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Archive for September, 2009

Wishful Thinking

It is one of the better facets of our nature as human beings to be hopeful. I, for one, enjoy the company of optimists and visionaries, because it calls up the idealism in my soul that is ever trading blows with a certain inbred cynicism.

Until the day I draw my last breath, I want to live in hope.

But there’s a line that we need to be careful not to cross. And I suspect, that as Americans, far too many of us have crossed over into a realm that is simply unrealistic, and actually downright dangerous.

wishfulWishful thinking.

Often, it seems to start innocently enough. We look into the eyes of a precious newborn and fool ourselves into thinking that this child is as pure as the driven snow. However, parents quickly discover that, as delightful and wonderful as their babies are, these little ones are afflicted with the same selfish genes as the rest of us. It should be “game over” as we look around us and find that not a single individual (including the one in the mirror) is truly altruistic, but at best, we’re a mixed bag of good-OK-selfish-horrible, which no amount of willpower can fundamentally change.

Instead, we fan the embers of wishful thinking. Instead of settling for the reality that we must do the hard work of cultivating, managing, controlling, and even dispensing justice, we delude ourselves into thinking that evil will become rational.

Our Founding Fathers did not suffer under this delusion. The system of government they carefully crafted assumed that human beings are flawed and, left unchecked, will pursue all sorts of selfish, destructive, and power-hungry behaviors. That’s why our founding documents are loaded with checks and balances, distributed power and representative government, levers of recourse for the violated and the oppressed – to try to subdue the lower impulses of influencers and leaders, and prevent the accumulation of power that will tyrannize people.

We would be wise to follow in their footsteps.

    Do we REALLY believe that nice-sounding talk and prolonged negotiations will persuade power-mad tyrants and regimes from pursuing the accumulation of more land, power, people, and weapons? Just when, in all of recorded history, have evil people been stopped by well-meaning velvet gloves, instead of the just exercise of greater power?
    Do we REALLY believe that an ever-expanding government can actually deliver goods and services in any way equal to what a creative, motivated, profit-and-efficiency seeking marketplace can? On what historical basis is that belief based? Certainly the empirical evidence is 100% in the other direction.
    Do we REALLY believe that a people can sustain a just and orderly society who buy into the “anything goes” philosophy of right and wrong – where the greatest sin becomes adherence to a fixed moral code which actually defines one thing as good and another as evil?

We, of all people, should have the most realistic view of humanity, freedom, and government. We should take a clear-eyed view of history and put aside childish wishful thinking, believing against all evidence that human nature is something that has transcended itself. Are not the daily headlines enough to disabuse us of this vain dreaming?

We live in a world that will not yield its fallen condition to our well-meaning bromides and attachment to the false hopes of the ’60’s generation. Part of our better nature is taking a realistic view of what surrounds us, and laboring to keep what is good, while striving to make better what lacks. But really – let’s put aside the wishful thinking. It doesn’t becomes us as a people.

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Connect with Steve Woodruff

Twitter: @swoodruff

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Morning Unfolding

I like taking pictures in early morning light. Today, there was some rapid change in clouds and lighting, and as it turned out, I ended up taking three pictures over the span of 4 hours or so that showed the unfolding of the day:

Sunrise:

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Mid-morning:

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Late morning:

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Anyone who follows my pictures has seen that big pine many times – it figures prominently in sunrise pix from the backyard!

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Connect with Steve Woodruff

Twitter: @swoodruff

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Delighting

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” -Psalm 37:4

This verse has been sticking with me for a few days. Mainly because I think I really didn’t “get” it for so long. Conceptually understood, no problem – but actually experiencing it? Maybe not so much.

Truth be told, it’s very easy to default to delighting in lesser things. To whit:

1. Delight yourself in being right. Ah, always a temptation when dealing with issues of truth in religious matters. And while it’s important to think and believe in a clear and correct manner, it can also become an idol. The goal, instead of God, is right-ness. Very me-centric, and ultimately repellent to others.

2. Delight yourself in having your act together. Closely related to #1, but here, the main focus is ordering behavior and words to try to (vainly, I might add) achieve some sort of sanctified perfection. Doing it right, instead of delighting in the only One who can impart righteousness. Again, it becomes all about me. Ugh.

3. Delight yourself in stuff. Sometimes you want to pat yourself on the back for monastic self-denial. When that doesn’t work, it’s easy to swing over to delighting in food, drink, sex, vacations, possessions – whatever leads to immediate good feelings. This ends up making the gifts an idol, while neglecting the Giver. More self.

The fact is, our default setting is Me. Self. We’ll corrupt anything. It takes a supernatural work of God to loosen our grip from me-centered delights, and to begin to look at Him as the most delightful. Then the rest of it falls into line, and God is free to give us the desires of our heart. Because He’s our first desire.

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Connect with Steve Woodruff

Twitter: @swoodruff

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Never the Right Time

“We can’t afford to have kids yet.”

“I don’t know if I’m ready to be married.”

“Can we really make that mortgage?”

“This is a tough time to launch a business.”

“I’m not sure just yet that God’s really real.”

It’s never the right time. You can’t be old enough, wise enough, financially well-off enough, informed enough, safe enough, sure enough.

People who lead, conquer, and accomplish great things are just as unready as the rest of us. They act anyway. Because, even if it seems like it’s not the right time to do a thing, there’s a right thing to do. The right timing is often shown by moving forward, not by inaction.

Fear says, “not yet.” And, by all means, carefully assess and count the cost. But realize going in that there will always be plenty of reasons to put off doing what you know, deep inside, you need to do.

Be bold and take action. It’s always the right time for that.

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Connect with Steve Woodruff

Twitter: @swoodruff

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Playing the Racist Card

The word “racist” has been bandied about a whole lot in recent months, and a lot of its usage has been singularly unhealthy.

My conviction is that glibly calling people a racist is typically the sign of a weak mind – someone who refuses to work through the slog of principles, convictions, and ideas often proclaims a weak and unearned triumph by tarring the opponent with the term, “racist.” End of discussion? No. End of your credibility.

And, of course, actually being a racist is no less a sign of possessing a weak mind – and a skewed heart. When you view people through some hierarchy of worth based on external characteristics (with you on top, of course), then you don’t deserve a hearing.

racistIf we’re going to have civil discourse as citizens of this country, let’s not fear to call a racist a racist. But, let’s be profoundly hesitant to apply that label to someone who simply disagrees with us.

Let’s take a step back and put “racism” in context. A racist can be defined as someone who believes that there is INHERENT superiority and/or inferiority to be ascribed to human beings due to racial background. It may (or may not) be a subset of xenophobia (fear or dislike of that which is different from oneself).

Racism should also be carefully differentiated from sociological generalizations – that is, fact-based observations about characteristics that mark groupings of peoples in general (but, obviously, with variations and exceptions). Comedians would be out of business without generalizations about men, women, Jews, blacks, whites, Indians, Swedes, and (of course), the French!

Just now, there’s a lot of blather going on regarding whether or not people who disagree with our President are, in fact, motivated by racism. Here’s my take: you’d better have some pretty substantive evidence that any person or grouping of persons is, in fact, “racist” in their opposition as opposed to simply exercising free speech in expressing divergent views. When prominent columnists like Maureen Dowd make this leap, they show an appalling shallowness of thought and civility. Such people have no credibility in political discourse.

By all means, let us debate and discourse vigorously and honestly. But don’t hide like a coward by dismissing those who differ from you as “racists.”

No doubt, there are racists, xenophobes, and uncharitable folks among us, and they come in all colors and from all backgrounds. But when you find it easy to write off entire groups of people opposing political and sociological agendas as “racists” (automatically), then you have fallen into the trap. You display your own xenophobia – these people are different from me (though maybe with a common skin color!), and thus they must be dismissed as lesser beings. That is just as arrogant as blatant racism. Beware.

Whether you consider yourself a superior “liberal” looking down your nose at the uncultured rubes from flyover country, or you identify yourself as a “conservative” patriot despising the coastal communists, beware of despising the “other” by taking cheap shots and self-righteously tossing out labels.

Let’s put the spotlight on principles, not derogatory slogans. Assuming the worst about someone else, or assuming your own superiority, never won an argument. Calling someone a racist or a misogynist just to score points and shut down debate is the ploy of a coward.

Just remember: if you were right, I’d agree with you (I love that statement – had to fit it in here somehow!). But in the meantime, let’s assume that we’re thinking human beings who aren’t inherently inferior to one another. And let’s talk substance instead of talking trash, and playing the racist card.

(Image credit)

UPDATE: It is quite possible for someone who is by no means a racist to get jumped on for making a racist-sounding comment (esp. a sociological generalization). This is a bludgeon used to selectively silence scientists, academics, politicians, and anyone else who dares tread the line of political correctness. Of course, the same principle applies for those with a sexism trigger-finger.

UPDATE 2: For a counter-point perspective, read this post by my friend Shannon Whitely (whom I greatly respect). And let’s have these debates, people – substantive thought and discussion, with mutual respect and readiness to listen. Hostile sound-biting isn’t going to get us anywhere…!

UPDATE 3: A voice of reason and sanity, from of all places, the NY Times: No, It’s not about Race.

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Connect with Steve Woodruff

Twitter: @swoodruff

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A Keeper

keeperOne of my sons (who played soccer) has a T-shirt which says, “I’m a Keeper.” Yes, of course there’s a double-entendre, one relating to his position on the soccer field, and the other rooted in wishful thinking (well, actually, he is a keeper, but that’s another story…)

It’s not like I haven’t read Psalm 121 about a thousand times, but today I finally noticed how often, in that little passage, God is depicted as the Keeper of his people. “He who keeps you…He who keeps Israel…The Lord is your keeper…He will keep your soul.”

The sense is that God, in relation to His children, is like a shepherd, a guard, a watchman – a never-sleeping, ever-vigilant, always-aware protector. Which utterly blows up any notion of God as some distant, uninvolved, uncaring spirit-thing; some half-superior being that conforms to whatever image we care to mold Him into. Ummm…no. Idols aren’t keepers.

The God of this psalm (and all the others) is not far away. He doesn’t fall asleep at the switch. He’s not some impotent, unfeeling vapor. Whatever struggles we may have understanding God, one option simply doesn’t present itself anywhere in the Scriptures: there is no absentee deity.

Make-believe idols certainly are absent when you call to them. But this God’s a Keeper.

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Connect with Steve Woodruff

Twitter: @swoodruff

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All of us who are parents, and who are involved with social platforms, have to wrestle with the question: what about my kids?

Specifically, what do I share? That I have kids? Their ages and/or names? Pictures? Personal or family stories?

Or pull a veil over it as much as possible and try to maintain some privacy?

There are probably as many answers as there are people, which means that…there are no big-A Answers. Just opinions and principles.

This inquiry – about kid-sharing – came to me today from a young mother. Now, I’m in a bit different position than a lot of folks, because my family is further down the road than many of you. Most of my boys are on Facebook already. But I do tend to hesitate about sharing specifics, generally speaking, because I live a very open life on the web and don’t want to impose that on them unnecessarily.

Though I admit that I’m not entirely consistent either – my 7-year old is hard not to share, after all, and it seems unnatural to pretend that my family is something other than what it is.

My principle seems to have evolved to share the basics fairly openly, tell some stories that are relatively innocuous, and try to draw on my experiences as a parent to encourage those a bit further back on the trail. A bit existential, I admit – no hard-and-fast rules, and some room to evolve and grow the approach. Because I’m still figuring it out.

How about you? Are you kid-ding? What practices have you evolved into – and especially, what are the principles that guide your thinking?

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Connect with Steve Woodruff

Twitter: @swoodruff

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