Archive for the 'Beliefs' Category

Spending Good Fridays with the Country Club Christians

“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” – Jonathan Swift

“I don’t remember learning how to hate in Sunday School” – Steve Earle’s Jerusalem

I don’t know why we expect institutions to be more noble than the people that comprise them, but we do. And no loftier are those expectations than for churches and organized religion. Yet, it seems that organized religion can disappoint almost as often as it can inspire. I experienced such disappointment first hand over several recent Good Fridays.

Several years ago I was helping out as an usher with a Good Friday church service. During this particular church service an intense young man (who was not a regular member, or had never even been to the church to my knowledge) sat in the front pew looking seriously and intently at the pastor, and nodding away in agreement as he gave a traditional Good Friday sermon (such mild expressions would have gone quite unnoticed at an AME church service I can assure you). Rather than appreciate that a member of the flock was actually awake, alert, and following the sermon, the pastor apparently became concerned that the man was unhinged. After the service was over, the pastor asked several of us ushers to keep an eye on the this apparently erratic young man.

Now, while it was obvious that this young man was indeed intense and concerned about something, it did not seem to rise to the level of a safety concern. And I found it extremely odd that a pastor would even notice, let alone be concerned about such a person. I guess I expected that pastors by the very nature of their training and experience would be accustomed, maybe even desensitized, to dealing with folks in crises, especially since those crises such as death, disease, divorce, prison, and the like seem to be their bread and butter.

Anyway after the service, under the pastor’s guidance, that young man was lead out and away from the church unassisted so he wouldn’t be a problem. Someone who just wanted to talk about a particular problem and experience some love and encouragement was instead turned away by the church – and I was indeed part of that group, too busy at the time trying to get my own kids home and in bed. But it did made me feel bad and wonder if I shouldn’t have set a better example and maybe try to be part of a different sort of group. I eventually left that church and strived be better at helping those in need, especially when they most needed it.

A couple of Easters later, I met Tom Armstrong, a former Pennsylvania state lawmaker who had caused considerable angst in his community by taken three homeless sex offenders into his comfortable home in Marietta, PA (a suburb of Harrisburg). – I was truly amazed – here was a person who was surely living up to the true words and ideals of Christ, and perhaps not unlike Christ in some respects, he was quite persecuted for those ideals – ironically enough by folks who most claimed to be highly religious and supportive of “Christian Values.”  Now, if you were truly Christian and really wanted to find a modern analog to healing Lepers, you could hardly find a better candidate than much-reviled sex-offenders. Yet he was totally and absolutely persecuted and even hated by those so-called Christians who are supposed to be the same very champions of unconditional forgiveness and love.

It is extremely odd that few would see the inconsistency in such a belief system of persecution. The analogs to the recipients of Christ’s love are everywhere in today’s world – take your pick of combinations: women being stoned (convicts), prostitutes (homosexuals, drug addicts), tax collectors (abortion doctors), Lepers (sex offenders), and the lists goes on and on.

Last Good Friday was unfortunately another disappointment, the state was debating gun law changes in the wake of the Newtown massacre and there was a long and sternly worded Letter to the Editor from the pastor of our largest local church. This letter espoused the bizarre belief that in order to be true Christians, that true followers of Christ must own guns and be prepared to take up arms at any moment to support “Christian Values.” So much for turning the other cheek I guess – and it sounded a bit too much like that line from Mean Girls where “…on the third day God invented the Gun….” It too seems that if you wanted a modern analog to the cruel Roman guards and their spears – it is people who love their guns and their associated culture of death.

Those “Churches of Good Fridays Past” seem like they are not Christian churches at all, but more like the Temples of the Romans or the Pharisees. These so called “Christians” with their “Christian Values(do they even know what that means?)” don’t believe in helping the downtrodden, there are the oppressors. They don’t believe in unconditional love and forgiveness, they are the ones setting the conditions and making forgiveness unobtainable. They are not the Apostles or the Disciples, they are the crowd demanding Christ’s Crucifixion. They don’t have a consistent belief system – they have a club – a Country Club. They long ago forgot their guiding principles and turned into self-promoting social clubs full of Comfortable Christians – with followers who are so far removed from Christ’s original principles as to be almost indistinguishable caricatures of Christ.

So if you want to truly learn something about Jesus and Christian Values – you might do better this year to just skip the church service and simply watch Johnie Cash’s Gospel Road. But please remember to check your fear, hate, and guns at the door of this church.

Amen on Good Friday to those simple Gospel messages of true Christian Values – simple and timeless values of unconditional forgiveness and true love.

 

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Impostor Syndrome and the Trap We Set for Ourselves

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”- Eleanor Roosevelt

“Evaluate yourself by your own standards, not someone else’s” – Life’s Little Instruction Book (but just a paraphrase of Galatians 6:4)

“Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses” – Everyone

Something was going on in the Tech World last week, in an industry that is perpetually ignoring the past (and even the present) and is continually looking for the next best thing; I seemed to notice an unprecedented level of self-reflection(or perhaps I was just tuned to that frequency myself).  Jeff Atwood published the thoughtful “Beware the trap we set for ourselves” in which he ponders “the opinions of other people matter, but they are the traps we set for ourselves” and Julie Bort published a very good piece on Impostor’s Syndrome – which also had a link to a very good blog post with a female developer’s point of view (excellent illustration from this post reused below). These were all great posts – they are things for which I never had a name for or identified the root cause of, but boy did I notice the symptoms everywhere.

Insecurity can be a good thing – it can inspire you to work and try harder, to question and improve things that truly need questioning and improving.  And the advice is everywhere, even if we exclude the voices in our own heads: “Work Harder” “Don’t let your team/company down” “Only the paranoid survive” “Anyone can do it” But like any good trait, it can be pushed too far until it gets twisted into a bad one. Being hard working is a good trait, being a workaholic is not.  Being thrifty is a good trait, being cheap is not. And so on – and so it goes with insecurity.

Much like there is a special-purpose part of the brain that allows you to remember, in explicit detail, every embarrassing moment experienced in your life, there is also a special part of the brain that seems to encourage and reinforce feelings of insecurity. Most people who care about improving themselves seem to also be pre-programmed to think that they are never good enough.  This is just human nature, you need to acknowledge that these feelings exists, plan for them, know when they are helpful and more importantly know when to ignore them, and move on.

Technology changes, jobs change, but the lessons we’ve already learned don’t. Work hard and honestly 8-5, do the best job you are able, be able to handle constructive criticism, but in the end don’t worry excessively what you or others think, and don’t allow self-doubt to cloud your opinion of yourself. You need to be a person that you respect and admire. Don’t get trapped into judging yourself by unrealistic or someone else’s standards.

 

What I Think I Know - What I Actually Know

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome – https://medium.com/tech-talk/bdae04e46ec5

GJ Top of the Lake Quotes

Oh, Internet you disappoint me, all I wanted (and surprisingly couldn’t find, which is pretty rare in the information superhighway smog) was a simple catalog/list of the quotes from the TV miniseries Top of the Lake’s most enigmatic and entertaining (some might argue pointless) character: GJ (played by the lovely and talented Holly Hunter). Slate’s Dan Kois and Michelle Dean sum up her character best: “GJ is like Hunter S. Thompson mixed with Sappho. She’s an earth mother guru with a really hard edge.”

As strange as the character GJ is, her group’s backstory and subplot is just as inscrutable. GJ leads a group of troubled women would just put their finger on a random map point and move there (across the world) in search of truth and healing; their search could have been a story in and of itself. At the beginning, someone shooting a self-styled documentary says: “There’s a lot of women here in a lot of pain. They come from abused marriages; broken hearts, sex addicts….” There is some reflected isolation, many of the same repeated mistakes, just in a different setting, and finally it unclear if they have really learned anything. And then the story ends with GJ leaving for another antipode (from New Zealand to Iceland). If nothing else it certainly represents a tale of abandoning your past and moving in a completely orthogonal direction – but it seems wherever these characters go, they are still themselves at the core and still trapped with their same demons. Anyway, here is a list of the GJ’s biting, cryptic, and philosophical quotes captured for none other than my own amusement:

(Why did you come here?) It’s the name: Paradise.

What happens here (Paradise)? Nothing

Love that is not reciprocated just turns to apathy or hate.

(Tui: What happened to you?) a Calamity, like being struck by lightning, every cell in my body changed.

That (Tui’s unborn baby) is a ticking time bomb – boom!

No freeloading. Fifty bucks a week. You’ve gotta work. No one will pay you for closing your eyes.

All the b–ches here are searching for love, and when they don’t find that, enlightenment, they don’t find anything, not a one of them.

(To Detective Robin Griffin) How are your knees? You will go down hard – bang – the search will bring you low, to the ground on your two knees, that’s right – no one likes it – face in the dirt.

Why are these people (meditators) closing their eyes? Wake up!

(Mike: Is there such a thing as the human mind – what is the nature of the human mind?) Plotting and scheming. Planning and calculating. That is the nature of mind…Constant thought.

(Mike: When you get to the end of the universe what is there?) Dunno we’re not going there any time soon (what do you see?) My guess you’re not going to like it? A lost little girl, your girl with a secret growing inside.

(Advice to Robin’s dying mother) Get some heroin.

The universe knows no death, it is just atoms rearranging themselves.

Follow the body, it’ll know what to do. It has tremendous intelligence.

You picked the wrong way to help someone, that one, she wants to help Africa! Like the airplane put on your own mask first!

Stop! Stop Thinking!

We’re up in a place called Paradise, but is everything okay? Of course not.

How’s gold doing? (while checking girl’s iPad).

So, you are on your knees? Good. Now die to yourself. To your idea of yourself. Everything you think you are, you are not. What’s left? Find out.

(How do I help myself?) Why should I tell you when you don’t listen? (I’m listening) No! All you hear are your own crazy thoughts Like a river of sh-t, on and on. See your thoughts for what they are. Stop your helping. Stop your planning. Give up! There’s no way out. Not for others, not for you. We are living out here at the end of the road, the end of the earth in a place called Paradise How is it going? Perfect? No. You are madder than ever. You are tired? So lie down right here. Be like a cat. Heal yourself. There is no match for the tremendous intelligence of the body. Rest.

Just get me away from these crazy b–ches. When is the next flight to Reykjavik?

GJ-Top-of-the-Lake

Guiding Principles and Questions You Should be Able to Answer

I really love brief lists of principles/questions that are able to succinctly capture the myriad life lessons of some really complex settings and scenarios. I have included 3 of my favorites below. They demonstrate some really important core principles as well as some questions you should be able to answer if what you are doing is at all worthwhile. They also show that there is no one-size-fits-all list. Senator Mikulski’s list is great for dealing with the pace and inefficiency of the Senate, 37Signal’s list is great for working on short term projects, and the “5 Questions” list is great for addressing some more abstract life goals.

“BAM(US Senator Barbara Ann Mikulski)’s Principles” 

1. We cannot always guarantee an outcome, but we can guarantee an effort.

2. Always be clear about: “What is the objective we seek?”

3. Goals should be specific, immediate, and realizable.

4. Just move it.

37Signals Rework (“Reasons to Quit” Chapter):

1. Why are you doing this?

What is it for? Who benefits? What is the motivation behind it?

2. What problem are you solving?

Was something not possible before that should be possible now?

3. Is this actually useful?

Are you making something useful or just making something?

4. Is there any easier way?

Well defined problems are usually pretty simple, don’t assume they require hard solutions.

5. Are you adding value?

Can someone get more out of this than they could before?

6. Will this change behavior?

Is what you are working on really going to change anything?

7. Is what you are doing really worth it?

Is the time, effort, cost, etc. worth what you hope to gain? Don’t go throwing good time after bad work.

5 Questions That Will Change Your Life (Life Coach Tim Brownson):

1. What Else Can This Mean?

2. Who Can Help Me?

3. What Am I Grateful For?

4. What’s My End Game (Goal)?

5. What Can I Learn From This?

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And of course no “Life’s Lists” list is complete without H. Jackson Brown Jr. Life’s Little Instruction Book. Some of my favorites from this:

Life’s Little Instruction Book

Life

93 : Choose your life’s mate carefully. From this one decision will come 90% of your happiness or misery.

213 : Don’t waste time grieving past mistakes, learn from them and move on.

328 : Seek opportunity, not security – a boat in a harbor is always safe, but its bottom will eventually rust out.

355 : Evaluate yourself by your own standards, not someone else’s

Work

140 : When starting out, don’t worry about not having enough money. This is a blessing and not a curse, nothing else encourages creative thinking quite like this.

156 : Strive for excellence, not perfection.

168 : Resist telling people *how* to do something. Instead tell them *what* needs done. They will often surprise you with the solutions.

271 : When faced with a difficult task, act as if it is impossible to fail

274 : Leave everything a little better than you found it

324 : Don’t delay acting on a good idea, success comes to the one who acts first.

334 : Instead of the word problem, try substituting the word opportunity

379 : Forget committees. New, noble, world-changing ideas always come from one person working alone.

399 : Focus on making things better, not bigger

401 : Don’t ever watch hotdogs or sausage being made.

404 : When attending meetings(or conferences), sit in front.

428 : Do More than is expected

463 : Be open to new ideas

466 : Set Short Term and Long Term goals

481 : Watch for big problems, they disguise big opportunities

504 : Commit yourself to quality

 

Stay Hungry, Don’t Worry, Go Placidly, and Always Wear Sunscreen

The death of Steve Jobs yesterday was a chance for many to reflect on how the tech titan had directly impacted their everyday lives. Though I had not used an Apple product since my parents traded in our TI-99/4A for an Apple IIc in the mid-1980s, even an i-curmudgeon like myself felt a sense of loss.  For me the impact was from his famous inspirational speech to Stanford Graduates in 2005.

If you have not read it in its entirety, I highly recommend – read it here -. For me, among this particular category of inspiring, insightful, and downright useful advice, it is one of the best.

Certainly it fits in well with other inspiring messages including Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (“Do not worry”), Desiderata by MaxEhrmann (“Go Placidly among the noise and haste”), and the much more lighthearted, but no less useful, Wear Sunscreen by Mary Schmich.

Steve’s summation of his message to graduates? He admits in borrowing it from the Whole Earth Catalog: “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” but the speech is sprinkled with beauty and insightful nuggets throughout including one of my favorites:

Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.*

Which to me sounded similar to the last page of Shel Silverstein’s posthumous, recently-released poems in Everything On It:

When I am gone what will you do? / Who will write and who will draw for you? / Someone smarter, someone new, someone better? / Maybe you?

I do hope the world produces more Steve Jobs and Shel Silversteins, I miss them both.

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* A great Steve Jobs quote that demonstrates this viewpoint is “When Apple first started out, people couldn’t type. We realized: Death would eventually take care of this.” (Walt Mossberg, All Things Digital, May 28, 2003)

Happy ‘Buy Nothing Day’

Buy Nothing Day Ad

Buy Nothing Day from AdBusters

No doubt completely lost in news of Christmas sales and Black Friday specials is the news that today is in fact “Buy Nothing Day.”   Little wonder if you have never heard of it, no major media outlet ever built a successful ad-revenue-based business model by encouraging people not to buy things.  But nonetheless, the idea that happiness is not derived from consumption and consumerism is an idea whose time hopefully has finally come to the general population. 

Amongst all of the bad economic news we frequently hear, the US has been in an unprecedented period of economic growth for about the last 25 years (since 1982).  Yet bigger houses, more cars, and bunches of more “stuff” have done very little to change or improve our daily lives.   A McMansion is just a house, a big, expensive TV is just a TV, an iPod is just a record/cassette player and a gas-guzzling SUV is just a car.  So perhaps it is finally time to abandon the naïve notions pimped by manufacturers, advertisers, and the associated culture of consumerism.

Sure, it may be as ineffective as the “Great American Smokeout,” but “Buy Nothing Day” is certainly a step in the right direction.  And the first step to a cure is always to first acknowledge that you have a problem to begin with. 

Go ahead and spend a day cleaning your house and not buying more stuff.   Spend some time with friends and loved ones and reflect how maintaining those relationships will return far greater value than buying yet another sweater or purse.  Afraid that if you don’t buy that gift sweater that it may in fact hurt those relationships?  That is a valid concern, but there are plenty of alternate gift ideas that can be very personal and meaningful that don’t involve much spending.  These include such things as a family tree, a framed photo, an address book (with friends/family contact info already filled in), a self-assembled food basket, and many other things limited only by your creativity.

So, Happy Buy Nothing Day – now wasn’t that much more satisfying (not to mention warmer and safer) than camping in front of Best Buy all night – and your basement and/or garage may just be cleaner for it.

The Whatifs and Other Monsters Under the Bed

The other night while I was lying awake worrying about something that I can no longer even remember, I came to notice my daughter lying on the floor beside the bed (a frightening shadowy apparition in itself until you learn to expect such behavior).  Eventually she presumably found the uncarpeted floor less hospitable than her own bed and returned there.

The next day I asked her why she was there and I got the standard kid answer for such nighttime behaviors: because of “Monsters under the Bed.”

I then wondered what I in the heck I was doing up at that time myself and realized it was pretty much the same thing: going to some cold, hard, dark place and worrying about my own “Monsters under the Bed.”  Those both irrational and rational fears we have when the din of the outside world quiets and we are left alone with our own unique thoughts and concerns.

This is a time and mood captured perfectly by the Shel Silverstein poem Whatif:

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song…

…Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

Shel and I just need to keep telling ourselves: those nighttime Whatifs and Monsters under the Bed aren’t real, they’re just illusions of our overactive imaginations and worst fears.  Even our most rational fears only very seldom come to pass and as wittily told in Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen):

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday

So go back to your own bed.  Turn on a flashlight or shine some hope and optimism into your worried mind and let those Whatifs and Monsters under the Bed fade away and melt back into the shadows.  4PM on some idle Tuesday will no doubt come soon enough, so for now appreciate and be grateful for the day you just had and look forward to and be hopeful for those yet to come.