Do Your Soul A Favor

My goal of posting weekly messages has been on hiatus for about a month, but that does not mean that I have not been writing. There are just a few other projects demanding my attention at this time.

Like most people I am aware and quite concerned about the invasion of the Ukraine by the Russian army in deference to that nation’s political leadership. I have followed some of the news stories posted on-line; a compelling drama which has displaced Covid’s news dominance of the past two years.

Unlike other bloggers, however, I have no insights to share about the outcome of the war or the prospects of a political coup in Russia. What the heartache of this event has inspired in me is the opportunity to suggest to anyone reading this message is to do your soul a favor and access any on-line version of the song This Is My Song performed to the tune of Finlandia or, more specifically, the Finlandia Hymn.

The original musical composition has an interesting an appropriate history of its own. The musical piece written by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1899 was part of a cultural protect performed at an event known as the Press Celebrations of 1899. The protest was against Russian oppression and its resulting censorship of the Finnish press. It would appear, then, that whether ruled by Czars or Bolsheviks, Russian methodology does not change. Freedom is not in their vocabulary.

Sibelius’ composition is, for the most part, rather turbulent in keeping with the since of oppression under which Finlanders then lived. But there is a section near the end of the piece which has been excised for the purpose of making use of its pleasantly melodic qualities for choral purposes. One version is the Finlandia Hymn, which proclaims a new birth of freedom when Finland gained its independence. Another use is the Christian hymn, Be Still, My Soul.

For my purposes, the lyrics I would like to promote as a song of hope in light of the developments in the Ukraine is the 1934 version by Lloyd Stone. His is a song of universal peace, acknowledging that the love he has for his own country is a sentiment shared by others around the world for the land they live in and love equally well. His lyrics are neither red nor blue, east nor west, occidental nor Asiatic.  

So do your soul a favor. Access this song on-line. Perhaps learn the words and sing them in response to the evil that men do.

This is my song, O God of all the nations;
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh, hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

PS – Thank you YouTuber Tarja M for the history lesson on Sibelius’ composition.

In the Shadow of Success

Just before launching on my extensive road trip mid-January, I received via e-mail a public announcement concerning a major gift pledged to the Kelch Aviation Museum in Brodhead, WI. This was more than good news for the museum It was an encouraging message for me as well. Not that I am involved in the management of the museum, but I did provide my fund raising counsel on their capital campaign and this public statement was an affirmation of the campaign’s success.

The museum is managed by a friend from my days at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, WI. Pat Weeden, the executive director at Kelch, was a MC member, who helped me with creating content for our website as well as – and more importantly for me – the know-how for posting weekly web log messages. My routine of writing under the nom de plume of Management in Exile originated with my commitment to write about the operations at Mid-Continent as a means of providing our members and donors with the ability to monitor a transparent and accountable operation.

Fast forward to my first tour of the Kelch Aviation Museum with Pat as a newly minted and only employee. It was little more than a collection of vintage but unseen artifacts hidden behind the doors of various small hangers. It was Pat’s dream to construct a larger building where he could gather the entire collection in one viewable and properly interpreted space. He further envisioned a separate building with adequate meeting space for educational programs and archival storage.

Big dreams come with big price tags, which can be daunting to the uninitiated in fund raising for a small non-profit organization. My friend Pat asked for my advice, which I gladly gave in return for all the years of free advice he gave me on web site construction and for the sake of friendship. We sat together over lunch and devised a three phase capital campaign, which contained my staples for success.

First: devise a plan. Maybe I should say plans, plural, when discussing a capital campaign. One plan is for the physical layout, which then lends itself to creating visuals for the fund raising effort itself, which is plan two. This is where the dreaming stops. The plan must be reasonable and attainable, which does not mean that it must be small. Capital campaigns typically entail vast amounts of money and to raise big bucks requires a strategy so that there is no wasted effort on unlikely prospects. I say this as one who has often been advised to simply call up Warren Buffet to supply all the money we need. Unless you are Warren’s bridge partner, ala Bill Gates, this technique does not work.

Second: work the plan. When the time comes to start construction, the general contractor will follow the blueprints and specifications for the physical plant. The same must be done with the fund raising plan. It is easy to give up part way through the campaign since there is a usual burst of early gifts followed by the doldrums of diminished cash flow. But never give up. Work the plan. This requires a large dose of foolish optimism, but you will find in life that the optimists hold the key to success. With them there is less likelihood of quitting midstream.

Third: expect the unexpected. Unplanned gifts find their way to a proven entity. In the non-profit world one must gain a donor’s confidence by proving one’s competence in order to prompt a pragmatic donor’s gift. There is no way to plan for this. The timing, source and amount are simply not knowable to include in the fund raising plan at the outset. But I have seen it happen, where some donors wait to see if you have any reasonable chance at success and then they step in to help you achieve your goal. This happened to Pat. The directors of a solicited foundation waited to see if the Kelch Aviation Museum could complete the initial campaign for phases one and two. They have now unexpectedly stepped in to fund phase three on condition that the design be enhanced and named for the foundation’s own founders. Surprise! Their financial gift will create a more attractive physical plant and meet Pat’s original purpose of his museum.

Fourth: celebrate your success. This is typically done with a grand opening. The design for what takes place is variable, but you do want to honor your major donors publicly, unless they have specified anonymity as a condition of their gifts. Personally I like to stage these events with food, drink and live entertainment. It is a celebration, after all, and in this country that usually means providing the means for becoming satiated with all manner of delectable delights.

Having been a partial participant in someone else’s campaign, it occurs to me that I must add a point five to my overall strategy as an advisor. Standing in the shadow of another’s success is the appropriate place for a consultant to be. It cheapens the effort for an advisor to claim glory and by so doing upstaging one’s client, even a pro bono one. Humility is a virtue best suited for the advocates of success. Let others bask in the glory of a completed campaign. You know what you’ve done to help them get there and should find all the solace you need for your efforts waiting for you somewhere in the shadows.

Journey’s End

My prior two messages included subtle hints about my travels with a friend, while trying to finish off a series about outcomes. The outcome of the series is that it has ended and so has our journey driving the least traveled roads to an array of appealing destinations.

Reflecting on our miles traversed and the places seen, as well as the hidden gems of culinary delight, I can only say that the journey was refreshing for me as well as my traveling companion, who I originally viewed as the one who needed the healing that comes with discovery.

Culture, history, the beauty of our natural wonders all contributed their share to the soul’s illumination. Outward bound I was doubtful of the value of the occasion for me personally. Arrived, I am likely the better of the two of us for having made the trip.

No matter the destination, a significant part of the discovery was internal, apprising the self we too easily neglect for its familiarity. Crossing the Smoky Mountains on a two-lane highway in winter, walking the paths at Bellingrath and seeing the first vestiges of flowers in bloom amid the cold deep seated briskness of the air coming in from the Gulf leaves one enlivened despite the chill or perhaps because of it.

The virtue of our daily passages was reflected in our conversations. Without the certitude of solving problems, the blessing was in the nature of contentment as a guide for experiencing life without the need for control.

I am open to the possibility of a new career as a tour therapist. The open road simply provides the means to enthuse on any topic of interest, no matter how personal. Windshield time offers a parallel universe, where the id of all matters seems to be invincible.

So the highway beckons. Have car, will travel. There are many more destinations, which remain new and inviting to the therapeutic tourist. It just takes someone to share the joy of going there and back again as another contented traveler once upon a time enthused about his own discoveries.

Self-Control

We have arrived at the last topic of the virtues I have labeled as outcomes. The manager in me regards outcomes as the changes in thinking and beliefs, which alter our future actions. The spiritual; zealot in me has absconded with a New Testament passage written by the Apostle Paul to a small group of fledgling believers to help them understand what changes should be evident in light of their choice to abandon what we now call their pagan beliefs. There are nine: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The Greek word the great apostle absconded with to enliven his readers’ imaginations was used in a purely secular manner by the Greeks to indicate the discipline of an athlete. While Paul certainly meant his concept of self-control to be about something other than the rigors of physical training, the commonality we should consider is the necessity of self-denial. Athletes in training, as we see them today, alter their entire lifestyle as they submit to a routine of vigorous training to develop greater strength and dexterity to perform at their best. This leaves me at a loss to boast of any accolades for my own spiritual prowess.

As I wrote last week, I am on a lengthy road trip with a friend, who needs a trained guide dog to navigate the day-to-day challenges of a life less lived. We have meandered our way through six states and nearly the full breadth of American history as we have made stops to sample the lives and times of our various predecessors still on display thanks to the efforts of those who maintain our priceless heritage. Of course anyone who is familiar with my own career path as a museum administrator will safely assume that I am orchestrating the stops we make as part of my therapy program for my traveling companion.

The downside of this adventure is that it has left me little time for writing. This accounts for the brevity of this message and the tardiness of getting it posted. Sadly I am not providing a favorable example of self-control. Instead I would like to defer back to last week’s message about gentleness and say that I have had more success with that outcome than I have with number nine in the sequence.

I am also going to make a deft maneuver and rely on a message written last year about temperance since some versions of Paul’s list of outcomes use this word instead of self-control. Then I was relying on the Latin word temperantia used by Cicero to translate Plato’s use of the Greek word sophrosyne to indicate the virtue ofmoderation. Admittedly this is not the same as Paul’s admonition towards the beyond normal demands to which an athlete submits. But I am desperate to add some content of value before I close and head off to our next destination and this is the best I can do.

What Cicero and Plato were after was moderation in our basic appetite for food, drink, and sex. Self-denial is the discipline they have in common with Paul. And while the good apostle expressed other thoughts on reining in our dependence on delicacies of various types to satisfy these three appetites, his admonition was meant to direct us towards something more. There are few in my estimation who can honestly do this concept justice as evidenced by the behaviors we see that make the demanding scrutiny of the social media. This means I am in large company when considering my spiritual deficiencies.

Gentleness

I am on a road trip to help nurse a friend back to some semblance of mental health. He can’t seem to see beyond the demons of the past and I can’t seem to see beyond the demons of the road. Maybe I should say, then, that we are on an adventure for mutual recovery.

Rule one in this process is that we will stay off the interstate as we travel. Rule two is that there are no other rules. Rule one is sufficient. In my mind that means avoiding the I-system of hectic highways in preference for those two-lane blacktops roaming through rural scenes and undisturbed landscapes. In my traveling companion’s mind it means the avoidance of threadbare memories and the people who haunt them.

Studying maps and repeatedly asking Siri for guidance doesn’t leave me with much time to write. The meaning behind this dilemma is that this week’s message will be brief; a disappointment to me since the subject is gentleness and I could use a refresher course right now in light of my mission.

The definition for this particular virtue, at least the one I am most partial to, is softness of action or effect.

Softness to me is not synonymous with weakness. A physically strong person can have a soft touch. He or she can be one as well. An emotionally strong person, though, is guaranteed of possessing a soft touch for the benefit of others. Therefore it would behoove me to submit to some kind of emotional workout during this road trip in order to fulfill my responsibilities as leader and reluctant saint.

In truth the sainthood belongs to my muse for this series on what I have termed outcomes. My inspiration is a claim made by the Apostle Paul of New Testament fame, who said that the outcomes from being spiritually and emotionally mature are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Nine in all and we are now at the penultimate of these proposed outcomes.

The image I carry with me about being gentle is taken from the beautifully insightful words of an ancient sage, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. He wrote of God’s servant as one possessing a soft touch in combination with a strong arm. His statement, written in awe of such a person, proclaimed:

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

This statement comes from a lengthier passage about the deliverance of an entire nation. Our own could use such stealthy support right now. As I travel down a little used bypath in conversation with my friend, my words, tone and intent have to suffice as the strong arms of a makeshift shepherd carrying his wandering charge in a compassionate manner.

Turns in the road can be ominous. Being disoriented, as when the sunset seems to be happening in the east, is a given. Asking Siri for help is not to be construed as a prayer, but her guidance is sought and appreciated as she occupies her other-worldly status as oracle. If only she could answer the existential questions of my friend’s most arcane delusions, then this journey just might have a happy ending. Unfortunately she tells me, in her own gentle manner, that she can only discern right front left, not right from wrong or good from evil. Selah.  We venture on in belief that all who wander are not lost. Thank you for the gentle assurance, Mr. Tolkien.

Faithfulness

Faithfulness is a dog. The animal’s innate devotion to humans has earned it the sobriquet of being our best friend. Faithfulness is also this week’s topic in a series based on a more than two thousand year old list of attributes one can only describe as being transcendent. Who knew dogs could be ecclesiastical as well as housebroken?

The list in question was compiled by the Apostle Paul in an attempt to identify what should be innate to anyone who self-identifies as a follower of a former carpenter. Paul used fruit as his metaphor in place of my canine allusion, perhaps since it would be all the more readily applicable to the concept of a nourishing harvest to enrich the lives of others.

What the apostle sought in the performance of those he counseled was a bounty consisting of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We can easily call these things virtues, but in this series I’ve repurposed them to be outcomes, the changes in thought and behavior resulting from experiences others have invested in us by the example of their own lives.

We can be more humane in our exposition about faithfulness than looking solely at our canine devotees. By this I mean that we can find human examples of faithfulness, or at least attempts at this virtue, within our own two-legged species. People we might call team players are faithful, whether to their fellow team members or the cause for which the team has been assembled. Think marriage.

This two-person team pledges faithfulness to one another no matter the circumstances; wealth or poverty, health or sickness, joy or sorrow, happiness or despair. We old dogs even pledged our sexual fidelity to our partner by making the commitment to forsake all others, a declaration often missing from today’s wedding vows – a hedge indicating faithfulness may have its limits.

We are a situational people. Ethics, morals (if you allow for them), and commitments hinge on specific situations. We boast of these things when they are convenient, but eschew them when not. Often this means when are in the presence of those whose politics are more confrontational than our own.

Faithfulness, though, is not conditional or situational. Dogs do not care about our politics. One cannot imagine Lassie refusing to rescue someone because they are an anti-vaxxer. Dogs and other household pets benefit from the protection from rabies and distemper vaccinations bring and would likely follow the recommendations of the CDC, even though they cannot comprehend the efficacy of the science behind the painful jab that delivers the promise of good health.

Faithfulness prompts truth conveyed with compassion. And it still invokes friendship when the recipient of an inconvenient truth lashes out at the message bearer. The faithful bring comfort. We know this to be true. How else could a person with the temperament of a Lucy Van Pelt convey the insight that happiness is a warm puppy? Perhaps it would be best for us if our society did go to the dogs. We just might find happiness (and faithfulness) there.

Goodness

I’ve been working my way through a list of nine attributes as part of a series on what I am calling outcomes. This stems from my manager’s mentality in which inputs become outputs in the hope of generating outcomes, a change in the recipient’s attitude and behavior.

But I am no longer a manager, so this series draws on something much more personal as we look at what many people would consider virtues conveniently merged by me into this input-output-outcome process. My rationale in doing so is simple: whatever virtues motivate us during the adult phase of our lives exist because of the inputs others invested in us during our formative years.

We must have behaved ourselves back then, more or less, exhibiting the outputs of this training by our parents, extended family members, teachers, coaches and various other mentors. The evidence on display in our pursuit of being model citizens comprise the outputs of this intensely personal and rather subjective process. What we’ve retained in our adult status, when we are most able to exercise our independence, are the virtues which motivate our unbridled behavior, when the adults are no longer present to prompt an acceptable response.

If you buy into that line of reasoning then we can commence with today’s message, the topic of which is goodness. It follows closely on the heels of a sequence devised by the Apostle Paul in trying to guide – as a spiritual parent – the behavior of his spiritually immature charges.  Goodness is topic number six; the five previous being love, joy, peace, patience and kindness.

The Greek word the astute apostle employed in his list of appropriate behaviors was agathosyne. There’s nothing profound about this word, but anyone named Agatha might be pleased to learn that the source of her name is rooted in the classical sense of goodness or wellbeing. On the other hand there might be some grave disappointment in learning that the popularity of Agatha as a girl’s name has severely declined over the past hundred years or so. It seems to reflect the prevailing though increasingly condescending attitude towards the concept of being good as – dare we say it – deplorable.

Goodness has, in fact, fallen on hard times. Good guys, like bad guys, finish last. To be good is to be mocked with the pejorative term “goody two-shoes.” Good people are weak, bland, repressed and easily confused with a doormat. That is why I choose to switch the basis of my essay on goodness from the classical to the ancestral, exchanging the Greek for the Hebrew in order to understand what Paul had in mind, when he admonished his followers to be good (among other things).

One ancient Hebrew word, towb, had many applications, which served to inform a young Saul of Tarsus (aka the Apostle Paul) as an input in his adolescent development. The ethical treatment of others was good. So was the moral choice to hate evil. Good food was pleasing. A good harvest was plentiful. A good time was joyful. A good year brought prosperity. Precious things were rare as well as good. And anything beneficial for others was good. When we consider the multidimensional aspects of being good, we just might realize that it is not a bad place in which to find one’s self. 

Sadly, this is not the case. No less a Christian celebrity than the Puritan poet John Milton likely sealed goodness’ fate with his portrayal of Satan as the more colorful and thereby more appealing character in his epic masterpiece Paradise Lost. The Evil One’s defiant claim that it is “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven” is the defining truism for every hedonist and malevolent manipulator. The bloodless persona of goodness by comparison lacks the sinister virility of a date with Purgatory.

So would someone help me, please, in making a case for hardcore goodness?

Kindness

One of those childhood memories, which lingers with me – though it has little to do with anything of importance to my childish interests – was an assignment in grade school to do a dramatic reading of a lyric about racial prejudice. We did this in unison as a class.

On the surface this seems like something out of the recent conflicts over the teaching of CRT in today’s schools. But this event took place more than sixty years ago, when I was about ten years old – or thereabouts.

The song lyric was from the Broadway musical South Pacific. I didn’t know that until a few years later, when I saw the movie version. In that presentation the actor John Kerr sang to the lovely Mitzi Gaynor about having to be “carefully taught” to hate based on racial differences. His musical insights followed a clearly stated premise that one is not born with any ethnic bias. It must be learned.

The song was controversial in that post World War II era, when Jim Crow attitudes still held sway. Rogers and Hammerstein, the creators of the musical based on James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, claimed it was the theme on which the entire production hinged. They refused to remove it from the stage play, which subsequently secured its inclusion in the movie adaptation as well.

I mention this childhood episode for the simple reason that I think it takes even greater care to carefully teach someone how to be kind. Virtues are not endemic. They derive from experience, usually instilled in us by word and deed from those we love and admire. As a result they become outcomes of our nature and produce behaviors, which in keeping with this week’s message include acts of kindness.

For this series I am working my way through a list of what I consider to be outcomes as presented in a letter of more than two thousand years vintage. It was written by a man of Hebrew heritage for an audience of mixed ethnic members in a Greek city governed by Roman authorities. Within this cultural concoction of conflicting influences the Apostle Paul encouraged his readers to exhibit the qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I have already written, no doubt inadequately, about the first four qualities. It’s time for me to consider the merits of kindness.

The Greeks, whose language Paul used to reach a global audience, had a word for it; chrestotes. Its implication was one of moral goodness producing a variety of actions designed to benefit others. Things have not changed much over the millennia as we have also been encouraged, through marketing like messages, to commit random acts of kindness to counter the prevalence of selfish, destructive behaviors.

A survey of the stories that make the news and dominate social media might prompt us to decide the advocates of kindness have failed. But I would say that kindness rarely makes the news. It’s simply not violent, manipulative or sexy enough to matter. Controversy reigns.

For me on the other hand, I once fell in love with someone whose very expression was infused with kindness. Tone of voice supported my perception of the illumination behind her eyes and the manner in which she attended to others’ needs, mine own included. Physical beauty was a bonus. That she said yes to my proposal was just as astounding to me then as it is now, some fifty years later.

Much has changed during that time, but not the essential qualities which comprise her heart and mind; kindness being one of them. I’ve come to believe she simply can’t help herself. The lessons carefully taught her when a child have held claim to her soul with no less certainty than pigmentation determines the resolute color of our skin.

Here are six takeaways from a lifetime of marveling at the art of kindness on display in my most intimate of relationships.

Whenever we were in a group my wife had an innate commitment to speak with everyone present. If she were a politician we would call it working the room. With her, however, it was a statement about the importance of even the least auspicious personage within her reach.

Every contact began with a smile; an unconditional, wordless statement of goodwill. I never saw her gesture rejected.

Each conversation was a Q&A session. My wife asked the questions – always concerning the interests of the other person, who reciprocated by sharing information of the most personal nature, confident that such insights would be held in confidence by someone emerging as a new best friend forever.

Where kindness proved to be appalling, within my way of thinking at least, was in my wife’s tendency to create a sense of mutual identity with such phrases as “I know exactly how you feel” or – even worse – “I’ve done exactly the same thing.” These twin phrases usually followed a person’s admission to some weakness I could not countenance. In my mind, we weren’t that bad.

Before these one-sided telling exchanges were over, my wife made sure to mention the other person’s name at least once. Dale Carnegie informed us in his 1936 masterpiece How to Win Friends and Influence People that a person’s name was the most important word – to them – in the English language (unless you spoke French or some other foreign gibberish). My wife was apparently a Carnegie acolyte.

Somehow conversations ended without ever saying the word “Good-bye”. My guess is that it created an implied promise of a future meeting, which in turn likely left the impression with her counterpart of being likeable.

I would say that the above items provide an outline of human kindness on the make.

Kindness may lack the depth and the risk of compassion, but that is okay. Kindness is much more flexible in its outward expressions. Kindness allows us to be anonymous in our giving and humble in our magnanimity. We offer someone else precedence at in a place in line. They respond with a thank you. It is a matter of give and give in return. Try it. It is an inexpensive way to create happiness.

Patience (Again)

This current series concerns the examination of a list of nine items people often identify as virtues: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

For my part I consider them to be outcomes; the consequence of things learned which alter our thinking and subsequently our behavior. Such things are acquired by various means, partly by being human. We are – as the saying goes – hardwired towards a cooperative or compliant nature in order to survive within the sanctity of a stable community. More often, I think, we are hardwired to learn from those we love or admire; the family we are born into, the teachers we are assigned to and the friendships we cultivate by either convenience or choice. Pure instinct has its limits.

To the spiritually astute, you will recognize this list as coming from the writings of the Apostle Paul during the early development of the several isolated Christian communities. His surviving text is in the form of a common Greek language of Paul’s day to which I refer as the best way to understand what the apostle meant when compiling his list.

The word at hand is makrothumia, typically translated as patience or steadfastness. In the King James Version of the Bible it is translated as long-suffering. It is a compound word derived from makro meaning long and thumia meaning temper. It was used by the Greeks in reference to those who chose to withstand painful suffering without complaint, endured some displeasure or merely waited, bidding their time instead of actively pursuing instant gratification. No matter which situation was applicable at the time, it was understood by our classic forebears that patience was a choice not an imposition.

I wrote about patience back in October, when I was following an outline about virtue established by Professor Karen Swallow Prior in her book On Reading Well. She took the position that “,,, the virtue of patience entails much more than merely waiting. The essence of patience is the willingness to endure suffering.” I would contend that the classic concept of patience involves the willingness to accept the consequences of our decisions. Suffering maybe, but more often than not it is simply a matter of keeping one’s sense of anxious expectation under control until the desired result is achieved. For this we need to understand that there is no guarantee about duration. Life is open ended that way.

Suffering is something Paul and other early church leaders had in mind as they dealt with the reality of persecution from the ethnic and religious phobias of their day. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote in his letter: Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:10-11)

James counseled patience in the face of suffering and his perspective is, admittedly, one of coping with more than a mild inconvenience. What I have underlined, though, is a point which I think is very important for us to remember. We may even find encouragement in it as we await whatever goal launched us on the path of patience to begin with.

We are always being observed and those who watch us make assessments of the situation and our character based on what they see. James notes for us that when we persevere, those around us see what we endure and how we manage any attendant hardships. They may not call us blessed, as that is a rather archaic concept in our post-modern era. But the good people among us will empathize, even when they lack the personal experience to understand the depth of our commitment.

I have seen this in the three friends of mine who have undergone chemotherapy in this past year. All three have done so without complaint despite what one of them calls “rat poison” being introduced into their already fragile systems. The response by us onlookers and well-wishers is universally favorable as we heap praise on them for their patient endurance of the treatment.

If you could sit down and talk to each one of them I think you would find that the patience you see exhibited in how they have handled their respective situations is the outcome of what they have learned since childhood and not a recent addition to their arsenal of stout character. Patience drives their response to these challenges, which cannot be ignored or avoided.

Patience is possible as it directs our attention towards a better day. Patience believes in, relies on hope as should we all.

Peace

This is part four in our continuing series about outcomes. These are changes in behavior based on a change in perception, causing us to repent (to turn around and go in another direction) of our former practices.

Challenges about the spoiling of our natural resources led many of us to adopt a discipline of recycling paper, metal and certain plastics as a remedial effort to mitigate the carnage. The evidence changed our thinking, which in turn changed our behavior; the outcome of a campaign to save the earth for the benefit of future generations.

One of the most successful campaigns of this type was the Great Smoke Out of the 1970s. It was a one-day challenge to stop smoking in light of medical research linking smoking to lung cancer. Held annually, it is now a forgotten relic of persuasion due to its magnificent success. Smokers went from being the suave majority with considerable economic clout, to being pariahs of a zombiesque stature, proving that outcomes can create meaningful paradigm shifts.

My own purpose for writing about outcomes, though, is personal and not commercial or political and thereby far less likely to make the network news than a stop smoking campaign. I am using a list of nine outcomes proposed by a radical thinker of a different era, the Apostle Paul of New Testament fame. For the sake of full disclosure I will gladly admit to being an adherent of the one who caused Paul to flip his affiliation from avowed Pharisee to a pie in the sky zealot. So I cannot deny a bias in finding these outcomes to possess a certain potency in favorably shaping our lives and benefiting the people who are closest to us.

So far I have done my trifling best to expound on the merits of love and joy as drivers of our behavior. This week’s message is about peace, which for the Greeks – on whose language we are dependent for knowing what Paul meant – was the absence of division. To be at peace is to be joined together. Unity is the hallmark of peaceful relations. I stress this because it is evident in the items that do make the network news that we are not at peace with one another in this country or elsewhere.

Paul’s advice about peace from a Christian perspective is that it is to govern our lives. His application was solely to that first generation of believers for which he held a proprietary concern as their spiritual father. His admonition pointed out that they were members of one entity he termed the body of Christ and therefore they were to be united by being at peace with one another. His fear was that the composition of these early home-church groups would cause the members from otherwise disparate economic and ethnic castes to be at continual odds with one another to the point of eventually destroying a pacifist movement before it even started. We see such a cultural disintegration in our own social fabric today.  

That Paul could also write that the peace we feel within surpasses all understanding indicates to me at least that it is not a naturally inherent part of being human. To borrow – ironically – from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the outcome of peace in our lives leads to actions that mark us being superhuman. I follow the theory espoused by another first generation Christian that “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:18

The “R” word is not a term we readily use in today’s world. It smacks of having a Pollyanna attitude in an otherwise cruet and pessimistic society. But righteousness is merely a word indicating correct moral behavior. For James, the author of this statement, that would mean the morality of the Old Testament as he was a Jew by birth. He is also believed to be the brother of Jesus, the perpetrator of all this subversive religious fervor. But here we find a value in the concept of peace that would benefit our own wellbeing in the midst of our national conflicts today.

The Old Testament writers, particularly those designated as prophets, claimed that Israel’s problems stemmed from the lack of justice among its political and religious leaders. The measure of the injustice they witnessed was to be found in how widows, orphans and aliens were treated. Applying that concept to the issues of our day, we could restate James’ proclamation to read “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of social justice.”

A recent article in a national magazine bemoaned the perpetual conflict within the U.S. and targeted certain profiteers of divisiveness as the culprits. The article’s subtitle, however, served to undermine the article’s well-intentioned premise as it promised to provide an antidote for how we might “fight” this type of destructive influence. The subtitle brought to mind a popular anti-war slogan of the Viet Nam era: Fighting for peace is like balling for chastity.”

Peacemaking, not fighting, is the solution. The promised outcome of a harvest in what is morally right portends another one of those paradigm shifts for the benefit of future generations. May that prove to be true.