Category Archives: Growing Up

On Crankiness

Crankiness.   Most people find this posture rather annoying or just plain boring.  Yes, there is the occasional H. L. Mencken, whose curmudgeonly writing is entertaining partially because of its cranky tone.  But Mencken has a rare capacity for the mot juste, which makes one willing to suffer through page after page of cantankerousness to find the inexpressible one-liner that will knock one’s socks off.

However, crankiness ought to be rare rather than routine.  Yet, it seems that in the writings of the two vocational groups to which I serve, crankiness is routine.  I am a minister in a small, somewhat strict Presbyterian setting, and a classical Christian school teacher.  I’ve read somewhere that there are something like 107 different classifiable feelings.  But in the writings of some in these settings, all of these feelings are easily reduced to one:  crankiness.

I’m writing this because this is a temptation that I’ve often succumbed to.  I’m repulsed by it.  Most of us find complainers insufferable, but we often notice that one is rejected from certain affinity groups without the proper undertone of complaint.

I understand the reason for crankiness.  Pure and simple, the reason is a misappropriation  of conservatism.  Not 21st century American political conservatism, which is ill-defined and cranky in it’s own way, but classic conservatism.  Classic conservatism at its root entails a sense of loss, a mournfulness that the tried and true heritage of the past is being rejected in favor of the new and novel.  Classic conservatism sees an arrogance in this rejection of the past, a lack of humility and teachability, and a dishonor for one’s fathers and mothers by those in the present age.

However, this crankiness quickly turns into a requiem for the past and a scorn for the opportunities of the present.  Yes, true conservatives do and should long for a celebration of the best of the past.  However, what is required is not the proverbial turning back of the clock but the joie de vivre of seeing the opportunities of the present day and a creative imagining of a preferable future and the faith-filled steps and processes to bring this preferable future into place.  A robust theological and philosophical vision must be brought to bear to face the “fallen condition focus” of the environments in which people serve.

Crankiness is not a fruit of the Spirit.  It’s not enough to grieve the virtues of bygone eras. Biblically, the only “good ole’ days” were the ones before the Fall.  While many “white-bread” American Protestants look back with longing at the fifties, one does not need to think too hard in questioning if our African-American brethren experience a similar longing.  Crankiness is an unfortunate lapse into the flesh and a blessing of what is more properly called the lack of joy in our lives. Crankiness is the work of the flesh that the Christian must put off.  Joy is the fruit of the Spirit that we must “put on.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I will say, rejoice.”  While this is easier said than done for a habitual pessimist like myself, this is the imperative of the gospel.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is what allows us to rejoice, even when temporal circumstances may not bring happiness or optimism.  As long as God is present, all things are possible.  This is what is cause for rejoicing, rather than bygone virtues or present optimism.

 

 

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Getting Old

ReadingSunday afternoon, I received further confirmation that I am getting old. I’ve always been a fan of hard copy books, and appreciated them more than electronic readers. I did an about face on that yesterday. I picked Volume One of Richard Sibbes’ Collected Works off the shelf, intending to read “The Soul’s Conflict.” I start reading and notice that it appears that the type is in a 2 point font. Immediately I think, “can I get this on Kindle so that I can adjust the print?” So, its official. As much as I like the feel of a real book, the architecture of the page, the texture of the paper, being able to underline and take notes in the margins, I’m settling for simply being able to read. It is possible to annotate Kindle books with the note taking feature and copy and past the notes into Evernote, so note taking is still available. But the Kindle keyboard is difficult for me with the fine motor skill issues that I have. One more piece of evidence to indicate that, as my father-in-law used to say, “the warranty is running out.”

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Small Things, Big Influence

The new year often brings out the belief that we ought to make sweeping changes in our lives.  Beginning a rigorous exercise regimen, losing a substantial amount of weight, living within our means, and disciplining ourselves to save for the future are common New Years Resolutions.  Some of us also serve in professions or capacities that continually pressure us to do the “new,” the “unexpected,” the “unprecedented,” and to be “innovative.”  All of these desires and expectations may seem a huge burden to us.

However, the small things, done day by day, have an incremental value that we often overlook.  We underestimate the impact of faithful habits, incorporated into our days.  Those who have deep influence are faithful in what we would consider the small tasks.  For me, one example is circulating among my students and greeting them, talking to them about how their day is going and other small talk, instead of having my head down and ignoring them because I have “significant projects.”  Will I have deeper influence in their lives because of how well I prepare my lessons, or how much I connect with my students?

There is some proportionality here as well.  We are not to ignore what Jesus called “the weightier matters of the law” and be satisfied that we can check off the details.  This is the error of the Pharisees that Jesus condemns in Matthew 23,  However, Jesus is not advocating that we neglect the details and concentrate on the big picture only.

Faithful, daily tasks, as small as they may seem at the time, grow into something greater than the tasks themselves.  Consistent care of children usually results in more than a checklist completed of child care tasks, but children who are loving, well-behaved, and a pleasure to be around.  Sometimes it’s difficult to remember this.  But it’s encouraging when we do and are able to carry out this idea in specific ways.

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2014 Theme: Take Permission!

Back after a long absence!  It’s a new year.  My theme for this year is “Take Permission.”  I’m indebted to Andy Traub of for the idea.  “Take Permission” encapsulates so many things that I want to put into practice this year.  The concept is that it’s as if we are waiting for someone to give us permission to what would be good for us and beneficial to others.  We need to take permission instead of waiting for someone else to give permission

I’m taking permission to develop my walk with God.  I’m taking permission to spend time in prayer and in the Scriptures.  This is something that is not just going to happen on its own.  What people want to “give permission” for are activities with tangible returns.  Developing your walk with God may not have immediate, tangible returns, but it is something worth doing.

I’m taking permission to develop myself.  For too long, I’ve allowed the unstated expectations of others to rule and direct me.  I’m going to develop character and competence, knowing that time devoted to this is never wasted.

I’m taking permission to write.  This is another solitary pursuit that may not have immediate, tangible returns, but one that is worth pursuing.

I’m taking permission to reach out to people.  It’s time for me to take the initiative to reach out and build friendships rather than waiting for other to do so.

I’m taking permission to say “no.”  By saying “no” to others, I can say “yes” to the things that are important.

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Tragic Vision: Meditations of a Midlife Adolescent

One of the pivotal changes in my recognition of needing to grow up took place in the unlikliest of settings.  In the Fall of 2010, my wife and I went to visit our oldest son for Parents’ Weekend at The King’s College in New York City.  I attended a lecture given by Dr. Anthony Bradley.  The big idea of this lecture was that our assumptions about the nature of humanity every aspect of our worldview.  In other words, “bad anthropology yields disastrous results.”

The portion that was really eye-opening for me was when he introduced a book by Thomas Sowell called A Conflict of Visions.  Dr. Sowell describes “visions” as basic beliefs.  They are paradigms, ways of seeing, overall “grids” in the way that we perceive data and events , perhaps even below the conscious level.

Dr. Sowell noticed that people whom we might call “liberals” and “conservatives” tend to talk past one another.  He attributes this to “a conflict of visions.”  The two fundamental visions that Dr. Sowell expounds upon are the “tragic,” or “constrained” vision, and the “unconstrained” vision.

The main factor that drives the tragic vision is the recognition of human limitations. One could describe these limitations as limitations of ability and limitations of morality.  It is the recognition that humanity is not omnipotent nor omniscient nor omnicompetent.  While this does not rule out advances in innovation, discovery, technology, and civilization, it does recognize that there are some things that will not be able to be done.  Ever try running a one minute mile?  Eliminating poverty?  Making wars to cease?  It is the assumption that all of the scenarios are complex problems, so much so that we may not even be able to identify all of the variables inherent in them, much less solve them.   The recognition of having limits of morality assumes that human beings are fundamentally selfish organisms.  We do not naturally incline toward virtue.  It is a Hobbesian view of man in the state of nature, of which he said, “life is nasty brutish, and short.”

Now, this may sound like a morbid understanding of human nature.  However, for me, it was positively liberating.  While my outlook on life was previously anchored in the tragic vision, I previously did not see the implications of this.  Because of this, I was always looking for “the perfect solution for every problem.”  I was striving for the “perfect career fit.”       This discovery also freed me from the tyranny of perfectionism and made me a better evaluator of changes that I contemplate, both in my personal life and in my vocation  The tragic vision insists that there are no “perfect solutions” and “perfect fits” from East of Eden to the New Jerusalem.  All “solutions” and “fixes” involve trade-offs and unintended consequences.  This is not to say that one ought not to take risks.  But it is to focus attention on the processes inherent in living, and to put our trust in wise processes rather than ephemeral products.

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