Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 July 2018

Doubt

We all love confidence. Admire it in others. Wish for it ourselves. Sometimes have to fake it. Often miss the fact that others are faking it.

Is doubt a bad thing? Historic tales – both fiction and nonfiction – may have you believe it is. Certainty implies action.

G.K. Chesterton said that “every act of will is an act of self limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense, every act is an act of self sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else.”

Therein lies the rub. Deciding on one thing to the exclusion of all else. It’s one thing if you’re deciding on the color of your new road bike or the direction of your business. Entirely another if your decision affects your soul throughout eternity – or the fate of a nation for a few decades – or centuries.

As a young Air Force officer, I served under a few senior officers infected with “great leader syndrome” – they refused to change their mind even when presented with better, more current information. They didn’t want to appear to be a weak leader. Ironically, their refusal to even consider new ideas made them appear weak.

No one ever connected the word “weak” with Winston Churchill. Yet author Anthony McCarten, in his story, The Darkest Hour, wrote of an essential Churchill quality:

“…there was perhaps a more surprising ingredient than any nation in grave crisis might wish to find in its leader: doubt.

The vital ability to doubt his or her own judgements; to possess a mind capable of holding two contrary ideas at the same time and only then to synthesize them; to have a mind not made up, and so remain in conversation with all views.

This contrasted with a mind made up which could remain in conversation with only one person: the self. Britain had little use for an ideologue in these days. What it needed was a 360° thinker.”

Doubt is a characteristic of thought; a nutrient for the mind. Strong trees grow slowly. Strong minds do as well.

So dear Zadie, my counsel for you, your sister, and your closest cousin: it’s okay to doubt. Believe but question.

Think about the big questions, and let honest answers surely lead to your true beliefs.

A little doubt is a good thing.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 June 2018

Simple Answers

In a world that seems to get more complicated by the day, simple answers are especially appealing.

If false, they can be dangerously misleading; if true – they’re like nuggets of gold.

Christianity – easy to grasp for a child – quickly gets complicated as you age and gain life experience in a less-than-perfect world. But I know a guy with answers.

The guy is Jesus. I believe he is who he says he is – and that’s based on a belief that is certainly not childlike.

My friend John Maisel says there are just two things Jesus wants you to know. Maisel calls these things “truths” – actual “bedrock reality” for our lives.

What are the two truths? Imagine a sit down with Jesus and him looking you in the eye and saying:

All I want you to know is I love you. Trust me.

You got it. The last five words – just 19 characters. Pretty simple. Really true.

Take those nuggets with you anywhere.

Even better, go share them.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 May 2018

A Mash-Up of Hope

Here’s a new mash-up: Jim Denison, Os Guinness, Shane Parrish, and Barbara Tuchman. Not too far out there since they’re all smart people, but rarely considered in the same breath.

After the Minnesota Miracle in January, Denison wrote a blog post that many may have missed. That’s understandable if you’re not big on football, Minnesota, or Jesus. But read a little deeper into his words, and you’ll find both concern for division in our country today and encouragement that we are alive “for such a time as this.”

Denison pointed me to Guinness speaking at The Colson Center’s Breakpoint. There Guinness traced the current division of views in America to “the heirs and allies of the American revolution (1776), where faith and freedom went hand in hand; and the heirs and allies of the thinking of the French revolution (1789), where faith and freedom were mortal enemies.”

Guinness continued (thanks to Denison for the full text): “The current crisis [in America] is a tale of these two revolutions. Both cry ‘freedom,’ but their views of freedom are diametrically opposed. They have: 

  • different roots (the Bible versus the Enlightenment), 
  • different views of human nature (realism versus utopianism), 
  • different views of change (incremental versus radical), 
  • different views of freedom (the power to do what you ought versus the permission to what you like), 
  • different views of government (protective versus Progressive), 
  • different views of accountability (‘under God’ versus without God), and 
  • different views of righting wrongs (repentance and reconciliation versus reparation and revenge).”

Now we’re just talking about freedom and living together. Imagine that. An argument over one word and a basic concept. An argument 230 years ago.

Parrish recently tweeted the principles for his excellent Farnam Street blog:
1. Direction over speed 
2. Live deliberately 
3. Thoughtful opinions held loosely 
4. Principles outlive tactics 
5. Own your actions

Meaningful. Substantial. Simple. 15 words on living a good life.

If thoughtful opinions were held without a defensive posture. If principles were followed for the long run. If actions coupled with accountability. Folly might be avoided.

Tuchman wrote the book on folly. The March on Folly is her comprehensive study of “wooden-headedness” from 670 B.C. to 1973 A.D. She asserts that wooden-headedness, the source of self deception, is acting according to your wishes “while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.” Folly is often a “matter of ordinary men walking into water over their heads” without a set of principles to follow. 

Sound familiar? Tuchman published the book in 1984. For some reason John Meacham felt it important pen another review in 2018.

So here’s the mash-up. Folly is nothing new. Smart people are available now – and have been for a few thousand years – to share principles and encourage critical thinking. History offers good and bad, universally teachable moments. And no matter how bad things look, we are indeed alive “for such a time as this.”

Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 April 2018

Wisdom from Al & Jane at 70

Our dear friends, Al and Jane, are approaching their 70th wedding anniversary. 

Married for 70 years – that means they have been married for 25,550 days. Wow!

Put another way, had those two adventurous kids decided to constantly make epic trips around the world in 80 days, they would have circled the globe 319 times.

We are so glad they didn’t! It would have been too hard to catch them to glean their nuggets of wisdom. My wife and I caught them as often as possible. 

Al and Jane have been our double dates for more than one of our own anniversary dinners. They are fun to be with, and they are a TERRIFIC source of marital advice. Here are a few nuggets of their collective wisdom:

  • Our thoughts determine our actions, and those determine our lives.
  • Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. And if it’s a story about the wild west of Spur, Texas, you can be even slower to speak. 
  • Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid and don’t get discouraged. 
  • Let your light shine before others. Everybody needs a smile.
  • Where your treasure is, so will be your heart.

Their words reflect not just their lives well lived but the sources of their wisdom – from a guy named Sol, and some other guys named James, Joshua, and Matthew.

Their goal has always been to be encouraged in heart and united in love (coincidentally similar to one written by a guy named Paul). That goal is not just for themselves, but for everyone they brush up against. It actually does rub off on others.

We cannot count the times we’ve heard Jane say: “that was the best party…the best dinner…the best pie…the best wedding…the best trip…the best time we’ve ever had.” 

For most of those “best evers,” we’d think to ourselves, ‘yes, it was good. But the best?? Jane’s just being nice.’

But Jane really means it. She really believes it.  

The rest of us might say after a careful look at the Al and Jane of 70 years – “that’s the best marriage ever.” 

And we’d really mean it. We really believe it.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 March 2018

Cold Heart

“The hardest sin to confess is my pride – my stubbornness and coldness of heart.”

That first sentence in Jack Millers’s devotional for the 20th of March hit me in the gut and made me look at my heart. I’ve wondered in the past if sometimes my heart was too warm or too tender. Never have I wondered if it was too cold.

I look with dismay at others when they make snarky comments about the human condition locally, nationally, or globally. Naturally, only being snarky some of the time, I think I have most things figured out and believe I’m able to admit it when I just don’t know.

I set myself apart from those who only feed their minds – and beliefs – with information that confirms their biases. I define intellectual integrity as the willingness to admit uncertainty, to look at all sides of an issue, and to willingly examine long-held opinions given new evidence.

I claim to be different from those others on the far right and far left of our political divide. Those others who stubbornly dig in their heels and yell loudly at anyone who slightly disagrees with them. I claim intellectual integrity with a certain amount of pride.

As Hamlet said: “Ay, there’s the rub.”

Miller reminded me that “sin makes us inherently self centered and unteachable.” 

Am I self centered? I want my own way. Am I unteachable? I want to be right. I may be embarrassed to be wrong (even unwilling to admit my embarrassment).

Is that why so many tribes are fussing and fuming with each other these days? They’re unwilling to admit they might be wrong? That their leaders are wrong? That their ancestors were wrong?

Am I unwilling to admit I might be wrong. Or am just I proud to not be like “those other” people? 

The hardest sin for me to confess apparently IS my pride – sadly, my stubbornness and coldness of heart.

Looks like I need to add pride to my list of sins – things that displease God.

Sure am glad Jesus died so that our sins can be forgiven.

Sure am glad for Easter.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 28 February 2018

Long-Term Thinking

My savvy friends at MarketSmart raised a good point about nonprofit fundraisers competing with Apple for discretionary dollars. They said:

“The newest Apple iPhone costs about $1,000. In the past, it was about $600. Some 80 million people bought the iPhone X so far. Maybe more.

“That means… in the past few months, charities around the world lost out on 80 million opportunities to get about $400 bucks.

“Apple outflanked them! This is all about ‘share of wallet’.

“You’re not just competing against other charities. No! You’re competing against anything that provides value to your supporters.

“So, the question you need to ask yourself is this… What are you doing to outflank Apple?”

Asked another way: does your nonprofit offer more value than an iPhone upgrade?

Now I love my iPhone (most of the time). Every few years I do yearn for the latest and greatest, fastest and coolest. At first glance, the question is clearly a provocative apples and oranges comparison. But look at the question for longer than a glance.

What if the value your nonprofit provides is not something that needs upgrade in 2 years; slows down in 4 years; needs replacement in 6 years; and just quits working in 10 years? Competing for that $400 is relatively easy when involved with donors who think in the long term.

“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” – 1 John 2:17

Forever is pretty much long term (and my desire for a flip phone has certainly passed away).

“…for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.” – Proverbs 27:24

Solomon didn’t mention iPhones, but he was on the right track. 

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” – John 6:51

Hmmmm.  Living bread or new iPhone?  Forever or a few years?  

You choose.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 January 2018

Carpe Noctem

Everyone knows “carpe diem” – “seize the day.” It’s bright, inspiring, and as uplifting as a new sunrise.

Everyone knows the phrase. A Google search reveals 32.5M hits. It’s painted on the rock that holds open many doors.

Carpe diem is the premise of Dead Poets Society, one of my favorite Robin Williams movies.

Carpe diem is the condensed version of a quote by Horace, one of my favorite Roman poets. Full disclosure, I have more favorite movies than I have favorite Roman poets.

Horace’s full Latin phrase was: “Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero.”

According to Urban Dictionary that means seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future. It’s commonly used to justify spontaneous behavior and to make the most out of today, because one doesn’t know if they’ll live to see tomorrow.

Sadly, Horace lived before Christ. Like many others of his time, he lived with little hope. But that’s not the story of this post.

A couple of years ago, the Mental Floss website explained “carpe noctem.” The author, Paul Anthony Jones, said it was the nocturnal equivalent of carpe diem and literally means “seize the night.”

Jones went on to explain it can mean EITHER to make the most of your time – to do what it takes to get the job done including work into early morning hours OR to enjoy the evening once the day’s hard work is done.

He left out a third meaning for those who follow Jesus. When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

Seize the night. Roll back spiritual darkness. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5

Get ‘er done. Enjoy the night. Let your light shine.

You are the light of the world.

Carpe noctem.

 

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 December 2017

Advent

2017: the year of the first advent calendar for Maggie, Sabine, and Zadie. The joyful anticipation of what surprise was “behind the door” for the next day.

Advent Season? The joy of children everywhere waiting for Christmas. Waiting to see what new toys were under the tree on Christmas morning. Maybe getting to open one present on Christmas Eve.

It was my joy as a child – reading the countdown calendar each December morning in the comics section of The Dallas Morning News. Waiting wasn’t easy, but those sweet memories bring a smile of my anticipation. Maybe it was my first lesson in delayed gratification. Often a hard lesson for kids to learn. Some never do.

In this century in this country in homes of most people, the anticipation is over getting new stuff – even for those who cannot afford much new stuff. Many of the poorest are blessed by the amazing Angel Tree efforts of The Salvation Army.

But all that cool stuff gets in the way of the true meaning of “advent.” It’s an old English word derived from Latin “adventus” meaning arrival, and from the combo “advenire” (ad: to + venire: come’).

So are we coming or going during advent? Our culture will have us believe it’s all about us and the arrival of our cool, new toys. It’s not. It’s about new babies that change everything around them. Doubt that? Ask ANY new parents if their lives changed after the arrival of their newborn.

But it’s especially about Jesus, the one new baby who changed everything for everyone. Like it or not. Agree with it or not. The baby Jesus has affected the world like no other. The Advent Season is about Jesus coming into a dark world two thousand years ago and the anticipation that He will return again.

When you’re lost in the woods, alone in the city, floundering in the deep end, or deeply troubled in your world – you’re looking for someone to save you. Admit it. You cannot do it yourself.

Paraphrasing Jack Miller’s devotional for December 23rd: “So into the real world comes a real Savior leading you through real problems and empowering you to master the self-induced problems that are too much for you.

“This isn’t great news if all you need is a nudge, if you have most of the strength you need and all you want is for the Lord to prop you up a bit. If that’s your religion, then you don’t need a Savior.

“But the angels come – in the ultimate Advent calendar – with this glorious message to those who have the deepest needs of the soul, to those who have an independent spirit and a willful heart. To those who want their own way, not God’s way, and who have made a mess of their lives. To those people, the angel announces wonderful news. In the town of David the Savior has been born, the Christ, God has come in the flesh. He has come to do what no one else can—to change hearts and to change lives.”

Anticipate that arrival.

Posted by: Don Linnen | 30 November 2017

More Truth

I’m trying to spot it.  I really am.  Bob Schieffer just wrote a book about it called Overload: Finding Truth in Today’s Deluge of News.

“There is no God, no mystery, no secrets of life.  Everyone can know everything.”  That old Korean Democratic Youth League slogan can’t be wrong, can it? Look at what it’s done for North Korea.

Since Darwin, it’s been fashionable to believe that creation doesn’t require a Creator.  Darwin was a scientist.  He was all about knowledge.  Shakespeare told us that “knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”

“If you want truth to go round the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly; it is light as a feather and a breath will carry it.” Was Charles Spurgeon right – or just another cynic?

Postmodernists claim that all truth is personal and subjective – except for their claim that truth is personal and subjective. (And they claim to recognize irony before anyone else.)

Jim Denison recently exposed my little brain to apophenia and instrumentalism. I’ve actually been exposed to it before. I just didn’t know what it was called.

Apophenia is the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena. This was based on research focused on finding abnormal meaning or significance in random experiences by psychotic people.

Instrumentalism is a view that scientific theories are more important to generate reliable predictions than to describe the world accurately.

Denison wrote that when enough people say enough skeptical things about something, a herd mentality emerges. Since our brains tend to perceive patterns in random phenomena (apophenia), “we can decide that the apparent popularity of skepticism must make the skeptics right.” It really doesn’t matter if it’s true if enough people say it’s true. Especially if I want to believe it. Right?

Denison went on to say that “in a society that denies objective meaning, people cannot possess objective or inherent value. Their worth is then determined by their usefulness to others. This view is known as “instrumentalism”—a theory or object is valued according to its use.”

This is where it gets yucky.  Denison concluded that the value of usefulness is often applied to unborn babies, unhealthy older people, and women everywhere. “If there are no objective values, women will not be valued objectively.”

Sure seems like a lot of people in powerful positions are having a lot of trouble figuring out objective truth these days. Where can they can go to get it right?

“and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

 

Posted by: Don Linnen | 31 October 2017

Can You Spot It?

Do you know it when you see it?  Or hear it?

Ship spotting has been important for centuries. It behooved the captain of a 32-gun frigate to see the 58-gun ship of the line before the larger ship saw him. First detection made it easier to maneuver for attack or for immediate withdrawal. Discretion has often been the better part of valor.

Over the last 100 years, plane spotting has become more important, first with eyes, then with radar. Sound is surprisingly reliable with ears of experience (not a typo). But today, if you hear the sound of an enemy flyer, it may be too late.

In the over-hyped pop culture of today, celebrity spotting is a thing. Yes, there’s an app for that. And a quick look via your favorite search engine will reveal more links for finding celebs than anything else.

But what about truth spotting? How ya doin with that?

We have more facts, opinions, information, data, interpretations, theories, polls, studies, partial truths, omitted facts, skewed context, blithering noise, and emotional appeals than ever before. Spotting a lie can be tough.

A scary segment on tonight’s PBS Newshour (it is Halloween) reported on the staggering number of provocateurs that used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to post inflammatory and divisive content for naive consumption in 2016. Gullibility is nothing new. It’s been around forever. 

Fake news can have effects that range from disturbing to destructive. Today the effects can be more damaging than ever.

Think fake news is scary? Try false teaching. That’s the title of an excellent article by Jen Wilkin. She shines the light on what liars do best: muddling together “a heady cocktail of fact and fiction,” twisting words and context “to prey on fear and desire.” Spotting a liar can be tougher.

In the need-to-feel-good 21st Century, truth spotting can allay fear and pour cold water on desire. But it can also take an uncomfortable, inconvenient amount of effort – especially if the results don’t align with your feelings or what others want to feel. 

An old lesson: it’s still not about your feelings or what proves you’re right. It’s about the truth. The truth is out there. Look for it.  Study it. Develop eyes and ears of experience. 

Wilkin said, “We learn to spot a lie by studying the truth. Both fake news and false teaching bow to this principle.”

She is so right.

 

 

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