Archive | May, 2012

Being a Savant

30 May

Samson had his hair, Achilles had his ankle, Superman has his kryptonite, Goliath had his forehead, Icarus had the Sun, and the Death Star had the Thermal exhaust port. We all have weaknesses that can expose our otherwise perfect existence. So, it should come as no surprise that the average everyday schlep we meet has weaknesses. Nevertheless, every time you meet someone who seems to have it all together, it seems like a complete shocker when they expose to us their weakness.

The unfortunate thing is that, as humans, we have tremendous capacity to be boneheads. Nevertheless, we often fail to see our own boneheadedness. This is why the loners or people who have no outside human interaction are usually tough to befriend, because they are unaware of their own neurosis. We often don’t know what we don’t know.

So, as I have been meandering through life, I have a friend, whom I know to be extraordinarily good at two jobs that are only tangentially related. I have recommended to him that he should find one person to assist him in each area, and as he grows his newly formed company, hopefully he has found two Vice Presidents. This is the concept upon which the assembly line was built.

The negative thing about my friend is that he doesn’t realize how truly special he is. He does not realize that the two diverse skill sets he has are so rare that finding another person with them is as likely as finding a purple goober. He wants to find that person who is just like him. But this is a reality of life, when we realize what sets us apart, we realize what gives us such a dignified value. Some even achieve the level of Savant!

I think sometimes we need that guy to point us in the correct way. Nevertheless, sometimes people thwart the attempts to assist them that are given. The reality of setting up an assembly-line approach to a company has been proven for over a century, yet some people think that the once in a lifetime talent is easier to duplicate than compliment. However, we all have complimentary needs. Flash needed food, Popeye needed Spinach, and the Green Lantern needed to avoid the color yellow.

So, when building a team of something you are great at, find someone who can pick up the slack you leave and lead you to greater heights, rather than the person who can duplicate what you already do well. Remember that if two people always act, react, and do things the same way, then at least one of them is unnecessary. If you don’t act wisely in that regard, you may end up with the adjective idiot before your title Savant!

Evaluating The Help

28 May

Despite the fact I never seem to know anything about new movies coming out, I am talking a lot about movies lately. I mention We Bought a Zoo and Tangled in the last two blogs I’ve written, so it may seem like I spent an entire weekend watching movies, but it’s more that the movies I watched taught me something. Nevertheless, I am fairly certain that whenever I saw The Help, it would have had an incredible impact on me, even though as of a week ago, I had never heard of it.

I am fortunate that I live my life in almost complete obscurity. While I may have occasional delusions of grandeur, most people will not know (or care) what I did on any particular Tuesday afternoon. The reason I consider this fortunate is that my sins are mostly played out in anonymity. And I do not believe in us needing to re-watch the bad parts of our life on a big screen once we get to Heaven.

The unfortunate thing is that I still do sin and I still feel the effects of it all the time. Nevertheless, I am very glad that many of the things that were shown in this movie were things I have never lived near or with a concept of. The reality is that many of the attitudes displayed in the movie were not concentrated in the city of Jackson, Mississippi but were prevalent throughout our culture. The reality is that caste systems have been around long before the founding of this country and will continue long after we are gone.

One thing I really liked is that is wasn’t judgmental on the issue that usually riles everyone up. Slavery and Racism can be atrocious things, and I think the tendency to over-abuse authority is one that may make it best to just not allow it. (I realize this movie is set when slavery is “illegal” and the culture did not declare it slavery, but it really was slavery—no matter the term we use to describe it). The movie was more about the abusiveness that can accompany the racism/slavery combo.

With the attitude of Skeeter and Celia Foote (and her husband Johnny), there were definitely examples of benevolent “bosses.” And there was at least one story told by one of the women that spoke of a “boss” who was so benevolent that he purchased land just to make her life easier. The over-riding problem is that they were such a minority that they were almost as great of outcasts as the humans they treated that way, which others did not.

Unfortunately, I believe this is a real-to-life story that paints a largely accurate picture of the majority of people out there. The tremendously unbridled ignorance that the majority showed was so egregious that I hate to think the populace of the country I love could have been that way just a generation and a half ago. I also know that no amount of so-called reparations can ever right the wrongs that were committed.

Another thing I know, however, is that we are getting better. I have no doubt that racism still exists. I have no doubt that many “employers” or even parents mistreat those in their charge to this degree. Notwithstanding this, I also know that these things are now called out by the public-at-large and the leadership of society in concert. And instead of largely unjust things happening to the abused parties, we see more justice in this area by the authorities than ever.

We live in a society where our President and many of my favorite public figures to talk about are of a minority race. The reality is that Dr. King’s dream of people “being judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin” is largely a reality. In my conversations, more people probably cast a vote for a person because he is a minority than people who would not vote for him for the same reason.

I don’t think we as a society are perfect, but that will never happen in this world, as we are all sinful creatures. I do, however, think that the situation as shown in this movie is largely gone. And the vestiges of it that remain can begin to be stamped out by, among other things, movies like The Help. Yet I feel overcome by so many unspeakable feelings upon watching this movie, that I am almost wordless (and that’s bad for the blog).

I guess the problem with watching a movie like this is we see our own tendency to be sinful. I clearly thought throughout the movie that I would never think or act in such a way, but I also know that there must be some egregious sin that this culture is largely blind to, and I am fitting right along with culture in general.

The problem is that we see how blind society can be to its own shortfalls, which necessarily leads one to introspection to the point of questioning what we are blind to. I believe in the Second Law of Thermodynamics enough to know that the world is not getting better. The fact that this one thing has been largely beaten does not give us overall improvement.

Nevertheless, we do not watch movies to come to grips with our own sinfulness, but rather to watch our triumph. While this triumph may be thinly defined and not across-the-board, it is still triumph. I am glad I have never been in an immediate situation where these attitudes were prevalent. I am glad that it is not even difficult for me to side with the side of the right in this issue. I am also glad the movie was done well and that it can open the dialogue so that we never become condemned to repeat these mindsets. The movie was good and entertaining, but it exposes the seedy underbelly of a portion of our heritage, and I, for one, am just glad that Dr. King’s dream lives and is largely becoming reality!

Go Buy a Zoo

26 May

Thirteen days ago, my sister sent me an email saying that she highly recommended a movie called, We Bought A Zoo. I saw the previews and imagined some hidden or invisible zoo after a family bought a house, and I thought, “Is my sister going crazy? Is this really the best movie she can come up with in this day and age of movies?” So, I treated the email with the reverence I thought it deserved (ie, remembered that she liked the movie and nothing else that she said).

I came home Friday night to the announcement that somehow we had picked up the movie We Bought a Zoo. The kids had already watched the movie with Kelly and all said that they liked it, but that it was a little bit vulgar for a PG movie. So, being the knucklehead I am, I give my sister a call to give her a hard time (which is really all it was, because I had not even forwarded her thoughts to the rest of the family). Of course, had I actually read and remembered her email, I would have known that she gave that exact warning, and she told me that.

So, now as a guy feeling bad about giving my sister a hard time, I agreed to watch it and just kind of keep my mouth shut. So after we did several things, including eat dinner, do family devotions, put the kids to bed, and recapping the day, I finally sat down to watch the movie. Hereafter are my thoughts about the movie, without giving anything (er, well, giving very little) away.

First, the movie was nothing like what I got from the previews (what I saw was approximately the equivalent of the first minute of this). It was never an imaginery or hidden zoo; it was clearly a zoo recognized and seen by all humans with eyesight at all times. I’m not sure how I misinterpreted that, but it really was a completely different movie than my imagination.

Second, the movie was genuinely captivating. There was a family in mourning, which I could certainly empathize with. You wanted this dad and daughter to succeed and move on, as much as would be appropriate. There was a real estate agent at the beginning, that I loved. He reflects well on one of my chosen professions, and we aren’t normally portrayed well.

Third, the movie had a plot that moved along and was feel-good. I know many critics insulted it for being too formulaic. Let’s face it; there is a reason those things become a formula—We like them!

Is Hoosiers less a movie because they win? Or is Cinderella worse for her not remaining stuck in a rut? Do we dislike Star Wars because Luke is successful?

Of course not. We like things that end well. Another thing I learned from a lesser movie is that every character comes into your work with back-story. The audience needs to know enough about it to understand why it leads them to the present without being bogged down by it. This movie did a wonderful job of that, keeping it realistic and yet genuinely fun to travel with the characters on this journey.

This story, which though it didn’t have a lot of mystery involved, was a nice, happy story with the heart of real life. It may send you to the kleenex a couple times (it did me), but it isn’t a depressing movie. It had a line in the movie that I loved. All-in-all, I found the whole thing very entertaining. So, if you want a feel-good story to watch that the whole family can enjoy, watch this one (email me about the ten second scene to fast forward through if you have young kids). You’ll be glad you watched it!

Seat-belts are Essential to Keeping Peace!

24 May

The last few weeks I’ve seen a commercial several times where they tout that if you fake wearing your seat-belt, police are trained to spot people not wearing seat-belts even in the dark. Now, this is exceedingly distressing to me for multiple reasons. Though I suspect that most people view this commercial with relative indifference, I have many reasons that this should not be the case.

I believe I should begin by letting you know of my bias on this “issue.” I believe that a government should give you the right to be stupid. This makes me very Libertarian on many issues. If you want to harm yourself, so long as you don’t harm anyone else, you should have the right to do so. Wearing a seat-belt doesn’t endanger anyone but the non-wearer. Now I have heard the argument that someone being killed on the highway could increase the cleanup costs for the rest of us taxpayers.

There are at least two responses to this, which could easily make it a worthless argument. First, should the government really pay for roads and their cleanup. Assuming that is too Libertarian for you, the second response is that someone who is at fault in an accident would be responsible for the extra cleanup costs incurred. Of course this would lead to Insurance companies paying for it, which would require them to set rules for payments to be made (rather than the government).

I realize, however, that our government has said that they want us wearing seat-belts, which is their prerogative. Nevertheless, even assuming that you disagree with my assertion that you should have the right to be stupid, there is still significant reason to be disgruntled by this commercial. I think most of us, even the most violent supporter of seat-belt laws, would concede that police do far more important things, even more important traffic issues, than catch people without a seat-belt on. Yet, they are spending valuable training dollars on teaching policemen how to spot people without seat-belts. tsk. tsk.

Really? We’re not training police officers (during this time) to spot drug dealers, hate crimes, beatings, counterfeiting, violent crimes, child abuse, or even dangerous or impaired driving? Instead of learning about those, let’s teach them to spot someone who’s faking the wearing of a seat-belt. The absurdity drips from the situation. We’ve gone from having officers of the law keep peace to finding invented crimes.

I assert that we can do better for ourselves, for the protection of our citizenry, and for life in general than training our first line of defense against crime on techniques people use to look like they’re wearing seat-belts. Maybe we could focus that energy into making texting while driving illegal. Then, of course, I may not be able to text blog posts like this one, but at least police pulling me over may be saving lives other than mine own.

How Old Do You Feel?

22 May

How old do you feel? At a recent 40th birthday party I attended, that was the question du jour. This is a decent question. And to some extent, it is a question that we all must ask ourselves. We need to do what we can to keep ourselves young. Not because we are Darwinian, but because much of aging is a choice.

The Nobel prize winning George Bernard Shaw wrote, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” We like hearing this, as it gives us excuses for being juvenile, as it adds value to it. And while there is some truth to it, there is also truth to the fact that some aging is inevitable.

In my real estate classes, we talk about how a piece of real property decreases in value over time. One of the things we talk about is physical deterioration, which we all agree is positively demoralizing, yet an inescapable part of the condition of buildings. Unfortunately, it is also an inescapable part of the human condition.

I’ve noticed recently that when I stand it is accompanied by creeks and groans. I need more sleep than I used to require. I am unable to do some of the things I used to be able to do. Basically, I’m an old dude and as much as I try to Claim I feel young and spry, the reality is that I am feeling older and older all the time. I mean sometimes I need to sit on the floor for the firmness that it provides, while other times I cannot sit on it for the very same reason.

Clearly some aspects of aging are outside of our control, even if we do the best we can. But I learned from my good friend, Bob Collins (whom I mention in this blog and will write a more fitting tribute between his would-be 91st birthday and the 1st anniversary of his death) that aging gracefully and finishing well is less about physical ability and mental or business acumen and more about doing all we can with that which God has still blessed us.

I may be (strike that, am) less capable than I used to be, but I am more mentally aware of the correct decisions to make. And while I have just recently come to grips with the fact that I am an adult, I have been readily aware that regardless of age or position, I am required to do that which God requires of me. And that is a full time job, no matter how old I feel!

Education Situation

20 May

On Friday, Veritas Academy, which is run by my good friend Michael Phillips, had a graduation ceremony. Graduation is a unique event, because we are celebrating something that has happened in the past, yet it is almost always called a “Commencement” because the focus is on what it will look like in the future. There is no other event in our culture where we celebrate the past with a focus on the future.

This celebration is prevalent. My son’s school has a similar ceremony this coming week. We had a little bit of a different recognition in church this morning, and I would be shocked if someone told me that they had never seen one. Every time I see a graduation, I am reminded of the line in The Incredibles where he touts over-celebration of mediocrity.

The truth is that I believe in education a great deal. I have achieved three college degrees and have done work towards another degree. With that in mind, I am aware of the tendency to over-celebrate, but if there is one thing we should reward, it is education.

Now clearly, not everyone is purposed for a college education, and I understand that. I also teach people who want to get a real estate license, and I have been in the classroom for security officer, mortgage broker, or life and health insurance licensing.

These classes are important, too. Because one thing that is essential, no matter what your chosen occupation, is you need to prepare. I have been known to tell people to never stop preparing for your future. “The longer your preparation, the greater your opportunity.” So continue to follow the Proverbs 4 model of attempting to attain wisdom, no matter the area of study.

But as I take a more global view, I have noticed that in this economy, the one industry that has changed the least is education. I had a front row seat to the recent real estate market collapse. Now, there are an infinite number of factors that played into it, but among the most prevalent was mortgage money being so easily acquirable.

Marc Cuban thinks that the availability of education loans will spell the death of the industry. While I am not sure I will go that far, I am persuaded that changes need to occur. Having worked at a few school attempting to re-tool their programs, including a college, I know that these are not easy decisions to make.

While we may see the re-introduction of trade schools or some other way to re-educate people, something must (and will) happen. The government cannot continue to give away money to people in school. I know some people first-hand, who are going back to school at older ages, because it is easier than getting a job. Obviously, anything that discourages productivity must eventually take a hit.

Conceivably, education is good for the future of the economy, there are now more gaps than there have been in years between those things learned in school and those usable skills. The schools which find a way to combat the expenses for when the loan money dries up will be successful. I, for one, hope that is a great number, as I’d love to see a more educated society.

Pardoned, Struggling to Forgive

18 May

As I was reading a book to my son during our nightly “Girly-Book Time” there was a story of a non-Christian consistently proverbially battering a Christian and then accusing her of not being willing to forgive. Now, I am not suggesting that he was right, as the type of forgiveness one gives is largely dependent upon the type of contrition there is. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and others to act responsibly. To forgive may be required, but reasonable hesitancy is not out of the question.

It seems lately the topic of Forgiveness has come up a lot for me. Perhaps this is because when you are as crazy as I am, people frequently feel as if I need to be consistently seeking forgiveness. The reality is that my life, just like everyone else’s, is a tremendous lesson in God’s unfailing grace, despite my inability to consistently be worthy.

As we look at human forgiveness, we are forced to look at how pathetic it normally is. First of all, we often feel as if we are doing people a favor when we forgive them. We look at how we have some cosmic scorecard on which we are now ahead. While we rarely admit this to ourselves, we really usually feel like someone else can never catch up. How many of us “forgive” a good friend or spouse, knowing that we will bring it up later?

I feel like this is unacceptable and far less than that which is required of us. As I read Evan’s blog earlier this week, I am reminded how many of us have a thirst for the justice of others. I’ve heard it said that we always want justice for others and forgiveness for us. But I think when we balkanize the characteristics of God like that, we start to lose the depth of each.

God’s true justice encompasses our forgiveness. There is no doubt that God’s plan includes the absolute forgiveness of our sins. And while God forbid that we continue sinning that grace may abound, there is clearly continued grace for those things we have done. Forgiveness at the cross is plentiful, and I am grateful for that.

Now, to juxtapose the fact that forgiveness is not merely forgetting the wrong that was done, but rather choosing not to hold it over that person on the Cosmic balance sheet. Ah, but there’s the rub. It is exceedingly difficult to give biblical forgiveness so that we aren’t keeping score and yet treat a sinner with the proper trepidation. How in the world can we do this perfectly? To start, I don’t think we can do it. In fact, I find the only way I can adequately come close is to be overly cognizant of my own depravity.

Maybe that is the trick, but I think God knows that our justification leads to sanctification. The legal sanctification happens right away, and the behavioral sanctification will come. Doubtlessly, we still have Romans 7 style battles with sin, but the reason we can shout that there is no condemnation with authority is because we are walking more and more after the Spirit.

God is already offended by our sinful nature and our sinful choices. He continues to forgive us, yet our offense to Him is as great as it can be. Nevertheless, we are forgiven. How can we do less? My assertion is that we shouldn’t. We should completely forgive in the legal sense. However, since we don’t have the ability to regenerate a life, we need to help our fellow humans by keeping them from the situations that could cause them to stumble or have a sacrificed testimony. And, I think, that is the best we can do!