20 November 2013

Wrong call

WrongCall by bobmendo
WrongCall, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

I hear it a lot in professional sports that the referee has a lot of discretion and an umpire can overrule a linesman and the fate of the game changes. Certainly that happened at the end of the football (NFL) contest on Monday night (Aussie Tuesday) when the New England Patriots played in Carolina against the Panthers.

I really don't have any affection or disdain for either team. They are both pretty good in so many areas. Tom Brady is the veteran quarterback and leader of the Patriots and was orchestrating a final charge down the field for a possible winning strike against the home side.

This photo taken off the television shows the bad call by the referee. The players in blue are converging on the ball and on the player in white. Problem is, the blue guy can't touch the white guy after 5 yards from the original line (way back where the other players are standing) until someone touches the ball.

No one had touched the ball and thus the blue player was wrong and should have been penalised. The back judge originally threw a yellow flag to indicate an infraction, but was later and quickly overruled by the senior statesman on the referee crew.

For more on this episode: http://www.nepatriotslife.com/2013/11/pats-made-mistakes-but-blind-eye-cant.html

I like what this previously unknown-to-me author @LiamPCunningham said calling the next play, the "Play that never was."

Look in the course of an entire game, there are many many times when a call does go one way or another for or against your team. That's life.

But in the last 2 minutes of the game, the league has already taken the challenge opportunity out of the hands of the coaches and created a justice-panel up in the stands somewhere. That panel should have overridden the referees override. Obviously.

All that to say, I'm sorry for the Pats to lose on a bad call. They might have lost on the play that never was anyway. But they might have won, too. It felt like a proper conclusion to the 45th anniversary of the Heidi episode. (see wiki here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidi_Game)

What might have been? What was? What wasn't? We'll never know.

I'm writing today to express disappointment in the officiating crew both on and off the field. And then, I'll get back to other things that matter a whole lot more than 53 men on each side playing a very serious game of gridiron.

19 November 2013

Choices....how many is enough?

Everywhere Else by bobmendo
Everywhere Else, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

From a TED talk in the USA. Selections chosen and moderated by NPR (National Public Radio)

What do you think? How many choices paralyze and how many liberate?

GUY RAZ, HOST:

OK, misconception number five - who doesn't like to have lots of choices, right? Like, say, for example, salad dressing.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

BARRY SCHWARTZ: I want to say just a word about salad dressing.

RAZ: This is Barry Schwartz. A social psychologist, and this is from his TED talk...

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

SCHWARTZ: A hundred and seventy-five salad dressings in my supermarket, if you don't count the 10 extra virgin olive oils and 12 balsamic vinegars you could buy to make a very large number of your own salad dressings in the off-chance that none of the 175 the store has on offer suit you.

RAZ: Which is what it's all about. Why we are happy, why we live more fulfilling lives because of our limitless choices.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

SCHWARTZ: The official dogma of all Western industrial societies runs like this - if we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximize individual freedom. The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice. The more choice people have, the more freedom they have. And the more freedom they have, the more welfare they have. This, I think, is so deeply embedded in the water supply that it wouldn't occur to anybody it is not true.

RAZ: How - how can that be? I mean, choice is what we all want, right? I mean, choice is a good thing.

SCHWARTZ: Absolutely, and it is a good thing. People want control, they want autonomy. The mistake that we've made is to think that since choice is good, it's only good.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

SCHWARTZ: So I'm going to talk about what's bad about it. One affect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all. I'll give you one very dramatic example of this - a study that was done of investments in voluntary retirement plans. A colleague of mine got access to investment records from Vanguard, the gigantic mutual fund company of about a million employees and about 2,000 different workplaces.

And what she found is that for every 10 mutual funds the employer offered, rate of participation went down 2 percent. You offer 50 funds, 10 percent fewer employees participate than if you only offer five. Why? Because with 50 funds to choose from, it's so damn hard to decide which fund to choose that you'll just put it off till tomorrow, and then tomorrow and, of course, tomorrow never comes. So that's one of affect. The second affect is that even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice then we would be if we had fewer options to choose from. The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.

RAZ: Too much choice actually makes us less free. Its paralysis rather than liberation, which sounds...

SCHWARTZ: That's right.

RAZ: ...It sounds crazy.

SCHWARTZ: It does sound crazy. I mean, imagine you have cereal for breakfast every morning and you alternate between Rice Krispies and Corn Chex.

RAZ: OK.

SCHWARTZ: I don't like Rice Krispies and Corn Chex, the fact that there are alternatives makes my life better.

RAZ: Right.

SCHWARTZ: And so the logic here is that when you add options, you don't make anybody worse off because you can ignore them, and you make somebody better off.

RAZ: Yeah.

SCHWARTZ: And that's perfectly sensible, logically. It just turns out not to be true psychologically.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

SCHWARTZ: This hit me when I went to replace my jeans after years and years of wearing these old ones. And the shopkeeper said do you want slim-fit, easy-fit, relaxed-fit? You want button fly or zipper fly? You want stonewashed or acid washed? You want them distressed? Do you want boot-cut. Do you want tapered? Blah, blah, blah. On and on he went. My jaw dropped and after I recovered I said I want the kind that used to be the only kind. He had no idea what that was. So I spent an hour trying on all these damn jeans and I walked out of the store, truth, with the best-fitting jeans I had ever had. I did better, but I felt worse. Why? I wrote a whole book to try to explain this to myself. The reason is that with all of these options available, my expectations about how good a pair of jeans should be went up. And what I got was good, but it wasn't perfect.

RAZ: So here's the thing, I hear that and I'm thinking, OK, this is about as American as it gets, right? I mean, you can choose whatever you want. You can do anything you want.

SCHWARTZ: Exactly so. So there's a cartoon that I show often, when I give talks, of a fishbowl. Your typical goldfish bowl. And there's a parent fish and a baby fish. And the caption reads you can be anything you want to be, no limits. Right, you know, we're supposed to laugh at the myopia of the parent fish - no limits - in a fishbowl that has nothing in it. But I think the deep insight is that everybody needs a fishbowl. So when you shatter the fishbowl, and my argument is that's sort of what 21st century affluent Western society is like, when you shatter the fishbowl and everything is possible, is that a good thing? And the answer, surprisingly to the assumptions we make, is that, no, it's not a good thing. Choice within constraint is essential. Choice without constraint is paralyzing.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

SCHWARTZ: So there's no question that some choice is better than none, but it doesn't follow from that that more choice is better than some choice. Nowadays, the world we live in, we affluent industrialized citizens with perfection the expectation, the best you can ever hope for is that stuff is as good as you expect it to be. You will never be pleasantly surprised because your expectations, my expeditions, have gone through the roof. The secret to happiness - this is what you all came for - the secret to happiness is low expectations.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHWARTZ: Then there was this nervous laughter. But that seemed maybe a little too pessimistic. So let me say the secret to happiness is to have realistic expectations. And if you're going to err, err on the low side. It's really nice to be pleasantly surprised. It sucks to be disappointed.

RAZ: Barry Schwartz, he's a psychologist who wrote a book called "The Paradox of Choice." You can find his entire talk at TED.com. So if you could pick the perfect, like, the optimum number of salad dressings, right, on the shelf, what would it be?

SCHWARTZ: There's a little bit of research on this and it suggests that somewhere around 6 to 10.

RAZ: Six to 10?

SCHWARTZ: Yes. Somewhere between 6 and 10 everybody seems to be able to find one that they're satisfied with.

(MUSIC)

RAZ: Hey, thanks for listening to the show on misconceptions this week. If you missed any of it or if you want to hear more, if you want to find out more about who was on it, you can check out TED.NPR.org. You can also find many more TED talks at TED.com. And you can download this show through iTunes or through the NPR smartphone app. I'm Guy Raz. You've been listening to ideas worth spreading on the TED Radio Hour from NPR.

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17 November 2013

Courage to think and to do exploits


Dorothy and Toto from Kansas knew a thing or two about courage, and had enough to pass it on to the friendly lion, you know, the one without courage. He was nicknamed the "Cowardly Lion" and I suppose that's a proper appellation for him. Without courage one is rightly labelled cowardly. Remember what he needed? Courage. Very similar to what the Tin Man needed which was a 'heart.' Now I'm sure Frank Baum in his original writing was not leaning on the French language where 'courage' and 'heart' have the same root. In fact, I'm sure that the symbolism of the three industries of agriculture, military and the steel industry, about which many write was probably not anywhere close to Baum's thinking. Still, that's not our point today.

The Cowardly Lion makes his first appearance in the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He is the last of the companions Dorothy befriends on her way to the Emerald City where he ambushes her, Toto, Scarecrow, and Tin Woodman. When he tries to bite Toto, Dorothy slaps him for trying to attack Toto where she discovers that the Lion is actually a coward which he admits that he is. The Cowardly Lion joins her so that he can ask The Wizard for courage, being ashamed that, in his cultural role as the King of the Beasts, he is not indeed brave. Despite outward evidence that he is unreasonably fearful, The Cowardly Lion displays great bravery along the way. During the journey, he leaps across a chasm on the road of yellow brick multiple times, each time with a companion on his back, and the leap back to get the next one. When they come into another, wider chasm, the Cowardly Lion holds off two Kalidahs while the Tin Woodman cuts a tall tree to cross it. In spite of his fears, he still goes off to hunt for his food, and he even offers to kill a deer for Dorothy to eat, but the idea makes her uncomfortable.

In other words, the lion is already brave and courageous, but thinks he is not.

OK, I can live with that (mis)understanding.

At times, we all need courage, and that comes from encouragement. Simple, I know, but still clear. Someone or something outside us has to put courage into our hearts. We need to know, to deeply know, that a 'yes I can' is in me. I find that encouragement in the Scriptures of the people of God.

Seven times in the Newer Testament the word is used, and once in the Older Testament. Six of the NT references are translating the Greek word "Paraklesis". All references are here:
Acts 4.36 And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement),
Acts 15.31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.
Rom. 15.4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Rom. 15.5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus;
Phil. 2.1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Messiah, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,
Col. 4.11 and also Jesus who is called Justus; these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision; and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.
Heb. 6.18 in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us.

Paraklesis means "called alongside to help" and sounds exactly what we need often in life. Someone or something which comes alongside, (or in the Anglo-Franco: puts into our heart) to give us courage.

In those references above we read "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." Paul wrote the Roman believers this sentence about the record of the Older Testament and the characters we find there. What God said previously in the Bible about Elijah and David and Moses and Ruth, Rahab, Tamar, Joshua and all of that should give us substantial hope for our lives today.

Two problems:
We often think wrongly about both encouragement itself and the characters of the Older Testament. We usually consider encouragement and hope as positive thinking, almost borderline "The Secret" thinking. We think it means power to do what we want almost like I'm going to be next celebrity or celebrity host on "Australia's Got Talent." Biblical encouragement is someone or something giving us power to do what God wants us to do or to think what we are supposed to think. Biblical encouragement gives us capacity to follow God in right living or right thinking. It's not about getting what I want or wishful lotto imagination.

The other thing we get wrong is biblical characters themselves. We see Samson as Victor Mature, strong and mighty, rather than viewing him as Adam Sandler or Woody Allen. There is no mention of his stature in the Bible, but we picture a mighty warrior. What made him mighty was the power of God (and his hair of course) and not his 24 Hour Fitness workout regimen. If all biblical characters are strong in and of themselves and I'm not, then I have no encouragement from them and what they do. If they are normal, looking like Mr Schwartz and not Mr Schwarzenegger, then I CAN derive courage from their exploits. Right thinking about them and right thinking about me combined with right thinking about God makes me courageous.

All this to say, for you, there is a chance you can be courageous to do what God wants and to think what God wants you to think. Be near people like Barnabbas. Be listening to godly wisdom. Give yourself to right living. Put yourself into the place where others are, whom you identify as encouragers (and not demanders).

I hope this encourages you today. And that with that encouragement you may have real future hope about what lies ahead.

By the way, for a real fictional movie about real courage see Courageous

12 November 2013

Prayer before they start

Prayer before the sortie by bobmendo
Prayer before the sortie, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.
It's customary to offer a prayer to God before things. The most common prayer is 'grace' said before a meal. "Lord bless this food" or "Bless us oh Lord for these they gifts..." are standard. In Judaism, if the meal contains bread, we say, "Blessed art Thou, oh Lord our God, King of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth." A quick, and usually intentional "thank you" to the Creator. Good plan.

For others prayer is something done on the side of an arena or stadium. Their team is needing to sink the final two baskets or to score a touchdown on the final drive of the 4th quarter so that victory can be secured. The scene is replayed so often I wonder if God even notices it, but I'll have to admit He knows and notices everything. Still, the teams and their fans pray that God somehow will favor them with a win, and not a loss.

I remember the maxim, "There's no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole." War brings out the prayers in many. When bombs are flying overhead and the enemy is pursuing, where can a man look but up?

And I have no problem with people praying in any such circumstance. In fact, it's right to pray in all circumstances, isn't it? "Pray without ceasing" is the biblical admonition. According to Jewish tradition, a person should recite 100 blessings (b'rachot) each day! This is not as difficult as it sounds. Repeating the Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah) three times a day (as many observant Jews do) covers 57 b'rachot all by itself, and there are dozens of everyday occurrences that require b'rachot.

Our first thought in the morning, even before we get out of bed, is a prayer thanking God for returning our souls to us. (Modeh ani) There are prayers to be recited before enjoying any material pleasure, such as eating or wearing new clothes; prayers to recite before performing any commandment, such as washing hands or lighting candles; prayers to recite upon seeing anything unusual, such as a king, a rainbow, or the site of a great tragedy; prayers to recite whenever some good or bad thing happens; and prayers to recite before going to bed at night. All of these prayers are in addition to formal prayer services, which happen two- three times a day every weekday and additional times on Shabbat and festivals.

All that to say, there is plenty of occasion to pray. And prayer has to be more than sanctified thinking. It might start with that, but goes well beyond that.

It's actually verbalized. And it's humble and it's real. Like these young people in salmon-colored tshirts about to go out on the streets and talk to people about the Almighty. They are praying for God to lead them to open-minded individuals. They are praying that their spirits would be open to odd folks. They are asking God to give them wisdom and love. Not a bad prayer at all!

Prayer is really conversation with God, as Rosalind Rinker wrote in 1959, and I think her clarity is still valuable to us in 2013. Check it out here: Rinker on prayer

You can pray alone. You can pray with others. You can pray quietly or loudly. He that sings prays twice. Prayer is getting into and staying in conversation and thus relationship with God. Not a bad thing to do, even if your team is losing in the 4th quarter or lost miserably already. Prayer is about getting to know God, personally.

And He wants to meet you, and get to know you, and let you know Him. Prayer is the key. Silence, then humility, then conversation, then listening, then thankfulness. Not a bad formula.

Before you start the next thing on this computer, why not say, "God in heaven, please help me to listen to You and to get to know You personally." Pick up a Bible online or off your shelves and have a read. You might find the book of Psalms is the perfect place to start.

And let me know how it goes by commenting here, ok?

10 November 2013

Worship

Worship by bobmendo
Worship, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

To me, worship is not singing, but it might happen when you are. It's an attitude and it's reflected in quiet, in humility, in love. This photos said that to me.

I find it silly when people say "Let's stand up and worship" when the Bible uses these phrases together: Psa. 95.6 Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. and again in
Is. 46.6 “Those who lavish gold from the purse and weigh silver on the scale hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; They bow down, indeed they worship it."

So worship says to me "bow down." It's about humility in body and soul. It's about saying to myself, "You are not" and saying to God, "You are."

Some get it (more) right when they invite us to worship in giving financially to God. I'll write more later about honoring God in our wealth, but for now:
"Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine. " (Proverbs 3.9-10)

This idea of honor means giving financially. As in "Honor your father and mother." but I will write more about that later.

For now, go somewhere today. Worship God in your heart long before you get there. Bow your heart to Him. Learn from Him. Get to know Him.

That makes sense to me.

03 November 2013

The theology of place

New gazebo by bobmendo
New gazebo, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr.

A nest in a tree is home to the bird and her young eggs. But one day the little ones are nudged out of the comfort and sent out into the world, to seek their own and their new home. I get that. I have three kids who all have moved from home and yet are ever ours and we are ever theirs.

The need for place, and the holy nature of place are in my mind today. This gazebo is a sanctuary of sorts, near a little Anglican church northwest of Sydney, in Pitt Town. The old parish building is on one side, and the newer building on the other, but this little shaded area is a stand-alone. And it's welcoming. And set apart.

Our little bookshop in Sydney's east in Bondi Junction will no doubt have to move within a year or so. Like so many urbanizing areas, the Junction is meeting the creativity and greed of developers so that little mom-and-pop shops are being replaced by multinational chains and Oxford Street is becoming Franchise Avenue. We will lose our lease in 2014 or so, and have to move. And thus, more thoughts today and this week about place.

Where will we set up? And what needs do we have in that place?

God established the idea of place as he set up Heaven and Earth. (Genesis 1.1) Then he established the Garden of Eden and placed man there. (Genesis 2.8) Cain was the first murderer and lost place, being sent out as a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth. (Genesis chapter 4)

When God wanted to meet with the Jewish people, en masse, he chose the Tabernacle (Exodus chapter 25) as the place. The Hebrew says this, "Build me a Mishkan (Tabernacle) that I may shakan (dwell) with them." (Ex. 25.8) The Hebrew is clear; dwelling with the Lord is the purpose of the tabernacle (tent).

That continued in the ministry of the Temple in Jerusalem, and to this day the purpose of buildings to Deity is that he may dwell with us.

That's why I find school hall meetings a bit less than 'regular' church meetings. Set-apart spaces which are dedicated to the Lord, and which have sacred symbols and sacred utensils, that all makes sense to me as place.

When an enquirer wants to find a minister, when a neighbor in a neighborhood wants to meet someone of religion, where will they go? Whom will they be seeking? The first thing is place; the second is person. Most 'uninformed' people who rock up to places of religion are not looking for Mr Smith or Rev Cohen, but rather find the place and seek 'someone' there. Place itself is the draw.

That's why I'm pondering anew what our place will look like in Bondi Junction in 2014. And hopefully you will be part of us and part of our outreach and our presence in the neighborhood and in the country.

At least, you are invited to do so.