In 1992, when free-lance writer Jim Wilson arrived in Venezuela, that country was among Latin America’s richest countries, with the world’s largest oil reserves. Now, after 24 years, he says, “ I am leaving the disaster Venezuela has become.” Continue reading
Historian Paul Johnson, in his book, “The Quest for God”, states the essential importance of the spiritual questions in life. He says, Continue reading
The second question Jesus asked the multitudes concerning John the Baptist, points out another characteristic of the type of men we need now.
“What went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Continue reading
What does this country need?
When it comes to economic solutions I prefer Marx- Groucho, not Karl- who said what this country needs is a good ten-cent nickel. He said when some one purchased something for a nickel they would get a nickel in change. If taken care of properly a nickel could last a family a life time. But there is one form of deficit we have that can not be dealt with so light-heartedly. As it seems we are reminded daily, this nation is in desperate need of good men. Continue reading
An early 20th century abstract artist is quoted as saying, “One eye sees, the other eye feels.” Now, while there may be differences of opinion as to how we determine which should be the “dominant eye”, either choice would seem to leave us blind concerning rational thought.
The painter may have been prophetic as well as artistic. The question that best embodies the Spirit of our Age is not, “What do you think about that”, but rather, “How do you feel about that?” To some it may seem as though the questions are the same. They are not. Feelings have become the new foundational stone for everything from personal decisions to national politics. It might serve us well to look at a curious influence that helps shape those feelings. That of the Brand.
BRAND OVER TASTE BUDS
In his book, “Storybranding”, Jim Signorelli defines a brand as basically “a designation that the sellers of a given product use to distinguish the product they sell from others”. Sounds like basic marketing, right?
But he also deals with what he calls Associative Meanings, which are the connotations in the mind of the buyer about that brand. They are subjective thoughts and feelings and can produce strong loyalties to the brand. And therein lies the temptation. Loyalty to brands can be so strong that they can override obvious, tested, reasoned evidence, contrary to the story of the Brand. Facts yield to feelings, perception overrides experiential proof.
Matthew Yglesias, in an article for Slate, tells the story of how one of the world’s most established companies conquered its competition with loyalty to Brand rather than product. In the 1970’s Pepsi put together a highly successful ad campaign called, “The Pepsi Challenge”. In the double-blind taste test customers donned blindfolds, took sips, and were asked just one question, “Which cola tastes better?” The majority chose Pepsi. The campaign was so successful that Pepsi began selling more product in supermarkets and Coke was forced into one of the greatest blunders in marketing. They changed their old formula to taste more like Pepsi.
The response from the public was rapid and massive. They wanted the 100-year-old Coke formula back. (They did bring it back along with a return to promoting the brand, featuring friendship, family, and fuzzy bears). Call it loyalty, nostalgia, or culture, whatever the case, it was, as one writer from “Scientific American” called it, the “Pepsi Paradox”. People liked the taste of Pepsi better, but Brand, it seems, had won over taste buds.
BRAND OVER BELIEFS
Choosing sodas is one thing, making decisions for our own self-interest is more serious. There is nothing more axiomatic than the truth that people will naturally do that which benefits them or their family. Yet it seems that Brand has a malevolent power in affecting that as well.
In his book, “Liberalism”, former NFL player and entrepreneur, Burgess Owens examines something that is the political equivalent to the Pepsi Paradox; why do so many people vote against their own self-interest? He deals with the paradox in the Black community but it is true for a larger audience.
The ideology of Liberalism demands the suspension of all individual core principles.It is the engaged individual who is left to justify, as a Capitalist, his collusion with avowed Socialists, Communists, and Marxists.
As a practicing Christian, Jew, or Muslim, he colludes with rabid anti-God atheists.
As a passionate defender of Pro-Life, he colludes with passionate no-limits abortionists.
As a believer in School Choice for poor black children he must justify his collusion with Anti-Choice/Pro labor union advocates.
In a show of solidarity and loyalty to the ideology of Liberalism, the Black community predictably and collectively votes for the same candidate and party as do those who are adamantly opposed to their most treasured values.
It is the blind loyalty to the Brand that is the problem. The phenomenon is observed in religious circles as well. Good people who continue to attend, support, and even defend churches and denominations that have long since left the “treasured values” of those they minister to.
Ignore our own experiences, vote against our own best interest, and hang on to an organization that no longer speaks for our values. Why do we do such things?
Perhaps it can be explained in part by an instance related in Signorelli’s book. His two grandkids were watching a McDonald’s commercial on TV and the three-year old said to the five-year old, “Why do they say they love to make you smile? They don’t make me smile.” And the five-year old replied, “Because it’s advertising, stupid.”
We are told that there are three basic questions to pose when confronted by a situation in need of change. “Where are we?” “Where do we want to be?” And, “How do we get there?” If a recent article on the latest Pew Research Center’s study of Millennials is any indication, the path of the last question will be difficult to navigate.
W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, has addressed the data from the study in an article entitled What Could Go Wrong?, he draws two observations.
The first, that despite the talents of the Millennial generation, they are poorly equipped to contribute in the rigors of a democratic society. He writes:
Sure, compared with earlier generations, Millennial (now aged 18 to 33) are exceptionally tolerant, optimistic about their economic futures, and connected to friends, family, and colleagues on the ‘new platforms of the digital era’- from Facebook to Twitter. But this report makes clear that Millennial ties to the core human institutions that have sustained the American experiment- work, marriage, and civil society- are worringly weak.
These observations are not new. Charles Murray, in his 2012 book, Coming Apart, tracked a growing bifurcation of the nation along a similar four lines, Marriage, Industriousness, Honesty, and Religiosity. Christian Smith, in a longitudinal study of who he calls emerging adults, found similar erosion of cultural virtues.
Wilcox gives the raw percentages in the categories studied and some telling charts as he compares four generations; the Silent; Boomer; Gen X; and Millennial. He then notes that this is not just simply a corporate problem. It has personal repercussions.
Why does this matter? Historically, these core institutions have furnished meaning, money, and social support to generation after generation of Americans. Even today, data from the 2006–2012 General Social Survey suggest that, taken together, these institutions remain strongly linked to a sense of happiness among today’s Millennials. For instance, 58 percent of Millennial men who were married, employed full-time, and regular religious attendees reported that they are very happy in life; by contrast, only 25 percent of Millennial men who were unmarried, not working full-time, and religiously disengaged reported that they are very happy in life.
His second observation is to be found in his final paragraph.
If today’s events in Europe, not to mention of the last century, tell us anything, it is that a generation of young adults “unmoored” from the institutions of work, family, and civil society, and distrustful of their fellow citizens, can end up succumbing to the siren song of demagogues, especially if the economy dips into a depression. It’s for that reason, among others, that policymakers, civic leaders, and business executives, not to mention young adults themselves, need to redouble their efforts to revive the American economy (emphasis mine) and better integrate today’s Millennials into the nation’s economic, familial, and civic fabric.”
I think two charts that are to be found in his article point to another, if not at least a different order, of solution.
He implies that the weakened economy is the problem and therefore its invigoration will be the solution. I believe he has reversed the corrective order. As can be seen, the generational cascade away from these core values did not start with the recent economic collapse. Indeed, the declension of these foundational institutions started in a time of great economic growth, and has continued downward through four generations.
Thoughtful minds from many aspects of society have seen the dangers that lie in these trends. They know that they are corrosive and they agree that it essential to reverse them. But if we are going to chart a course to where we want to be, we must recognize that there is more of an erosion of morals, than a lack of money, to these ills.
My father was the first to tell me the story of the three senile sisters living in the same house. Seems that on a particular day one was about to take a bath, but as she put one foot in the water she paused, and in a moment of befuddlement she called downstairs to the other two, “I wonder, was I getting into the tub, or was I getting out?” A second sister started up the stairs to be of some assistance but as she came to the landing she paused, and in a moment of befuddlement she called down to the third sister, “I wonder, was I going up the stairs, or was I coming down?” The third sister, listening to all of this, said to herself, “I’m glad I am not as bad as those two.” As she said it she knocked on the coffee table three times for luck. She paused for a moment and in her befuddlement she asked, “I wonder, was that someone at the front door, or the back?”
Funny stuff when you’re twelve years old; when the darker significance of such a scene is hidden from your callow eyes.
Today there is an untiring effort by scientists to understand the causes, care, and cure of dementia. It’s an effort that should have personal interest. The projections are that, if we live long enough, 50% of us will develop it in some form. That means, statistically speaking, by the time we are 85 it will affect either the person writing this sentence or the person reading it.
That also means there will be a multitude of caregivers who will be asked to draw upon all the strength and wisdom they can bring to bear in support of their loved ones. It is no small task. Someone has said that in dementia at least two people lose their lives; sometimes it is more. So what care can we offer the caregivers?
The Apostle Paul gives us an example in what appears to be a scriptural contradiction. In the 2nd verse of chapter 6 of Galatians he says, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” But three verses later he says, “For every man shall bear his own burden.” Burdens, it would seem, come in different sizes. The smaller ones we are to take care of ourselves. But life sometimes gives us burdens that cannot be borne on our own and that is when we need Christian friends. It is an incredible blessing to sense the assistance of those who have been moved by heart-felt compassion, or have followed the leading of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill the law of Christ in such a way.
I also found encouragement in another Pauline passage:
Romans 8:15 “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry , Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God , and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”
The mental picture we have of orphanhood usually involves untimely loss of parents. However, even in the normal order of life, we are each destined to a time when , as the Psalmist writes, “my father and my mother forsake me”.(Psalms 27:8). For many that loss of familial connection is overwhelming. Yet we need not be left alone. We have the great privilege of being adopted into the family of God; to be His child and joint-heirs with Christ.
Lastly,there is comfort in seeing things in a bigger perspective. The task of the caregiver is great but there is dignity in caring for those who once cared for us. It is reciprocation, small though it may be in comparison. We can be eyes for those who once watched out for us; we can be support to feeble limbs that once bore us along the way. Mostly, we can be a light for our loved ones as their world here dims. Caregivers, your tasks are many and your labor is sometimes long. But take heart; you bring honor to your loved ones and to yourselves .
Most of the media coverage has followed the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy. The T.V. specials, the recently released books, and newly espoused theories, are just more in the continuing fascination our nation has had with the events in Dallas in 1963. It occurs to me, however, that if President Kennedy had lived, he would still be dead-seeing that he was born in 1917 and would have undoubtedly gone the way of all flesh.
A much older anniversary will also be celebrated this week. One that continues to shape the way we think about our nation. With 272 words, in less than three minutes delivery, President Abraham Lincoln, at the dedication of the Battlefield Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, reminded the nation of its propositional roots and challenged it to live out its creed.
Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth
His phrase, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here”, seems like false modesty to us now, but there were those at the time that agreed with it. Within the week the opinion page of a Pennsylvania paper stated:
We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation, we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.
Thankfully, the “veil of oblivion” did not drop over his remarks as these few words have come to be considered the most hallowed of speeches. Lincoln often had a spiritual quality about him. The subject matter of most of his public comments dealt with high moral issues, and there is more sound theology in his Second Inaugural address than comes from many pulpits today. So, what was he saying at Gettysburg that we have long noted, and what spiritual parallels can we draw? I would like to look at it with these three questions:
I. What was He Saying, and what do We Say?
II. What was his Authority to Say it, and what is Ours?
III. What was his Call to Dedication, and what is Ours?
Author Garry Wills, in his book, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America, notes that there was much Lincoln did not say. He did not mention the town where the battle was fought. He did not name any individual, officer, or hero. He even refrained comment on which side was victorious. He did not go to Gettysburg to deal with particulars. His mission was higher than that. Wills writes:
the discussion is driven back and back, beyond historical particulars, to great ideals that are made to grapple naked in the airy battle of the mind.¹
The great ideal of the mind that Lincoln wanted his hearers to take away that day is summed up in the propositional phrase, “all men are created equal”. Lincoln had said many times that he did not hold that all men were created equal in all respects, but practically they should be able ” to eat the bread, without leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns”.²
That’s what Lincoln said, what do Christians say? Christian Doctrine holds that all men are created equal and in a more complete sense. First, Paul, in the book of Romans says that, “All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God”. An ignominious equality to be sure; one that brings all down, rather than lifting all up. But the completeness of this equality strips away title, wealth, and social standing. It removes the hope in self-righteousness and ecclesiastical affiliation. All stand level before God; all stand condemned. It would appear all without hope before the Eternal Judge.
Yet, the Apostle John states that Christ is the light “which lightieth every man”. Christians rejoice in the saving grace of God that has been offered through Christ. But, we are often tempted to assume that grace is a blessing only for the spiritual elite; that God offers it because we are worth the saving. The Bible says no. It is an egalitarian grace to all of humanity. Each person, the well-bred and the ill-bred alike, has been given the grace of a knowledge of their sin, and a ray of hope for salvation. The Holy Spirit convicts each of their sin, and convinces each of salvation to be found in Christ.
The third aspect is an equal invitation. In what is undoubtedly the most familiar of all Bible verses, Jesus says,
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have ever lasting life.
It was this offer of equality that so angered the religious leaders of Christ’s day. To them acceptance by God was simply a matter of birth. No volitional action was required. But here is a double aspect of equality. There is a universal offer to accept the grace of God, and each has an equal freedom to accept or reject that offer.
Lastly, there is an equality in Christ. The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Lincoln was pleading for equal conditions of culture. The Bible far supersedes that in matters of essence. It states an equal condemnation; an equality in the knowledge of our spiritual situation; an equal gracious invitation; and an equality in Christ’s salvation.
¹ Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America (Simon and Schuster, 1992) p.37
² Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Writings, vol. 1 (The Library of America, 1989) p.512
This is an edited portion of remarks given at Bloomington, Il., 11.17.2013
A recent article in the British publication, Telegraph, caused me to look afresh at the account of the two thieves crucified with Christ. All the Synoptic writers make reference to the two, but it is only Luke that gives the account of the conversation in the waning moments of their lives. Continue reading
“A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek relentlessly to update it or make it “relevant” is to miss the point, like yearning for a ‘hip-hop Shakespeare. ‘
Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward’, says the book of Job. Want to try to improve that for Twitter?”