Friday, October 27, 2006


An early pioneer to the field of world order, or world disorder, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz captivated the 17th and 18th century world, at least those Americans and Europeans of philosophical bent, with his notions of “The Best of All Possible Worlds”. Leibniz was intent on explaining evil as the source of good effects; courage, for example, is the God-given result of having to face bad things. As several natural disasters, floods, earthquakes or plagues took over public attention his work fell out of favor. Insisting on emphasizing all evils, Leibniz may have lost his audience by not really covering the better, and certainly not the best, aspects of our world as others might see it.

But that is an unwieldy task all by itself; no matter how many so-called “better things” have come along, faster automobiles, self-cleaning ovens, democratic governments, easier travel and daily living conditions, with labor saving devices that may take up more time than the labor, computers, high speed jet planes, cell phones showing full-length movies on a screen less than the size of a Fig-Newton--which also takes pictures of our ears, and increased social tolerance for things not tolerated since time began, there always seems to be something “better” coming down the pike. And even when that is not immediately evident people continue to ask for, and even demand, better things from life. This apparent inability of ours for ever being satisfied would seem to leave the whole idea of a “best” of all possible worlds completely out of the picture.

Yet not being satisfied with life on earth may represent the purest evidence of spiritual growth and biblical reality. Keep in mind that at the rate we are going it looks more and more like we will never be content with the planet as we find it; many problems get solved only to beget new ones. Your average teen-ager, in fact, can find on any given school day, enough difficulties with his or her life, if not to keep parents remodeling their world, at least worried about it; at this rate it appears anyone’s “better” world will never result in the Best of All Possible Worlds.

On the other hand there is little in Scriptural terms speaking against trying to improve our environment, especially the social part. There may be some verses against feathering our own nest or piling up wealth at the expense of poor folks, but even in the parts of the OT devoted to “obedience”, note; “The Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children.” (Psalms 115:14): and “Houses and riches are the inheritance of fathers; and a prudent wife is from the Lord.”(Proverbs 19:14). The NT carries on as Christ does; “But when he saw the multitudes he was moved with compassion for them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no Shepard. Then he saith unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous. But the labourers are few: Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 4:19).

The very fact that people can sense deep within themselves the desire for that better world, that continued ancient myth of Shangri-La that is never quite discovered outside an old 30s movie, (Lost Horizons, 1937), suggests that we know something intuitively that has so far consciously eluded many of us! But some have heard a constant voice that continues to beckon: “I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3). And above all: “…it is written, Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them to us by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (I Corinthians 2:9, 10). We can assume, therefore, that better worlds may come and go but the very “Best Possible World” awaits those whose love and devotion is shared with Christ Jesus.

Monday, October 23, 2006


My present home is on a rather barren corner close to the broad Pacific Ocean, confronting a coastal beach unsheltered by trees or structures—only sand and sea all the way to the southernmost islands—and New Zealand and Japan beyond. Because of this location I live from day-to-day like a sailor of old, perhaps a galley master or a proa skipper, with wind, waves and stars as my compass. A certain amount of skill and alertness is required in order to deal with changing wind and sunlight; air-conditioning is only for landlubbers but here there are sails and rigging ready to hand...

When the weather is warm, at first bell all Easterly blinds must be drawn against the early sun’s heat and blinding light, and all southern windows brought wide open to admit any winds from the sea, (along with opening the northern door, my only door), or else the heat could become unbearable later in the day. In that case, of course, I could turn on overhead fans, but such artificial air would probably cast a blight on seafaring tradition. In the balmy afternoons some eastern blinds are opened and windows partially closed against the cooler off-shore winds from the south. As the sun sinks low they die down and windows are again opened; here on the shore nights can be colder after midnight, and my small bark is mostly all battened down. At first dawn the routine is repeated as before. In winter, conversely, eastern blinds are opened wide to catch stray heat and light, but hatches—er, windows, are tightly closed. In these climes there occurs a condition called Santa Ana Winds and for this mariner that constitutes the “doldrums” when no air current moves and the heavy, sultry atmosphere is stifling. Thus my little boat sails through each day making port only at night—I have not yet learned, like old Samoans, the secrets of sailing by starlight--stellar navigation.

Thus it can be seen that living here is a rough and manly job, but even through the more perilous seas the words of Paul in I Timothy’ 1:10 ring clear, “Timothy my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding onto faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.” And Paul was no stranger to shipwreck, having survived perilous sea voyages himself; learn from the older experienced hands, I always say, and so far my small craft has never been wrecked in the waves.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Having gone more or less through a fascination with death and dying some twenty or thirty years ago the subject is seen today in a very different light. In those days there was an upsurge of such works in the literature, especially in sociological and psychological annals, and there are several volumes that once were devoured avidly, but remain dust-bound on my shelves these days. I wrote a little myself, attended workshops of the currently famous authorities on the subject and even wove them into my clinical orientation. But it seems to me, like so many other faddish issues, even thinking about the topic with its stages of loss and separation, have simply withered away both in the literature and in thought.

For that reason I was surprised to note that at this more advanced stage of my life the subject began to enter into idle musings without its classic grimness of feelings. That lack of mourning or odor of “Shakespearean tragedy” is what impressed me most. Indeed it is not unusual, especially in later years, to contemplate and even privately, at least, anguish about ones death or the death of significant others. There is no surprise about such ordinary phenomena; what is surprising to me is that anticipations about ones own death can so often be unaccompanied by commonly associated fear, dread or expectation of radical change. At the same time I am well aware of the tradition common with Christians, (among which I hopefully count myself), that fear of impending death should be conquered and overcome in anticipation of a better life ahead. Even so there are times when all of us, in spite of our faith, can get into an occasional modest frenzy about the process of our own death, its probable course, our conscious fears about pain, lostness, and the often recurring “great unknown”—all the more prevalent of course at certain critical times in life.

At other times, however, I have found myself musing about death in quite another form, say for example of plans to parcel out my meager net savings to my children, imagining that they will think well of me. Or I ruminate over the possibility that one of them will down-load my writings from my word processor, or wherever it is in my computer, and share them with the others “after I’m gone”. Clearly I am basking then in solicited vainglory, not to say outright vanity--no wonder the thoughts are not morbid. But I have even ventured into visions of my own funeral in a calm and curious way. There is also the rather happy thought that those offspring of mine will be enjoying more than adequate finances of their own and may in all probability be too busy with their lives to reminisce on their largely inadequate fathering much at all. Sometimes I experience a deep sorrow and sense of loss about not seeing my children, and children’s children, but I am sure these ruminations are not unusual, especially in these later years; my point in all this is to show that our orientation to death, our own or that of others, commonly represents a dichotomous and disparate set of attitudes. The probability is that some persons or groups, in this world of ours, leans more consistently toward one rather than toward the other end of that dichotomy. Thus there is the tendency on the part of some groups or individuals to place a great deal of value and importance on earthly life, its material wealth or its romantic or emotional pleasures; emphasis is given to this life and all it holds, often to the greater dread, as time goes on, of eventually giving it up. This orientation to life might be termed “hedonistic” or “earth centered” while the other extreme is represented by those who may appear so Heavenly involved that they are seen by some as “no earthly good”, and indeed may give less thought or energy to the “ungodly” issues of everyday living.

It seems to me, among the earth centered, occasionally there are represented certain Christian writings, with emphasis on monetary success and the “good life”, in some way cast in scriptural terms. To be sure, several of these writers tend to address a minority or underprivileged group that has been sorely dealt with in the past; they may include “Women”, who have experienced exploitation or discrimination by men,(such as the glass ceiling), or those parishioners who have felt excluded by more apparently well-to-do, typically white, middle class, church people. Among writers who seem to take a balanced stand between life and death I would count C. S. Lewis of course, and Philip Yancey for another random example. We have to wonder what effects the more extreme attitudes would have on daily life in the “burbs”.

Among people for whom death and dying represent less important issues could be included the non-religious, atheists, and probably those who have never learned a personal moral code, including persons who may actually kill others for their own peculiar needs, and those routinely under the impress of war or civil police services. It is important to most of these more “tough-minded” ones that the issue of death does not impinge in a way that overawes their lives in other respects; their eating, sleeping and relating styles may remain intact. Here also, however, are the antisocial, the insensitive, and the thoughtless and impulsive ones, especially when under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or strong emotions. Most of these people seem able to keep their personal attitudes tenuously to themselves until life experiences push them into reflexive, deadly actions. And of course there are variations within the course of each life that may change one’s attitudinal polarity, (some may eventually hopefully come to Christ). We might expect many so-called criminal types to be at this end, but also some very successful and well-functioning people who are seen by others as self-sufficient “winners”; egocentricity often requires an unsentimental view of fellow humans. But very important to my way of thinking are the individuals representing a wide range of ages who have become preoccupied with, and enamored of, death. They include the Columbine shooters and the man who killed those little Amish school-girls, the ones who are so impressed with controlling the advent of death that they are impelled to “make it happen” rather than wait for it; “suicide by cop” is just one form of controlling one’s death and the death of others. Their fifteen minutes of fame, which they often avidly seek, must frequently be their last memory among the living.

Occupying the other pole may be counted those in denial of death’s importance; as Lord Byron wrote, “And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘tis that I do not weep”, an attitude that often crumbles under the approach of death itself. But here too are many people so impressed by hell-fire and damnation that, even more than death, they may fear to enjoy anything this life on earth has to offer—though there are Scriptures capable of modifying that attitude in equal profusion. They may perhaps prefer to see their lives continue right on into the great beyond without any temporary hitch. Included at this end of the continuum are those who are so wary of, or repulsed by, the idea of death and dying that they “avoid it like the plague” so to speak, and speak of it they rarely do. Their hope may be that to keep such ideas out of sight and out of mind is not only to avoid death but perhaps to conquer it; for them death will hopefully and finally just slip by un-noticed in the midst of life ongoing.

If there is any purpose in all this it is to demonstrate that persons occupying more extreme ends of the dichotomous range of attitudes towards death are most likely to be strongly antagonistic to each other and oppositional with respect to the other in the course of their social behavior. Included here would be political actions, or lack thereof, social skills development, management of money and buying habits, or consumerism, and more or less concern with just who should, or should not, have nuclear capabilities in this world, to name a few areas of likely variance. The conflict between pro-lifers and those favoring abortion is clearly fierce, and the opposition to any war, Iraqi or otherwise, might be predictable; those who compulsively vote at every election could be seen as oppositional to those who never go to the polls. Certainly the ones who vote for improvements to the lives of the elderly or improvements for future generations would likely be opposed by people who see no value in these issues. There are the famous examples of the careful ones who save up for a rainy day, spending money mostly on non-perishables, and the “party-time”, impulse buyers of quickly used up “good-time” goods; it is the eternal fable of the grasshopper and the ant--moral values proven useful in many modern-day contexts.

With these variables in mind a scalar questionnaire could easily be generated to test the hypothesis that these attitudes toward death and dying really do stand as polar opposites, and to what extent the general population is represented in these terms, and furthermore, what particular characteristics might be found for the different sub-groups. For the initial phase of scale construction both a verbal approach by the investigator utilizing only oral questions needs to be accompanied by an attitude scale filled out by an experimental population. In its final short-form verbally administered questions may be all that is needed to discriminate the sub-groups in terms of keys to more practical applications.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Running through my mind is that line from the scalawag poet Francoise Villon: “Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!”; Villon makes it uncomfortably clear that no matter how alluring and engaging at their first embrace, the old things no longer exist save in the toils and recoils of memory. Perhaps the lines of John Keats are appropriate following on that list of famous women who lived, were often tragically disposed, and now entirely vanished: “La belle dame sans merci hath thee in thrall”. Upon what may be the brink of moving from my choice location at this lovely beach and bay-side to another residence seems to bring all those pleasanter times in this old place close around me.

I know I will miss the sight of the many little boats gliding leisurely by--a mere stone’s throw from where I am wont to sit beside the bay-shore, and the bright flashes of billowing sails out on the blue-green ocean so very near to the south side of my present home. There are other allurements to be left behind , but most difficult of all is probably leaving forever that part of my life in which I was more active and mobile; sadder still is the knowledge that I can no longer walk out to the water’s edge and take full advantage of a neighborhood that I realize I now inhabit unjustly. Others, younger and stronger, deserve to live here.

The place where I may be going to live is, in some respects, a step backward rather than forward. It is inhabited by older people closer to my age who will surround me whenever I dare leave my own apartment, rather than the company of these younger, more athletic, and shapelier folks--though I probably need to become more sociable with my own group anyway. Having already had a quick visit to the prospective new quarters I am left with a vision straight out of a Noel Coward drawing-room farce, which actually pleases me a lot. From its large southern facing windows I could see the town stretched out below, all the way to the blue shore-line, and I am informed that on the proverbial clear day one can see Catalina Island. Though I already see that island from my present living room closer to the water’s edge, along with the Queen Mary and hordes of sea-birds, it is very reassuring to know there will be familiar sights even at some distant. My fantasy includes a vision of clusters of city lights glowing brightly below my windows as darkness begins descending all over the town, much like those movie scenes filmed from the Hollywood hills, and in my imagination I entertain guests at candle-lit suppers here in this urban setting. Since I have never done so before the whole prospect improves my outlook about moving—I may become an entirely different person with heretofore unseen talents for the high-life.

That term is particularly fitting since I will hopefully be on the eighth floor or higher, (though I may rue the choice when riding the elevator daily in the company of so many walkers and canes). On the other hand, however, much of the business of daily living will presumably be taken over by the staff people who will cook, clean and drive where my inclination leads—at least that is what is told to me by the management—and every Friday there is held what is called a “Happy Hour” where one is, I gather, expected to become happy. I will also, I vow, walk daily over the nice grounds and pathways—and upon the treadmill on the fourteenth floor--in order to maintain strength and health.

But back to the snows of yesteryear; after some serious thought it has come to me that past times are always lost and gone, it is the present and future that we live within, and change is after all the order of the day. It comes to me, in fact, that nothing of times past endures as a tangible part of ongoing reality. In that respect attempts to cling to them are quite futile, and I do feel ready for newness and changes--is it not written (I CO 7:31) “The world in its present form is passing away”. I always like to refer to Scripture when I write and my son Pastor Doug pointed out Haggai 2:9 for me, wherein the people were lamenting the loss of their former temple: “The glory of the present house will be greater than the glory of the former house’, says the Lord almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace’, declares the Lord almighty”. May it also be thus here in Long Beach—thank you Lord and Amen.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Recently in the mail came a form, easily filled out, to renew my life membership in a professional association in which I had been a member since 1966. As I stamped and sealed the return envelope I noticed for the first time, writ large in the lower left, the words: “Must include Life Statement in order to be processed”. Now I’m in a quandary, and for several reasons; for one thing I have already sealed the missile and do not recall making any particular statement, much less one covering my life—even partially. Also I do not know if I, or it, will be processed, whatever that is, but most unsettling is the awareness that I have not now, or even will I ever, reach a position to comment on so personal a thing as “My Life” in any comprehensive way—and certainly not in such a public forum.

There is now, however, the lingering and niggling doubt that should I be required to make such a statement anytime in the future, rank wordlessness and failure would surely be the result. Perhaps just sweeping the whole matter aside with some remark about not suffering fools gladly would get me by, but not for long. If the association continues to insist I might choose a more global and broad –brush response as, “I have always, throughout my life, tried to stand for that which is good and pure”, leaving aside whether or not I had been particularly successful in that effort. Yet even to me it sounds pretentious and lacking in any credible, creaturely life experience.

In fact what occurred to me was the parable of the two men in church who presented themselves to the Lord. The first man asserted that he had lived a good and blameless life and no doubt was pleasing and readily acceptable to the Lord. The second man, poor and contrite, did not even dare to raise his eyes up to heaven. He said “forgive me Father, for I am a sinner”. Of course it proved to be the second man that was closer to heaven’s gate. Thus forewarned and forearmed I began painfully to search out any instances of unprofessional, even unethical thoughts or impulses of conduct over the years. My humility was well settled in by the time I unsealed the blinking letter and found that the “Life Statement” referred to the form I had enclosed indicating that I did indeed intend to remain a Life Member. I might add that after the sense of relief. I am determined to suffer fools more gladly, myself included.