March 20, 2007

40 for 40


Continue reading "40 for 40" »

"Don't sweat the small stuff."

280px-NGC_4414_%28NASA-med%29.jpg"Nearly everything is small stuff."

It's said that Theodore Roosevelt, when he occupied the White House, would sometimes take a break from matters of state to take a stroll outside at night and comment on the vastness of space, the billions of stars, the unfathomable distances, the astounding improbability of our being, and then say, "Now I think we are small enough. Let's call it a night."

Or as Douglas Adams said...

Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.

I discovered that I misnumbered about a week ago and this is actually quote number 41. But it deserves to be included and, you know, don't sweat the small stuff.

40 for 40, #40b

Continue reading ""Don't sweat the small stuff."" »

"Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

image034.jpegYou know, I will probably offend some of my blog readers with this quote, but I'd be lying to you if I didn't include this quote in the mix. I've been debating whether to add it or not since I started this series and several times it's come up randomly and I just decided to pass over it and go to the next one, but tomorrow I will be done with the series, so today seems like a good day.

Fact is, I'm a people pleaser and I'm not rude or obscene by nature. I want people to like me and I recognize there is great danger in that. Sometimes to do your job you have to be honest to yourself, your mission, and if people want to pick nits about it or bring you down, you have to let it go. You can't please everyone all the time.

There are fault finders out there who want to be critical of everything, even those with the best of intentions.

And, likewise, I have to be ready to step back and laugh and not take everything so personally. It's not all about me, after all.

And that allows me to sneak in another quote:

I'm trying to tell you something about my life
maybe give me insight between black and white
and the best thing you've ever done for me
is to help me take my life less seriously
it's only life after all
Emily Saliers, Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine

40 for 40, #40

March 19, 2007

"You can't do everything, so choose what you do very carefully."

multitasking-queen.jpgMy first class in seminary was Pastoral Care and Counseling. The professor, on the first day of class, apparently took great sadistic pleasure in passing out the 50 page syllabus to each student, dropping them on our desks with a deadly "thud." Bug-eyed and shell-shocked, we started to thumb through the tomes with visions of a carefree first quarter vanishing before our eyes. But, as he passed these out, these words were uttered - "This class is good preparation for ministry. You can't do everything, so choose what you do very carefully."

I took that to heart and I didn't do everything in that class and managed an A. In fact, that advice proved great for not only that class, but grad school and my career in general. I try to remember this when I'm faced with multiple deadlines and asked to be in three places at once.

I often miss those grad school days because of the syllabus. The wonderful thing about a syllabus is that it lays out all of the expectations in black and white, tells you what you are going to be tested on and when, and when the trials will be over. In life you get tested all the time, but you never know when and using what criteria or by whom and you have no idea when it's ever going to end.

40 for 40, #39

March 18, 2007

"You're no fun anymore!"

Monty Python's Flying Circus, Episode 7

Another fine and useful line from Monty Python.

40 for 40, #38

March 17, 2007

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding."

cosmic_gc3_new.gifJob 38:4

I love this portion of Job in which Job, removed from everything of earthly value, gets to question God as to his fate. And God shoots a series of questions right back at him.

It reminds me of a high-stakes game of "Questions" which we used to use as an improv warm up where the actors establish a scene and are only permitted to ask each other questions.

God: How's it going?
Job: How do you think it's going?
God: What's that supposed to mean?
Job: How do you think I feel after losing my wife, kids, farm, and everything I own?
God: Do you have any idea how hard it is to make a universe?
Job: No, but...
God: Ding! Round goes to God!

In some ways, completely unsatisfying. But in other ways, completely true to experience. To the big "whys" of life there is seldom an easy answer.

40 for 40, #37

March 16, 2007

"Curiouser and curiouser!"

aliceg.gifAlice, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice is a hero of mine who, again, contends with a world wildly different than the one she thought she knew. Everything from physical laws to social conventions are turned topsy turvy and she's left only with her wits and instincts to try to traverse this strange, new country she finds herself in.

"Curiouser and curiouser," is a handy quote to have on hand when I read the news these days.

40 for 40, #36

March 15, 2007

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

skydome.jpgHamlet, Act I, Scene 5

Another quote about humility and wonder.

People often ask me what I think about ghosts, UFOs, life after death, ESP, and so on. While I don't really have much direct experience of any of these things, I tend to be open-minded because, hey, what the bleep do I know?

I'm skeptical by nature, but I'm not a total reductionist. I believe there are areas of knowledge still out of our ken. A good skeptic, in my opinion, is also skeptical about the reach of knowledge. We are, after all, finite beings and to believe that we can extrapolate all truth from our limited experience seems the height of arrogance to me.

40 for 40, #35

March 14, 2007

"Security is an illusion."

CHINA-Great%20Wall%20ofr%20China%203.jpgThis is less of a quote and more of a personal mantra.

The idea we can make ourselves safe, our loved ones safe, our world safe is a pernicious and dangerous idea that limits freedom and kills curiosity. Unfortunately, it's an idea our society seems to be preoccupied with lately.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for reasonable precautions, but I worry about a generation that has more wrist and thumb injuries from playing Nintendo than broken arms and legs from playing outside. When fear rules our lives we cease to live.

We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

40 for 40, #34

March 13, 2007

"And also much cattle?"

FarSideCownCar.gifJonah 4:11

This, of course, is the wonderfully odd ending of the book of Jonah in which God questions Jonah as to why he's so peeved that he spared the people of Nineveh.

And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?

And that's the end of the book. No answer.

Which leaves you wondering. Was the question supposed to be rhetorical or were we supposed to answer the question?

It also shows that God, who enlists whales and worms to teach lessons to Jonah, cares deeply not only about human beings, but "also much cattle." In many ways Jonah is a deeply ecological book in which God demonstrates an abiding concern for all of creation.

But, that as it may be, I just like a book that ends with the words, "and also much cattle?"

40 for 40, #33

March 12, 2007

"The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't."

dna3c.jpgDouglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

This is, perhaps, my favorite sentence in the English language. It is both absurd and fully comprehensible.

One of my favorite afternoons in memory was in May of 1989 shortly after graduating from Purdue. With nothing better to do, I sat in the Blue Cafe in West Lafayette, Indiana and read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy cover to cover casting, in my mind, various members of Monty Python to voice the parts.

I'm sure I looked odd giggling to myself in the corner as I read the book, but I don't really care. It was pure bliss.

40 for 40, #32

March 11, 2007

"There is no spoon."

I'm not a gnostic by any means, however I do have a healthy skepticism about the world around us. It was pointed out to me that a crucial element of some of my favorite stories is that the protaganists realize the world around them is not what they thought, from Plato's Cave to Hamlet to The Matrix.

Jesus often spoke of the end of the age and not to get too attached to the way things are or have the rug pulled out from under you. Buddha spoke of the same thing in different ways. Throughout human history there are mystical teachers reminding us that the most important things, the really real stuff cannot be seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or touched.

40 for 40, #31

March 10, 2007

"What's the big idea, Idea Man?"

ideaman.gifThe Tick, The Tick vs. The Idea Men

The Tick was a great animated series from the mid 90s about a nigh invulnerable superhero who really liked the sound of his own voice. This was from the first episode and, actually, I remembered the line wrong. The actual exchange was...

The Tick: Okay, Idea Man, what's the big idea?
Idea Man: Well, we figured we'd steal a lotta money, and then we'd be rich, and we wouldn't have to work anymore!
The Tick: You cads!

You have to admire an honest bad guy.

What I love about this is that it cuts straight to the heart of the matter. So much of the time we couch our thoughts in what we thing are socially acceptable packages so that they will pass muster and we try to avoid expressing what the "big idea" really is. Or, worse, we have no "big idea" and we just kind of muddle along.

So every so often I like to ask myself, "What's the big idea, Idea Man?"

40 for 40, #30

March 9, 2007

"I'm using my resources to the best of my ability."

img_5916_1.jpgI'm a game player. My brother, Dan, and I grew up playing games and we still do. This quote is a catch phrase of my brother that has become so much more than about games.

I can't remember the first instance of the phrase, but I think I accused Dan of cheating at some game or another and he protested with this phrase. "I'm not cheating. I'm using my resources to the best of my ability."

Which, of course, was charming and disarming. Yeah, that's my bro.

This phrase in my life has come to mean leveraging whatever advantage you have, not in a mean spirited way, but not letting up because of a perceived weakness on the part of your opponent. I've always been taught to play your best, whatever you are doing. I vividly remember being frustrated as a child with my grandfather because he would pound me at checkers and he told me that if he played less than his best it would be an insult to me. It would be telling me that I wasn't worth his best effort.

I do the same when I play games. My son, Simon, has not yet beaten me at Chess though we have been playing since he was five. I often tell him what I'm doing and why, but I never play less than my best. When he does win, he will do it honestly, and, trust me, that day is coming soon.

Using your resources to the best of your ability is not about cheating or even competition, it's about playing aggressively, respectfully, and cunningly.

40 for 40, #29

March 8, 2007

"There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite."

dice.jpgJames Carse, Finite and Infinite Games

There are a few books that you read that make you stop and really assess what you are doing and why. Finite and Infinite Games was this kind of book for me. It's a book of philosophy that starts with simple, axiomatic statements and procedes to look at all of human conduct in terms of playing games. This, of course, is automatically appealing to me, game player that I am.

He goes on to delineate differences between finite and infinite games...

The rules of the finite game may not change; the rules of an infinite game must change.
Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.
Finite players are serious; infinite games are playful.
Finite players win titles; infinite players have nothing but their names.
Finite players strive for control; infinite players enjoy surprise.
To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.

Most memorable to me is that the goal of the finite player is to conclude play by being victorious where the goal of the infinite player is to continue play.

Now, none of this is to say that finite play is evil or infinite good. Carse is clear that people participate in finite games all the time and do so authentically, but one shouldn't fool oneself into thinking that the titles finite players win are anything but transitory.

This whole taxonomy of play has helped me greatly in my relationships, career, ministry, and so on. It reminds me to be playful and not to get so seriously mired in my little finite games that I miss the big picture. And, believe me, I like to play.

40 for 40, #28

March 7, 2007

"We do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities..."

berriganicon.gifEphesians 6:12

This quote is a two-fold reminder for me. One, that struggle, conflict, contention is not only inevitable, it is part of a spiritual life. As the saying goes, "If you aren't outraged, then you aren't paying attention." Two, that this struggle can never be against people. It isn't personal, no matter how much you want it to be.

The people I call heroes understand both of these things. They understand the only way to defeat an enemy is to make him or her a friend.

40 for 40, #27

March 6, 2007

"Do or do not. There is no try."

yoda_biography_2.jpgYoda, The Empire Strikes Back

My personal paraphrase of this is -

"Don't do anything half-assed. Do it full-assed or no-assed at all."

40 for 40, #26

March 5, 2007

"The ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes, everything else is pure theory. Off we go!"

arunlolarunabol4.jpgRun Lola Run begins with this quote from German football coach, Sepp Herberger. What I love about this quote is that it nicely describes both the limits of human knowledge and the artificial nature of our constructed reality.

Even though games (like football, chess, politics, stock investment, war, etc.) are circumscribed by rules of convention and laws of nature, we engage in them not knowing what the outcome might be. What we know is much less than what we don't know.

Secondly, much of what we "know" is artificial. The game is 90 minutes... why? Because we have defined it as such and we agree that it is so. If we do not agree then we aren't playing the same game.

The ball is round. Anything can happen.

40 for 40, #25

Continue reading ""The ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes, everything else is pure theory. Off we go!"" »

March 4, 2007

"Always look on the bright side of life."

Continue reading ""Always look on the bright side of life."" »

March 3, 2007

"It's never the same five percent."

oneinacrowd.jpgSo, a person was taking an informal survey of people as to what percentage of the world's population are assholes. She would ask people wherever she went and she traveled a lot so she asked a lot of people, and the answer was invariably between 20 and 40 percent or so.

On her way to an interview at the NPR studios in New York she asked a cabbie what he thought.

"Five percent," he said.

She was floored. Five percent? Only five percent? No one had ever given her such a low figure. She asked the cabbie about this apparently low figure.

"Well," he said, "it's never the same five percent."

I have forgotten the name of the person who was doing this informal survey, but I have never forgotten the punchline. I love this quote because it keeps me in mind of the fact that it is not who we are, but what we do that defines us. And that can change with time, it's not fixed.

Assholedness, as it were, is not static. It's a moving target. And if that is true of less desirable behavior, maybe it is true of our better angels too.

40 for 40, #23

March 2, 2007

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."

Jesus.jpgWalt Whitman, Song of Myself

Another great, all-purpose quote, and one that I use often to laugh at myself.

Consistency is boring... and downright inhuman.

40 for 40, #22

March 1, 2007

"Without pain, honor is like a salad."

kling.jpgKlingon Proverb
(It loses a little something in the translation.)

Back in the mid-nineties I was very involved in on-line interactive fiction on newsgroups. One of these was a Star Trek based universe where we created characters, ships, worlds, and stories whole-cloth from our imaginations.

One of the things I loved about this group was their sense of humor. This fabricated proverb was offered up in a story thread by Celia Fox, a very talented writer.

I love this line because it is absurd and it points to the truth of trying to translate anything from one culture to another... something is lost in translation.

At any rate this struck me so much that I had a banner made up to put in the hospital room for Charlotte to look at when Simon was being born. In my haste I left it at home, of course, but it was oft repeated as we waited for Simon's arrival, let me tell you.


40 for 40, #21

February 28, 2007

"The penalty good people pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by people worse than themselves."

markson-face-shrug.jpgPlato, Republic, I. 347

I struggle with how involved I should be in the institutions of the day. On one hand I feel that I should be actively engaged in the life of the society through involvement in government. On the other hand I think if you invest in the powers that be you can be giving credence and legitimacy to the status quo.

I do think, regardless of where you end up on either side of that issue, that the worst choice is to shrug your shoulders, stand on the sidelines, and say, "What can you do?" or "That's how it always is." I can't abide fatalism or apathy.

In the Book of Revelation John of Patmos talks about the Beast who could represent variously Power, Propaganda, Government, etc. And the people's response was, "Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?" Or, in other words, "You can't fight City Hall." It's as if the people gave a giant shrug and gave up. And they got what they deserved.

40 for 40, #20

February 27, 2007

"If they leave with more questions than when they entered, you're doing something wrong."

hfl09270504.jpgThis is my first example of an "anti-quote" or, in other words, a quote which is antithetical to my way of thinking.

I spoke earlier of the summer of 1992 when I was in a summer drama troupe and the opposition we encountered at the camp.

We would often have dinner as a troupe out at cabins and mix it up with the campers, pastors, and others who were there. One pastor pulled me aside during one of these meals and started to tell me how, while he was opposed to our work as a drama troupe, it was nothing personal because he was opposed to drama troupes in principal at the camp. He told me that our work caused more confussion than clarity among the campers by raising all sorts of issues they probably hadn't considered and if "they leave with more questions than when they entered, you're doing something wrong."

Continue reading ""If they leave with more questions than when they entered, you're doing something wrong."" »

February 26, 2007

"You'll find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly upon our own point of view."

250px-Obiwan.jpgObi-Wan Kenobi, Return of the Jedi

When I heard this line in 1983 I groaned. I mean, what a cop out! Either Darth Vader was Luke's father or he wasn't. Truth, after all, was objective and verifiable, right?

Yeah, I should have listened to Ben sooner. While I'm not a complete skeptic, my epistemology has changed drastically since I was 16. Post-Newtonian Physics taught me that "point of view" or "frame of reference" means a lot in how you understand the universe. My studies in Philosophy taught me that great thinkers can construct very convincing arguments that are often diametrically opposed. My studies in Theology taught me that narrative truths are at least as important in explaining our world as physical facts.

So, yeah, I cling to truths based on a point of view. I think we all do. The more interesting question for me is do we do it consciously or passively?

40 for 40, #18

February 25, 2007

"You can't stop the signal."

Mr. Universe, Serenity

I know fans will hate me for this, but perhaps the best thing that ever happened to Firefly was that it got canceled. Its cancelation was like the death of young artists, cut off in their prime, forever young and full of possibility.

But the funny thing is, Firefly has not died. Because its potential was so great the mantle has been picked up by fan writers, role players, computer programers, podcasters, and others. You can't stop the signal.

I thought about Firefly the day I heard about the cell phone video of the execution of Sadaam Hussein broadcast to the world. It was the video they didn't want you to see. You can't stop the signal.

I think about Firefly whenever I hear tell of random outbreaks of truth where bloggers and citizen journalists take to the streets and let people know what is going on in their backyard. How many groundbreaking stories in the last year were broken not on ABC or NPR but on YouTube or someone's blog? You can't stop the signal.

I'm a long-term optimist. I believe the truth will always eventually come out. So I stand by those who "aim to misbehave." You can't stop the signal.

Guess my coat does look a mite brownish.

40 for 40, #17

February 24, 2007

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."

88136628_3bf25d6b69.jpgJohn 1:5

One of my earliest memories is of a Christmas Eve service where a man in a white robe was reading these words as I found myself adrift in a sea of candlelight.

I take now as my privilege as a pastor to recite these words from the prologue to John every Christmas Eve. I am now the man dressed in white speaking these words of hope, endurance, tenacity.

My final exam in a Greek class in seminary was to translate this chapter from the orginal Greek. I remember being anxious, because, of course, I didn't know what passage I'd be handed. As the words started to emerge from the page I quivered with joy.
"I know these words! These words are burned within me!"

The interesting thing about the Greek is that the verb katalambano can mean "overcome" or it can also mean "comprehend" or "perceive." The light is outside of the darkness' ability to assimilate or understand.

Which reminds me of Paul writing in Romans 12 -

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Or, in other words, "Be kind to your enemies, it'll drive 'em nuts."

40 for 40, #16

February 23, 2007

"They stayed up all night drinking the Hot Corn Drink."

corn_drink.JPGfrom A Peasant of El Salvador by Gould & Stearns

I directed a production of A Peasant of El Salvador in 1990 at the Wesley Foundation of Purdue. It was a political comedy/drama about life in El Salvador during the 1980s when it was controlled by an oligarchy.

One night as we were rehearsing it was getting late, and we were all getting punchy, and this line, which I know we read dozens of times before, suddenly came to the forefront. "'They stayed up all night drinking the Hot Corn Drink'? What the hell is a 'Hot Corn Drink'?" No one on the production, even those who were from Latin America, had ever heard of it before. Our imaginations got the best of us.

At the production party in my small apartment over Kinko's one of our crew made the nightmare version of the Hot Corn Drink, which consisted mainly of creamed corn and Jack Daniels cooked on the stove. We all got dixie cups full to toast the show.

It was the most vile thing I have ever put in my mouth.

Now, whenever I eat or drink something that doesn't agree with me I can always say, "I've put worse things in my mouth. I drank the Hot Corn Drink."

By the way, here is what the script was probably refering to - Atole de Elote - which actually sounds quite good.

40 for 40, #15

February 22, 2007

"Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?"

Lee-Alan-Frodo-Gandalf.jpgGandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

I remember reading this line in a cabin in the mountains of Oregon and sitting bolt up in my chair. This, I realized, hit right at a basic ethical issue about life and death. Tolkien, while clearly not a pacifist, was always circumspect about the uses of violence.

I remember thinking about this quote, in particular, on September 11, 2001. I could hear a very clear voice of rage within me calling for vengeance. But there was also this very calm and stern voice within me, reminding me of this simple wisdom. They didn't deserve to die. Their lives are not mine to give back. Some people out there don't deserve to live. And their lives are not mine either.

In context, it is even more powerful, for Gandalf and Frodo are discussing the fate of the betrayer Gollum...

"It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill him when he had the chance."

"Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many."

"I wish The Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened."

"So do all who live to face such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

40 for 40, #14

February 21, 2007

"All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well."

julianCreighton.jpgJulian of Norwich

I always think of my friend Robb when I mutter this mantra under my breath, because he uttered it so often.

I suppose you could read this quote as a saying of pure optimism, but I see it as a saying of pure surrender. "All will be well," reminds me that I am not the center of the universe. "All will be well," tells me that my little miseries count for little in the grand scheme of things. "All will be well," keeps me thinking about the long view.

40 for 40, #13

February 20, 2007

"The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep hunger."

Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking

I am one of the privileged people in the world where my vocation actually pays the bills. I have become convinced that that makes me a very rare individual. I know a lot of people who struggle to line up their vocation with employment, but this quote from Buechner has been extraordinarily helpful for me in discerning what real vocation looks like. And I have come to believe that everyone has a sweet spot in their lives where their deep joy intersects with the world's deep needs.

When I am working with young people I try to pay attention to the times where I see their joyful creative spirit acting in positive ways in the world. I point out that they should be listening to the spirit moving through them in those times. "That little itch should be telling you something."

40 for 40, #12

February 19, 2007

"As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it."

prcover_4.jpgWendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

It's hard to extricate just one part of this poem and hold it out, but I love this line. It speaks to the independent spirit, the life of authenticity, the hopeful anarchism that I aspire to.

The poem ends with the two words, "Practice resurrection," which is a challenge to me and any who follow Christ and it is tied in with this kind of ornery spirit that Berry talks about throughout this poem. Resurrection, after all, is an ultimately defiant act. It is telling the "generals and politicos" that you can kill my body, but even in death I can defy you. It is present when Christ tells Pilate that he has no power over him, even when he stands bound before him.

This ornery spirituality is a reminder for me not to get too comfortable with the status quo, not to get too chumy with the powers that be, because ultimately the status quo will change and the powers will fail.

40 for 40, #11

Continue reading ""As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it."" »

February 18, 2007

"Anyone who abandons 'what is' for 'what ought to be' learns his ruin rather than his preservation."

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter 15

When reading The Prince in college this passage really struck me. I am by nature a dreamer and as such not very practical. This quote has served as an anchor for me to stay grounded in the real world. This is not to say I don't work for social change and to make dreams reality, but one has to work with the world as it is, not as one wants it to be.

Part of the real tragedy of Iraq has been the Bush Administration's flights of fancy in trying to remake Iraq in their own image. They sent over ideologues instead of technicians to rebuild the country, and here I'm not talking about the military, I'm talking about the civilian "experts."

Otto Von Bismark said, "Politics is the art of the possible." I think a good activist for social change, regardless of their political stripe, must balance what they want to see transpire with what can be actualized. Intrasigent dreamers are often admirable, but rarely get anything done.

The lead up to that quote is also remarkable:

Many writers have imagined for themselves republics and principalities that have never been seen or known to exist in reality...

In context, Machiavelli is condemning these folks. But I say thank God for these dreamers. If it weren't for writers imagining what may be possible we'd still be stuck in the feuding principalities of Italy with which Machiavelli had to contend.

40 for 40, #10

February 17, 2007

"Never tell me the odds!"


Han Solo, The Empire Strikes Back

Some of the best things I have done in my life I was completely unprepared to do. If I had been told what the obstacles were in advance, I'm not sure I would have ever accepted the challenge.

I remember the first large scale play I ever directed. It was a production of Godspell and I was really unprepared for the reality of directing. But it was a terrific production and probably still one of the most memorable things I've ever done with my time.

Likewise when I started Guru Java Coffee House at the Purdue Wesley Foundation in 1990, I was pretty clueless, but I knew it had to be done. And it was a good thing that brought many people together and provided a stage for many bands. I learned as I went.

And when I became a parent... well, is anyone really prepared for parenthood? I certainly was not.

I think there are things one must do in life not because you are fully prepared, but because you are ready to take the challenge. And when you have a fleet of Star Destroyers bearing down on you, sometimes you just have to take the plunge into the asteroid field. May the Force be with you.

40 for 40, #9

Continue reading ""Never tell me the odds!"" »

February 16, 2007

"Let's eff the ineffable!"

Tripp_Pickell%28RichardMcDuff%29Heather_Williams%28SusanWay%29Scot_M_Burklin%28DirkGently%29.JPGThis is my shorthand phrase for the much longer Douglas Adams quote -

"Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable, let's prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all."

This comes from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency in which the titular character challenges us to not only think out of the box but to question this whole box fixation we seem to have.

Dirk Gently's world is one in which there are no such thing as accidents and everything, no matter how seemingly random, has significance. His detective methodology depends on the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Whereas Sherlock Holmes reasoned by deduction, promoting a strict Newtonian cause and effect reductionist view of the universe where all things can be known, Dirk Gently is the first truly postmodern, post-Newtonian detective. Dirk Gently, when lost, follows someone who seems to know where they are going because he typically ends up someplace interesting.

At any rate, I admire Dirk's rugged, thorough-going indeterminism and absolute confidence in non-absolutism.

The picture is taken from a recent theatrical production of Dirk.

40 for 40, #8

February 15, 2007

"I am amazed, and know not what to say."

anncourtney.jpgHermia, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act III, Scene 2) by William Shakespeare

Simply one of the most useful lines written in any play ever.

40 for 40, #7

February 14, 2007

"The heart has its reasons that reason cannot know."

graphic_healthyheart.jpgBlaise Pascal

As rational as I like to pretend I am, I know that I am not ruled by reason. Looking back I recognize that many of my choices were choices of passion, neither governed by logic nor common sense. Many of these were good choices, though not all of them were. But taking stock of my life so far, I do not wish I had been more logical. I do sometimes wish I had been more passionate.

40 for 40, #6

February 13, 2007

"The body of Christ has a right hand and a left hand and more than its fair share of assholes."

Set%201_Indiana%20009.jpgThere is debate as to who actually said this, but the context is more important. It was the summer of 1992 and I was in a drama troupe in residence at Epworth Forest in northern Indiana. It was the best of times and the worst of times. The six of us had a great time staging the plays we were doing, but we seemed continually out of synch with the weekly rotation of camp leaders. Even though we cleared the plays we were doing in advance with the camp deans every week we found detractors among the adult leaders in one way or another.

Continue reading ""The body of Christ has a right hand and a left hand and more than its fair share of assholes."" »

February 12, 2007

"Play the Marseillaise! Play it!"

When Victor Laszlo strikes up the band in Rick's Cafe to play the French National Anthem to sing down the Nazis in Casablanca he shows the power of voices raised in song. This is easily my favorite scene out of a wholly remarkable film. When you know the history of how this film was made it is astounding that it got made at all, much less how it became one of the truly iconic films of all time.

Laszlo shows the weakness of totalitarianism in this scene. It can bear no dissent. If it is not in complete control, it reels. And even token, sentimental resistance like singing La Marseillaise can make it nervous. For totalitarianism is about control of symbols, to overlay its meaning on all the symbols of life. As such, symbols are no longer malleable but are static. It means what it means because we tell you what it means.

Totalitarian regimes can withstand bullets and bombs, because it can understand and subsume those things into its propaganda, but voices raised in song, they cannot withstand. And to that I say, Vive la France!

40 for 40, #4

February 11, 2007

"Sundays come around with alarming regularity."

The Rev. Gary Forbes - friend, mentor, and sometimes theological combatant - dropped this little gem when he was teaching a beginning preaching class back in the summer of 1993. I was serving my very first church, Mt. Gilboa United Methodist Church in western Indiana, at that time. I remember being very wary of the discipline I was undertaking and was wondering how in the world I would be able to preach every Sunday, be prepared, and be engaging.

Now, 14 years later, preaching is almost as natural as breathing for me. It's my craft and art and I love it. But I still harken back to that first intensive workshop and remember basic principles he taught. He told us to pay careful attention to everything around us because everything is grist for the mill. You can be working on sermons whatever you are doing, whether you are at the movies or out on the golf course or in the grocery store.

I used to dread Sundays because I feared my inadequacy as a preacher and holy man. Now I realize that it isn't about my holiness at all, it's about my honesty, and I can be honest even when I don't feel particularly holy, which, truth be told, is pretty often. Making weekly reports to a group on my spiritual observations has been good for my soul. It's made me accountable and less likely to bluff my way vaguely through my spiritual journey.

Gary also said, "The difference between AA and worship is that when people come to AA the bullshit ends. When people come to worship the bullshit begins."

Thanks to Gary's tutelage, and others, I have brought for myself some honesty and integrity to the pulpit. Even when it is the integrity to say, "I have no idea."

40 for 40, #3

February 10, 2007

"I will take the Ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way."

102_frodoreluctantadventurer.jpgFrodo Baggins, Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

I'm not sure there is a more poignant moment in all of literature than when Frodo, who thought he was through with his responsibility, takes on the burden of bearing the Ring of Power to its destruction in Mount Doom, even though he has no idea how he can accomplish it. Frodo's willingness to do this in the face of overwhelming odds is a powerful statement of duty, faith, and utter surrender. Tolkien makes it clear that Frodo does not believe that this is a journey he will ever return from, and truly it almost takes his life and soul many times along the way.

Among my kin the Lord of the Rings is a kind of sacred text, and it is no mystery why. We can relate with Frodo's burden and the paradox of his journey. To me Frodo is a symbol of non-violent resistance on par with Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Jesus. He carries the Ring not to wield it, but to destroy it. The least of the races of Middle Earth, beneath the notice of lore and legend, rises to defend the world by destroying the greatest weapon. He is beset by temptation, foes, uncertainty, and treachery, and yet he persists. And he persists not alone, but with unflagging support from allies. Thank you, Samwise Gamgee and all who would not let hope fail.

40 for 40, #2

Continue reading ""I will take the Ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way."" »

February 9, 2007

"I think it's safe to say we're getting older, but we're also getting stranger. We can all be thankful for that."


This is my first 40 for 40 quote and why I chose it should be pretty obvious. It comes from John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants. I'm not sure any band has come closer to capturing my mental state than TMBG. I suppose I should be very concerned about that, but there it is. Their ironic and often absurdist view of the world aligns very closely with my own.

And, like the Flans, I am thankful that I'm getting older and stranger.

For a bonus quote today, I quote the band's song "Older."

You're older than you've ever been,
and now you're even older,
and now you're even older,
and now you're even older.
You're older than you've ever been,
and now you're even older,
and now you're older still.
Time is marching on and time...
it still marches on.

40 for 40, #1

40 for 40

I turn 40 today and I was trying to decide how I wanted to mark my 40th birthday on my blog. So, for the next 40 days I will be putting a quote of some import to me up on my blog every day with some commentary from me as to why it's important.

I've compiled more than 40 quotes that have been lodestones for me, so I'll be doing this at random after the first one. Some of these you will recognize. Some are completely idiosyncratic. Some are religious. Some are literary. Some are geeky. All are me.

For those who know me I would be deeply entertained if you would suggest some quotes to add to the mix.

For those who don't know me, feel free to share your own life-shaping quotes.