Why straight and narrow is a good thing…

….unless you are driving on a mountain road, in which case it might be better to take the curves. Jesus said “Enter by the narrow gate. For the way is wide and the path is easy that leads to destruction and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13.

“The way is wide and the path is easy that leads to destruction.” Jesus could have been speaking about many things, though in this case he was referring to salvation, but the words apply to any difficult decision. This is a recurring theme with me, but one that cannot be overemphasized. We human beings know this, but in our infinite capacity to rationalize the easy way, we seem to find perfectly logical reasons for putting off the hard decisions and actions, and doing what feels good and “natural.”

How do you rationalize it? What arguments allow you to reject good counsel? Let’s imagine that you are taking this post personally and want to argue with me that some decisions you recently made were just fine, even though they were shortcuts. From my experience, the rationalizations tend to follow a pattern. Do any of the following sound familiar?

1. “You don’t understand, it’s different for me.”

2. “Just one more time, then l will stop.”

3. “Who are you to judge me?”

4. “What’s the big deal? Everyone does it.”

5. “If I didn’t do it, someone else would have.”

6. “If I didn’t really need this, I wouldn’t have taken it.”

7. “I don’t have the time to do it right.”

I am also subject to rationalizing. We all are to some extent, because at the time we are doing it, our rationale seems logical. Knowing this, I discovered a pretty effective way to get beyond the expediency.  Before I was shipped off to Vietnam, I did a lot of reading about crimes of expediency committed in anger or fear by some of our troops there. So I asked myself, “what might I be tempted to do over there that I couldn’t live with if I return home?” The most likely would be the taking revenge on civilians for the deaths of my buddies.

So I made a list of what I would not do, even if ordered to or tempted to. This list represented the uncrossable line. I was exposed to most of the temptations I expected. But when anger or fear kicked in I was able to live out my commitment to stay on the narrow path, because I had laid it out ahead of time, giving me enough distance from the expedient and the emotional to stay on the right side of the uncrossable line.

Lest you think this is about me bragging (giving you a great excuse to ignore the counsel), it isn’t. It’s about the strategy: Doing the right things requires a prior commitment, a path you have thought about and committed to, so that when temptation comes, you know where your line is. Perhaps this is why I have never experienced PTSD symptoms from Vietnam–I was able to avoid doing what I couldn’t have lived with.

A plea on behalf of the hearing impaired.

In 1970, while in Quan Loi, Vietnam, I experienced a great miracle which both preserved my life and stole my future. Quan Loi was a forward firebase for American army artillery, a base carved out of a jungle of rubber trees by massive B52 bombing. Inside the perimeter of the base, many rubber trees still stood. It was beside one that the miracle occurred. The Vietcong would fire off mortars and occasionally, huge rockets at our base, then fade into the jungle or down into their tunnels while we were climbing out of bunkers or pulling our dead and wounded out of the rubble.

On this day, I was outside when a rocket exploded beside me–literally. These rockets were so large I could actually feel a pressure wave before it hit. Before I could articulate the thought “holy shit, something’s coming”, I felt what I could only describe as a giant hand pushing me to the ground, and then covering me, as the rocket hit and obliterated a rubber tree near me. The sound was muffled by whatever was covering me, but it was still incredibly loud. When I came to my senses, all that was left of the rubber tree was a smoking crater. My body was completely protected from the explosion and the shrapnel from the rocket and the tree.

I couldn’t process what had happened, but about 17 years later, when I read the Book of Daniel, and it described how an angel of the Lord protected Daniel from lions Daniel 6:24, and protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnacebook of Daniel , I finally understood. This did happen to me. But while my body was protected, I didn’t realize that my future was in some ways stolen. My hearing was permanently damaged, but the gradual deterioration was so subtle and insidious that my first conscious realization of hearing loss wasn’t until 15 years later. I was in a friend’s kitchen and my back was turned. She came and faced me and asked, “why are you ignoring me? I just asked you a question. You ignore questions a lot.” I really didn’t even hear the question, nor did I ever consciously ignore other questions. In that moment, the incident in Quan Loi came back to me, and the thought “I wonder how long I haven’t been hearing people.”

That is the insidious nature of hearing loss. How many people in your own life same suffering from the same malady? Here are some signs that someone you know is suffering from hearing loss–and might not even know it:

  1. When in a group he seems distracted or inattentive, and doesn’t participate much. If the cause is being unable to hear, he isn’t participating because he’s afraid to say or ask something inappropriate.
  2. An obvious sign is ignoring a question or answering the wrong question, especially when you aren’t face to face, or frequently asking you to repeat questions.
  3. Nodding of the head as if agreeing, but actually pretending to understand and follow what others are saying.
  4. Getting defensive or dismissive when the issue of hearing is brought up. For reasons I don’t understand, wearing hearing aids feels like advertising a disability and carries a stigma of being old, while wearing glasses bears none of that embarrassment, and is even a fashion statement.
  5. Withdrawing from relationships and avoidance of group situations, because of the fear of miscommunication.

I tend to be explicit about my disability with people I meet. Others are very reticent. But all of us hearing-impaired would appreciate your willingness to ask what accommodations you can make (like speaking louder or enunciating more clearly). Thanks for reading.

The Jack Reacher mind: Why you need it.

In chapter five of the Jack Reacher novel Tripwire by Lee Child, there is a scene, unforgettable to me, that sums up a mindset that is inconceivable to most people. It could be called primitive, if you wanted to dismiss it, but it truly bears seriously thinking about in this age of terrorism that can strike anyone, anywhere. But even more, it bears adopting if you ….(I’ll discuss its application later) “There was a portion of his brain, developed all out of proportion, like a grotesquely over-trained muscle, which made it seem to him entirely reasonable that he should step out of a door in a quiet New York suburban town and glance down at two men he had last seen two thousand miles away in the Keys crouching and swinging nine-millimeter pistols up in his direction. No shock, no surprise, no gasping freezing fear or panic. No pausing, no hesitation, no inhibitions. Just instant reaction to a purely mechanical problem laid out in front of him like a geometric diagram involving time and space and angles and hard bullets and soft flesh.”

I have been in a number of situations which demanded immediate action, and while none of them were quite as dramatic as the one Reacher faced, I swung into action without thought, while simultaneously observing others frozen, either asking the futile question “why is this happening?”, or the even more disengaged question “what’s happening?” There were a number of those in Vietnam, but the one I remember most easily was a camping/field trip in grad school in 1973. Our leader and teacher had tripped over a tree root and was in terrible pain. Every time I looked his way he was grimacing and massaging his leg. I also observed my fellow grad students, who seemed to be unaware of his discomfort. No one looked his way. I was thinking “something bad is about to happen.” Moments later he collapsed, unconscious. I remember thinking “his heart stopped.” I had no logical basis for thinking that. Yet I immediately, without any conscious decision as to what I should do, ran over to him and began chest compressions. All the others sat where they were, either dumbfounded, or yelling useless commands (“someone call a doctor”), or asking the futile questions I posed in the previous paragraph. After only three compressions, he suddenly sat up, looked around in confusion and asked about what happened. I told him and asked how he was feeling. Strangely, his pain was gone and he didn’t even remember tripping over the root. It was as if the loss of consciousness “reset” his body and mind. I expected a recurrence of the pain but it didn’t happen.

All my adult life it’s been action first, then questions and analysis, like an after-action report. Lee Child explains Jack Reacher’s behavior as a life spent moving on constantly, in a military family, with no expectation of stability. In his case there was no big surprise that a couple of thugs he had last seen in Key West, Florida suddenly showed up in upstate New York. In my case I have always been wired differently, even though my life was pretty conventional  in most respects. I don’t understand why I am wired this way, but who really cares? What matters is that you can learn to be more like this.

If you are asking “why should I?”, let me point out some possible reasons, but first the symptoms of “inadequate attention.” 1. Do you get flustered by ordinary situations, such as missing your turn and then for a moment not knowing what to do about it? 2. Do you dislike having to learn new things because you get confused? 3. Do you lose your way a lot while driving, and sometimes find yourself going the wrong way to somewhere you have been regularly? 4. Do you get in minor accidents that are the result of being unobservant? 5. Are you frequently unable to find things, even when looking right at them, because their location doesn’t match the expectation of where you thought they would be?

Now at this moment you could be indulging in an unconstructive kind of objection, like “who do you think you are, Mr. Perfect?” or “I exhibit some of those symptoms but so what, it doesn’t mean anything.” To the first I say “I have lots of faults and exhibit some of those symptoms–though rarely–and I am aware when I do” and to the second I say “unfortunately, it does mean a lot. One of the consequences of inattentiveness is being unaware of the patterns of your behavior.” Why you need to start building a “Jack Reacher mind” is to become more effective as well as more aware of your surroundings and how you decide things. It starts by interrupting the patterns that breed inattention:

1. Stop saying “It doesn’t make any sense” when you don’t understand the reasons behind something. Become aware of what you are really saying, which is “I don’t understand it.” Find solutions or alternate ways to deal, save the understanding for later (or never, since no one cares whether you get it or not, and your complaint is usually a way to delay having to act).

2. If your first inclination when you have to decide about something is to ask “why…?”, ask instead “what are the options here?” Asking “why” is one of the most futile questions, since most of the time the person you are asking doesn’t have the answer and yields to the pressure of the question by speculating. Also, if you would rather ask someone to give you the answer to a problem rather than trying to work it out yourself (with asking as a last resort), you are not developing your “thinking muscles.”

3. When you can’t find something, if your first theory is “someone took it” then you are the problem. Almost always, you misplaced the item, then formed a picture of where you thought it should be, and when it wasn’t there you looked a lot of other places and at some point you were looking right at it but didn’t see it because it didn’t match your picture! Adopt a different theory: You misplaced it!

4. If you get lost a lot or find yourself driving the wrong way when you have been to the place many times, start studying street maps! You have the ability to visualize the route to your destination, but you can’t accurately visualize what you haven’t seen. If you don’t study maps you have no picture of where you are relative to where you are going. If you find yourself objecting to that idea, get over it. You are just finding excuses for not doing the work. Here’s the most important thing about getting lost: When people who get lost make a wrong turn, their interpretation of each wrong turn is that they are getting more lost. That is the wrong interpretation. Each wrong turn really means that is one less mistake you can make before finding the place. Every wrong turn is one turn closer to your destination, presupposing you can remember the wrong turns. If you can’t, studying street maps develops the visual memory skills to remember your wrong turns. Don’t agree? Stay lost!

By now you should have noticed the pattern in how to develop “Jack Reacher mind”. The main lesson is…..(I will give you a minute to read through and find the pattern).

 

 

The main lesson is that you have to accept the correct interpretation of your actions: 1. Saying “it doesn’t make sense” is not accurate. You don’t understand it, but that has nothing to do with sense. Striving for understanding (a futile illusion most of the time) is inferior to effective action. 2. Asking “why” all the time puts off decisions. 3. You misplace things, others rarely move your stuff. 4. Every mistake is one less to make before the solution, NOT evidence of getting farther away!!!! Whether it is Edison developing the lightbulb (or anyone inventing anything) or reaching your destination, this is true.

Oh yeah, one more thing. If you spend a lot of time staring at your smartphone–like twitter, snapchat, and the myriad other distractions, and excessive text messaging–don’t expect to develop attentiveness. The opposite will happen. The phone may be “smart” but the more time you spend on it rather than reading or writing or thinking, you are just getting dumber and more inattentive.

NONE OF THIS YOU HAVE TO DO. EITHER DO SOME OF IT AND LET THE RESULTS MOTIVATE YOU, OR CONTINUE AS YOU ARE AND LEARN TO LIKE GETTING THE SAME RESULTS. IT’S ALL YOUR CHOICE.

The perfect world DOES EXIST, at least for a week.

I just got back from the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.  Imagine blind, amputees, and traumatic brain injury survivors skiing and doing all kinds of “adaptive” winter sports. You can watch a video on the events here. wsc  Just scroll down the page to the video.

But these triumphs over adversity and limitations, while inspiring, are not what made it a perfect world. Imagine a world where all the superficial surface appearances (that hold no clue to the character of the person) like skin color or physical disability, yield to the desire to love and serve others. I saw a black woman feeding a white man who was blind and having difficulty feeding himself. As I approached my table, I saw her come over with her tray, set it down and ask him if she could feed him. This kind of thing was repeated over and over. White folks leading Black folks who were blind and vice versa, those who could walk on their own carrying the trays of those who struggled with walking. Every race in the United States seemed to be represented, most of the participants were complete strangers to each other, there were wheelchairs aplenty, service dogs and emotional support animals, many vets struggled to walk, to eat, but there was more help than anyone needed and no one had to ask! What I witnessed was everyone caught up in the spirit of love and service to each other.

THIS is the perfect world on earth: Love and service without quid pro quo. Heaven will be like this, but without the disabilities. Revelation 21:3-4. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”’ Believe it!

My favorite proverbs.

King Solomon, in his time, was widely known as the wisest man in the world. Why? When the Lord asked him to name anything he wanted, he asked not for wealth or defeat of his enemies, but for wisdom to enable him to rule well. Wow, if only our current leaders today wanted that!

Proverbs 3:7 be not wise in your own eyes fear the lord and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 10:20 the tongue of the righteous is choice silver..10:30 the mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom..

Proverbs 16:32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

Proverbs 17:10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than 100 blows into a fool.

Proverbs 18:2. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, only in expressing his own opinion.

Proverbs 18:12-13 Before destruction a mans heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. If one gives an answer before he hears the matter it is his folly and shame.

Proverbs 19:3. When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord.

Proverbs 19:11. Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 26:12. Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes. there is more hope for a fool than for him.

Proverbs 26:16. The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.

Proverbs 26:20. Where there is no wood the fire goes out and without a whisperer quarreling ceases.

Proverbs 29:1. He who is often reproved but stiffens his neck will be suddenly broken beyond healing .

Proverbs 29:11. A fool gives full vent to his spirit but a wise man holds it back.

Proverbs 29:23. One’s pride will bring him low but a man who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

Proverbs 31:30. Beauty is vain and charm deceitful but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Ecclesiastes 8:11. Because the sentence against an evil deed is not swiftly carried out, the hearts of the children of man are fully set to do evil.

There were many more proverbs but the ones I chose represent my favorite themes. Self control, the evil of pride, and the virtue of accepting correction are prominent. While the line from Ecclesiastes doesn’t appear in the book of proverbs, it was written by Solomon and I consider it a proverb. Delaying the punishment for a crime speaks directly to the human heart in a negative way, encouraging further evil.

There is something perverse inside of human beings that is magnified laws and rules. I am reminded of a story from a great teacher  mine, Dennis Peacocke. Imagine the most perfect lawn, lush and green and unmarked. You walk by it every day, admiring the perfection. It’s so unsullied. Not one blade of grass is tamped down. Then one day a sign appears, KEEP OFF THE GRASS. Your admiration turns into something else–the perverse desire to walk on the lawn, to sully it.

This perversity was manifested even by Solomon. The Lord said to Solomon that He was pleased with Solomon’s request and so granted it as well as great wealth and victory over his enemies. How did Solomon abuse these blessings? Keep in mind the Lord also warned him of the consequences of failing to obey His commandments, mainly that he follow the Lord exclusively and not run after “foreign gods.”  The Bible shows what happened.

1 Kings 11:1-3. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.”

“Nehemiah 13:26. “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin.”

Now some say the marriages of Solomon were political alliances, I say that is irrelevant. If his heart was following the Lord, he would not need political alliances. But this lesson is for all of us: No matter what we are blessed with, our natural inclinations will motivate us to mess it up. The lesson is clear: Don’t do what comes naturally (pride, arrogance, anger, seeking temporary pleasure at the expense of …..well, everything else! 

Is Muslim comedy an oxymoron?

Rather than begin with my own opinion, the following is an excerpt of a review of a sketch on a BBC show. I will reserve my opinion until the very end.

A Muslim comedian has spoken out in defence of a controversial new BBC comedy sketch called The Real Housewives Of ISIS, saying ‘being offended is very popular these days’. The BBC has come under fire for the sketch, which satirises US reality TV shows like Real Housewives Of Orange County and Real Housewives Of Atlanta. It appears on new BBC 2 show Revolting and follows a group of British girls who have travelled to Syria to join ISIS and marry terrorists.

In the first episode, one of the characters is seen showing off her new suicide vest after complaining that ‘it’s only three days until the beheading and I’ve got no idea what I’m gonna wear’. Another bemoans that her husband ‘won’t stop talking about his 40 virgins’. After some critics described the sketch as ‘disgusting’, comedian and writer Shazia Mirza has told The Guardian: ‘The rightwing press might be offended, and maybe the leftwing liberals, but Muslims aren’t offended – it’s like they want us to be offended but we aren’t. We’re OK, thanks’

Mirza continued: ‘There’s a long history of people from different religions mocking themselves – Christians, Jews, Catholics – why can’t Muslims make jokes about themselves? If we are going to continue that proud tradition of satire that has to be allowed.'”

Naturally, I wanted to see the sketch for myself before rendering an opinion.  Here it is.  The Guardian 
  1. I think satirizing a group is the most effective way to undermine it, even when such group is as heinous as ISIS.
  2. The massive amount of suffering they have caused makes me reluctant to enjoy even a joke at their expense, but if the satire can can make some potential recruits turn away or shame their cause, then let’s have more satire.
  3.  I am so politically incorrect and impervious to personal offense that I find the idea of a female ISIS recruit complaining that she “has nothing to wear to the beheading” hilarious. Sorry folks, I do. I don’t even understand the whole concept of being offended.
  4.  My only quibble with what Shazia Mirza said is that she implies that the right wing press is more likely to be offended than the left wing liberals. NO! The latter are offended by almost anything, far more so than conservatives. Taking up offense for others is the badge of honor for liberals.
  5.  I really found it funny, especially the one where the wife says she has been widowed 5 times, then hesitates as the building shakes (drone strike?), then corrects herself and says 6 times.
As for the title of this post, I appreciate satire as among the highest forms of humor, and I would like to see a lot more self-satire from Muslims. As someone born into a Jewish household, I can appreciate the history of Jewish humor as a constructive response to oppression. If I were being oppressed, I hope I could laugh in the faces of my oppressors. Yeah, nothing would make them angrier….but that’s the idea!

As for a lot of Muslim spokesmen today AND their liberal media enablers,  I want to quote Hussain Haqqani, a prominent Muslim and former Pakistan envoy to the US: “The violence over ‘Islam’s honour’ is a function of the collective Muslim narrative of grievance. Decline, weakness, impotence, and helplessness are phrases most frequently repeated in the speeches and writings of today’s Muslim leaders. The view is shared by Islamists – who consider Islam a political ideology – and other Muslims who don’t. The terrorists are just the most extreme element among the Islamists. As a community, Muslims are obsessed with their past pre-eminence, which stands in stark contrast to their current weakness. The bravado of beheading “blasphemers” and thinking that a terrorist attack can change the global order are ways of reclaiming a glory that is vividly recalled but has not been seen by Muslims in recent centuries.”

If you hate what I have to say, good. I invite you to get it off your chest by replying. But don’t necessarily expect a response. Dueling blogposts, emails, and texts are fun for awhile, but ultimately futile for mutual understanding. I am open to real dialogue but NOT dueling diatribes!

 

 

Personalized potatoes, PB+J, Stolen Super Bowl jerseys.

The NFL, after reviewing hundreds of videos (taken by various media), released a few of them which showed a guy with an empty shoulder bag entering the Patriots locker room after SB 51 with the rest of the media and walking back out with a fuller bag tucked under his left arm. This very same thief also had Tom Brady’s stolen SB49 (Seahawks) jersey in his possession. The NFL also suspects that he took Von Miller’s cleats, jersey and helmet after SB 50. If you want the more complete story, here is the link to ESPN stolen valor

Even more obnoxious to me, since Kurt Warner is my all time fave sports hero, is that he also had in his possession Kurt Warner’s jersey from the Rams 1999 SB victory. The thief, Mauricio Ortega ortega, even brought the Warner jersey with him to SB 51, hoping to sell it to Kurt for thousands of dollars. Thank you Marshall Faulk, hall of famer and teammate of Warner’s from the “greatest show on turf” days, for refusing to sign any of Ortega’s stolen valor!

What should be done with this guy? Barred from entering the U.S.? Banned from NFL sporting events? How about the CIA recruiting him? As a spy, his bravado, stealth and total disregard for any conventions would make him a star among covert ops. It will be very interesting to see what Mexico does. Will he be a hero because he thumbed his nose at the US? or will he be prosecuted as the criminal he is? Stay tuned.

Switching from the NFL to the NBA, we have a couple of creative but harmless sports stories. Potato Parcel, a company that got a deal on Sharktank, sent personalized potatoes to the starting fives of every NBA team. Fun! Here are some examples. potato parcel

The ultimate American comfort food may be PB and J. The NBA starters may like their personalized potatoes, but for comfort food, nothing beats the old standby. This story is too amusing for me to mangle it by retelling, so check it out. pb and j in nba  I must confess that this story had an immediate effect on me. Just last week, I had managed to use up the last of the strawberry jam we bought when our kids were living at home, and I vowed to never buy any more jelly! But when I read this story, I immediately checked the cupboards. We had bread and peanut butter, but no J! So there went my resolution, as I ran out to the nearest store and bought some J (blackberry), then had a PB and J for lunch-for the first time in about 45 years! Look for me to be out on the courts next week, doing layups (in my dreams).