The Burden of Authority

I already spent forty minutes writing an essay this morning about leadership, management and showing gratitude and appreciation. (That’s definitely a recurring theme for me.) I’d gone on at some length about the comparative effectiveness of dominating management versus appreciative leadership. I think my points were well-founded and completely justified. After reflecting on my own writing, I’ve decided to go with very succinct summary instead.

So here it is: if you are in charge of others in any setting and you are not treating those people the way that you yourself desire to be treated, then you are not following the Golden Rule and you are not following the teaching, example or commands of Jesus the Christ.

If you are treating people with contempt, arrogance or indifference and you enjoy that, then you are a sadist. If you are treating people that way and that actually is how you want to be treated, then you are a masochist. I suppose both could be true but neither of them is healthy. For you or for others.

Jesus said “From those to whom much is given, much will be demanded.” That applies to authority, income, natural ability and a host of other things. If you claim to be a Christian use your position, role and performance to glorify him. And there is not much that brings more glory to Christ than treating others with love, respect and appreciation.

If you are not a Christian, treat others with decency, respect and appreciation because it is more effective, leads to greater productivity and increases longevity. If you truly are a decent person, you will feel better.

It also makes the world a better place to be.

H. Arnett

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, College, education, Higher Education, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Art of Emotional Self-Defense

Some people you can count on to make you feel better just about any time you happen to bump into them somewhere. Not because they’re always bubbly and just brimming over with sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. It’s something more solid than that. They truly are generally positive and occasionally downright cheerful. They’ll be genuinely interested in how you are and mostly glad to see you. And sure enough, whether you just smile and greet each other in passing or spend a few minutes catching up, you’ll feel better. You’re glad to know such folks and might even think, “I should be more like that myself.”

I’ve found it helps me be more like those people if I make a deliberate effort to quit focusing on the lousy, unpleasant stuff. I seem to feel better and behave better when I spend more time thinking about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. You know, stuff that is excellent or praiseworthy. (I stole that list from an old Jewish tentmaker.)

When I do the opposite, it’s easy to become one of those people you can count on to bring you down even on the sunniest days. In fact, that appears to be their mission in life. Seems they just can’t help themselves. They can’t carry on a conversation for more than a minute without complaining about something or somebody, criticizing the weather or the way things are done or griping about their boss or the people they supervise. Their own personal misery is so great the only way they can cope with it is by spreading it around to others. Spend a while with them and you feel like you need an emotionally cleansing shower if not a full-on decontamination by professionals wearing industrial grade HazMat suits.

My own personal recommendation is to spend as little time as possible in the Mental HazMat Zone. When you have to be around them, keep it as brief as possible. And do not, in any circumstance, reinforce the viral misery. When they complain about a situation, ask them what they are doing to make it better. When they gripe about a process, ask them what their recommendation is for improving it. When they criticize someone else, say “Why that’s rather surprising; I’ve always found that person to be constantly trying to do the best they can with what they have to work with.” Pause then, and look them right in the eye and say, “Here, use my phone and call that person right now and show them how they can do better.”

Do this consistently for three or eight weeks and you’ll find that you don’t have to use that emotional disinfectant nearly as much. Those people will either change their behavior around you or else they’ll start avoiding you as if you were well known to be a persistent conveyor of contagious positiveness.

Meanwhile, I’ll be working on trying to be more positive and pleasant myself. Otherwise, just use my own advice against me. We’ll both be the better for it.

H. Arnett

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A Celebration of Sorrow

Never having been to a Buddhist funeral before, I wasn’t sure what to wear, what to do or what to expect. I’d read many years ago that many Asians wear white as a symbol of mourning. Sure enough, the few articles I checked regarding Vietnamese funerals indicated that mourners wear white. In the more traditional events, they also wore pointed white hats. Since this particular family includes third generation Americans, I expected they might skip the hats due to association with another traditional American group.

As for what colors to wear, I decided to check with the family. I contacted my friend and colleague Eddie and requested that he ask our colleague Gaileen, “Is it okay if I wear gray and black?” Since the funeral was for her father, I considered her to be an appropriate authority. She replied that those colors would be fine and in fact the family would be wearing black.

Indeed they were. They also wore white headbands. Along with the monks, they gathered at the front of the funeral chapel in Wichita where Binh’s casket was surrounded by numerous sprays of flowers. Unlike the monks, the family knelt together to honor the deceased. They remained kneeling while one of their religious leaders led the group through a series of chants and songs. Periodically, one monk would signal to the family to bow and they bowed together. I never understood a word of the chanting but I noticed that on some of the segments, many members of the audience joined in with him.

I imagine that at least some of the songs are part of ancient tradition, carried forward through many generations of Vietnamese. These were likely some of the same notes and words that sounded in villages and cities thousands of miles away. Peasants and lords, workmen and royalty, farmers and shopkeepers. Whether prince or pauper, when someone died, friends and family, neighbors and near of blood would come together for honor, for remembrance and for sharing.

Here in this nation of immigrants and indigenous peoples, we had gathered to honor a life and comfort those left behind. As we filed past the body and dropped flowers into the casket, I was reminded that even when we do not share faith, we should share sorrow.

I paused beside Binh Nguyen’s body, added my flower to the growing bouquet and bowed slightly. To him, to the family, to humanity. We are larger than our differences and infinitely smaller than the God who has made us all.

H. Arnett

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There are those who live their lives
on the lonely edge of long shadows,
fearing the night
and longing for the flight of doves
to lift them above the aching touch
of empty voices
and bitter choices made
in the biting light of reality.

There are those who choose the use of others,
who long ago learned
that they could turn the fear
of their leaving into a burning threat
that would keep things
as they desired,
the smoke of a smoldering fire
in the corner of a frozen room.

There came one who called them out
from fear and darkness,
from fire and frost,
from threat and loss.
Who offered peace in the midst of pain,
a hope bright as heaven
without the leavening of guilt,
and a leaving of shame.

I have sometimes walked in darkness,
have felt the coldness of consequence,
and found that even in grace
I have had to face the lingering sting
of things traced to past choices.
And I have also found
there is a balm in the voice of Gilead,
a soothing of scars

a healing of hope
that leads to love.

H. Arnett

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What Goes Around

I don’t know that I had much of a plan for how I might spend my Saturday. I did plan to make waffles for breakfast as that has been both plan and action for just about every Saturday morning at our house for over twenty years. For the first time in a few months, it was warm enough that we ate our waffles while sitting on the porch. As we were enjoying our breakfast, I noticed the big shrub at the northeast corner of the house. Its upper branches were brushing against the eave and reaching up above the gutter. So, I decided that once we finished our breakfast, I’d trim that rascal back a bit.

I’m not sure exactly what sort of shrub it is but it’s quite reminiscent of winter creeper. Its branches grew nearly three feet last season. So, that’s about how far I trimmed it back for the start of this season. When I started raking up the branches from around the bush, I remembered the blanket of leaves covering the narrow strip of yard on that same corner of our property. I began raking those up into piles.

While raking, I soon noticed that the leaves were almost exclusively oak leaves. The primary significance of that fact is that we don’t have any oak trees. When I shared that observation with Randa, she said, “So, should we take these over to their yard?” Frankly, I found the thought somewhat appealing. I mentally rehearsed the scene of dumping a big bag of leaves in their yard.

Then it occurred to me that I didn’t want to go around the neighborhood trying to retrieve the leaves from our three huge elm trees.

It doesn’t usually take a lot of time to figure out that you aren’t going to get too far down that road of just desserts before you find the spoon in your own hand and a dish you’re not going to enjoy very much sitting right there in front of you. Might be good before starting on that journey of just rewards for others to remember what Jesus said about “Blessed are the merciful…”

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Metaphysical Reflection, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prayer for the Lord’s Day

Lord God of Heaven and Earth:
you have made all things, O Lord,
and given life to the living.
You created humanity from the dust of the earth
and breathed into us the Breath of Life
that we became living souls.

Look down upon us, Lord God,
in love and mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Savior of Humanity,
you came into this world of sin and darkness
to bring light and love, mercy and justice.
You walked among us,
healing the sick,
forgiving the sinful,
and convicting the proud and self-righteous.

In return for your miracles,
your compassion and kindness,
they set loose a murderer
and condemned you.
You, the Giver of Life,
they executed as a thief and liar.

You were wrapped in common cloth
and laid in the cold stone of the earth.

And yet on this day,
the First Day,
the New Sabbath,
you came forth in triumph
over Sin and Death and Hell,
giving everlasting hope
of life beyond the grave,
of blessing beyond imagination,

of Redemption.

Holy is your name, Lord God,
worthy of praise and thanksgiving

H. Arnett

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Adkins Diet & Other Tortures

About a dozen years ago, Randa and I decided to try the Adkins Diet. She did the research; I did the complaining.

As you may know, the initial phase of the Adkins Diet limits you to something like ten grams of carbohydrates a day. That’s like half of one Oreo with no filling in the middle. No bread, no sugar, all the celery you want. Through careful strategy, incredible self-control and decades of sacrifice, I’d managed to limit my celery intake to about four stalks a year. Bread and sugar were staples in my regimen of food intake. Giving them both up cold turkey made me want to break things, destroy other people’s property and hurl acid at works of art and beauty. Mind you, I didn’t actually do any of those things but I did get more surly than usual. Not that anyone could tell but I could feel the rage building in me.

Those feelings subsided after a couple of weeks. We learned to substitute stewed cauliflower for mashed potatoes and carrots for anything else that seemed tempting. We tried the Adkins brand waffle mix but didn’t care much for the taste of cardboard flavored breakfast treats. By the end of the third month, we’d each lost ten or fifteen pounds. By the end of six months, we’d lost the dog and most of our friends. It’s not always fun being around people who are that determined to lose weight.

These days, I’m more inclined to the Buddy Hackett diet.

Buddy was a popular comedian in the 60’s and 70’s. At one point, he weighed over three hundred pounds. Over a period of two years or so, he dropped nearly half of that weight. He did it without surgery and without giving up any of the foods he loved. “I knew I was eating way too much,” the comic explained, “Way too much.” He went on to say that he hated dieting. “I knew I couldn’t stay with anything that made me give up all the stuff I loved to eat.”

So how did he do it? Simple: “I just started eating half as much. I’d still eat steak, still eat potatoes. Just half as much.” He also started to exercise. “Nothing strenuous,” he grinned, “just walking and stuff like that.”

With a lot of things, a bit of moderation will get us where we need and want to be. Self-control and temperance, so to speak. Works well with cheeseburgers, fine wines and chocolate. But if it’s an area where we can’t manage the moderation part, abstinence is the better choice. That’s why Oreos aren’t on my version of the Buddy Hackett diet…

H. Arnett

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