Words from a Father

Husband of One, Father of Four

Category: About Dad

372. Quotes: Your Dad on Giving In or Maturing

“Giving in takes no courage or wisdom or greatness within; it only takes a weak fool. The shrinking violet eschews maturity by giving in to illicit choices, but the inspiring and hardy rose rises above even the thorns growing from within.”

—Your Dad

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362. Essay: Axiomatic Things

An axiom is something that is self-evidently true.

There are several things I believe are axiomatic: love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope. These qualities have no equal in the animal kingdom, they hint at more than biological processes, they are beyond simplistic facts or emotions, and the fact that they even exist seems mystical. On the negative side, selfishness, guilt, and — at times — worry seem axiomatic as well, especially due to their internality and when set in context to the six concepts above.

Love

Love has a singularity to it; it is focused on only one person, not on the many or all. Even for all our attempts at defining and expressing love, it still retains its mystique and majesty. It is experienced but still not understood. It moves the strong and the weak, yet is aloof from explanation. It makes kings fall and raises paupers in the experience of grandeur. It captures the masses but finds its expression only in the singularity of relationship. Love is mystical in that it is the one-in-a-million lightning strike that happens every minute of every day. Love is common alchemy.

Justice

Justice is simply not attainable in this world. Yes, thieves are caught and murderers serve their time, but how often do the guilty go free and the innocent receive punishment undeserved? To be true justice, it must inherently have many necessary components. It must firstly be exhaustive — in its knowledge of the people involved, what makes them who they are, the beliefs they hold as true, the background of the situation, the cultural milieu, their psychological and biochemical state, their intentions, their actions, their emotional dullness, and much more.

Justice must also be perfect. It must be correct in its assigning of blame and innocence. It therefore is not mathematical, but intensely personal. The act of administering justice is not by rote, but by intervention and distinction and intuition. Justice uses something outside of itself while reaching within the complexity of humanness to judge. Humans are able to distinguish between facts, but justice is more than factual distinction. However you want to phrase this, justice is completely moral, or righteous, or pure. It is right and never wrong. Justice is also imbued with impartiality. It shows no favoritism and employs no emotion even while penetrating the heart — the core — the essence — of who that person is. This is the paradoxical part of justice, the non-emotional part that reaches within the emotions of a human to satisfy this great longing of every person.

What about the personal part of justice? Not the part that holds to a justice out there somewhere, but the part that has experienced a tragic wrong. The part that says, “I was wronged and it needs to be put right.” In that situation, our heart cries out for payback. This again demands a person able to step into our situation, feel our devastation, know all the external issues, and move swiftly on our behalf. This kind of justice is partially a move to satisfy our heart and restore peace within us. But how would anything impersonal know us within? Neither a rock nor a dog can know the internal workings of a grasshopper. A gorilla does not intuit what it would be like to be a hummingbird, but we humans do. We can even imagine what a gorilla would think being a hummingbird would be like. Personhood is the only thing that can open this kind of knowledge for investigation, and justice is intensely personal and interior.

Have you noticed that children, in their innocence, have a distinct love of and desire for justice?

I say justice is axiomatic because there is nothing so pure, so wise, so exhaustive in its understanding of mankind, and yet so unsentimental as true justice. And this, to me, is what makes justice an expression of a person.

Humility

We are by nature self-centered hoarders. Humility is the only thing standing in the way of our nature; humility is undeniably the hinderance to what makes us human. Achieving is no longer about being the best at something, but about having the most. Interior qualities — what was called character in bygone times — have been replaced with fleeting stratosphere-bound counts. It’s now the most gold medals rather than the best match; the most world records rather than the best attitude and form; the most money rather than best life; the most sponsorships rather than the best product; the most readers rather than the best content; the most votes rather than the best plan. It’s now about having rather than being.

Children are the generational reminder of our selfishness. Their perpetual clutching is interrupted only by outwardly congenial play contrived to gain more, and by fleeting bouts of tears over what is not clutched, their intention to clutch more, and who stole what from their clutches. Selfishness is to humanness what air is to breathing — necessary, pervasive, interior, and insatiable.

So then why teach humility? Humility is not an impulse we have, and “to deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.” Humility makes us weak, takes away our resolve, and leads us to unnecessary self-sacrifice at times. There is nothing so devastating to our own nature as humility, so there is no applicable reason to encourage its existence.

But who can deny the position of greatness that humility holds within the human experience? Becoming a good cook has its roots in who we are: we need food to survive as a species. There’s an obvious connection there. Humility, however, is categorically alien to humanness. There is no precursor within our nature or our needs. I say humility is axiomatic because there is little else so admired while emerging out of nothing mankind finds within their nature.

Mercy

Mercy is the desire of all who encounter true justice. Mercy is the human request when faced with our undeniable self. Our known guilt — that internal neon sign with the blazing letters, Wrong Way — drives us to beg for mercy. We want what we don’t deserve. “I admit I did wrong, but please do not hold me accountable for what I did. Please do not hold me to the standard.” The request for mercy does not lie or color the situation favorably, it simply asks, “Please. Please don’t.” Mercy relies on the fact of a personality who has the power and the will to make just such a decision. Mercy cannot be acquired from a force or an automaton. It claims that there is something beyond the right and the wrong and it asks to be judged on a scale of intangibles. It is an appeal to a standard beyond and above justice itself. From a being who is perfect, mercy asks nothing short of a miracle. And without mercy, mankind becomes something it was not intended to be.

But where is mercy in nature? The cyclone shows no mercy to the land or its inhabitants, neither does the earthquake or tidal wave. The prey does not beg for another chance; the predator would never give it. It is not just that nature has not produced mercy of a sort, but it could not ever even imagine it.

Have you ever noticed that we, being not children anymore and knowing the depth of our wickedness, naturally desire mercy? When the police pull us over, all we really want is mercy, the precise thing we don’t deserve at that moment. And when someone has crashed into us, all we really want is to withhold the exact thing they don’t deserve as well. Since we can choose to request, to grant, and to withhold mercy in the face of guilt, and since we do all this while minding the scales of justice — none of which is observed in the elements or among the animals — I say mercy is axiomatic.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the sister of mercy. Mercy chooses not to act; forgiveness chooses not to keep record. Forgiveness wipes away what was done. Without forgiveness, our indebtedness for carrying out our nature in selfish acts would be insurmountable. Mercy without forgiveness would also breed a kind of contempt — the kind that chooses to not seek justice, but despises being continually wronged and has vowed to keep an account.

Forgiveness is the bridge between mercy and hope. Without the hope that things can change, that situations can get better, and that people can improve, forgiveness is futile. Said in reverse, because we have positive hope, we can choose to not keep record (forgive) and extend the hand of peace to those who have wronged us (mercy).

Forgiveness is not seen amongst the animal kingdom. No cheetah bumps into another during a sprint and genuflects, “Pardon me.” A bird accidentally pecking up the wrong morning food gives not the slightest apology for his absentmindedness to his unintended prey, but we offer an “Oops” with a nervous laugh if we grab the wrong cup of coffee from the prepared orders. Animals find no need to make something right because they have no standard of right and wrong. The utter lack of oughtness in nature makes ours all the more distinct, and therefore sets forgiveness in the category of an axiom.

Hope

Hope seeks more. Trust is inherent in hope. Better is inherent in hope.

Hope is not seen in nature; where it is hinted at, it is being superimposed by us. Winter is boundaried by the turning of spring, but this is not hope. The animal world and the insect population and the non-evergreen foliage do not wait in hope of spring, they simply travel the course of their instinct or according to nature’s seasons. Plants do not hope for a more lush location, do not seek out greener pastures, do not long for equality or fight for rights. Animals do not hold out hope that next year’s harvest will be better, that humans will be more humane, or that they may be represented fairly amongst their predators. And when predators do strike, there is no protest of fair warning or accusations of cheating the system. Nature has no hope of better and does not experience trust issues. There’s no job market for “Fawn and Foliage Counseling Services.” Nature is comprised much of instinct; hope, however, is definitely not instinctual.

Humanness and Beyond

On one hand, we humans are such selfish beings that we must invent ways to deal with the entailing guilt. “I want” and “Mine” do not need to be taught. We want to enjoy drinking soft drinks but despise the calories, so we buy a diet drink. If we don’t want caffeine, we choose a caffeine-free diet drink. And if we don’t want a manufactured sweetener, we can get an all-natural caffeine-free diet soft drink. In almost any flavor, natural or unnatural. Putting ourself first comes natural; assuaging our guilt, an imminent second place.

On the other hand, we seek so much of what we do not deserve, what is contrary to our own nature and to nature in general. But these undeserved things — love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope — are necessary for our existence. They are ideals made tangible in small glimmers. They are the sublime qualities seen in irregular pulsar bursts from another human’s actions.

We feel them, we know them, we need them, and — mark this — we are not human without them. Examples of the person who has removed one of these from their life are only found in two places. The first is in the self-imposed exile of despair, leading to bitterness, leading to aloneness. The second is in the volumes of tragic works produced by “artists” which crescendo in stunning sorrow. Without one of the six parts of our axiomatic humanness, we end up with either the masquerade of fiction or actual wretchedness. One makes for dramatic tension, the other for detestable company. We take part in one because it is “just a story,” the other is avoided because of its life-draining misery.

It seems clear to me that these six concepts are from something categorically different than nature or biological processes, mathematics or emotions, chance, or philosophy. They do not arise from anything lower than us or equal with us, but from something beyond us, from someone more pure and whole than we ever have been. They are eternal, personal, interior, and necessary, which when taken together serve as an introductory summation of God.

353. Essay: Technology’s Gray Area

It used to be that someone was either dead or alive, no middle ground. Think of ethical problems encountered in the medical field. You’ll quickly notice positive and negative sides to the dilemmas. More importantly you’ll notice that these dilemmas came not from assuming that the natural progression of life and death has its place, but from how technology has created these gray areas in the first place. In its altruistic quest to help, technology has stepped in to bring back from the brink those who have a chance of survival. It has also created entire categories of significant ethical problems.

Neither the benefits nor the dilemmas would exist without technological intervention, but one of my true concerns is that for all the progress made, we are becoming less human.

Short-term Intervention or Long-term Lifestyle?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a great thing. It is a short-term intervention that gives the injured a fighting chance. Surgeries also are short-term interventions aimed at getting the person back to working order. But what about the body that isn’t fighting, that must stay on a machine that breathes for them?

I have seen a machine that lays down layered cells like bricks to build a 3-D organ, such as a heart. And then the heart contracts, functioning all on its own as it should, so it seems sensible to think we can keep a physical body functioning long after the person is already gone. And this is where most of the ethical issues are encountered. Now that we’ve placed the body on a machine that perpetuates its normal functions, is it right or wrong to take that away? The materialist, meaning the one who does not believe there is a spiritual or metaphysical realm, hangs all hope on sustaining the body. If they are right and there is nothing more than what we see around us, there is no other logical choice but to sacralize the physical universe.

The problem is, there’s only one way to find out whether or not the person is already gone. And it’s irreversible.

Function Versus Life

To me, the presence of the spirit within the person determines whether they are still alive or not; the spirit is the essence of a person. If the spirit is gone, the body still can carry on its functions, but function is not an indicator of life. Function only indicates that the physical body has the ability to continue carrying out the processes it is suited for and has been doing all along. Of course the answer is, “Yes, the body can function as it has been,” because that is precisely the intransitive definition of function: To work or operate in a particular way.

A computer functions, but does not have life. A storm functions, but does not have life. A bypass machine functions, but does not have life. A liver is an organ with a function, but it does not have life. Transplanting an organ does not transplant life; it only grants function to another who is already living. If being alive is not solely due to an organ, it must be due to something else or to several other things. Life is obviously connected to the material world without being inherently bound by function. It seems this distinction between function and life opens the door to deeper questions of the metaphysical.

Material Versus Spiritual

For the materialist, the body becomes sacred because it is all we have. But if the body is incapacitated, what good is it to perpetuate its functions? Like one dealing with numbers rather than human lives, the materialist is left to draw precise lines delineating value from worthlessness in the body’s varying states of function. Historically, governments have stepped in with responses aimed at appeasing the two demi-gods of religious inscrutability and science’s claims, only to produce more ethical dilemmas. Materialism gives no clear answer to what makes us human and what makes us alive.

My Current Thoughts

This is where I presently stand on this issue. The natural progression is from life to death. There may be several short-term interventions — which include surgeries — to give a person a second chance without increasing ethical dilemmas. However, long-term interventions almost always step into the gray. All life is precious, sacred, and valuable. But, believing that there is a spiritual realm as I do, I do not think that this life is all there is or that the body is all we have.

For those believing in a spirit realm, the spiritual life given by God makes the body sacred; all things flow from the primacy of the spirit, which is where the idea of human dignity comes from. Spirit and body together is what makes an individual that person rather than another person, and the presence of a person’s spirit is what I believe makes them alive. It doesn’t make ethical decisions any easier, but you may gain a sense of clarity if they are made with this in mind.

344. Suggested Reading: Wild At Heart and Captivating

One of the books that most impacted me was Wild At Heart by John Eldredge, and eventually the companion book Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge.

The first is written to men, but is quite eye-opening for women as well. Its premise is that men seek three primary things: an adventure to live, a battle to fight and win, and a beauty to rescue. This is seen in movies, business ventures, sporting events, and the art forms we are surrounded by, as well as by the lives of men everywhere.

These are the things that motivate him so if one of these aspects is taken away from him, he will begin to fade. He may cover it up or ignore it as much as possible, but like a shell on the beach he will feel drained of all life. So use the thrill of the journey, the satisfation of success, or the mystique and transcendent nature of beauty to both your benefit, but never as manipulation. Hard work is a great opportunity, but a man whose heart is alive is better than a man who just works. This book resonated so deeply that I made reading it one of the things your mom had to do before we got married.

Captivating was released a few years later and balances the equation from the woman’s side, with the understanding that a woman always feels that she is “too much” and “never enough” simultaneously. A woman wants to be the beauty and be swept up into an adventure with her great love.

Do yourself the favor of not speeding through them just to check them off the list, though. It’s worth it.

340. Essay: Jesus’ Birth, The Ultimate Minimalism

Minimal Me

The move toward minimalism that has arrested the design world over the last decade or so owes the Internet a debt of gratitude. Where else can you call out dreadful design, redesign it yourself, and publish it in a matter of moments — all with an unlimited audience? We champions of web minimalism can have an accidental air of arrogance: I’m better because I’m cultured, refined, and can easily see what should be obvious to you and your blind grandma. Some are professionals now, some have schooled themselves, and others just know exquisiteness when they see it. We are well-meaning perfectionists usually lacking in some restraint when it comes to offering our help, unsolicited. Classic Asperger’s autism, what with all that social ineptness and such. But we truly do care.

Trend-ginnings

It seems a trend began by decrying bad design: hating Myspace because it was the Vegas of online sites with too much blinking and hollering to be of any benefit to the sober; Microsoft and their lack of caring . . . about anything, like font rendering, bloatware, user experience, and quality and polish; excessive buttons or steps to complete a process; Adobe’s frustrating and unclear software installation process; poor instructions for assembling a new piece of furniture.

But shouting about what’s wrong doesn’t show others what’s right, so the second wave of minimalism was rooted in pointing toward the archetypes that were right, those who merged the necessary and the beautiful, the function with the form. Dieter Rams, Apple Inc., Swiss and Bauhaus design, Occam’s philosophical razor, writers Samuel Beckett and Ernest Hemingway, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the asian zen harmony, and glimpses in Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture.

From recognizing the masters came the ability to balance the equation: Less is not necessarily better, but there should only be what is necessary — and what is there should be exquisite.

Divine Restraint

Minimalists should, at the very least, recognize the genius within the birth of Jesus. It has all the hallmarks of a coulda-gone-over-the-edge event, but was the epitome of restraint.

The Christmas story says that a baby was born in Israel about 2000 years ago. So what. Babies are born all the time. Well, I guess baby is a bit of an understatement. It was God who was born. God. The only uncreated being created the world with His own power and then came to be sequestered within it; not only that, but sequestered within fragile flesh as well. That’s like covering a volcano with plastic wrap or trying to shroud the sun with tracing paper.

Divine Surroundings

Biblical descriptions of heaven are nothing less than stunning, the physical as well as the intangible. We now turn to the backdrop of heavenly extravagance to set the scene in great detail.

There are layers of substance and activity long before reaching God. It starts out looking like a windstorm with lightning flashes and diffused, emanating light. This fog-like cloud is the most exterior layer and its center glows like fire. In the center are strange and captivating creatures that look like charcoal after it’s been set on fire. Flame bursts shoot between the creatures as they move around on bejeweled wheels, accompanied with flashes of lightning. Over their heads is a hovering platform that sparkles like blue crystal; imagine looking up at the blazing sun from underneath crystal blue ocean waves. Over the platform is a throne, and this is where God is, surrounded by a radiance that looks like a green rainbow on a misty day. He is categorically supreme, unparalleled in essence. Were it not for Jesus Christ, God would not even be approachable.

Turning around away from the throne will fill your view with majestic hills, rushing rivers — simultaneously crisp, refreshing, and afire — that have the power to sustain and heal, cities that house the holy, and gold-encrusted streets. Like an ocean wave when it pushes the body, color itself has weight and substance to it. It communicates on another emotional level to fill in context and connotation.

Color and sound are basically the same thing, just at different points of the spectrum, so color has a sound when it strikes the listener. This means music is always heard in heaven. There are no vocal celebrities, but an ever-rising crescendo of worship given to the only being who is worthy of adoration. Harmonies dance in unison with the pulsating instrumentation and anyone can join in at any moment, but the human voice, fortified with its free will and bursting with thankfulness, is the preeminent instrument.

And this is only the beginning of the emotional aspects of this environment. God is perfect, and because His qualities emanate from within His being, His qualities are also perfect. His love, goodness, and joy have no comparison. The brute substance and amount of the qualities rushing forth from Him would make the imperfect wizened in His presence. Power, even emotional power, must be under control or it will overwhelm, domineer, and possibly destroy, which is why His mercy and self-control are so pivotal. These emotional aspects make it seem as if heaven will be level upon level of personal connections — of true family.

Earthly Restraint

Had Jesus been born into the extravagant luxury of a palace, it would have been justified. Had it been announced far and wide with fireworks and a week-long celebration, it would not have been too much. Regardless the heights, the pomp, or the superfluous expense, it would not have been enough to mark the most important birth on that day: God Himself was born.

But, no. We have none of the rightful self-promotion we would expect from someone of such status. There is no hype in Jesus’ birth.

The most we get is a group of angels who make the announcement, but even that is minimalized. Notice the angels only appeared to some unimportant shepherds; that it was done at night; that at first there was only one angel until a group of angels appears at the very end of the announcement; that the angels were preoccupied only with giving a message and nothing more; as such, the angels only appeared for a short period of time; that the angels did not even sing. The Bible says the angels praised God, saying, “Glory,” or that they shouted with a loud voice, but there’s no singing. When the shepherds arrive where Jesus was born, there is no king in sight, only exhausted parents — themselves outcasts several times over — in the most meager of settings with a newborn son.

Minimalism in any category makes room for drama. If the story began at the crescendo, the narrative would have nowhere to go. But by starting at the lowest, the story is an ever-increasing crescendo. In a palace birth, the shepherds never would have been able to intrude in celebration, but this was a child given to the world rather than only to the wealthy. God intruded upon the world, the angels intruded upon the shepherds, the shepherds intruded upon Joseph and Mary, and the Messiah intruded upon our deepest and eternal needs — all this accomplished in the most non-intrusive, minimal way possible.

Comparing what Jesus came from in heaven with how He was presented at His birth highlights the minimalist qualities of merging the necessary and the beautiful, the function and the form, and the wisdom of restraint.

335. Joy Internal

Things can give pleasant distraction for a time. But, take it all away and enter into silence with one question: What is left?

It must be something inside that gives joy, or even mere happiness will always be elusive.

332. Essay: Love at First Sight (The Spark)

I don’t think “love at first sight” is a real thing because it beggars the understanding of what love truly is. I certainly understand the appeal of a meant-to-be fated romance, but that has not the depth that twenty or fifty years of loyal marriage contains. First-sighted love is shallow by comparison.

Maybe “spark at first sight” or “connection at first sight” is more accurate. But those phrases won’t catch on because they’re not romantic enough; they’re too factual and miss all the poetry of the feelings of the moment.

But isn’t that the point? Love isn’t a moment. It’s a million moments back to back. Love is the totality of what is looked back on, it’s the reminiscences by those who have always held that one relationship in higher regard than any other, even among myriad opportunities. Love is not fleeting, not temporary, not able to be had with whomever and whenever.

The spark is a welcomed and celebrated first step — an emotional doorway drug — along the path of love, but it is not love itself. The spark is the emotional high. It’s the manic part of the plot, the shallow scenes of the movie that are fun and easy to write but not where the depth of the characters is explored.

We can all recognize the universality of a story that highlights the spark, but we long to connect with the truth revealed in commitment’s depth. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is not a romance, but a tragedy — if for no other reason than that they never progress past manic emotionalism and into something more mature. The spark was all they had, and even that was quickly gone.

But compare that with the excellent prelude of the computer animated film Up. The spark between the couple sets the buoyant tone and we get the sense that great love has flourished between them. Their love has matured through life’s ebb and flow, through achievements and disappointments. The movie’s silent prelude leads us through the spark of their romance, the depth of their love, and the pain of losing the same. It is this arc that moves us emotionally and prepares us to suspend disbelief when, as an older man, the main character launches into his greatest journey, all borne from the depth of his commitment. (And notice from Shakespeare that irrational sacrifice is the outcome of the spark’s immaturity, while in Up we see that love puts correct emphasis on enthralled living.)

The spark certainly has its role. It convinces you to lower your defenses, take a risk, and then take responsibility for a real relationship. It’s an invitation into something greater. The spark is an emotional promise, “There is something greater than what you feel right now, something worth the time, worth your heart.” The spark can’t take responsibility for what comes after and how the relationship unfolds, but it is truthful in its promise to open the doorway to love.

The spark says, “Carpe diem,” this is the only moment that matters, the most important moment of your life. But what comes after convinces you that every moment since has mattered, has made your life what it is. This is much more than the spark could ever have given; this is love.

329. Quotes: Your Dad on Morals and Influence

“Being a creative artist does not liberate you from the normal bounds of morality. If anything, it should constrain you more because of the increased influence you will have on others.”

—Your Dad

328. For Sale

You can buy gadgets, property, duty, services, resources, and other replaceable stuff.

You can’t buy peace, can’t buy love, can’t buy respect or credibility or goodness or integrity or time or joy or anything else that truly matters. If someone is purporting to sell these, it’s only in exchange for your soul.

321. Don’t Wait

Don’t wait to have your last meal, last dance, last kiss, last words, last success, last memory. If it’s time to choose your last anything, it’s already too late. Do it now.

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