Friday, April 21, 2017

Humility: Objective Distance Easily Attained

I am working through an excellent book on humility: Humilitas by one John Dickson. As you would expect, his first discussion deals with how one can even talk about humility. If you're really humble you won't pretend to know anything about humility and so you certainly won't write a book about it! Or so it seems at a glance.

John is known for being, in his words, "dominance-leaning, achievement-focused, driven". So when he told his long-time friend he was writing a book on "the origins of humility in western ethical thought" his friend quipped:

"Well, at least you have the objective distance from the subject."

Zing! And so might be said of us all. Of course, John makes the reasonable case for trying to learn about this classic virtue. And right off he reminds us that one of the more remarkable sociological studies of recent years, the book Good to Great, identifies humility as one of two key ingredients in the extraordinary success he documented.

I'll hope to finish the book soon, and may share a bit as I go along.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Thinking on the Decalogue: Especially #4.

Alas, in our fallenness we see God giving and think He is taking: taking our leisure, our enjoyment, our freedom.

The Jews, astounded to be free, receive the lavish gift of one day every week to be free from labor, celebrate their freedom, and thereby validate, strengthen, and expand their freedom. For to have one-seventh of life given to celebrate life's highest goods: that gift, received and cherished, enriches the soul beyond knowing.

I am currently reading Thomas Cahill's, The Gifts of the Jews, a fascinating look at Ancient Near East through lens I have scarcely used. Indeed, the lens often seem wrong to me but they do give sight and perspective that help me better understand Biblical history and reality.

His discussion of the Ten Commandments is especially helpful. He observes that nothing in all the world's literature compares to “the Ten”, as he refers to these words of God. I am especially taken with his comments on the gift of the Sabbath, or “ceasing”. “No ancient society before the Jews had a day of rest. The God who made the universe and rested bids us do the same, calling us to a weekly restoration of prayer, study, and recreation (or re-creation).”

He continues: “The connections to both freedom and creativity lie just beneath the surface of this commandment: leisure is appropriate to a free people, and this people so recently free find themselves quickly establishing this quiet weekly celebration of their freedom.”

As I reflected on his comments, I saw again how erroneous has been my outlook. The sabbath is a stupendous gift. But in our fallenness we see God giving and think He is taking: taking our leisure, our enjoyment, our freedom. To be sure, some of our attitudes toward church attendance portend such a view. And a long history of well-intended Sabbath rules can give the wrong idea.

And so we fight with God and it boils down to self-will. And through it all God is offering: the Ten simple words of life, among which is one whole day every week in which we are free from labor. What could possibly be bad about that?!

For some reason I still feel reluctant about the Sabbath, no matter how much I try to view it as a gift. Perhaps this is because I have observed it reasonably well across the years and so I take it for granted. I want to see it anew so that I embrace it with glad joy; revel in the freedom it brings and celebrates; and, in the inimitable words of the writer of Hebrews, therein discover all that is meant when we say Jesus is our Sabbath rest. The Gift, the Cessation from our own works, the One to whom all of Creation – especially the Sabbath – points with one voice.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ministry Remnants: Apostle Paul tells us what to see

What do you look at? Do you regularly look at what is invisible? How would you? Or do you spend your time looking at what can be seen, the things for which eyes are obviously made?

In II Corinthians 4:18 Paul speaks in paradox, easily missed by those too familiar with the passage. "Look at what you can not see," he says. Huh? How do you see what cannot be seen? And further he says "Do NOT look at what CAN be seen."

I love the apostle Paul and believe he speaks the Word of God and so I listen and learn. Of course we know he speaks of the life of faith, the only life which leads to the eternal, the only path by which we can know God. As we see in a later Epistle, when we come to God we must "believe that He is and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him." And in that same letter we read that faith is itself the evidence of what we cannot see.

What am I looking at? Paul says quit looking at the stuff you can see because it is passing away! Ever reasonable, Paul does not disappoint. Why would we set our sights on passing things? Because they will not last. We long for that which is forever, even for the eternal - whatever always has been and always will be.

Indeed we do. One of the radio commercials here in Alaska revels in the enduring beauty of Bristol Bay and the Native Corporation that shepherds it. The closing lines of the ad say, "We're not going anywhere. We'll always be, in a place that's always been."
Bristol Bay Landscape

This ads taps the deepest longings of the heart. It also betrays what the heart knows: contrary to those deepest longings, we will someday be dead, unable to embrace the reality for which we painfully long.

Here the Scripture steps in and gives hope. "Set your affections on things above." "Lay up treasures in heaven where they will not decay." "Look at the things which are not seen -- for those things, they last forever."

This is the life of faith, the life that invests in the eternal, the only answer for you and I who desperately long for something real, something that lasts. I think God uses most of life to teach us to set our sights on the unseen, for when we finally do see it -- to borrow Elliott's apt phrase -- we will be home "and know the place for the first time."

 Nothing which is of a perishable nature can be the chief good of a being that was made for eternity. (Quesnel, quoted by Adam Clark)

He has set eternity in our heart. 
(Ecc. 3:11)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ronald Lee is 30!! (a re-post on the occasion of a later birthday!)

It must've been somewhere in the summer after my Senior year of High School when, just like a few years earlier when number six came along, Dad called us in for an announcement: “Your Mother and I are going to be adding another baby to the family. Sometime next Spring number seven will arrive!” And did he ever arrive! On this day those 30 34 years ago, Ronald Lee Huff joined our family and we've never been the same – a good thing!!

Unfortunately for me I was off to college when he was born but I still remember Mom flying to South Florida from Kansas with an 8-week old boy so she and he could be with me and my older sister for a week or so. It was some kinda hot and the little brother made some kinda noise, but it was all good!

A few years later I was home for a year and was around for Ronnie's birthday-suit trek through the neighborhood and his attempt to climb on the roof at age 3. I still remember how determined he was to get up there and help us on that hot, steep roof. One time he climbed a radio tower up to the eave of the roof. Mom was the only one home with him and had to climb up and retrieve him herself! Even though I was not home a lot during those years, I always remember how huggable and lovable he was as a boy, a lot of fun for the family and all who knew him.

As he grew into elementary school it slowly became just he and older brother Robb at home with Mom and Dad because the rest of us were gone with our own families or college or work. Robb and Ron were close buddies. Then when Ron was nine we all suffered the loss of Dad. After 20 years it still hits you in the gut, and perhaps Ronnie most of all. I still remember Ronnie – nine years old, trying to take it all in, resting in the strengthening presence of family. After the graveside gun salute he was gathering the spent brass cartridges out of the grass. He held out his hand to show me 9 cartridges: “I saved nine of these for the nine years I had with Dad.” This was Ron – thoughtful, tender, missing the biggest man in his life, and knowing enough to always remember.

In the years to come and up through High School we always loved it when he and Robb could visit our home with Mom. He always had a ready smile and laugh, and we loved him so much. Couldn't help ourselves. I remember once after our first son was born and Ronnie was visiting. He went out to ride around with me and he was old enough by then to help me some. He was only eleven so I should have known better, but I found myself pushing him, insisting that he 'get busy'. I didn't let up very well either, mean ol' big brother that I was! And then I noticed that he was just quiet and thoughtful – not doing much. “What are you thinking?” I asked. He took a moment before he replied.  “Life isn't just all work you know," he said. "Just 'cause I want to be out here with you doesn't mean I'm wanting to work all the time.” It was late, cold and he was right -- "wanting to be with me".  There's a life lesson in that.  Maybe a 30-year old guy could think of something more fun to do with his eleven-year old brother than work and more work. Ya think?

And so along the way we have had a great deal of fun. I wish I could remember some of the jokes. They were often nearly unspoken. One time in particular we were in Indiana for Thanksgiving, enjoying a domino game around the table. He would've been about fifteen I guess and we had discovered a very kindred spirit, meeting somewhere in the exquisite world of “Far Side” and “Calvin and Hobbes.” The worst of it was that we could seldom make our remarks without busting into uncontrollable laughter. Before one of us could finish some wise-crack, the other knew where it was going and we would lose it. The rest of the table had no idea how whatever-it-was could be so belly-laugh funny. Maybe we didn't either – it just was, and this is a special connection we have always enjoyed.

Another connection is this sort of crazy love of big-word-talk, for lack of a better description. It goes something like this: Instead of asking “Why did the chicken cross the road?”, Ron might proffer the following: 

     “Should inquisitions propose grammar leading to quest of determining poultry motive in situations  where horseless carriage ambulations must be transversed by said poultry, such determinations shall be disallowed from being sought via annoying query signs beside said routes of transversing.” 

Perfectly clear, right?

My favorite expression of his was when he referred to people as “sentient beings.” It was LOL funny -- after I looked it up to know what it meant.  Soon I shamelessly stole it for my own retorts. Of course mystified onlookers wonder what marbles we have left, but we don't mind. We might even describe said state for you if you like!

So there has been a lot of fun, and some hard times along the way as well. I remember when Ron decided to join the Army. I had the very poignant privilege of taking him to the airport for his departing flight to boot camp. The memory of that trip and his departure is surreal. I wish I could go there again, hug him again and shake his hand, feel the mix of pride and challenge and knowing life can never be the same again. We drove some 60 miles and made small talk. My kid brother had grown up and was going to do something none of us had done. And it was a life step I will never forget.

I am so proud of Ron for joining and serving in the Army. He has been less than enamored with his memories and experiences, not uncommon I am sure. But the love we all feel for him, and the pride and appreciation for his service and sacrifice will always be real in our hearts.

In the last ten years there were times when Ron lived within a few hours drive and 2 or 3 times I was able to meet him for his birthday. Once we met at this cool sub place in Cincinnati. Another time he took me to a new-to-me Mexican place that served huge portions. It was always so very good to get together with him, talk about old times, new times, good times, life. Like always he was funny, thoughtful, articulate. Good times.

Now he is 30 and I can't believe it, but I get to take a few minutes and say something real, something I mean, something like this straight to my much-loved kid brother: “Hey man, I miss you. Wish Kansas and Virginia were not far separated by, you know, roads and mountains and miles and stuff. You OK? Working hard I'm sure – that makes me happy and proud. I love the memories, Ron, and the blessing of a brother like you. I'm thankful for the now and all we can know and love. I believe in a better Tomorrow but am very thankful for all the todays. Let's stay in touch better – ok?  

"That's all for now except to say again, Happy Big 3-0.  I hope you have many, many more and that I get to celebrate some of them with you.  This thousand miles away stuff just doesn't cut it.  Oh and I almost forgot -- I love you, Bro.”