Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Reflect Jesus, Serve Others

Once upon a time - 2003 - I had a mission statement.  I was very proud of it.  I thought of it all by myself.  It was a pretty good one, I thought, full of purpose and meaning and scope:

To Write for Impact
To Preserve for The Future
To Lead for Change
To Glorify God

Quite the statement, right?  Very forward thinking and action sounding.  Very sort of "Live to leave a legacy".  The sort of thing that future great people have.

Nothing worked out that way, of course.

My "Writing for Impact" resulted in a number of items which did not become the best sellers I was hoping for but fulfilled a dream of writing (and little else).  My blog, although enjoyable (and through which I have met a number of very fine human beings) did not become the monumental change agent for future I expected it would be simply by its existence.  My "Preserving for The Future" seemed to have slipped away when I moved away from where I was thinking I was supposed to be preserving, halfway across the country.

"Leading for Change" never happened.  Despite my rather grandiose imagination, no leadership position appeared - except the sort of leadership positions that are not recognized positions but exist on the fringes of the light, more the sorts of things that one has to do to survive work rather than become drowned by it.  And "Glorifying God" - which in my mind was nothing less than church leadership on a public platform - disintegrated and melted into quiet service in my hands.

The statement itself died a sort of postscript death around 2014, quietly slipping beneath the waves of realities that could not support it.  But I never really thought to replace it until recently.

It has reduced to this:

Reflect Jesus
Serve Others

Reflect Jesus:  Make my life an image of Him in that people see Christ through me.  Be the mirror that reflects Him in their lives, the window through which He can be seen. 

Serve Others:  Always seek to be of service.  Do the work you see that is undone.  

There, I noted as wrote these four words, a rather marked lack of self in them.  Which is actually as it should be.  Nor is there a great deal of direction as to know how these things will be accomplished.  And especially there is no "This is how I will serve God - or not at all".  I think we can agree - or at least I can - that such plans such as I have tried in these matters have, on the whole, ended in rather abysmal failure.

Do I believe that this change in mission statements will somehow lead to all the success I thought I was entitled to?  Not at all - in fact, I have ceased to expect any sort of success at all.  Because the Christian life is never ultimately judged on how "successful" one is has been.  All I can do is reflect Christ and serve others and leave to direction and the outcome to Him.

Monday, October 30, 2017

On Not Being Called To A Career

So last week on Facebook this wandered across my feed:


Initially I posted it because I liked the thought - dig far enough back in my own feed and you will find that "calling" is something that I have struggled with.  But the more I thought about it, the deeper and broader my thoughts became. 

I came to question if there is such a thing as "calling" at all.

I have not totally abandoned the idea - after all, calling in the ministry is something I continue to recognize (with the caveat that fewer people are called than think they are) - but I am considering the concept that for most, calling is a mire created by modern social thinking.

You may, if you are of a certain age, remember a book called What Color Is My Parachute?  This book - updated every year and as far as I know at least in existence for 25 years - uses an assessment of your skills and interests to suggest career fields that you really are made for.   This book matches the zeitgeist of our age, that we are all truly unique individuals and therefore need unique life paths suited to our wants and desires (thus, in a passing mention, the explosion of college graduates with degrees that interest them but no work in their fields.  I am one of those).

There may some value in considering what sort of work we might better be suited for - if I do not enjoy math, perhaps accounting is not a choice for me or if I lack attention to detail, engineering may not be the way to go.  But I submit that the reality is that while these may be indications of certain fields we may do better in, they by no means constitute some sort of "calling" to enter that field.

Work is a great many things, but - as the original post points out - the real point of work is to make a living.  To pay our bills.  To be a responsible adult human being.   Sometimes this may result in a taking and keeping a job that is not our "path" but pays the bills and gives us the most reward for our effort.

A personal example:  Over the past 32 years I have (at one time or another) thought I was "called" to be a teacher, a performer, a writer, a real estate agent, a pastor.  All of these - if I am truly honest with myself - were not completely disinterested choices:  in some way or fashion, they were something I enjoyed doing and figured I was "called" to do.

The reality?  My career during the last 20 years, Manufacturing and Quality in the Biopharmaceutical/Medical Device Industry, has paid all the bills.  The time I invest in improving myself in it has direct and practical financial rewards, a far higher return on investment than any other single activity I have performed for income (by contrast, all 8 of the books I have written have returned me less than $50.00 all told).  If I want to feel like I am "following my path", I write a book or dream big of market gardening or practice the harp harder.  If I actually want to make more money, I learn about regulations and better ways to do Quality.

I have to be the first to admit that finally admitting this fact was one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life.  Admitting the fact that this is what I probably do until I retire is even harder.  There is no "calling" in this, no suiting of my personal skills or interests in this.  At best, I adapt those skills and interests to the job, trying to find ways to use them.  But that is a far different cry from feeling like they are manifesting themselves in my work every day.

I do not know that everyone is this way, but it seems to me that most of the people I have met and know are in the same position.  Ask them the question  - What did you major in during college?  How did you end up in your current position?  - and the answers you will quite often hear are a long winding road of searching for a job but taking the one that was offered. 

Perhaps it makes the world a little dimmer - and I would never say that God does not call people (I think He does).  But I think we have done a great disservice to all job seekers by telling them that only the job that matches their skills and interests is the fulfilling one, that all other jobs  which do not meet that requirement are little better than forced labor. 

It is time - and it would be a helpful thing - if those that make their living on finding people the "work they love" would change their thinking to admit that what we really need to start with is "work that pays".  The love - perhaps like the arranged marriages of old time - is something that might come later but if it does not, we shall at least have made a living in the meantime.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hands Of The Living God

"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."  - Hebrews 10:31

Our view of gods, and their power, is little better than the days of the beginnings of Christianity.

To be fair, some people do not believe in a god at all, let alone the God of the Bible.  To a great many others, they believe in some sort of spiritual being, but likewise not God as He is understood in Christianity.  A third group believes in gods or spirits - not necessarily a single one but a pantheon of deities or spirits the dwell within the world, to work good or ill.

These beings' power?  Depends on your conception.  To many, I suspect, their impression is that of Marvel's Thor or D.C.s Wonder Woman: beings that wield incredible power and have amazing abilities but are human like ourselves, possessed of emotions like jealousy and rage, who either seek to defend humanity or destroy it but - ultimately - are not really all that different from it.  To others they are the kami of Shinto or the amorphous being that some define as "God":  a sort of nebulous type, mostly benevolent, with perhaps some ability to do harm to those who do wrong to others.

The Bible's God is quite different, of course.

It refers to God as The Living God, The Only God, The Existent God.  To the Christians of the 1st Century (and the Jews before them) this was stark comparison to the gods around them.  In Isaiah God speaks of those who craft idols and then worship them, who take a tree and use part of it to cook and the other part as the representation of a deity to worship.  These gods, to the Christians, were dead.

But a living God?  And the hands of a living God? A Christian of the 1st Century would have been well aware of what hands could do:  help, hurt, plant, create, kill, destroy.  Hands are the tools of the mind, one of the modes whereby thought and emotion is giving action.

It would be indeed be a fearful thing if, after a life of believing otherwise or even actively disbelieving in any sort of deity or power, to wake up into a Reality that could be scarcely imagined or dreamed of this side of death, to find that so much of what one thought wrong or wrongly was a piece of tissue paper to be torn apart by winds from a Throne dimly seen until then.

The horror - the sheer, stark, unbelievable horror - to fall into the hands of an Omnipotent, Omnipresent God. Having rejected the hand of rescue and salvation, one can only imagine such hands clenched in holy wrath.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Take Delight In The Lord

"Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." - Psalm 37:4

This verse has been rolling around in my head ever since I heard it on the radio a month ago.  It has been nagging at the back of my consciousness with the low grade sort of noise one would expect from an important thought one cannot rid from their mind.

Why?  Because it seems to be both an exceedingly great and exceedingly simple process.  One the one hand, take delight in the Lord (whatever "delight" means) - on the other, the "then" statement, He will give you the desires of your heart.  Pretty heady stuff, right?  After all, who does not want the desires of their heart.

But what does it mean to take delight in the Lord?

Delight, in case you were wondering per Merriam-Webster, is "A high degree of gratification or pleasure, joy, satisfaction."  Hmm.  So replace delight:

"Be gratified in the Lord..."
"Find pleasure in the Lord..."
"Take joy in the Lord...."
"Be satisfied in the Lord..."

As I look at those alternates, satisfied is the one that makes the most context sense to me.  "Be satisfied in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  Why?  Because when I am satisfied with something,  I have no need to look to something else for satisfaction.  That thing fills my desires (whatever they are) because it has satisfied them. 

Which I find a bit confusing, of course. If you asked me what the desires - the true desires - of my heart is, they are all the sorts of things that (at least I think) the Lord cannot fulfill in a way that I understand: the career I would love, the relationships I wish I had, the places I wish lived, the things I wish I could do.  That sort of thing.  But perhaps that merely betrays the shallowness of my desires.

If all those things never came to pass, could God still grant me the desires of my heart?  Of course!  Ask all those who, through history, have seemed to have nothing yet have been completely consumed by Him.  It more likely my weakness of sight and insight rather than the facts themselves that preventing me from seeing this so.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Dry Writing Well

Sometimes the writing well is dry.

It is a funny thing, really, this whole concept of keeping an essentially stream of consciousness writing project going.  Sometimes I find myself inspired, almost burning up within from the words that are trying to pour out of me.  Sometimes I find myself in possession of interesting events that have happened during the day or a conversation that has settled into my thought patterns and will not let go.  Sometimes I actually do something that is blog worthy.

But sometimes, there is nothing.  No words, no events or conversations, no "thing" that is something one can craft words out of.

But writing, I have come to understand, is like any other activity - like weight lifting, for example.  If I only lifted weights when I felt like it, I would scarcely see any results at all.  There are nights - like last night - where the lifting hardly seems to be accomplishing anything at all. But one puts in the work even if it is boring or uninspired because it is the collection of such things over time that gives one the results, not the single event.

So writing is the thing - even when there seems to be nothing to write about.  So what is there to document?

That sometimes the writing well seems dry.  But you write anyway.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Few Words From... Leo Tolstoy

"The old man sighed, and said: 'You go about the wide world, Ivan, while I am lying on the oven all these years, so you think you see everything, and that I see nothing. . . . Ah, lad! It's you that don't see; malice blinds you. Others' sins are before your eyes, but your own are behind your back. "He's acted badly!" What a thing to say! If he were the only one to act badly, how could strife exist? Is strife among men ever bred by one alone? Strife is always between two. His badness you see, but your own you don't. If he were bad, but you were good, there would be no strife. Who pulled the hair out of his beard? Who spoilt his haystack? Who dragged him to the law court? Yet you put it all on him! You live a bad life yourself, that's what is wrong! It's not the way I used to live, lad, and it's not the way I taught you. Is that the way his old father and I used to live? How did we live? Why, as neighbours should! If he happened to run out of flour, one of the women would come across: "Uncle Trol, we want some flour." "Go to the barn, dear," I'd say: "take what you need." If he'd no one to take his horses to pasture, "Go, Ivan," I'd say, "and look after his horses." And if I was short of anything, I'd go to him. "Uncle Gordey," I'd say, "I want so-and-so!" "Take it Uncle Trol!" That's how it was between us, and we had an easy time of it. But now? . . . That soldier the other day was telling us about the fight at Plevna (A town in Bulgaria, the scene of fierce and prolonged fighting between the Turks and the Russians in the war of 1877). . Why, there's war between you worse than at Plevna! Is that living? . . . What a sin it is! You are a man and master of the house; it's you who will have to answer. What are you teaching the women and the children? To snarl and snap? Why, the other day your Taraska -- that greenhorn -- was swearing at neighbour Irena, calling her names; and his mother listened and laughed. Is that right? It is you will have to answer. Think of your soul. Is this all as it should be? You throw a word at me, and I give you two in return; you give me a blow, and I give you two. No, lad! Christ, when He walked on earth, taught us fools something very different. . . . If you get a hard word from any one, keep silent, and his own conscience will accuse him. That is what our Lord taught. If you get a slap, turn the other cheek. "Here, beat me, if that's what I deserve!" And his own conscience will rebuke him. He will soften, and will listen to you. That's the way He taught us, not to be proud! . . . Why don't you speak? Isn't it as I say?'

Iván sat silent and listened.
The old man coughed, and having with difficulty cleared his throat, began again: 'You think Christ taught us wrong? Why, it's all for our own good. Just think of your earthly life; are you better off, or worse, since this Plevna began among you? Just reckon up what you've spent on all this law business -- what the driving backwards and forwards and your food on the way have cost you! What fine fellows your sons have grown; you might live and get on well; but now your means are lessening. And why? All because of this folly; because of your pride. You ought to be ploughing with your lads, and do the sowing yourself; but the fiend carries you off to the judge, or to some pettifogger or other. The ploughing is not done in time, nor the sowing, and mother earth can't bear properly. Why did the oats fail this year? When did you sow them? When you came back from town! And what did you gain? A burden for your own shoulders. . . . Eh, lad, think of your own business! Work with your boys in the field and at home, and if some one offends you, forgive him, as God wished you to. Then life will be easy, and your heart will always be light.'
- A Spark Neglected Burns Down The House

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Acting Against God

That moment when you realize that you have been acting against God.

Oh, you did not view it that way, of course.  You were doing it for the very best of reasons - if you were really selfless, you were doing it for someone else (You were not, of course.  But it is always better to think that you are).

God tries to tell you, of course.  You hit a wall, bounce off.  If you were paying attention to what was going on around you, you would have realized that things were never going to go "your way" in the situation.  But somehow you magically ignore that and try again and again, always with the same result.

"Ah", you say to yourself.  "It must be because I am not serious and committed to (fill in the blank)". 

And then, when you least expect it, that something seems to move in your direction. 

You are ecstatic.  Finally, the noble intentions of your heart were able to do (fill in the blank).  You have enriched this situation, you have helped this person - you are doing it!  You fell yourself to be smack in the middle of God's will.

Never mind, of course, that you really are not, that if you looked at it clinically (the way you look at anyone else in the same situation) you would sniff your nose in disdain. 'That X.  They are always out for themselves.  Is this not evident to everyone?"

But then you fall flat.  On your face.  In fact, so flat on your face it is pressed into the earth.  You get up after a while but somehow in the back of your mind, something is wrong.  A thought is back there, the thought that maybe, just possibly, something is amiss.  You examine it, perhaps even roast yourself a bit over the coals of remorse - but all in the context of not questioning the underlying assumption.  You were "helping" - maybe just not in the right way.

But then you try again.  And get batted out of the sky like a cat catching a bird on lift off.

And then - maybe only then - you begin to see things very clearly.

It was never about you.  Your actions were ultimately about you, but not the situation or relationship.  Ultimately that was about something else, what God was doing in someone else's life.  You misunderstood your role:  you were meant as a support or resting place or even a pack mule to carry someone else.  But it was never meant to end in or at  you.

You were the obstacle.  You became the wall or wandering path or time sink that diverted the person from where they were really going, moved the situation away from what it was supposed to be about.  in the very worst of cases, you were in fact the very thing blocking them from where they were meant to go.

And just like that, everything turns to ash in your hands and in your mouth.

It is at that moment that you have one of two choices.  The first choice is to simply snap yourself back into the illusion of how you were before.  To think that the realization somehow will allow you to approach things or people differently next time (It will not, of course).

The second one, the far more painful one to the ego, is to -with actual humility - admit that this is what you have really been doing all the time.  And then to accept the fact - really accept it in your heart, not just in your head - that you are more than likely the support, the resting place, the pack mule.

And that it really, really is not about you.  And that your reward lies not in doing the situation or having the relationship or being with the person, but in simply obedience to the role - that actual role - that God has called you too.

Does it mean that such things will never work out?  I would be a fool to say "No" definitively, but to say "Yes" would mean a level of obedience and humility that I have never yet been able to observe.  But I suspect that those who actually do this would never actually consider things "working out" in their favor as an option at all.  They understand what their real role is.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Visit With Infatuation

Infatuation dropped by on a Friday Evening for a talk.

"How is going, friend?"  he asked with those dreamy eyes he always seems to have on - anime eyes, any normal person would call them.  He sort of waltzed in and simpered his way into the lounger that I kept for visitors with the big "sigh" he always - always! - seemed to have when he did any action.

"Oh, pretty well"  I responded, finishing up what I was working on and turning around to face him.  "Thanks for stopping by."

He smiled at me with the sort of smile that tells you he is precisely not thinking of where he is or what he is doing but dwelling on something internal that could not be seen by anyone else.

I sighed.  This was going to be harder than I thought.

"Look"  I said, "there is no easy way to say this so I am just going to do it the hard way.  Your position has been discontinued.  You are being retired."

The smile snapped off his face, replaced by the look of shock I had come to know only too well over the years from hearing the same thing.

"But why?"  he stuttered.  "It is not as if I am doing any real harm.  I think you could make a pretty good case that I am good for morale.  Better than those fools Duty and Obedience, always droning about how we "have" to do this or that.  Good heavens!  I actually a little zest to things around here instead of the gloom and morose feelings that those two spout off.  If it was left to them, we would have nothing but gray days and an ultimate death."

I nodded -after all, I could make the same exact argument about Duty and Obedience.  They did tend to be a little over the top when discussing every that had to be done.  Still, ER (Emotional Resources) was going to throw a fit if something was not done.

I gave a half hearted smile.  "What is or is not is not relevant now.  The fact is that we have had a number of complaints - and yes, before your ask, you know I cannot tell from where.  There is a sense that you running hither and yon is creating expectations that cannot ever be met and starting to force attention to a reality than can never be.  It was perhaps allowable once, but now we are simply past the point where it is anything more than at best a danger and at worst a distraction."

Tears welled up in his eyes. "But what will I do?  I cannot work in the Reality division and apparently Imagination will no longer have me.  I am not aware of another place within the corporate structure."

I smiled gently.  "We know.  And that is why we are not asking you to make the move.  It is a permanent traveling assignment - guaranteed income, health care, and even a travel stipend.  Write some articles that we can put in the corporate newsletter from time to time."

I handed him the letter detailing everything.  He took it with a faintly shaking hand, scanning its contents, then putting it down and sighing again.  "So I have outlived my usefulness, then."

I shook my head.  "Not that at all.  You are right - you do give zest to things around here and your accessorizing will continue to be legend.  No, it is just that we are all in a different place now.  We need you to continue as a morale builder and bringer of joy and brightness  - indeed, we cannot do without it.  It is just that we need to focus our attention on other areas now."

He got up, taking the packet of papers and sticking out his hand.  "I will clean out my office then"  he sad, grimacing.

"Not at all"  I replied.  "Like I said, you are a correspondent at large.  Go find us an interest to get excited about."

I could see him thinking for a moment, then the old smile returned to his eyes.  "Now that you mention it"  he said, "there is a great deal in Bulgaria that I have thinking needs to be investigated further.  I could start with the Thracian tombs..."  And with that he was out of earshot, already planning his next trip.

I sighed as I sat back down.  He was right, of course - Duty and Obedience were a lot duller taskmasters than his bright, shiny face.  But perhaps it was better that he got out now, before the real consequences of trying to have one heart in multiple places a came up at the Quarterly Review Meeting.

Hopefully he would enjoy the yogurt in Bulgaria.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Process

The Art of Manliness' interview with Ed Latimore (mentioned already here) gave me another concept, one of the most stunning and powerful I can remember hearing in a long time:

If you do not like the process, you will not succeed.

Latimore's point is a profound one.  If you do not enjoy the process of becoming better at something, you will ultimately fail in it because all you interested in is the end product - and if that product is terrible or unsuccessful, you will eventually stop doing it, because of course who wants to do something that ultimately ends in a failure.

Mind you, the enjoyment of process is not just something that comes easily.  Repetitive practice and action of any kind often goes through periods where there is no enjoyment involved. But buried within that grind should come something that we take pleasure in, even if it just the fact that we were able to do it again - all on the road to an ultimate goal, even if it remains unachievable in our lifetimes.

Think on it:  Any activity you have done and enjoyed required far more time that you probably intended:  the garden that needed to be tended every day, the writing that takes place every evening, the golf swings or basketball shots or heavy weight throws, the (literally) thousands of draws and sheathings without a single cut. If we did not somehow like this part - seeing the garden progress, occasionally writing the outstanding essay, visibly doing better as we practiced, or earning a commendation from our sensei - we would have stopped doing it a long time ago.

So the challenge to myself - and you - is twofold:

1)  Look at our activities and our life.  Do we find pleasure in the daily doing of them, the process?

2) If not, we have two choices:  to either find where that enjoyment is and embrace it, or to acknowledge that we do not really care for it and give it up for something we would enjoy.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Unadulterated Moment of Knowing

Occasionally, one gets an unadulterated, unvarnished view of how one appears in the eyes of others.
It can be a shocking thing.

In that moment, one of two things happens: either one's worst fears are realized or (less frequently) one is surprised by a reaction that was unexpected.

Sadly, the former is usually the case, something that leaves one reeling the moment after it happens.  The moment can never be called back of course, no matter how hard the other person tries or even pretends that it never happened in the beginning.  The truth is there, stark and unyielding, in a moment that a novel cannot express and and a cinematic trilogy cannot gloss over.  

That moment is the like the splitting of an atom, where the waves of power and destruction ripple around and through one while, somewhat shockingly, everything else in the room remains completely static.  To the outside eye, nothing has changed in the least.  The only evidence of devastation is in the eye's and the unseen realm of the soul, which suddenly resembles the burned-out court in a housing development overrun by fire.

We are a polite society of course, so we tidy ourselves up and pretend that somehow nothing significant has really happened.  An apology may be offered and accepted - as much for appearances as anything else - and the day continues on as if nothing had really happened.

Excepting, of course, the pain in our heart and the dimming of our vision with what might be tears.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Santa Rosa Fires

Reading about The Santa Rosa Fire with a heavy heart.

I know that country pretty well.  I have driven up Highway 12 numerous times to wineries.  For three years I cut across the Napa Valley and over into the Sonoma Valley  as part of mydaily commute.  For a short time, The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I lived just south of there in Rohnert Park.  And even as late as earlier this summer, we drove through the very Northern Section to Jack London State Park and then down to Marin County.

To help you visualize, Santa Rosa is an actual city.  When they talk about the Northern part of the city burning, picture an urban area like any other urban area you know, not some highly spread apart area.  The fact that it has reached into a city like this is shocking.  And the fires over in Napa will, undoubtedly, devastate the wine industry in the area (the one - and only -industry in that area).

At this time, they estimate 10 dead, 20,000 evacuated, and 1,500 structures destroyed - and I am betting that the devastation will go up.

Fire seems different, to me, than the risks of something like a hurricane.  A hurricane we can now see coming some days before it actually arrives.  But a fire can move quickly - terribly quickly - and leave absolutely nothing behind in the blink of an eye.  A lifetime's worth of things and memories and investment and preparation can be gone in an instant.

There are some things that we can prepare for.  And sometimes, there are some things for which we can simply weep.

Monday, October 09, 2017

If It Is Not Improving Your Life, Why Do You Do It?

Coming home yesterday evening listening to the Art of Manliness' podcast Not Caring What Other People Think Is A Superpower, I was struck by a singular comment that the interviewee made:  if something is not improving your life, you should not be doing it as it pulls time and resources from the things that you should be doing.

Which got me to thinking:  if it is not improving my life, why do I do it?

Understand me, there are lots of things that can improve one's life that may seem superfluous to an outsider.  I would argue that Role Playing Games, in some ways, do good things for my imagination.  Occasionally the odd NetFlix Episode helps me relax.  And I am sure for each and every one of us there are things which, although foolish or even seemingly time wasting to the outer world, actually work to improve some aspect of our lives.

But when was the last time I looked at my life and evaluated everything in terms of if it improved my life?

We all spend our time doing one of two things: things that improve us or things that that destroy us.  Sometimes the things that destroy us can cleverly be concealed as the things we "have" to do:  the job that requires 60 hours, the friendship that we are always trying to preserve, the thing we do because we have always done it or we have too much money invested in it to quit now.  The reality of these things is that while they may provide activity in our life they do not provide actual improvement.   We could work at the job forever and be neither richer nor better off; we could spend time and effort on the friendship that never goes anywhere other than down; we could invest in activities that we continue to do but never become more skilled at or improve in.  All that time and effort, lost.

The more reasonable position (it seems to me upon reflection) is to question each of these activities and items: Are you helping me to improve my life?  Is my life better because of what you bring?  Do I see a path forward where you will continue to contribute to the improvements I am trying to make?

To those activities or relationships or situations that should not, we should seek to let them go.  But to those activities or relationships or situations that do, we should seek to continue to invest in them and seek to become better at them. 

It is only through improvement that we can ultimately become the best us we can be.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Thoughts on Education - Louis L'Amour

The idea of education has been so tied to schools, universities, and professors that many assume there is no other way, but education is available to anyone within reach of a library.”

If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction. Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him.”



Thursday, October 05, 2017

Think With Your Body

One of the challenges that soke put before us in our most recent Tokai was to learn to think with our bodies.

(If I may interpolate....)

Think with the mind means I am always thinking of the next action - and only the next action.  I am following a pre-programmed course of action and not reacting the environment around me. I follow the form but without necessarily understanding why I am doing the form.

As Takuan Soho said:

"To speak in terms of your own martial art, when you first notice the sword that is moving to strike you, if you think of meeting that sword just as it is, your mind will stop at the sword in just that position, your own movements will be undone, and you will be cut down by your opponent.  This is what stopping means." - The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom

The true martial artist - as my soke demonstrated - is the one that understands all the inherent strikes within any attack or defense.  The novice performs the form as they have been taught; the master understands the purpose of the form and every potential attack or defense that can spring from it.

To understand this - the true nature of the form that one is doing with the ability to master all the potential strikes - is thinking with your body.  Or as Takuan Soho says again:

"Although if you see the sword that moves to strike you, if your mind is not detained by it and you meet the rhythm of the advancing sword; if you do not think of striking your opponent and no thoughts or judgments remain; if the instant you see the swinging sword your mind is not the least bit detained and you move straight in and wrench the sword away from him; the sword that was going to cut you  down will become your own, and, contrarily, will be the sword that cuts down your opponent." - The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom

Does this matter in actual, real life?  Yes, of course (all martial arts do).  How often do we do the form of a thing without understanding the intent?  How often do we reach a stopping point, sigh, and then turn away rather than figuring a way around or through the problem?  Understanding all the inherent strikes is really a very elegant way of demonstrating the ability to improvise and the gumption to not quit, something that we tend to place a very high value on.

It is not easy, of course - nothing good ever is - but thus the instructions from Musashi that "You must train diligently morning and evening".  Forms are good, but only meant as a starting place.  The true master pushes through.




Wednesday, October 04, 2017

One and One and Done

As part of longer term plans (and to give myself some forward progress), I have started to do One and One each day.  What is it?  Find one item I no longer need and either throw it away as useless or place it in the donate pile and fine one thing that I can do to become better prepared.

To be clear, these are not necessarily big items.  Yesterday consisted of recycling two flower pots that were crushed beyond use and reassembling the Bug Out Bag.  Today was recycling a woodworking catalog I have not looked at since I got it and oiling one of my sgian dubhs.

What is the point? Moving out and moving on will ultimately require a great number of large changes - but large changes are the sorts of things that take time and effort and money to do.  And if you running a full life, it is hard to do such grand plans on a daily basis.  But a pair of small things - these I can do, and every day I point to forward progress towards the larger goal.

I have no illusions, of course. Ultimately these activities may clean my shelves and garage and perhaps make me a little better in the readiness department, but they are not substitutes for longer range, more developed plans.  What it will do is keep reminding me that there is something that is coming - and prove to myself that I am continually taking action.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Hyperpolitical

Of all the alarming and saddening outcomes of the shooting on Sunday night in Las Vegas, the most deeply alarming and saddening of all has only begun to occur:  all things have become hyperpolitical.

We have been subjected to this development over the last year, where every event and comment is viewed only through the lens of what it does to advance one's political position.  Everything becomes measured by the advances that can be made for the cause, not responded to as the tragedy or evil act that it may have actually been.

We have now reached the point in our political debate that an executive of a major news network (CBS) can comment that she has no sympathy for the dead because they are not of her political affiliation and may voted against her candidate (she was also fired today) or someone posting on their feed they hope only one side dies (since taken down but, thanks to the Interweb, living on forever).  I will take these people at their word that they truly believe this and would somehow hope that their "opposition" dies.

Secretly, of course, both sides are holding their breath for more details.  They always do, now, hoping the perpetrator (or perpetrators) fit their stereotype of the opposition so they can count coup.  "Thank God"  they cry, "the shooter/bomber/driver/cheese slicer was a (fill in the blank with race and gender and personal creed).  This surely proves that the other side is (fill in the blank with the favorite word for evil) and we should (fill in the blank with the political or social agenda of choice)."  A sort of Mad Lib for politics.

We have (rapidly, apparently) reached the point where the opposition has become faceless and nameless, a series of ideas we need to punish and swat down rather than people (in some cases, theoretically fellow citizens) that share a country and a civilization us.  Everything - every nuance, every breath, every character - is now a weapon in an undeclared war.

This is hyper-politicization (not sure if it was a word, but it is one now), where everything becomes extremely political - in fact, nothing is not a political statement.  The failure to agree with certain things or be against certain things, the failure to virtue signal when appropriate, even the failure to say anything at all - all of these become small items stored away on somebody' score card, proof (or lack thereof) that one is is for The Cause or Against it.  Everything that occurs is only a step to make progress in one's own cause.

I sound bitter - and a little sad - because the historian in me can point to numerous times in history - The Roman Republic, The Crusader States, The Heian monarchy before the Gempei War, the Russian Monarchy, the Weimar Republic, the Republic of China - where hyper-politicization occurred.  It occurred right up to the moment that everything fell apart.  A third party - often from the inside - steps in by playing one side off against the other until at the end all power has come into his hands and the people, exhausted by the years of endless strife and sick to death of the political nature of everything, would happily take a dictatorship so long as it promised peace and food.

"The fruit of too much liberty is slavery" said Marcus Tullius Cicero, himself ultimately the victim of a hyperpolitical atmosphere.  It occurs to me that the tree boughs are full and almost breaking with the weight of the harvest.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Deciding It Is Okay To Move

So in what may be a first, both The Ravishing Mrs. TB and myself are both talking - openly - about where to move.

I do not know that a time line has been settled upon, tacitly or actively.  And some cases at this point we have an early out in 1.5 years or a later out after 5.5 years (the time it takes Nighean Dhonn to graduate).  But the consensus is in:  we are not staying here for the long haul. Urban living offers little enough to those who no longer have interest in the amusements and lures of the young.

A longer time frame would not necessarily be all bad, of course.  We have some things to take care of to prepare ourselves for that step - including deciding where (humidity and extreme cold are out of the question, which limits the field a bit) and what the next step would look like career-wise (barring an unseen windfall from my employment due to something going very right, we will need a job at the next place we go).

And it does not clearly state what the next step will be, either.  There is an argument to be made for smaller (and by my mind, less people around) but I do not know that either of those have been agreed upon.  Or what such a change would look like in our actually daily lives (in reality, we are talking mid-50's - hopefully still a long time left).

But we have passed a decision marker of sorts, the kind that tells you that the way forward has narrowed somewhat. It is moderately exciting - and gives a little bit of flavor to an seemingly bland rut of the daily grind in that there may be an end, after all.