Friday, November 24, 2023

Recognizing The Good


In the Hebrew language there are several ways to express thanks or gratitude.  The one I like best for our season of Thanksgiving is Hakarat Ha’tov which literally means “recognizing the good”.  In the world today, finding “good” to recognize can be a challenge.  And too often recognizing something good triggers a severe, negative response from those for whom any good thing came at the expense of something or someone else.  For many the world is a zero-sum game.


But, I cannot believe this world is a zero-sum game. Therefore, I choose to recognize the good things in my life. First and foremost, I am thankful for the Gospel, The Good News of Jesus Christ “for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).  "Salvation for everyone who believes".  It is only a zero-sum game for those who choose to make it so.


My wife, Kayla, is certainly at the top of my good things list.  She is the one who makes everything else in my life better.  But like all good things, they don’t come easy, and they take time.  That would certainly apply to our marriage.  I am no day at the beach yet she still loves me.


Next would be health.  After a couple of scares last year, I recognize how good it is to be healthy again.  Of course, the years along with some bad habits and poor decisions can take their toll.  But I am in pretty good shape now for the shape I’m in.  


And I recognize the good of working.  That I am still engaged in work I can pursue full-time and do reasonably well at my age is a very good thing.  And the team we have at High Road Partners makes that all possible.


I recognize the good of being blessed financially.  By the grace of God, I’ve had some financial success in my career and the very good fortune to be born in the right place, at the right time to the right people.I have more money than I need and certainly more than I deserve.  (And I do realize that some would say that’s a bad thing.)


I recognize the good of The United States of America while still acknowledging the bad of slavery and the treatment of Native Americans.  I also recognize the bad history of denying constitutional freedoms to so many of our citizens.  I recognize that this nation is not perfect and has never been perfect.  But to be sure, it beats anything coming in second place.


Hakarat Ha’tov, “recognizing the good”.  At Thanksgiving, it’s worth a try. We might even start to see some good in those with whom we disagree.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Bread and Circuses


“Frivolity, aestheticism, hedonism, cynicism, pessimism, narcissism, consumerism, nihilism, fatalism, fanatics and other negative behaviors and attitudes suffuse the population.  Politics is increasingly corrupt, life is increasingly unjust, a cabal of insiders accrues wealth and power at the expense of the citizens fostering a fatal opposition of interests between the haves and have-nots, the majority lives for bread and circuses. They worship celebrities and throw off social and moral restraints, shirk duties but insist on entitlements.” – Sir John Bagot Glubb

Sir John Bagot Glubb is a somewhat forgotten figure these days.  He was a decorated British officer who led the Arab Legion from 1939-1956 including fighting against the Israeli Army in 1948.  He passed away in 1986.  He wrote quite a bit about the Middle East and his observations are worthy of consideration. 


But this is about another of his writings: “The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival.”  This essay written in 1976, concludes with a summary.  Here are some of his observations and conclusions:


_1 Looking back over 4000 years of history, the greatness of a nation only lasts around 250 years.  This is a consistent pattern.

_2 We do not learn from history because our studies are brief and prejudiced.

_3 The stages of the rise and fall of great nations seem to be:

      The Age of Pioneers

      The Age of Conquests

      The Age of Commerce

      The Age of Affluence

      The Age of Intellect

      The Age of Decadence

_4 Characteristics of the Age of Decadence:




      Frivolity (behavior that is silly, not serious)

      An influx of foreigners

      The Welfare State

      A weakening of religion

_5 Causes of this Age of Decadence

     Too long a period of wealth and power


     Love of Money

     Loss of a sense of duty

_6 The life histories of great nations are amazingly similar and are due to internal factors.

_7 The falls of these nations are diverse because they are largely due to external causes.


Born in Preston, England in 1897, John Bagot Glubb was the product of a different time and place. And some of his comments and opinions would certainly get him cancelled these days.   But in his defense, he is primarily sharing historical facts albeit shaded by his own personal biases.  Nevertheless, Sir John’s overall assessment as to how great nations rise and fall is mostly on point.  


When he wrote this essay the United States was still in the Age of Commerce and Affluence although beginning its steady decline into an Age of Intellect and Decadence.  Glubb suggests that the most dangerous by-product of the Age of Intellect is the idea that the human brain can solve all of the world's problems.  In our day the “global elites”, primarily wealthy progressive humanists, are committed to this idea.  How’s that working out so far? 


And clearly, we have fallen even deeper into the Age of Decadence.  What Affluence we have enjoyed in recent years has been funded by massive government spending and debt, not by the effort and productivity of our citizens.  One might say we are past the tipping point and are now facing the battle for survival.  Winning this battle will take sacrifices which so far, we have been unwilling to even consider, much less make.  Do we continue to live for “bread and circuses” until they are gone, or do we get off the merry-go-round now?




Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The Old Rugged Church


No one really knows exactly how many Protestant denominations there are.  I suppose it depends on who’s counting.  Some say the number is in excess of 30,000.  I think that’s unlikely and must include every “independent” bible church along with a growing number of virtual churches who happen to have a website or a mailing address.  But whatever the number, it’s embarrassingly large.  Large enough that critics may rightly charge Protestants with a lack of unity in their beliefs.  And if Protestants can’t agree on their beliefs about church, how can they be so confident in their beliefs about God?


It comes down to “essential” beliefs vs “preferences”.  It would be almost 400 years after The Resurrection; long before the Great Schism, The Reformation and the subsequent outbreak of Denominationalism; that the one and only church of that time could agree on the essentials of the faith and came up with the Apostles and Nicene Creed statements.  These are probably as close to the essentials of the faith as we can get.  Some churches still recite those creeds today.  Why some churches do not is another matter.


For over a decade my wife and I have been attending a local Disciples of Christ church.  She grew up in this denomination and I, being a recovering Baptist, followed her to the Disciples.  The Disciples are considered a mainline denomination even though they are relatively new, forming out of the Restoration Movement of the early-mid 1800’s in the United States.  But in 1906 the Church of Christ denomination was formed and broke away from the Disciples.  The split is generally attributed to the use of musical instruments in worship. Today the Church of Christ is “a cappella” and the Disciples use musical instruments.  But the underlying differences are really about liberal vs conservative views on Bible interpretation and authority.  The Church of Christ is conservative and the Disciples have become increasingly liberal. However, some Disciples churches still tend to lean conservative and our church definitely fit in that category which suited us just fine.  A nice blend of conservative doctrine and beliefs joined with traditional worship.  


For at least the past 40 years mainline, traditional churches have experienced a significant decline in membership. Most of this can be attributed to mainline churches becoming more liberal and socially conscious at the expense of Biblical and traditional orthodoxy.  In the meantime, fundamentalist evangelical churches have grown.  With that growth most have embraced a more “seeker friendly” worship experience with contemporary music, casual/no dress codes and dynamic preachers.  For the serious “seekers” they offer “small group” bible studies where the real “disciple-making” goes on.  


This “not your grandparents' church” experience is working well enough and where matched up with bible-based messaging, churches are flourishing.   Now even the old mainline churches are chasing the new ways of doing church.  But lacking a meaningful, life changing message, they continue in decline.  Sadly, in the race to change, traditions that hold meaning for many of us have been lost.  As a result, some older Christians find themselves unchurched or churched unhappily out of habit or convenience or for the sake of friendships.


Our church has moved away from its Disciples roots and traditions.  Attendance is up, baptisms are up, more young families are showing up.  So it’s working. Praise God for that.  But for those of us who feel deeply touched when the congregation is saying the Lord’s Prayer or singing the Doxology, going to church these days just isn’t the same.  Nevertheless, our time is short, and God’s ways are not our ways.  So, we will adjust and worship as best we can for as long as we can... wherever we can.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow….”

Sunday, October 22, 2023

We Must Do

These days a simple act of kindness is rare.   I was the recipient of one such simple act the other day.

It was a short flight from Austin to DFW.  The flight was a fully loaded regional jet with limited space for carry-on luggage.  Luckily, I did manage to get my small roller bag into the overhead.  But when I sat down, I noticed a long stream of blood running from my knuckle to the tip of my index finger.  In the battle with the overhead bin, I had been wounded.  Fortunately, I had Kleenex in my backpack and managed to eventually stop the bleeding, at least as long as I kept a tissue on the knuckle. 

 Knowing that I had a long drive back home from the airport I decided that when we landed, I would purchase some band-aids at one of the airport shops.  When I got off the plane there was a shop almost directly across from the gate.  Perfect.  I walked over, pulling my roller bag with a backpack on top.  I had a tissue on the injured hand, pressed between fingers and held as best I could with my thumb.  I quickly found the display with all sorts of personal care items, but no band aids.  

 The attendant, a small, middle-aged lady, was just finishing up with a customer.  I asked her if there were any band aids.  In Spanish-accented English, she said no and that she was sorry.  Then she noticed the tissue on my hand and asked me to wait.  She began digging around under the counter and pulled out a small first aid kit.  After searching for a moment, she pulled out a couple of band aids and asked if these would help. I responded with a grateful yes that they would be perfect. I thanked this lady for her kindness and offered to pay her something for the band aids.  She simply shook her head and said in her broken English: “You need first aid…I must do.”

 The honest sincerity of her words really touched me.  I stopped at the restroom, cleaned the wound and applied the band-aid.  And I continued to hear her words: “I must do”.  Even now days later, I still hear her voice and those words.  I had expected a cold matter-of-fact “no band-aids” response. What I received was an unexpected, simple act of kindness from a busy woman who had no reason to bother with me other than it was something she “must do.”

I have been asking myself how many “must do” situations I have walked away from over the years.  More than a few I must confess.  More often than not…I don’t do.  May God have mercy on me a sinner.

"Depart from me you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me." Matthew 25: 41-43

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Cus Luchd-Tadhail

"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." - Yogi Berra 

We made it back from Scotland.  And Scotland is just as beautiful as remembered and the locals are just as friendly.  It’s a fine country and I am proud to have Scottish ancestry (from my mother’s side …Morrisons they were.)  

The only problem is “Cus Luchd-Tadhail” :  Too Many Visitors.  I’m not sure the locals would all agree with that.  Tourism is big business in Scotland and employs a lot of people.  It is absolutely essential to those living up in the Highlands.  But it’s a mixed blessing just as it is in all popular tourist destinations. 

 And no question, Scotland has become too popular.  It began back when Queen Victoria visited the Scottish Highlands and fell in love with the area.  Upper class English families began taking holidays in Scotland. It became the thing to do.  Then as train service spread even those with less wealth and leisure time could afford to visit Scotland if only for a few days. 

 It was the Loch Ness Monster that really put Scotland on the broader tourist map.  There were local reports in the late 1800’s about sightings of some odd lizard or large salamander-like creature inhabiting the Loch on the River Ness.  But, it was the 1930’s before “the photo” and story was published.  

 The bigger tourist explosion has been driven by books, movies and television.  From Braveheart, to Harry Potter, to Outlander; Scotland has been opened up to the world.  Scotland has become a key location for television and movie production.  The increased interest in ancestry and genealogy has also contributed to Scottish tourism.  When one’s DNA connects one to the Scots as well as to the Norse invaders who stayed long enough to inter-marry, build castles and otherwise leave their mark on the place; one feels compelled to go and see. 

 So now too many people are visiting Scotland.  The crowds are made worse by the lack of service.  Brexit and Covid have left Scotland and England short-handed when it comes to service workers, most of whom used to come from eastern Europe.  It’s not unusual to see restaurants closed or only open limited hours.  Some tourist venues are not even open due to the lack of staff.  All of which squeezes more tourists into fewer places.

Will I ever go back to Scotland?  Perhaps if I live long enough and remain healthy.  But first we want to visit Italy, Spain and Germany while we can.  And there are lots of places in North America I want to visit or re-visit before it’s too late.  The Holy Land used to be on my bucket list, but I know it too suffers from “Too Many Visitors”.  I think I would prefer to keep tourist-free images in my mind.


Thursday, September 7, 2023

Lost, Confused or Confounded

Next week we leave for Scotland.  Our first overseas trip since 2019.  Both Kayla and I have Scottish ancestry.  Kayla on her father’s side and me on my mother’s.  But mostly it’s just because we like it there.  We spent only a few days in Scotland when we went to England in 2018 and said then that we wished we’d had more time there.  So, this trip will be a full 12 days, all in Scotland. 

But I must admit that I am no longer a good traveler.  For years I traveled a lot on business and fared well enough.  Yet I never liked crowds and now I absolutely hate them.  So, airports are not a great experience for me.  Long flights are even worse.  Thankfully we are traveling business class.  But I’ll not sleep much and will start calculating how long before we land about half-way through the trip. Then there is just the hassle of traveling.  Especially burdensome for long trips overseas.  We always take too much yet leave something behind.  

Then there is being a senior citizen.  I don’t like being treated like an old person, but one must get used to it when one gets old.  Nevertheless, I am self-conscious about it.  When younger people look lost, confused or confounded everyone just thinks they are busy or  distracted by all of the important things they must be doing.   When an old person looks lost, confused or confounded; people feel sorry for them.  Or some may offer to help, usually in a condescending sort of way.  And occasionally a bad one will try to pick their pocket.  Therefore, I make the extra effort to appear confident and capable, a man on a mission.  But it's very tiring and only adds to the embarrassment when I actually become lost, confused or confounded.

We will celebrate our birthdays in Scotland, mine on the 15th in Edinburgh and Kayla’s on the 20th in Portree on the Isle of Skye.  We’ll see all the tourist attractions, take a lot of photos, eat too much, drink too much and sleep poorly.  We’ll be ready to come home before it’s time to come home.  We will miss our own bed, our dogs and the ease and convenience of just being home.  However, before the year is over, we’ll begin planning our next big adventure.  For we know that we have only so many years left to travel before one or both of us becomes permanently lost, confused or confounded. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

A New World Song


“Lord it’s a damn shame,

What the world’s gotten to

For people like me and people like you.

Wish I could just wake up and it not be true

But it is, oh, it is…


Livin’ in the new world

With an old soul.

These rich men north of Richmond,

Lord knows they all just wanna have total control.”

These lyrics are from the hottest new song in the English-speaking world, “Rich Men North of Richmond”, by Oliver Anthony.  Mr. Anthony was virtually unknown until the second weekend in August of 2023.  He lives just outside of Farmville VA, 70 miles southwest of Richmond VA and a million miles from those “Rich Men” to the north.  He’s a young man trying to make ends meet on a small farm, playing music and working as much as he can.  I expect in the coming weeks we’ll find out more about Mr. Anthony.  His life will get picked apart and I feel sorry for him in that regard.  But not too sorry for him, as I do believe he has struck musical gold.


Yet the real story here is not about Oliver Anthony nor is it just about those Rich Men North of Richmond or anywhere else where the rich get richer.  The real story is about all the people who used to work to get ahead and now just work to survive.  It’s about the working middle class.  Wages have not kept pace with the cost of living, jobs that used support a family have disappeared for a variety of reasons and our education system has failed to prepare people for the “blue collar” careers that do pay well.  


In addition, we have created an image of success and the “good life” that is unrealistic and bears little resemblance to the lives of the working middle class back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  Most of us lived in small houses, drove used cars, had one television, one phone, a radio or two and a subscription to the local newspaper. We had the clothes and shoes we needed and no more.  We ate home-cooked meals and no one waited in line to buy coffee drinks that cost almost half as much as a pound of coffee you could brew at home.  This list of differences between then and now could go on.  But the point is that today we have a lot more stuff to spend our money on.  The sort of stuff that 50 years ago the working middle class would have viewed as luxury items they could not afford.  And they were OK with that because that’s how most of their neighbors lived.  


But today a lot of people can afford, or least pretend to afford, the expensive add-ons.  Back in the day there weren’t that many “haves” with whom we middle-class "have-nots" could compare ourselves.  We had a handful of very wealthy people, a whole lot of folks in the middle and then some really poor folks at the bottom.  Now the middle-class has been hollowed out.  And we have more people below the middle as well as more people living above the middle.  And at the very top we have some ridiculously wealthy individuals. 


It's that gap between the upper middle class and the lower middle class that stands out.  With the “middle” middle-class gone, we now have this contrast between upper middle-class households and lower middle-class households.  The professional income class, or in some instances the two-income professional class which make up most of the “upper middle” are living in fine houses, in the best neighborhoods, sending their kids to good schools, driving new cars and taking expensive, fun vacations.  Living the dream although they may just be getting by and saving very little.  The lower middle income (working) class households are earning considerably less, living in less desirable neighborhoods and their kids are probably not getting the best education.  This gap between the upper and lower classes is highly visible.  The irony is that most people in that “upper middle class” group have no more regard for the “Rich Men North of Richmond” than do the folks in the lower middle class.  The difference is that the upper middle-class group is complaining while floating around in their swimming pools while the lower middle-class folks are worried about putting food on the table.


One of the most important outcomes of Oliver Anthony’s song is that it’s essentially become the anthem for working class people all over the world regardless of race, gender or religion. It sums up the frustration of hard-working, honest, self-reliant people who resent those rich men, aka the elites, who are pulling the strings and gaming the system in their favor.  Nor do these same working-class people have much regard for the non-working poor who rely on those same rich men to take care of them in exchange for their votes.


It will be interesting to see how long the public keeps listening to Mr. Anthony’s song.  Probably until some Rich Man North of Richmond makes it their theme song for the next election cycle.