If you’ve ever driven ‘cross country on Saturday night you might have tuned-in to PBS’s PRAIRE HOME COMPANION, a weekly broadcast of Garrison Keilor, onetime resident of the ill-fitted Lake Wobegone, and modern satirical comedian.
The show is “sponsored” by the fictitious product “Powdermilk Biscuits,” whose slogan is “Made from whole wheat raised in the rich bottomlands of the Lake Wobegon river valley by Norwegian bachelor farmers; so you know they’re not only good for you, but pure … mostly,” which “give shy people the strength to get up and do what needs to be done. Heavens they’re tasty and expeditious.” Powdermilk Biscuits has its own theme song, sung by Keillor every week. And NO, I’m not going to sing it for you.
It has always been fascinating to me how something can be “mostly pure.” I question this every time I read the ingredients listed on our food products. “Mostly pure?!?” I think. What does that mean? I also think of it at funerals when people speak of the deceased as “a good man.” It’s the reflection in their voice that gives me pause— like they’re trying to convince themselves of it.
Defining anything as mostly pure causes me to wonder if we even know what pure actually is anymore. A girl who is a virgin is defined as pure as she approaches marital status. “Pure 100% Virgin Olive Oil” makes me curious about what the other olive oils are. Are they like Dove Soap— “99.99% pure.” It’s almost as if being described as pure is derogatory, especially if you are a young lass. I mean, who wants to marry someone who is still a virgin!?! Really.
Our culture doesn’t seem concerned with being pure in any way whatsoever, whether it be sexually, morally, politically, or in family and business priorities and commitments. Why is that?
Here are just four causes for our loss of concern for purity—
1. We’ve become jaded. Thanks to modern media we can learn everything about anybody. It’s on the Internet, in the Tabloids, and on Headline News. We’ve grown accustomed to our public figures, be they politicians, athletes, or celebrities, being “dirty” in some way. And we simply accept it.
2. It’s all about winning. UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell (“Red”) Sanders has said “Winning isn’t everything: it’s the ONLY thing!” (1950) Win at all costs, by skill, cheating, trickery…, whatever. Just win!
3. Our base concern is the Bottom-Line. Making money is the only thing that matters. Screw anybody, just to make a buck. Remember the Wall Street broker’s answer to the question? “How much money is enough?” “More!” That’s why lawyers are brought in to arbitrate an agreement. It is assumed that both parties will write the contract in their favor exclusively. Purity and fairness never come into the equation.
4. A total abnegation of personal and corporate (not to mention governmental) Integrity. We no longer have a problem with disguising a lie as a truth, or with omitting certain data to make ourselves look better. Pragmatism has supplanted personal integrity in unfathomable ways.
To change this cultural-life pattern is no simple task. But we must start (yes, again) to correct our ways before God and our fellow men & women. Might I suggest we start with our own lives and relationships, and then press on to demand some degree of personal integrity and purity from our cultural leaders? 99.99% is sounding pretty good. Mostly pure!
For what it’s worth,
(CNN)— Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old who said she had terminal brain cancer, took medication to end her life under Oregon’s ‘Death with Dignity Act,’ advocacy group Compassion & Choices said Sunday.
“Brittany chose to make a well thought out and informed choice to Die With Dignity in the face of such a terrible, painful, and incurable illness,” a post on her website said. “She moved to Oregon to pass away in a little yellow house she picked out in the beautiful city of Portland.”
In a statement, Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy group that has been working closely with Maynard, said she “died as she intended – peacefully in her bedroom, in the arms of her loved ones.”
Brittany Maynard was an incredible young woman. She lived her life as she saw fit. And she ended her life as she saw fit; not enduring the agony of a terminal brain cancer, but rather choosing to die with dignity, foregoing further deterioration and suffering.
Some years ago my friend Tom faced the same choice. At age 24 he started feeling like something was very wrong. It was. His body was spotted with all kinds of cancerous cells. Like Brittany, he too made it almost to his 29th birthday, dying just 3 days before. Unlike Brittany, Tom chose to endure the pain and suffering, the loss of mobility and, eventually, mind. His death, too, was surrounded by family and friends.
Why did Tom make his decision to suffer to the end, rather than to end his life with dignity? Tom trusted in God for his life and did not believe he had a right to tamper with the decision to end it.
So, what is it to die with dignity? In Brittany’s heart and mind she believed she made the honorable, dignified decision. Tom made a different decision. Was his death any less dignified than Brittany’s? This comparison raises a serious philosophical question. Death is a complex issue. Who is the final arbiter of our passing? Soldiers sacrifice their lives for the lives of their comrades-in-arms; family members willingly put their lives on the line to save a brother, a sister, a child, a wife. But giving your life for another is not the same as taking your own life. The first is sacrificial; the second is self-centered.
The question is— Do we have the right to make the decision to end our life? In many ways I can understand Brittany’s decision. In so many other ways, I cannot. It benefited her tremendously, I suppose. But it also deprived those she loved the experience of processing her death with her; through pain, suffering, disorientation, and the end. But can we truly call it death with dignity when her death was actually assisted suicide? She believed she was dead already. I believed she deprived those who loved her from their responsibility and joy of caring for her to the bitter end.
Determining the morality of Brittany’s decision is something we need to discuss in this culture. Her choice should give us pause about our own ethic, or lack thereof, when facing our own mortality. We really do not want to think about such things until our own life is at stake.
If the truth be known, we chose not to think much about anything smacking of ultimate realities. It is simply much easier to let life carry us on from one event to the next. This is not very smart. Sooner or later we will all have to face the tougher questions in life— some sooner than later. But if we do not face them, life will seem very cruel when it takes us by surprise.
If we accept Brittany’s choice to take her own life (suicide) then we have progressed (?) to the point of convenient functionality in our society. If your father is failing, help him end his life. If your child is dying, do the same. Or maybe we need to establish a maximum age, say 70, beyond which the elderly are deemed non-productive and useless in contributing further to our society.
We have finally fulfilled Earnest Hemmingway’s social prophesy—
“Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
~For Who the Bell Tolls (1940)
It was a lovely dinner at their favorite restaurant with appetizers, wine, a beautifully presented main course and a special dessert, prearranged with the chef by John. Following a lengthy explanation the nature of commitment proclaiming his deep love for her, and a declaration of intent-to-marry, Sam dropped to one knee, gazed into Susannah’s eyes, and said those four heart throbbing words— Will you marry me?
She, of course, said yes! They were engaged. Over the next few weeks they excitedly told family and friends about their intended path toward matrimony, choose invitations, booked a place for the wedding/reception, and groveled at their parents’ feet for the $50,000 to pay for it all. They had much to discuss. Do I hear $12,000?
One night after watching a movie together, John slipped in the idea of having a prenuptial agreement, to assure their commitment would always last. Susannah was less than enthusiastic.
To be sure, contracts are meant to protect both parties in case something goes wrong with their commitment to each other. In business, that’s wise. In marriage? It seems more like a guarantee of temporary bliss followed by eventual failure.
The sad thing is that too many contracts are designed with loop-holes that can be used to default on the commitment. We think— If things don’t go perfectly (read- the way I want them to), then I’ll just sneak out of this one. Be it in a marriage or a merger, if we don’t get everything we want— we end it.
There are many reasons these escape clauses are slipped into contracts. One of the main reasons is that, over centuries, people have come to learn that they cannot trust one another, in business or in marriage. “I have to protect my own self first.” If people were inherently good this would not be a problem of course; but history shows otherwise.
Thus do we compromise on our commitments. We find those loop-holes that we can slip through and so slip our way out of the spirit of the agreement, though not the letter of the contract. We renege on our commitments in relationships, in business, and in life in general; all to protect ourselves and then the other parties.
What would happen if we put the other person or company first? What if the contract or marriage vow assured blessing and safety for the other first? Could we possibly be hurt or betrayed? Of course. But we would also be on our way to changing this world.
Remaining honorable in commitments rules out subsequent confrontation later. Win/Win is always the best option.
For what it’s worth,
Staying in control is probably the #1 value of most people in Western Society. Being out of control is scary; it is always lurking just below the surface of our consciousness. Personal security, personal independence, and personal significance are our TOP priorities (after food and shelter.) We have this innate fear of being out-of-control.
Some people take it too far; becoming micro-managers at work and a home. They must be hands-on and on-top of everything. If this attitude becomes embedded in a person’s psyche it creates issues of trust and insecurity. Even close friends do not want to be around them. Sometimes, it causes people to hide their true selves from those outside and to cocoon within a private world of fantasy or fear. This is not good for the soul.
However, there is another path to be taken for those who draw their strength and define their identity from somewhere beyond this present realm. It is for those who have decided that being in-control isn’t as safe and secure as they once thought. It is for those who are tired of working so feverishly to have power over everything around them. It is for those who are ready to let go.
Moving beyond being in control is frightening and terrifying. It means that you are consciously removing yourself from the button, the control switch, from being the central figure around whom all others must revolve. You must become such a person who will put your faith, your trust, in others, and, quite frankly, in God.
Why is it that we rise to our point of success in life, only to find a ceiling of doubt and emptiness at the top? The reason is that we were not meant to climb this ladder in isolation, as individuals; we were designed to do it in relationships: first, in relationships with those around us, and second, in relationship with the God who made us. This is not rocket-surgery; it is an obvious observance.
We must move beyond being in control to trust, to delegation, both of responsibility and authority, and to letting go. [Listen— Paul Cardall. Letting Go. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUONnfHb7a8 ]. It is in letting go of control that we lose our tightness, our fears, our need for dominance, and put on the cloak of grace.
If you truly want to lead, then you must move beyond being in control and learn to let go.
For what it’s worth,
When I was quite young, 12-13, I dabbled in magic. Nothing serious at first, but then it started to draw me in. there are, of course, simple tricks that can be done with slight-of-hand or through hidden mechanical devices. These were simple and fun presentations that astonished my fellow 13 year olds. But the more I got into the sport of magic the deeper I wanted to go.
Toying with the deeper aspects of magic was exciting. Then it grew subtly darker, alluring me and luring me in, to a point where it became increasingly uncomfortable. There came over me a sense of exhilaration at the prospect of manipulating this darker power; until one performance where things got terribly out of control. I had gone too far; I was in too deep and I knew it.
That was probably the first time I had ever prayed in my life. Not one of those Now I lay me down to sleep…, prayers: more like— O my God! What am I doing? Help me! The next day I burned all my tricks equipment and books on magic in our backyard.
Thanks to C.S. Lewis I have later learned of the deep magic, the cosmic dance of the wonder of this Universe and how it holds together. This truly deep magicis the underlying force that draws all matter, energy, and beings under the constant sustaining care of a God-Creator.
We ignore these mysteries in this present age to our peril. We disregard them as fancy, fables, myths, or archaic religious fairy-tales. But the question remains— Why have they persisted from antiquity into this supposedly postChristian, empirical, “scientific” age? Could it be that there are different kinds of Truths that persist even though they are undiscoverable through our scientific method? Maybe the mystery and magic of old persist because they are real, yet exist in a realm that does not fit our investigations.
Yet today we insist that science and religion are enemies. Science is about discovering truth: religion is about myth, fanciful postulations for the yet undiscovered. Really!?!
Do we actually believe that ALL that can be known will be discovered by scientific methodology? Is human ingenuity that stunted? Is human arrogance that portentous? Then we must determine that either our minds are too feeble to make room for the grandeur that is our realm; or, that the wonder of our universe is not that spectacular at all.
With the myriad of discoveries unveiled seemingly every day I dare say we are in over our heads on either account. Our universe is still full of magic, and certainly full of mystery.
So help us God!
A fellow journeyman,
Are you on the cutting edge? How do the edges of your life box you in? You need a sharp edge. Don’t go over the edge. Pushing the edge of the envelope. Edgy. The edge of tomorrow. The edge of extinction.
Pick a phrase— edges are at every corner of our lives. Some are boundaries, protecting us from going over the edge. Others leave paper cuts (ouch!). Other edges cut our steaks, or kill our adversaries. Or, metaphorically, draw us to move forward, daring us to test our limitations. Other edges cut dividing lines between families, peoples, countries, and ideologies. In one way or another, we are all on the edge of something.
My personal preference is to be on the cutting edge as much as possible— an innovator, rather than a late adapter. Not that I have to have the latest and greatest; rather, I like to create the future before it gets here. That’s all.
Someone once said to me, “Gary, you never seem happy with the way things are.” I responded, “Why thank you.” He retorted, “No, I meant that as a criticism.” I had taken it as a compliment. Different side of the blade, I guess.
What are your edges? Do they box you in? Cut paths where there are none? Or leave you with paper cuts? Whenever you try to cut through society’s crap, you are bound to get a little scraped up yourself. Is it worth it to you? Is it worth it to make a difference? To be on the next cutting edge? To make a difference?
Maybe you do not need to be an innovator. [Which tends to have a high risk-factor.] But please, don’t drag the rest of us into the “safe,” good-ol’-days of our past. Those edges are dull.
For what it’s worth,
“The Endurance was the three-masted barquentine in which Sir Ernest Shackleton sailed for the Antarctic on the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. She was launched in 1912 from Sandefjord in Norway and was crushed by ice, causing it to sink, three years later in the Weddell Sea off Antarctica.”
The miracle is that in the last days of The Endurance being crushed by pack ice, all hands walked away from the ship. Through great hardship Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) and a small accompaniment made it to safety at the South Georgia Station. Under his leadership and the crew’s perseverance the remaining crew members were rescued from the bitter weather of Elephant Island.
Upon his return to England he was knighted by King Edward VII for his leadership in such extreme circumstances. He had endured conditions so severe that polar historian Stephanie Barczewski described their endurance as “incredible.” [Barczewski, Stephanie (2007). Antarctic Destinies: Scott, Shackleton and the changing face of heroism. London: Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 978-1-84725-192-3.]
One generation later our world was engulfed in World War II. The First World War was supposed to be “the War to end all wars.” Now, of course, we know war to be a part of the corrupted, power hungry nature of all humanity. Yet it was this Second World War that prompted journalist Tom Brokaw (b.1940) to write The Greatest Generation, a book describing the metal, the stamina and perseverance of the men and women who endured such a terrible conflict.
These historic events raise a challenge for all of us—
What are we willing to endure to achieve our goals?
Few of us even raise this question today; settling instead for surviving. If we can get up in the morning and get through another day we consider ourselves successful. Amazing!
What will make our generation great? What will we have to endure to make a difference?
Of the many words that rise to the surface, certainly commitment, sacrifice, stick-to-it-tivness, hard work, focus, and suffering must come to mind.
In one of King David’s Psalms (15:4), there is a descriptor that seems most appropriate—
“… he swears to his own hurt and does not change.” (NAS)
Commitment and perseverance may just be their own rewards.
For what it’s worth,
Depression is a silent killer. You don’t even have to die to experience its death. You live the death just under your skin, suffocating your soul, 24/7. It is an insidious infection that never lets up.
Sure, you have moments of elation, rest, momentary peacefulness, or escape. I’ve struggled with it for years. When I first married, my new bride would describe me as morbidly introspective. Nice.
Yet on the surface I was upbeat, forward looking, powerful, and optimistic. Underneath, I always wondered if I measured up to peoples’ expectations. I was sure I didn’t.
So I performed better. And better. And… tried harder and harder… .
Robin Williams recent suicide brought it all back to me—the acting, the humor, the insecurity-amidst-confidence; and especially the fear of being known. I even wrote an article on it.
What drives such a successful man to draw an end to his life? In a word— despair. Def.- The conclusion that life holds no more for you. That managing life is now beyond your ability and/or desire. During my journey as a counselor three individuals have committed suicide under my care; one, premeditated, the other two, on the spur of the moment. I’ve always wondered if I could have prevented these needless deaths. My depression spiraled downward to the deepest depths.
If you could have walked through Robin Williams’ depression with him, what would you have said? What hope would you have offered? What reason to continue living? What great purpose would have fulfilled his life? Certainly his success as an actor and comedian did not bring him the fulfillment he so desperately hungered for.
Many fellow Christians might have offered him the reasons he sought in a relationship with Jesus Christ. But do you realize how strange that could have sounded to someone who had no hope, who sat outside the perimeters of God’s protection? It would have sounded farcical.
So many of us, Christians and normal people alike, place our hope in our personal security, our financial stability, and in our own abilities and self-confidence. I don’t think this is enough.
There is a great deal to be said for reestablishing a relationship with the God who made us. And for cleaning out the garbage of our lives. And for clearing the air with our friends.
I grieve Robin Williams death. He left us, unnecessarily, too soon.
For what it’s worth,
No, really, sometimes it really does feel like this. People are just…, different. Maybe you’ve experienced differences in your marriage, with your teenagers (duh), or with those who say they are related to you. Certainly you’ve felt some people at work were “different.” You thought they were like this, and they turned out to be like that. Or…, something!
We are all different from other people. Sure, we may have the same character traits, financial status, eye color, body types, etc. But people are different; that is what makes our human lives so intriguing. We are never quite exactly the same. Different.
When people are different individually they can be stronger together, as a group. Their differences can bond them to support one another in a team relationship. More can be accomplished the moredifferent people, and their skills, come together to make our world a better place. Differences— joining together. Unless, of course, you believe that people who are different should all stay together in their own little group, sealed off from those who are different from them. Hummm.
Personally, I enjoy people who are different from me. I learn from them. I learn a lot. I do not have all the answers; it is through others who are different from me that I come up with new and differentquestions. And that’s a good thing. It leads to new perspectives, new answers.
That being said, I must admit that I enjoy the comradery of those who think in terms of cross-cultural communication, paradigm shifts, regional colloquialisms, and international blending. So I’m weird. What kind of people do you like to be around? Are they all the same…, or different?
My friends are a little of both. A weird bunch, to be sure. But still, I enjoy them.
So when you are deciding which crowd you want to hang with, don’t pick just one. Join different kinds of groups. Join up with people who are much older than you, and with those who are quite younger than you. In doing so you will learn from the wise, and remember how to play again from those who come after you.
I know I keep going back to the Bible, but it’s my heritage. Christians were first named Christians because no one knew what to call this hodgepodge, diverse, seemingly incompatible group of strangers who loved each other. The name stuck.
There probably isn’t a designation for the kinds of groups I associate with: maybe wackos.
For what it’s worth,