People Change

June 2, 2021

There was a man. Within his race, religion, and culture, there were none smarter or more steadfast in the traditions.

He lived and taught the principles of strict separation of the races of people (one obviously better than the rest). He lived and taught the strict separation of the genders within religious gatherings (with one gender obviously better than the other).

One day while walking along a road, he experienced another man unlike anyone he had ever met. After that, he was taken to a place where he unlearned everything he had stuffed into his brain in his advanced PhD studies. He was shown and taught an entirely new way of thinking.

Afterward, he taught this entirely new way. Within the gatherings of people, he encouraged people of all races and genders to come together. All were permitted to pray and speak and lead. If there were multiple cultures present, they all had to learn to eat foods brought by others.

He taught about God’s grace and how we should love one another. Gone were his hatred and prejudices (well, mostly) replaced by openness and willingness to relate to all.

We call this man the Apostle Paul. We sometimes read what he wrote and apply interpretations that would surely astonish him.

I have been thinking lately that we need to study his life and how he changed and how he changed other people rather than parsing his words looking for rules to reinforce how good we feel about ourselves relative to others.

All In Your Mind

June 1, 2021

I am currently reading through the teaching of Epictetus. He was Greek mostly living in Rome. His main teaching period was perhaps from 85-120 CE. I am fascinated at how the problems with growth within individual human beings has little changed in thousands of years.

Society has no doubt improved. We don’t have the extreme cruelty, although we still retain too much. But humans, we still struggle to mature.

Reading Epictetus is as fresh as reading some of the current literature from the airport newsstand to occupy time on a flight.

He talks right away about rational mind and attitude. That made me think.

I rise in the morning from sleep. Arrange my nutritional supplements and medications for the day, drink my greens, pick up my book and notebook. Then, I fix a cup of coffee.

Many people say they need a cup of coffee to wake up. Do they really? Or is that attitude a result of a 50-year-old advertisement—“The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup”?

I know that it matters not whether I have the coffee or not as to how I’ll feel the rest of the morning. On the other hand, I really enjoy the taste of a well-roasted, direct trade coffee.

I have a bed filled with sensors connected to the “cloud”. I wake up and almost always feel awake and fine. But some days, the bed tells me I had a great night of sleep, perhaps 85 out of 100. Most days I’m at around 73. This morning, I awakened alert and ready to get up. The bed told me I had a terrible night—in the low 60s. Whom should I believe? Do I let the bed change my attitude toward this morning?

A person tells me they cannot do mathematics. I assure them that someone put that negative thought into their mind. They may never be a professional mathematician, but they could if properly trained be thoroughly proficient at a necessary level in algebraic and statistics and probability thinking—essential thinking skills for modern life.

Right Attitude.

Humans figured that out as the essential for a successful life 3,000 or even 4,000 years ago. Each of us must figure it out for ourselves anew every day.

Remembrance Day

May 31, 2021

Today is a holiday in the US—Memorial Day.

When I was small, my great-grandmother called it Decoration Day. I thought it was about decorating the graves of family. It was always May 30.

From the time I was about 10 until I was 17, May 30 meant a small parade in my village of 1,000. We would march either as a Scout or in the high school marching band from the water tower where there would be speeches and prayers to the cemetery on the outskirts of town. There we would lay flowers (I suppose provided by the American Legion chapter) on the graves of military veterans.

Then we would travel 5 or 6 miles to an even smaller village and repeat the cemetery observance.

The scouts would lay flowers on the grave. The band would play a couple of Sousa marches. The lead trumpeter would play Taps.

Scenes probably repeated everywhere in the country. I don’t know about the South, since the origin of the day was to recognize those who “fought against the rebellion” also known as the Civil War. But the meaning spread to include veterans of all American wars.

Since 1971, the day is always the 4th Monday of May. Making it a 3-day weekend made it easier to plan the Indianapolis 500 auto race or the 3-day soccer tournament I worked at for 30 years.

I personally shun nostalgia and don’t spend much time in remembrance. But it’s good to recall once in a while from wherever you are.

Honoring those who gave their life for a greater cause is a good thing.

Attached To Your Power Source

May 28, 2021

This week I interviewed the CEO for my technology blog. The company manufactures fabric with solar cells stitched in as part of the finished product.

Imagine that you are hosting some sort of outdoor reception. Perhaps in the large back yard of your mansion. Or perhaps at a park. You would like to have some lights. Perhaps you are generous and thoughtful enough to wish to provide some power outlets for your guests to charge mobile phones. Or wire one or more as a WiFi hotspot to provide Internet connection to your guests so that they can be rude and check social media during the reception (OK, I joke).

This company provides fabric for tents, canopies, or even large coverings perhaps to cover outdoor storage in an industrial setting providing enough electrical power to charge an electric fork lift.

The power source is attached to the product. It’s integral with the fabric.

This morning I thought about how life in the spirit must be like that. We have receptors like solar cells build right in. If we are so inclined we can tap into the power source.

The writers compiled into the New Testament must have had a vision similar to that. About us connected directly to the power source of the spirit. Our lights on and WiFi available to serve others.

Successfully Driving People Away

May 27, 2021

Andy Stanley, co-founder and senior pastor of Northpoint Ministries in Atlanta, calls that group of people the “nones.” When filling out questionnaires and coming to a question on religious affiliation, they check the “none” box.

During the podcast conversation, one of the men said that he was not a theist. Not an a-theist. Just no concept of a God. He was raised that way.

Then he turned the table on the host and asked, “What religion are you?”

The host paused a moment and said, “I would have said Christian up until 4-5 years ago. Now, I’m not so sure.”

What did he mean? It was the vocal evangelicals whole-hearted embrace of the former president. That turned him off. What he didn’t mention was that the church he attended (I knew because of a reference he once made) had something of a sex-related scandal amongst leadership. That probably didn’t help.

This is more of an American cultural thing than the rest of the world. Perhaps Europe and Britain are similar in many ways. Certainly in Asia and the Middle East and Africa things are different. There, Christians don’t think they are (and should be) the dominant culture.

I have 50+ years of experience watching churches being more successful driving people away than in attracting them.

Perhaps that is why I write often about the Acts 2 church and how the early church grew by attraction. Then the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the Official religion. And then it all went downhill.

But that early church didn’t grow to be a mega-church. Just many small house gatherings. Ekklesia. They would grow and divide. And they attracted more people by the way they lived. I think that was Jesus’ idea. Attract people by the way you live. Don’t drive them away with a strident voice.

Whom Do You Eat With?

May 26, 2021

After Matthew gives us an example of how Jesus taught by detailing the Sermon on the Mount, he provides a series of brief vignettes of Jesus doing things. He heals, travels back and forth across the lake, chats with people. There’s Jesus teaching and then Jesus in action.

In one story, he tells of Jesus coming by his tax collector’s booth. Jesus offers an invitation, “Follow me.”

And he did.

Then, there was a large celebratory dinner at Matthew’s house. Jesus was there with his disciples (most likely the closest 12). Evidently everyone was having a good time eating, drinking, talking.

Large dinners were held in a courtyard of the housing compound. They’d be along the street where anyone could walk by and see who was at dinner.

The proper, uptight church folks came by wearing their scowls, I’m sure. They were offended. Here was a rabbi publicly at dinner with people who were not proper church society types.

They took some disciples aside, “Why does your teacher eat with sinners and tax collectors?”

Where I used to live there was a larger, famous bar called The Pub. It was a notorious hangout for men having dates with women who were not their wives, as well as other types of people not expected in one of the many churches in the area. We had a pastor who (with permission) took Sunday night church to The Pub. A Catholic friend of mine asked me if he could go. “Sure.” He wondered if he could have a beer while there. “Sure.”

I have known people who intentionally invite diverse groups to dinner regularly.

But I am wondering, who are we all seen dining with? Can we be strong with Jesus who said that it is the sick who need a doctor, not the well. Do we only associate with the church people? Or maybe have a beer with those in need of a kind word?

Getting Down From Mount Stupid

May 25, 2021

“I took a semester course in that subject at university,” the recent graduate told me in an interview, “so, I am an expert in that field.”

I think I replied to the effect that he had barely scratched the surface of knowledge.

It is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The peak of the curve is often called Mount Stupid.

We have all been there.

There was a Bible study. One man who had begun studying the Bible within the past year exclaimed, “I don’t understand why anyone can argue this. Here it is plainly in black and white.”

I mentioned that first, he was reading English. Jesus and Paul didn’t speak English, since it had not been invented yet. “It’s complicated,” I said. Maybe I realized then that I had arrived. I knew I didn’t know everything. Now, I could begin to understand. And perhaps guide someone else off the peak of “Mount Stupid.”

Diversity

May 24, 2021

In How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler advises reading a book taking an overview, then reading the arguments, then outlining and thinking of the whole. He suggests you’ll only read a few books a year with that thoroughness. He’s right.

Some people stop reading the Christian scriptures after compiling a sufficient number of rules to live by (or force others to live by). It is a very good practice to take our point of view out much wider and consider the scope of all the writers and documents.

While doing that practice over the weekend, I was struck by the diversity of peoples. Jesus, as a rabbi, was supposed to interact mainly with Jewish male people. Or, perhaps “good” Jewish male people.

What do we find? Jesus had many women among his retinue. Jesus dealt person-to-person with Romans, Syro-Phoenicians, Syrians, Samaritans, and most likely many more. There would have been peoples from the land we now call Turkey. Most likely some Egyptians. Most likely Babylonians and Persians.

Later Philip evangelized a black person. There were eunuchs. Peter had a dream where God told him it was OK to associate with people who were not Jewish. Paul accepted women leaders and worked with a wide variety of people on his journeys.

People were accepted where they were and how they were. And people were attracted by the love they saw expressed by followers of the Way even toward them.

I think that is all meant to be an instruction for us. Look around. Whom do you see?

Respect for People

May 21, 2021

I interviewed a woman yesterday who is Director of Manufacturing for a contract manufacturing company. The company designs to specification and builds medical diagnostic equipment or sometimes builds to the customer’s design. Among the products are COVID testing machines—demand for which increased from 11 to 40 per month quite suddenly last year.

She was hired to improve productivity in manufacturing by initiating a system called Lean Manufacturing. I am a proponent of Lean thinking for manufacturing, and also for other activities. It has been a successful method for many companies. I should mention it’s also called by some as the Toyota Production System used successfully by that company.

The person who set up the interview told me the theme was “overcoming resistance and negative views” of Lean.

Why, I asked were there negative views?

“People thought that I was coming in to cut staff and cost many people their jobs,” she replied. “But,” I replied, “the first principle of Lean is Respect for People.”

She explained how they implemented Lean, how mandatory overtime was reduced so that people could spend time with families, how production went up, how people could use their new skills to help out when new projects came.

The second principle of Lean is to reduce waste. Some of the methods used are things you can do today—5 Whys (ask why five times in order to find the real problem); 6S (clean and organize your workspace); Kanban (signal when you’re about out of something in the cupboard); Kaizen (project with a wide variety of people organized for a short term to solve one problem).

Returning to that first principle—Respect for People. Notice all the people benefits this manager achieved. Think about how you could use the principle in your church, your home, your organization.

Didn’t we learn this from Jesus? He respected people of all races, genders, social diseases. He only poked at those who were too pompous to be open to change. Even when being falsely accused, he refused to disrespect anyone.

Respect for people is a good first principle for living.

Why Is It So Hard To Submit To God?

May 20, 2021

I’m reading in the letter from James in the Christian Bible. This is one of those pieces of spiritual writing that is so dense with thought that you could take months just going from sentence to sentence.

He is talking in the passage where I’m at right now about how God yearns to see his spirit at work in us.

I love that phrase. How packed with meaning.

James relates that to our human resistance, called pride. And he talks of the opposite of pride, namely humility.

The study guide asks us to consider, “Why is it so hard to submit to God?”

I’m not going to suggest an answer. We know the answer within us if we but pause and look.

For some reason, I am prone to wondering about people. I wonder about how people whose pride has driven them from prominent positions to the depths. How do they live with themselves and their family? What do they do all day? Sit and brood? Act as if they are wronged and get worse?

This has happened to many men and several women over the past few years.

But more to the point–what about me? At what point is my pride still in the way? Do I feel the need to justify myself? Do I need to promote myself? Pride is so insidious.

The other part of this passage from James says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

That is the goal.