A good story

Everyone likes a good story, especially children but also adults. A good story gets a person involved in dramatic activity. It stirs one’s emotions. A good story attracts one’s attention, but it also holds that attention over the course of time. And a good story is repeatable. Its benefits don’t wear out,  and its drama never really becomes old.

I’m sure that most of you can remember such stories that you have enjoyed. I’m fairly old, but I still remember some stories that I read as a child, “Wolf” by Jack London, “Lassie Come Home” before it was made into a movie, “My Friend Flicka”, “The Secret Garden”, “The Last of the Mohicans”,  and others. I can remember my wife and I reading “bed time” stories to our children each night before they went to sleep. And it was obvious that these young children were learning from these stories. If we tried to skip a few lines to finish quickly, they would stop us and insist that we repeat the story line for line and word by word. They knew the stories, and they didn’t want to miss any part of them.

A good story for children

I believe that children learn language and how to read from stories, probably before they begin to read English grammars in school classrooms. And I believe that youth learn some valuable lessons about growing up from stories like “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, and adults learn about history from stories about George Washington, Lewis and Clark, Daniel Boone, and other famous figures from our past. So stories have many important benefits for all of us beside those of just being interesting entertainment.

I think that the particular format for a story has some important effect on its benefits. I think that it makes a difference whether the story was one that we heard read to us, or one that we read from a book ourselves, or one that we saw depicted in a movie or video like the movie “The Passion of  The Christ” or “Saving Private Ryan”. Some TV dramas, like “Star Trek”,  have taken on the aura of great stories with an almost timeless appeal.

A good story in tradition

And I think that often times embellishments that are added to stories from other stories and cultural traditions hamper or destroy the value of the initial stories. I think that this is what has happened with the initial stories of God’s incarnation in human flesh through the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the resurrection of Jesus from his tomb in Jerusalem thirty-three years later. These stories have been initially recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible.

There is a very interesting and dramatic story about an earlier revolution in Egypt that had some significant consequences on the world. It is the story of God’s deliverance of about two million foreigners after 430 years of service under the dictatorial rule of various Egyptian kings.  The actual exodus of these people occurred with the leadership of Moses who delivered them with God’s help from their positions as slaves under the control of Pharaoh, and the story even includes an account of the destruction of some of the Egyptian army without any of these Israelites even throwing one stone or a spear at their oppressors. It is an amazing story that is found in the Bible in the book of Exodus, chapters 1 through 14, and it really happened although the exact date is uncertain.

And CNN recently reported that the comic book version of ” Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story”, which was published in Arabic and distributed in Cairo in 2008 may have had some influence on the young adults who led a non-violent revolution in January and February of 2011 in the streets of Egypt and in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

So what good stories do you remember? What stories have made a real impression on you and why? What recently popular stories do you feel may have some really good lasting qualities about them? What are those qualities? Do you know a good story you’d like to share? Let’s talk about this.

Good memories

Everyone needs to have some good memories. They can give a person a boast on a gloomy day or when you are caught in a depressing mood. And I think that a person must have some good memories in order to form a good self image.  Parts of  various good memories will be used to form your perception of who you are and how you fit into your world.

You don’t have to spend a long time in a reflective thought in order to benefit from a good memory.  Sometimes just the flash of it across your mind will be enough. But it helps if the good memories are vivid enough and strong enough to be easily available when needed.

I assume that good memories are generated by good experiences…

…Which would be experiences in which you received some positive benefit. And good memories probably come out of relationships, so they probably focus on some positive experience that you had with another person. Although I’m sure that it is possible to have a good memory of a time or place or situation when you were alone, and you had a particularly good experience being there by yourself.

Of course good memories are personal treasures. They are absolutely private. No one can invade them, steal them, manipulate them, or even know about them without your permission. Some drugs or psychological techniques can uncover them to others to some extent, but the memories will always be yours.

Photographs and diaries and journals and scrap books and things like those can help to preserve some good memories, but please note that the permanence of such things is never guaranteed. People have lost generations of family photos and personal records in fires and floods and divorces and other personal tragedies. But memories that are stored in one’s mind cannot be destroyed by such circumstances. Dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease or a stroke or an injury to one’s brain can affect a person’s memories, which often adds a heavy psychological burden to the otherwise physical discomforts of such diseases or injuries. But such personal afflictions are not regular traumas for most people.

So it is well to protect good memories, but what can a person do who may not have many in the first place?

A lot of good memories are created by a happy childhood, but not everyone may have had  that blessing.  And sometimes the youth years are full of new tribulations, and the glorious of young adult independence and graduations and weddings and the fulfillment of career ambitions may not be sustained by many good strong memories. What can a person do when the supply of good memories is very scarce?

As long as a person has the mental capacity to make choices, he or she can be selective in what features or experiences in one’s past one wants to dwell upon. If most of your experiences have been negative or not particularly beneficial, don’t go back there very often or stay there very long. Use your present moment for something that is positive. And a good memory may just be buried under a bunch of “garbage” or some “trash” that should have been discarded a long time ago.  Dig through the “garbage” or the “trash” to find that small “gem” of fleeting friendship or personal victory or a moment of laughter that can provide you with a good memory. For some such small “gems”, I invite you to check out some very brief statements that I have written regarding “good news”. You can read them here: good news.

What do you think is the best source of good memories? What are some of the good memories that bless you? How can a person protect them? What can a person do when he or she only has a very few in his or her “treasure” chest. Let’s talk about this.

A good revolution

The people of Egypt are engaged in a revolution to make some major changes in their government, that is in how the business of their civic lives is managed. But is it a good revolution?It is a noble cause to seek to be free from oppressive forms of government. We here in the United States understand that perfectly well. We engaged in a violent war to secure our independence from the colonial empire of Great Britain, so we understand the value of such freedom.

But we also understand that the benefits of such freedom are not easy to achieve or to maintain. Rules of law and order, even those written into a Constitution and established in a republican or representative form of government, are not always perfect or effective in meeting the changing needs of citizens. We know about this challenge, because our people got engaged in another war to remove the oppression of slavery from our society, but even then there were later riots in our streets with people being killed and property being destroyed to remove some of the causes and effects of prejudice from our society. And these problems are still not completely solved. So we are currently engaged in a “war” of words and political strategies to determine how to make our freely established form of government more responsive to the needs of our citizens and their role in the world.

Personal freedom is nice, but its real value is determined by how well free individuals get along with other free individuals, how they manage their corporate processes when they all have to work together, and how well they are able to get along with their neighbors.  And many individuals in the “free” world are concerned about the end  results of this revolution in Egypt, and others like it, because it is not always clear what form of government is going to be in “power” after the change is made and how effective it will be in enabling the citizens of Egypt to meet their personal needs and to live in peace with their neighbors in the other nations of the world. These concerns are always important, because our world is composed of a lot of “different” people who have a lot of different needs and wants and levels of personal and corporate resources to meet those needs and wants .

There is a very interesting conversation reported in the gospel of John (chapter 3:1-21) in the Bible that touches on this matter of “kingdoms” and civic “saviors”. The conversation took place between Nicodemus, a legal expert from the ruling body of the Jews in ancient Jerusalem, and Jesus whom he recognized as “a teacher” who had “come from God”. So Jesus was someone whom Nicodemus would respect as being wiser than some other consultant or expert in such matters. Jesus makes it clear to Nicodemus in this conversation that Nicodemus is really not able to recognize who it is who comes from “heaven”;  and he really can’t mentally grasp the difference between what is “true” and what is “evil”, that is between what is “light” or illuminating and what is a matter of “darkness” or worldly, in accord with the “heavenly” system of operating a “kingdom”. Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to understand these matters he would have to be “born again”, which means that he would have to start all over with a basic change in the way he thinks. Jesus was telling Nicodemus that in order to understand the nature of a good “kingdom” or who might establish such a one on earth he would have to have his life and the disposition of his mind changed by “the Spirit” that is from “heaven”, that is from God.

The path to a good revolution

I really think that these revolutions and political discussions,  like those in which the people of Egypt are engaged and even those in which we citizens of the United States are currently having,  are going to be basically futile and ineffective until people are basically changed into individuals who can recognize wise leaders who can lead them away from what is “evil” and help them to establish civic forms of government that are basically loving.

One of the basic difficulties in achieving such basic changes is that they can’t be accomplished through laws, that is through legislative political processes. There is no law that has ever been written or even conceived that can make free individuals love others or love those who “rule” over their civic businesses. In religious terminology we don’t need more revolutions, we need a good revival of human transformation in order to become “children” of our “Father” who is in “heaven” who know how to live in peace with their “brothers” and “sisters” in this world.

What do you think of these revolutions that are taking place around the world and the current discussions that are taking place among the citizens and politicians in the United States? What do you really expect them to accomplish? What constitutes a good revolution? Let’s talk about this.

A dose of love

Where can one find a dose of love in today’s words?

There is certainly a lot of talk in our public and private channels of communication since the tragedy in Arizona about the need to “tone down” our political rhetoric and to avoid the use of words that imply or sound like the use of violence in our political processes is OK. Speech that sounds to be hateful or may be interpreted to be “hateful” is to be carefully avoided. This is certainly a good step to reduce some of the tension and dangers in the current way that we are trying to conduct our civic matters of business in this country, but I think that we need to take some steps in a completely opposite direction, which is to “elevate” the content of our rhetoric with a dose of love in the words we use.

Paul’s message about a dose of love

Centuries ago a transformed expert in matters of law, a Jewish Pharisee who is known by the name of Paul, wrote some wise words of instruction to a contentious group of Christians in the city of Corinth. This is what he said: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease, where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)*

That is a tremendous statement that touches on several of the issues that are present in our current dangerous political situation. I think that we need a good dose of love in our talk with each other and certainly in how we treat each other. What do you think? What situations require a dose of love the most? Let’s talk about this.

*Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Hope

In light of the tragic assault upon several government officials and citizens yesterday (1/8/11) in Tucson, AZ, I’m wondering if we can look to the future with much hope. There is a lot of talk going on regarding the causes of this violence. Fingers of blame are being pointed at various individuals of public influence, and the language and tone of our political debates and discussions are being cited as possible contributing factors for this violent act by one “unstable” young man. But I think that the cause of this kind of violence is deeper than the language that we use to discuss our joint courses of action in this country. And it is this cause that dims my expectations for hope in our future.

Hope in our government?

When our legislative bodies of Congress and state and local legislatures can approve bills for various public projects with a simple majority of 51% there is built into the decisions a strong impression of victory for the “powerful” majority and defeat for the “weak” minority. In the current political situation in which we live, where very major changes in some of our public policies and programs are being debated and trillions of dollars of taxes are being quickly spent, there are many causes of “anger” among many voters. But this is not to be unexpected when so much conflict, political fighting, persuasive lobbying, campaigns to gain “numbers” for each side of the “battles” are built into the system for how we conduct our legislative business. And the stage is being set for the ongoing “battles” as we approach the next general election in 2012. The sides are already gathering their ammunition and citing their targets and working to increase their numbers.

Hope in Congress?

I think that is time for Congress and the people to make some basic changes in how we conduct our legislative business in this country. The standard for approval is way too low! A judge in any court of law where the actions of citizens and those of public officials are being debated, except for the Supreme Court, would rule that the jury was “hung” if its approval rate was even as high as  11-1 (which is about 92%).

I think that our present standard for legislative action in this country is only a setup for “power” politics that leaves little chance for much hope in our future. “Might makes right” is the law of the jungle. If we want to live somewhere else than in a “jungle”, we need to move to a higher standard for what is a “right” course of action in how we conduct our legislative business. What do you think? Where can we find hope today? Let’s talk about this.

Comfortable

Forget about trying to be happy this year. Maybe the best that you can hope for is to be more comfortable. In light of all of the problems facing many people today, it might be pretty good to feel comfortable again. That might come with a stronger economy, or probably with the basic benefit of a job, if you are looking for one. You might feel more comfortable and optimistic about the future if you could see Congress really begin to do something about our national debt. Maybe your discomfort is caused by some health problems or concerns for the health of those whom you love. It is hard to be comfortable if you are nervous or worried much of the time.

More Comfortable

Forget about making resolutions for the whole new year. It might be well just to figure out one practical thing that you could do to be more comfortable for several months or more. Being comfortable is a relative matter, being relative to times of discomfort. But in any case it requires that some changes are made, and these changes usually come with some costs. And such costs may be part of the cause of the discomfort. Yet, if you are going to be more comfortable this year, a large part of that comfort is probably going to have to come from your own personal efforts. Perhaps you are mature enough to have learned that very few people can make someone else permanently comfortable, unless it is a doctor who can prescribe a strong drug to kill some one’s pain. And existing in a stupor or sustained by strong drugs is really not living, at least in my opinion.

Are you comfortable?

So, what one thing are you going to do this year to get more comfortable? What change or changes are you going to make in your living situation that you think will improve your level of comfort? Being comfortable for awhile could give you an emotional boost to engage in the next struggle, because you know that there are no guarantees to secure your comfort on the “battlefield” on which we all live. But being comfortable produces a good feeling. Let’s talk about this.

A good king

What makes a good king?

Let’s pretend that you have become king of a vast domain with millions of people under your rule and lots of natural resources available to you and your subjects. You have absolute authority to make the laws and a judicial system to enforce them. Your term of rule is for as long as you are able to function or are forced out of your position by a more powerful individual or you choose to retire from the “throne”.

What laws would you make sure are on the books? Whom would they be designed to benefit and protect? Who would pay for the costs of their provisions?  What priorities would you have for their enforcement? What benefits would you hope to see from their enforcement during the next decade or so?

Perhaps you can recognize that this is not simply a “pretend” situation. Because of your power and authority as a voter, you do have the ability to influence the legislative processes of a “vast domain”. And the consequences of the rules that are set by those to whom you have given legislative power will be felt by the citizens of your realm for decades to come.  As a nation of diverse people we are going through some difficult times and changing circumstances for our lives as individuals and groups of working consumers. And we are expecting our “rulers” to rule wisely, but there may be some real differences between us in regard to what we understand to be good rules of behavior for our common lives and commerce.

Let’s talk about this. How would you answer the above questions? We are entering a time of crisis and change, and how you answer these questions may have some serious consequences for all of us during the next few years. OK “king” what is your will? What is a good king? Let us talk about this.