Transfer of Power

why climbing on board the train is so hard

I won’t be watching the inauguration today. It’s not that I have no interest in the ceremony or its rich history. I’ve never watched the inauguration. The truth is I don’t enjoy witnessing the transfer of power after a contested battle.

train

In days of old, kings wore special garments to denote their power. Most often, these were ornate robes. And the longer the train of a king’s robe, the greater his power and dominance. When a king would conquer another ruler, he would cut off a portion of the vanquished ruler’s robe and add it to the train of his own.

(Some of you may remember the story from Bible class about David cutting off a corner of King Saul’s robe while the monarch was sleeping. It was a show of defiance and power as David sent a message — “King Saul, your life was in my hands and I spared you. You belong to me.” You might also remember that David later apologized for this act of disrespect.)

Consider the fact that when a king did lengthen his train the addition was made to the end of his robe. He didn’t carry forth the legacy of his conquered opponent up high with respect. Instead, he placed it in direct contact with the ground where its history would soon be covered with dirt and the filth of the streets and the sewers.

I won’t be watching today as Mr. Trump slices off a generous hunk of President Obama’s robe, holds it high over his head, and then pins it to the tail of his train.

Remember that whenever leadership focuses only on power, the fibers of the lengthened train are not just some bit of cloth, but the lives and well-being of people. In a divided society — and we live in one today — the transfer of power is often realized in hurtful and even violent ways against at least some of our fellow citizens.

In the coming days, if I witness Mr. Trump easing graciously into the power of his office, a power that can be benevolent and beneficial, I will be most grateful. I believe that he can do that. After all, at this stage of the process, he no longer needs the antics of his campaign to grasp and faithfully execute matters of the public trust within his understanding of his charge from those who elected him. It is my prayer that he will do that with dignity and grace . . . and a reverent respect for the power he holds and for all people.

 

The Sum of Our Experience: Math Cannot Explain the Results

I have always been fascinated with math. I’ve never been good at it, but I have been fascinated. In fact, in an effort to exercise my mental muscles, I’m thinking about taking up the study of math. I get a little tingly thinking about the possibilities. The ability to look at a set of data and to derive some truth from it is a very inviting challenge.

math

photo credit: Roman Mager/unsplash.com

I’m a little intimidated by the proposed path ahead. I’ve been thinking that I would return to the level of arithmetic and geometry that I mastered in school as my baseline. Upward and onward from there. Yet, a little research has caused me to step back and reconsider. The plateaus I once traveled have dramatically changed. Language is different. Processes are different. I’m coming to realize that the concepts my granddaughter mastered in middle school may be far beyond my ability of comprehension.

Humankind has progressed so far and learned so much, in math and in so many other arenas, how can I ever come to even basic understanding of the world around me? Here’s a list of things that I am woefully under-prepared to fathom:

  • Math — see above
  • Things related to math, like physics and computers — I benefit from the principles of physics and computers, but I don’t really know why
  • Politics — or at least why people support some candidates and platforms over others
  • Sports — since the early 1980s, when I simply didn’t have time to watch games or sports networks, I have been totally incapable of being excited about sports at any level (I’ve tried. Please don’t see this as an invitation to try to enlighten me or make me a fan. Yes, I will sit with friends and watch the Super Bowl or the World Series. But that’s my weak attempt to be seen as normal.)
  • Disease and health-related issues — I grasp the concept of aging, accident, injury, infection, and the changes we should expect over time, but I don’t understand cancer or addiction or unexplained takings of the young
  • The systems at work that track budgets and people and productivity — I’m confused constantly (However, I am blessed by the opportunities for friendship with those who do understand these things.)
  • God — I get the concept of a higher authority, I struggle with concepts of justice and mercy and unending love

You may have gathered that I see myself as one who is cast adrift in a sea of ideas and concepts and experts and problems and opportunities. Cast adrift.

But before you feel sorry for me — or yourself if you share some of these same thoughts and feelings — please consider the great gift I (we) have been given.

Every moment of every day is like an exciting novel that I can lean into expectantly, anticipating the next turn in plot. I recently sat in a meeting where a friend talked about the unique possibilities of reading fiction, where a stream of events are strung together to form a plot line. We have no need to know everything that happens between those events. In truth, the great gift of fiction is seeing the pieces of the story that our imaginations provide.

Our imaginations, our resources for creativity, reside in the gaps between what we know and what we desire to know. The tragedy in our existence comes when we demand to know everything and accept nothing less. For in that quest, we assert ourselves as the know-all-and-end-all — the ultimate authority.

I have come to recognize the people in my life who I view as having true authority are those who live in a constant wash of humility. They share what they have learned and they constantly express their wonder at what they have yet to learn.

As I listen to people talk about a variety of subjects, including those on my list above, I am saddened by those who have ceased to live in that wonder. When we determine that we know all there is to know about anything and refuse to promote further exploration and curiosity, we begin to die.

I hope that I will never be the sum of all my experiences — that there will constantly be an unknown in my equations. I want to be blessed by the opportunity to gaze at the void, to wonder about the stretches of what it represents, and to experience the joy of discovery that God promises us.

And just because I can, I’m going to pick up a textbook in geometry.

The Thin Line

The vanishing point between war and rumors of war

This holiday season revealed a terrifying scene. A world leader threatened a nuclear attack against a neighboring country because of a fake news story. Pakistan versus Israel. Nothing for us to worry about, right? Tragically, the thin line that weaves its way between truth and lie, honesty and dishonesty, accountability and absence of accountability is losing weight. The real tragedy is that irresponsibility in communication is now being recognized as a skill.

As a society we have long-revered the art of manipulation and deception. We have even honored it in times of war, sports, and day-to-day negotiation. Yet, those of us who have studied negotiation know that things spiral out of control when the players in war or games or daily transactions begin to worship the thrill of deception or, at least, ignore the immorality that is inherent to it.

In public and community matters, what is most concerning is to have the public pounded with information that is simply untrue. Some of this information is false and purposefully constructed to wreak havoc and upend normalcy. Personally, I think that our law-making bodies should intensify targeted efforts to prosecute such intentional lies. Although asking our social media purveyors to police that is a positive move, I don’t believe that their solitary efforts will be enough.

Another false-news type is doing damage at the same time. Unverified statements, made as fact, are psychologically hardening positions across our political spectrum. For example, it was very easy for President-Elect Trump to recently tweet that his election has resulted in a 10% gain in financial markets. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Trump nor his organization has responded to requests for credible sources for that claim. Meanwhile, at the time the statement was made, a look at leading market indicators showed that the gains were below that margin — some far below.

Look, I was clear during and following the election that I did not support Mr. Trump in his bid for president. However, I did say that I would respect his office and give him an opportunity to be successful. In order for me to do that, I’m just asking that he make an effort to be accurate in what he says or writes. He would have been perfectly correct to simply say that the financial markets have made significant gains since the election. That is true and I have no problem admitting that. And, I think it is within the realm of acceptable behavior for him to claim his impending presidency as the factor that made that happen.

I’m not just pointing to Mr. Trump.

We all realize that, although Mr. Trump seems to have a huge capacity for distributing misinformation and making statements that he or his aides must later “walk back,” this lack of accuracy is not limited to Mr. Trump and has infected almost every crevice and pore of our public lives in a negative way.

Another example from Mr. Trump’s Twitter account. (To those of you who are willing supporters of Mr. Trump, please keep reading. Until someone gets him off Twitter, he just provides too many examples. Spoiler: I’m actually going to give him the benefit of the doubt here.)

The early reactions I heard only quoted the first eleven words. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capacity.” Given Putin’s rants at about the same time, it certainly sounded as if Mr. Trump was putting us back on the front row of a cold war — with glowing nuclear armaments displayed all around. However, the second part of that tweet does show that Mr. Trump recognized boundaries.

I have to admit, I don’t follow @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. At my age, I just haven’t needed that constant anxiety. But had I accepted the reports of his statement at face value, I could have only concluded that he had every intention of rescinding all progress that ‘s been made toward nuclear disarmament. That is not what he said and we can all hope and pray that was never his intention.

The problem, of course, is that Mr. Trump’s communication is vague and no one can determine its face value. Even though there have been additional statements issued about this, we still aren’t exactly sure of what he intended. This is one of those moments where it is our responsibility and duty to ask — even demand — clarification. And insist on accountability. But be fair, he didn’t say that he was going to pursue a cold war. This is when we ask questions and seek clarification.

So, if you’ve been waiting for my big point, here it is . . .

Given the world of misinformation we live in, shaped from social media, cable news, and the major news media organizations, we must be vigilant and we must demand accountability. As the American people, we have a long history of following leaders we are unwilling to listen closely to. Close enough has been good enough. If a policy sounds like it benefits us personally, then we’re supporters. We have ceased being people of thought and inquiry. We have voted “us versus them” and it is coming back to bite us — and them.

We are them. They are us. We’re in this together.

So, a call to our leaders, our news sources, and to each of us personally:

Invest time in getting and communicating good information from multiple sources. Then, act on it responsibly. Don’t simply stir discord. Have friendly conversations. Commit to beginning and ending your discussions as friends. And set aside time for the next visit.

This call was to me, as well. I’m dangerously close to following @realDonaldTrump. Maybe right after my next physical.

Imagine

with a faint apology to John Lennon

When times get tough, we often turn to the words of a poet or a balladeer to give us hope, to soothe our angst, and sometimes, to crank us up. Many paint only a picture of an ideal. . . in essence, a dream. John Lennon gave us that in “Imagine.” Imagining away religion, patriotism, hunger and competition seemed to smooth away all of the ugliness of the world. After all, “with nothing to kill or die for” we certainly would live better lives, wouldn’t we? Imagine such a world as that.

image: Jean-Frederic Fortier/unsplash.com

If I’ve just trashed your favorite song of all time, please stay with me for a minute.

In the later verses of the song, John Lennon writes of bringing the world together and sharing the wealth of the world. While we can dream of a time when that would happen, the writer makes it unlikely by entrusting that exercise to humankind without a higher power.

A dream of that magnitude requires a vision and definite action. While dreams can burn softly like candles, only true vision fueled by process can ignite the fires that bring change and progress. Our prolific Beatle has a point here. Too often, action and progress, framed only in mortal idealism, give way to greed, lust, and attempts at domination. Imagine if there was none of that.

But that same action and progress, when formed in the image of One who is greater, brings about what Lennon is really seeking . . . Heaven on earth.

Imagine walking side by side with that One. Imagine sharing and building together. Imagine loving each other as God loves each of us. At the very least, it gives us something to “die for.”

Off-Road Rage

This is from my original email series, Distinct Impressions. I didn’t keep records back then, but this was labeled Volume 1, Number 2. So, it’s an oldey-goldey. Even though I’m doing much better on self-control, there’s still a lot for me to learn from this. Hope you enjoy!

Image Credit: Alessandro Paiva via freeimages.com

Nancy, my wife, often finds important information in our local newspaper.  Recipes, community program schedules, and coupons all find their way into her hands and our lives.  All good things . . . all for the good of our family.

But occasionally she finds the dreaded prose of a “warning article.”  You know what I’m talking about.  Those insidious, self-help features that tell you why you’re messed up and what you should do about it.

As we’re driving to church one Sunday morning, I knew she had been recently enlightened by just such an article.  “You better watch it,” she said.  “You need to control your road rage.”

I checked my mirror.  Nope, no wreckage behind me.  “What road rage?”

“You shouldn’t be talking to other drivers — that’s a symptom of road rage.”

“But they can’t hear me,” I protested, “and I was just explaining to that lady the significance of a green light.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she insisted.  “You’re losing control.  There’s no need to talk to anybody about their driving.  You just drive, watch out for the other guy, and stay calm.”

“I am calm!!!”

I just knew she was wrong.  There was not an ounce of rage in me.  So, in a few days, when I misjudged the speed of an oncoming car and the young woman behind the wheel saluted me in a genuinely unwholesome fashion, I decided to have some fun.  “Hang on, honey!  We’re going after her!”

“What in the world are you doing?!!” Nancy asked. “I’m just going to put a scare into that sweet little thing.  I want her to think twice about HER road rage.”

I plunged the accelerator to the floor and within seconds I was right on the bumper of the little red car.  Several turns later, the car pulled into the parking lot of a duplex.  I wedged my pickup across the driveway and sat, staring menacingly.  The woman didn’t move.  I sat for several more seconds, then slowly drove away.

What a great feeling!  I put that rude driver in her place.  She was probably still shaking and wishing she’d never seen me.  Probably something like what my wife was thinking about that time.

“Well, that had to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen you do.”

She just didn’t understand.  I had dealt justice within a mere city block.  I had asserted my right to be treated with dignity on the highway of life.

There’s something about driving, with its rules and regulations, that makes us feel good about keeping others in their place.  When someone cuts us off or just engages in a little sign language, we have a right to feel indignant.  That’s why we call it righteous indignation.

But that same attitude can invade every part of our lives.  Listen closely to people around you.  “They can’t treat me that way!”  “I’ll show them!”  “I know my rights!”

And just like road rage, there’s nothing righteous about it.

Nancy was right. I should not have reacted the way I did while behind the wheel. But, this off-road rage doesn’t get near enough attention.  The jostling for position and stature in our every day lives can be just as damaging as the punishment we deal out from behind the wheel.  We cut people off.  We accelerate — not so much to get where we are going — but to make sure others don’t get where they want to be.

“MY life matters.  Yours does not.”  That’s the message.

How foreign is that from the example of Christ?

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant . . .”  Philippians 2:5-7 (NIV).

Perhaps the prescription for road rage works off-road as well.  Look out for others.  Keep quiet.  If someone wants into your lane, let him in.  Nothing can be so important that it keeps you from your final destination.

As for me, I’m discovering my indignation is rarely righteous.  When Jesus fills my life, I have no room for self-righteous rage.