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Archive for December, 2009

As my boys morph into teens and then into young men, some rather obvious – but still hard-learned – life truths keep coming to the surface.

Love is given – from the moment of that first positive sign on the pregnancy test, to the seemingly endless night feedings, to the crashes and pimples and (much bigger) crashes of growing up, you’re loved because you’re…you. Period.

Approval is conditional – what is wrong and stupid and dangerous does not become acceptable because you’re loved. And love doesn’t free  you from the responsibility to grow up and measure up. Disapproval is a fact of life. Walk in wisdom, go all-in, and you’ll learn whose approval matters – and whose does not.

Respect is earned – accomplishment, achievement, character development – that is how you earn the respect of others. No shortcuts. Respect is not the puff-up of flattery; it’s admiration that comes with a price tag.

Ideals co-exist with reals – every person you meet, including the one in the mirror, has flaws. Life isn’t always fair. Give up on utopian expectations, but never give up on ideals. Leaders pursue what is higher; nobility is in the striving, not the attaining.

You’re a part, not a whole – we all have a few things that we can do really well. Many of the people around you have stronger limbs, sharper eyes, more nimble brains, and bigger hearts. Learn to give and receive as a part of a community; don’t build up walls on your own island.

Since all of that is true, pursue your highest goals, fail enthusiastically, and inspire others. That’s my New Year message to young men, or to anyone else who needs it!

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The Unwelcome Peddlar

A Parable.

He arrived at the edge of town in the evening, his horses wearily pulling their burden of a lurching, clanging wagon full of goods. It was another small frontier town, slowly prospering, but still isolated enough to welcome peddlars who would sometimes come to sell needed (and not-so-necessary!) items out of their well-worn carts.

The main street, if you could call it that, was dusty and rutted, so the peddlar’s progress through town was marked by a steady symphony of groaning wheels, complaining horses, and intriguing timpani of household items that would delight any who had an eye for practical quality and even, in some cases, a taste for unexpected luxuries. His was the best wagon in the region – but, as was so common in these parts, the least welcome.

Jealous competitors, whose merchandise was of much lesser quality, continually sowed seeds of suspicion about this peddlar and his wares. He’s a ripoff artist, they’d say. He tells a great story, then sticks it to you, they claimed. Don’t trust him; don’t even talk to him! And the settlers, who were used to inferior goods from unscrupulous providers, regularly withdrew behind closed doors when the unwelcome peddlar came to town.

With good reason, the others viewed him as their chief threat. You see, he gave his stuff away.

Shuffling through town, knocking on doors, the unwelcome peddlar could see lights turned down and hear door locks click. Once again, he had everything that was needed, offered freely to any who wished to ask – and once again, his wagon remained full while the townspeople cowered behind closed doors in their emptiness.

Reaching the edge of town late that night, he saw a small cottage with a single candle in the window. Responding to his gentle knocking, a tired widow opened the door, glanced at his humble clothes and his well-stocked wagon, sighed, and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but I have nothing to give you. I cannot buy anything from you; my husband died this spring, and I am living on the last of our savings. I don’t even have a spare candle to replace this one.”

“Ma’am,” the kind peddlar replied, “I don’t wish to sell you anything. I only wonder if I might have a place to put my horses for the night.”

“Well, you’re welcome to put them in the barn – it’s empty now. There may be a few scraps of hay left in there for the horses. And come join me for a bowl of soup. It’s not much – only  vegetables – but I’d enjoy the company.”

So the oft-rejected man and the now-neglected widow enjoyed an hour of conversation and warmth, and she could not help but notice that he did not once seek to sell her anything. In fact, as he went out to the barn to sleep in his wagon, he turned and gave her a lovely white candle, to replace the one that was quickly burning away. “Just a token of my gratitude, ma’am, for your welcome.”

“But sir,” she protested, “I cannot pay for this!”

“It is a gift – you never pay for gifts, isn’t that right?”

“I’ve heard what everyone says about you,” she blurted out, revealing a secret thought that had remained below the surface during their time together sipping soup. “They say that you’re an awful person, to be avoided at all costs.”

“Do you believe that?” he asked patiently, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Well, no – at least, not anymore.”

“That’s good,” he said. “Because what we believe about others either opens, or closes, a door. And I do thank you for giving me an open door this evening. Good night to you.”

As the sun rose, and the town wearily aroused itself from its slumber, doors opened and people greeted their neighbors and friends. But in one small cottage on the fringe of town, a widow awoke to the sounds of nails pounding and horses neighing. Tossing on a nightgown, she strode out to the barn to find the peddlar hard at work, fixing the many broken-down parts of the structure that had been neglected over the months.

“Sir, I cannot pay you for this work!” she cried. “I know that,” he smiled. “That’s why I never said I would charge you. Oh – and if you look on this shelf here, you’ll see a whole set of kitchen utensils, plus some special goodies for our breakfast this morning.”

“But, how are you going to stay in business if you keep giving everything away for free? Nobody makes a living like that!”

A warm smile creased his lips. “Ma’am – your living is my living.”

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may his His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

– From O Little Town of Bethlehem (Philips Brooks)

(Image credit)

See last year’s parable: Finding Grace

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For various reasons, including a visit to the Marine Corps. base at Parris Island, I’ve been thinking a lot about respect lately.

It’s one of those words that can be used loosely but perhaps should be thought of in several dimensions.

1. There’s a baseline respect (let’s call it small-r respect) that we each owe to one another as human beings. By virtue of being co-equal as a person made in the image of God, you have inherent value. I owe you the consideration of being treated, at bare minimum, as I would wish to be treated.

2. There’s a Respect that is derived from/given for a position of authority (let’s call it capital-R Respect). Parents are owed this respect, as are teachers, police officers, employers, and higher-ranking officers. Those occupying these positions may not be exemplary in many areas of their lives, but they are due a level of respect nonetheless.

3. Then there is earned RESPECT. This is respect that is derived from what a person becomes. For instance,

– the RESPECT we feel for someone who cultivates their abilities to achieve excellence (e.g., an Olympic gymnast, or a successful entrepreneur)

– the RESPECT we feel for someone who accomplishes notable things (e.g., Audie Murphy, or the Apollo 13 crew)

– the RESPECT we feel for someone who has cultivated a strong and virtuous character (e.g., Mother Theresa, or George Washington)

When a person is consistently, over the long haul, growing in character, ability, and attainment, that’s when we feel respect swelling in our hearts. When someone whom we have respected at multiple levels (like Tiger Woods) falls hard, it is very disheartening. We want – we need – heroes.

What happens when people jettison baseline respect for others? Tyranny. Slavery. Abortion. Murder.

What happens when people and citizens put aside Respect for authority? Disorder. Rebellion. Crime. Anarchy.

What happens when we have no-one to RESPECT? Dissolution. Sloppiness. Lack of vision. Mediocrity.

We’ll never have everybody’s affection, or agreement. Far better to have respect, exercise Respect, and earn RESPECT.

At least, that’s how I see from here. What do you think?

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The legal world was rocked today by the announcement, in Copenhagen during the climate summit, that Al Gore is being sued by Chicken Little and The Boy who Cried Wolf for patent infringement.

“If he doesn’t stop infringing on our fear-mongering patents, there will be a legal apocalypse!” threatened Little, co-holder with Wolf-boy of the Method to Disturb the Public by Stirring Massive Angst based on Thin or No Evidence patent (U.S. Patent #45987). “We graciously ignored his imitation of our methods when his imaginative fiction, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was published, but now it’s gone too far. He’s displacing us as the key figures in the Cataclysm Cabal, and we’re not going to stand for it!”

“We know when the world is going to end, and Al is off-message. Therefore, he needs to be excluded. Besides, no-one among the peer-reviewed apocalyptic fairy tale club has ever published him,” added the Chicken. “So he’s a trespasser.”

“Besides, we don’t like inconvenient truths. We’re into mythology, not facts! Hoaxes-R-Us!”

“Not only is Mr. Gore guilty of imitating Chicken Little’s message about falling skies, he also is ripping off my method, by crying ‘Warmth!’ every 10 minutes until no-one wants to listen to him anymore,” added Wolf-boy. “Listen, we had this panic-inducement thing down long before he ever invented the Internet, and he’s not going to take over our position as frightener of small children so easily. Lawsuit! Lawsuit!” he cried.

Asked for evidence that Mr. Gore is actually attempting to usurp their roles as premier fear-mongers, and violate their patented methods, Wolf-boy replied, “Evidence? I’m sure we have that around here somewhere. Little, what did you do with all the raw data? Gone, you say? Well, never mind – you’ll just have to trust us while we massage some graphs and charts. We know what we’re talking about, you know – we’ve got this stuff down cold! Er, warm. Whatever.”

“Hey, look up there – isn’t that the sky falling??”

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Our blonde reporter on the sidelines of the Copenhagen summit, Frieda Faxx, has managed to snare an exclusive interview with Minister Carbon Dioxide, the Atmospheric Representative at the global government international climate summit meeting, during a brief timeout.

FF: Minister Dioxide – can I just call you CD? – it looks like you’ve been taking quite a beating in the early hours of this summit. How do you feel?

CD: I’m just trying to catch my breath, here, Frieda – except, according to the EPA, I guess I can’t exhale. Too many of my kind of emissions going on already, you know what I’m saying?

FF: What do you think of all the penalties being called on you?

CD: Well, I’d never suggest that the game is rigged or that the officials are rooting for the other team – that would violate all sense of fair play. Sure, the refs are all in their green uniforms, but that doesn’t mean they’re biased. No sirree. We play in a very progressive league.

FF: According to my producer, CO2 has simply been considered a naturally occurring substance in the earth for all these millennia, beloved of the plant kingdom everywhere. What makes you a dangerous greenhouse gas now?

CD: My parents, C and O, have always taught me to take pride in my identity as a unique gas. I’m just plant food, baby. But I’ve always felt that grey-suited government drones knew far better than me, or the plant kingdom, what my place should be on the Periodic Table. Getting a red card from the EPA is quite an honor, and frankly, H and HE are both pretty jealous. I mean, how often does a gas get to be used as an excuse to hijack an entire economy?

FF: What do you think of the massive carbon footprint being laid down by the delegates to the Copenhagen summit?

CD: Well, normally I’d tell you that it’ll all be processed just like it always has been – the earth has always been pretty resilient, even with volcanoes that spew massive amounts of greenhouse gases. But you see, these are special people – their carbon dioxide emissions are pristine, AND they get to pay Al Gore for some offset credits while also getting free Danish prostitute coupons in their goodie bags. So all in all, they should be able to emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases while condemning the practice, because they’re…well…they’re…hyp…

FF: OK, THAT LEADS us to our final question, which is ClimateGate

CD: What’s ClimateGate?

FF: You don’t know? Gee, I should have been like the MSM news outlets and not brought it up…

CD: No, sorry, I only get my news from approved sources – especially scientists and news outlets that rely on facts and truth. I love numbers, you see. Clean, un-massaged numbers…

FF: Oh, hey, I see that this timeout is about over with!! We’ll have to let you go, CD, but hopefully you won’t be thrashed as badly in the next quarter of play. So that’s it from the sidelines, guys, where the Hoaxies are plotting their next trick play, while Common Sense is still being prevented from taking the field.

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