and receive messages, check the weather, FaceTime (or Zoom) with friends or grandkids, check on the stock market…

When I get stuck trying to remember the exact Bible verse or song lyric for this blog, I pick up my iPhone and do a quick search of the Internet.

I think of Jesus as sort of that Steve Jobs type. He came along and said we didn’t have to assemble the computer and add the operating system and tinker with things to get it to run. He said we didn’t have to memorize all 613 (or whatever the number is) laws of the Jewish scriptures and then live our life in fear that we may have broken one.

Jesus left commands and instructions that were easy to remember and follow. Love God and love your neighbor, love one another as he loved, go into the world and make disciples. Pretty much it.

But first, when we get up every morning, we have to turn on the operating system by getting into sync with the Spirit. Prayer, meditation, reading are the key, even if only for 15 minutes. It sets our hearts in the right direction. We are ready to just live the day. No worries about eating the wrong thing or touching the wrong person. Just live in the Spirit with Jesus as a guide.

Although I do miss tinkering with the electronics 😉