Friday, September 25, 2009

Pondering the Imponderable

Recently a friend sent me a list of commonly accepted ideas that, when you stop to think about them, leave you scratching your head. Here are some of them, along with others I have collected:

- If you eat a lot of natural foods, will you die of natural causes?
- Why do we drive on parkways, and park on driveways?
- Can illiterate people appreciate Alphabet Soup?
- If corn oil comes from corn, and vegetable oil comes from vegetables, where does baby oil come from?
- If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?
- If a person playing a piano is called a pianist, why isn’t someone driving a race car called a racist?
- Do Lipton Tea workers take coffee breaks?
- If FedEx and UPS merged, would it be called Fed UP?
- Is it true that no matter where you go, there you are?
- If a watched pot never boils, does a watched microwave never beep?
- Why is “abbreviated” such a long word?
- If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen are defrocked, are electricians delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked and dry cleaners depressed?
- If we can tell when something is out of whack, how can we tell when it’s “in whack”?
- Why is “phonics” not spelled the way it sounds?
- Why are a “wise man” and a “wise guy” opposites?
- If we’re feeling blue, should we stop holding our breath?

And perhaps the greatest imponderable of all comes from the Bible: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Is There Any Hope?

It’s been raining so much lately in our area – southeastern Tennessee and northwest Georgia – I’ve heard rumors of renaming the region “Seattle East.” I’m not saying it’s been wet, but even fish in Chickamauga Lake are buying bath towels. One of my neighbors has started building a big boat – he asked how long a “cubit” is.

I’m not sure about the link between dampness and toadstools, but we have world-class crop of them growing in our front yard. And I discovered a water moccasin draped across my car’s front window – a “windshield viper.”

In recent days so many people have said, “I hope it won’t rain tomorrow,” it has morphed from wishful thinking into genuine pleading. We hope to see the sun again, but when we do, we might confuse it with an “unidentified flying object.”

What an interesting word: Hope. For instance, I hope the Ohio State Buckeyes continue rebounding from their loss to Southern Cal. I hope the New York Yankees finally get back to the World Series this year. I hope to avoid any unexpected major expenses in the near future. And I hope my family and friends all stay healthy.

When saying “I hope,” however, it really means I desire or wish for something to be so. It’s not something I can control, but it’s a "hope-so."

Biblical hope is something quite different. When the Bible speaks of “the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) and “the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7) – it refers to confident assurance, an earnest expectation based on the nature and character of God; genuine faith, not wishes anchored in “hope-so.”

As Romans 15:13 promises, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him."

Friday, September 18, 2009

What HAS Happened to Civility?

This week USA Today asked, “What happened to civility?” In recent days, a congressman has disrupted a speech on health care reform by President Obama, calling him a “liar”; a rapper interrupted an award acceptance speech by a country-western singer because he disagreed with the choice; and two tennis stars berated match officials with expletive-laced tirades.

But the issue goes beyond such public moments. We live in an age when apparently if you disagree with someone, you have the right to shout them down. In workplaces we have lost our sense of politeness. If two people are meeting, we barge into their conversation because we are too impatient to wait our turn.

One person suggested the reason for growing rudeness and hostility in our society is because of a pervasive sense that “we don’t have power or even any say-so in what’s going on.” This may be true, but still doesn’t license us to adopt an “it’s all about me” attitude in daily interactions with others.

Perhaps it dates back to the 1960s, when many in my generation adopted the mantra, “Question authority!” To an extent, I agree with that – having a position of authority does not ensure being correct. But there are more appropriate, more civil ways of getting our point across.

Even if you disagree with some of Barack Obama’s views, doesn’t the office of President of the United States still deserve respect? Don’t award recipients deserve their moment? Don’t people in a work meeting deserve an opportunity to conclude their business before we butt in?

It goes back to the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), also known as “the ethic of reciprocity.” How can we expect respect from others unless we insist on giving it to others?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why Are We So Angry?

Recently I interacted with a fellow blogger, Jim, who was commenting on angry Americans. During a trip to Europe with his wife, he noticed people in England and Scandinavian countries they visited seemed far more happy and carefree – even though taxes there are much higher than ours in the United States.

Anger here seems epidemic: TV and radio commentators shout venomous rhetoric. Talk show callers perpetually call for someone’s head, whether elected officials, entertainers, or coaches of their beloved sports teams. So-called “crimes of passion” have reached alarming heights. Road rage is accelerating.

As my blogger friend suggests, anger over taxes is merely symptomatic of a greater, more pervasive problem. What’s that problem?

Allow me to quote from Jim: “I think it comes down to contentment. Our Constitution guarantees life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Pursuing happiness as an ideal almost guarantees that we will never be happy….”

Let me take his thought a step further. We confuse “the pursuit of happiness” with the attainment of happiness, which at best is a moving target. We become “happy” with a job promotion, pay raise, new car, or our team trouncing a hated rival. But happiness quickly fades when circumstances change.

Supposedly, in response to the question, “How much is enough?” one of our nation’s wealthiest industrialists responded, “Just a little bit more.” That’s the problem with pursuing happiness. It’s never enough.

So I agree – we are afflicted with a lack of contentment. The history of our nation has been largely written by discontent – the quest for religious freedom, gender and civil rights, for example. But we also have grown up in a culture of pervasive consumerism and materialism, spawning rampant greed, lust and covetousness.

We need a return to the basics: “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Power of Credibility

In my business communications class, we discuss the how’s of conveying messages effectively. There are many elements to being an effective communicator, but one is indispensable: Credibility.

A speaker’s or writer’s credibility involves his or her experience, expertise and training, as well as the degree of conviction they have for their message. If you don’t believe what you have to say, no amount of skill in speaking or writing compensates for that.

For instance, I volunteer to visit patients who have recently undergone open heart surgery at a local hospital. Having “been there, done that” myself, I can speak from personal experience. I know what it’s like to lie in the hospital bed post-op, how it feels, and can attest to the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation.

However, I don’t visit patients suffering from cancer, having to undergo dialysis, or facing other maladies. Not that I’m unsympathetic to their plight; I just haven’t experienced those health problems. I can’t honestly say, “I know how you feel.”

During college, I tried (very briefly) to sell vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias. My failure was immediate and total. I could have used the money from making a sale, but couldn’t get motivated to try convincing someone to buy a product I wasn’t sure they needed or wanted.

This, I believe, is one reason Christianity is increasingly regarded with suspicion. We are quick to declare “Jesus loves you,” but fail to reflect that same love and compassion when we speak. As someone wisely said years ago, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

How can we effectively talk about the God of love, mercy and grace when we exhibit so little of it ourselves? As Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It’s Football Time in the U.S.A.

Tonight marks the official start of a new football season! Like it or not football, not baseball, has become our national pastime.

Ironically, unlike the international game of soccer (“futbol” in Latin American nations), our football has relatively little to do with feet – except when players run. In fact, there are consequences for using the foot too much. A punt means you have failed to advance the ball. Kicking a field goal counts for three points, less than half what a touchdown is worth (with a kicked extra point). And rules prohibit players from kicking the ball while it’s in play. Lastly, the field is not measured by the foot, but by the yard. Yardball, anyone?

Nevertheless, football has captured our national fascination. “Why?” is open to debate. I personally believe it’s partly of the extremely physical nature of the game. Seeing a rival player pummeled by a vicious tackle has wondrous cathartic benefits for spectators. And seeing your team’s star runner or receiver zoom past defenders for a long touchdown sets all worries and fears to rest, at least momentarily.

But I think it’s also because games are played only once a week, rather than daily like baseball, or several times a week like basketball. We have an entire week to rehash and dissect the last game, revel in the high points and second-guess the coach. A full week also to anticipate the next game, speculating on how our team will fare, what it must do to win, and what tricks the opponent might present.

Sadly, the Bible says nothing specific about football. The apostle Paul did write, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize…” (Philippians 3:14), but I doubt he had the goal line in mind.

Nevertheless, settle in, grab your remote – and have fun!