Douglas Feavel

Author of "Uncommon Character: 26 Stories Of Ordinary Men And Women Who Did The Extraordinary"



Parable of the Giving Gift: Still My Favorite Teacher

Let not many of you become teachers… (James 3:1)

Mrs. Clark stood in front of her fifth-grade class on the first day of a new fall term and told the eleven-year-old students a lie. Like many teachers, she habitually gathered the children early for an orientation session during which she never failed to share that she would dedicate herself to each of them fairly and equally. At the time, she meant it; she thought she was that kind of teacher. However, slumped in the back row was a skinny boy named Johnny who was just plain difficult to like. He was soon going to unwittingly expose her inadvertent hypocrisy.

Mrs. Clark began noticing that Johnny didn’t play well with the other children, his clothes were messy, and he always needed a bath and a hair washing. Communicating with him was difficult because he only spoke when spoken to, and then only responded in monosyllables like “yup,” “nope,” and most often a noncommittal “maybe.” On the good side, his silent demeanor and standoffishness meant that he was never a disruption, didn’t require admonishment for fighting or bullying, nor need go to the principal’s office for discipline. However, Johnny rarely completed his assignments or turned in his homework. Her frustration with him reached the point that Mrs. Clark almost enjoyed marking his papers with a red pen, drawing bold Xs next to his errors and omissions, or marking the top of his papers with a big F.

Each teacher had access to their student’s academic histories and was encouraged to review them. If she had read Johnny’s school records earlier, she would have understood him better. Mrs. Clark had delayed Johnny’s until last. When she finally checked his file, she was appropriately surprised. His first-grade teacher had written: “Johnny is a bright child with a quick laugh. He does his work neatly and exhibits good manners…he makes friends easily and is pleasant to be around.” His second-grade teacher had written: “Johnny is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he’s troubled by his mother’s terminal illness and life at home has caused him to struggle.” His third-grade teacher had written: “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life will affect him negatively if corrective steps aren’t undertaken.” Johnny’s fourth-grade teacher had written: “Johnny is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and he day-dreams in class.” By fourth grade, the records described Johnny as the poorly performing student that Mrs. Clark knew the following year.

The school year progressed with their relationship mostly unchanged as the two-week Christmas vacation approached. On the final school day of the old year, Mrs. Clark’s students followed the longstanding tradition of bringing their teacher gifts. There were many presents under the little tree in the corner of the room waiting to be opened during the afternoon party. All were wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright, fancy paper; all except Johnny’s whose were clumsily wrapped in the heavy brown paper commonly used for grocery bags and held together with masking tape. His presents were just like Johnny, not very neat or attractive.

When it was time to unwrap gifts, Mrs. Clark was a little surprised to have received anything from Johnny, so she took care to open his two gifts in the middle of the other presents. A few children began to snicker when she opened the first, containing a rhinestone bracelet with some of the fake jewels missing; and then they did so again when she opened the second containing a half-filled bottle of cheap perfume. Mrs. Clark had the presence of mind to kindly stifle the children’s rude reactions by quickly placing the bracelet and dabs of the perfume on her wrist, holding it up, and exclaiming, “My, how very wonderful!”

Johnny lingered after school that day standing near her desk. This was unusual behavior and it created both curiosity and more surprise in Mrs. Clark. He looked nervous but sounded sincere when he said, “Mrs. Clark, today you smelled just like my mom used to, and her bracelet looks really nice on you. I just want you to know that you’re my favorite teacher.”

That night Mrs. Clark didn’t sleep well; something unidentified was deeply troubling her. She persisted in examining the day’s activities, and eventually gained insight into the situation. A clearer understanding of Johnny’s problem led to perceiving her part in contributing to it. She felt ashamed about her attitude toward him. Before sunrise, Mrs. Clark determined she needed to make some immediate changes. From now on she would really love and help all of her students the same – especially the slow and troubled ones – beginning with Johnny. She would strive to become the kind of teacher she said she was, the kind she wanted to be, and the kind the students needed her to be.

On the first day of school after the holidays, the fifth-grade students were greeted by a new teacher. It was still Mrs. Clark on the outside; but on the inside, she was different. She quit just teaching subjects like reading, social studies, and math; she began teaching students. As she had determined, Mrs. Clark paid particular attention to Johnny. After working with him for some days, his mind seemed to awaken and find a fresh spirit. The more she encouraged him, the more he responded. By the end of the year, Johnny had caught up with most of the other students and he had even begun to surpass a few others. Now to keep her promise of impartiality toward all students, Mrs. Clark had to keep her pride in check and resist the temptation to treat Johnny, and those like him, as teacher’s pets.

The school year ended with Johnny graduating fifth grade, with its accompanying physical move from elementary school to the middle school some miles away. Before departing for summer vacation, Johnny was found one final time waiting by Mrs. Clark’s desk after the rest of his class had charged excitedly out the door. He told Mrs. Clark a simple good-bye, followed by “You’re my favorite teacher.”

Mrs. Clark didn’t hear from him for the next three years. In late spring of the third year, she found a hand-addressed envelope in her assigned mail slot at school. It contained a note from Johnny reporting that middle school had gone well and he was moving on to high school. He concluded it with: “You’re still my favorite teacher.”

Considerable time passed without further contact from Johnny until, at the end of the fourth school year, she received a familiar-looking handwritten envelope in her mail slot. It contained another note from Johnny saying that high school had gone well and he’d been accepted at the state university on a partial scholarship. The note again concluded simply: “You’re still my favorite teacher.”

Mrs. Clark continued to teach fifth grade at the same school. Nearly four more years passed without any more updates from Johnny; that is, until late spring of the fourth year when she found a third note in her mail slot. It was from Johnny and reported that he was graduating from the university in a few days with a degree and summa cum laude honors. This note concluded similarly to the other two: “You’re still my favorite teacher.” That simple statement always reminded her of the long-ago Christmas party and of her renewed commitment to teaching during the sleepless night that followed it. The recollection never failed to inspire and refresh her.

The next six years passed quickly for Mrs. Clark, who had spent more than half of them enjoying retirement from the classroom. Late in the spring of the sixth year, an envelope arrived at her home. It was from the office manager of her old grade school. Upon opening it, she immediately recognized Johnny’s handwriting on what was to be her final note from him. It was another brief update reporting that he’d gone on to medical school, where he met a pretty young nurse to whom he was now engaged. But the personal note wasn’t alone. Attached was a sealed, formal envelope containing both an embossed invitation to his wedding and another handwritten note. In the second one, he reminded Mrs. Clark that he’d lost his mother in elementary school and reported that his father had passed away several years ago. Thus, having no one to represent his parents at the wedding, he asked whether she’d be available and willing to do so. This note concluded with the now-familiar words: “You’re still my favorite teacher,” but it had an unfamiliar signature. It was signed: Dr. John R. Mills, MD.

Mrs. Clark accepted the wedding invitation, considering it an honor to sit up front where Dr. Mills’ parents would have sat. She arrived wearing the bracelet and perfume given to her on that Christmas when she and Dr. Mills were together in her old classroom – when he was still known as Johnny.

After the ceremony, they embraced and Dr. Mills thanked Mrs. Clark for being there for him on his wedding day, and more importantly, he thanked her for what she’d done for him back in fifth grade. Mrs. Clark replied that his gratitude was misplaced, for it was he who had honored her with the invitation as well as he who had encouraged her to become the kind of teacher she wanted and needed to be. It was the combination of his simple trust and fidelity that acted as the catalyst for decisive growth in her life.

They were both correct because they’d been mutually influential in making substantive, positive changes in each other’s lives – changes that cascaded from both of their lives on into the lives of many others thereafter. Johnny’s unquestioning love for Mrs. Clark was the igniting spark for her change; it was her change that reflected the love back to Johnny, who then leveraged it to consistently improve his life. Those two small, physical Christmas gifts of the bracelet and the perfume were the first seeds sown into lives that would grow into greater gift giving for both parties. These kinds of gifts don’t require shopping, money, or wrapping, yet they are gifts that will endure and keep on giving. The real gifts were their time and attention to each other. These were the best gifts they had given, and the best ones they had received.

Their gifts are representative of gifts we can all afford to give: our love, talents, kindness, attention, and time. These are the true gifts that are needed by those unlovable ones like Johnny, or by those misguided ones like Mrs. Clark. At some point in our lives, we are all like Johnny and need to receive from a Mrs. Clark; at other times, we are capably equipped like Mrs. Clark and can give of ourselves to a needy Johnny. Even Johnny, who seemingly had nothing, found something to give Mrs. Clark. We are reminded to be generous in giving of ourselves, for none of us has anything in life of real value that we have not been given ourselves. The investments that we make in others are the best ones because they are life-changing and thus pay lasting dividends to the giver and to the recipient.

There are only four things we can take beyond the grave; I call them the everlasting four: integrity (sometimes called a good name or reputation), relationships, the positive concentric circles that our good deeds have set in motion (sometimes called paying-it-forward), and faith.

…knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (James 3:1)

Cosmic Stories

Stories were the primary vehicle for education and entertainment before electronics. Today in situations where electronics are not readily accessible or appropriate, we still revert to telling stories as a way of connecting on an intimate level; even more so than the other communications are able to attain even when they are available; e.g. the back seat of cars on long trips, prisons, campsites, battlefields, children’s libraries, fishing and hunting cabins, bedsides, classrooms, mother’s laps, power blackouts, and mission fields. Who does not continue to thrill a little when hearing or reading a classic opening phrase from their youth like: “Once upon a time”, “In a land far, far away”, and “It was a dark and sultry night”; or a  “fuzzy-feeling” ending line like: “And they lived happily ever after” or “That’s how it remains to this very day.”

I’ve noted that stories and storytelling generally appear to be on the edge of revival. I can’t say with certainty that presently more stories are being written and read, but I have definitely noticed that, as a genre, stories are receiving more attention as many people in publishing are stressing their value. 

The following quote from Donald Miller’s How to Tell a Story is a typical example of my observation: “Story is no longer a tool only for artists. The rest of the world is beginning to understand that entire cultures are being shaped by the storytellers; and business leaders, pastors and parents are starting to wonder how they can incorporate more stories into their communication methodology. And they will all be benefited for doing so.”

The Bible contains over five hundred true stories, as well as a handful of fictional illustrations. Overall, by percentages, it’s reported to be a mix of seventy-five percent stories, fifteen percent poetry, and only ten percent unadorned teaching principles. It’s not so much the story of God, as is so frequently stated; it’s much more the story of man. In the preface to his book The Gates of the Forest, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel tells a story that ends with the statement: “God made man because He loves stories.” 

There’s a movement of increasing application, especially among missionaries, to teach and preach the Bible evangelistically in the form of stories. This is variously called Bible telling and chronological Bible storying. Sharing stories is what Jesus did regularly and preeminently; some were parables, some were wholly fiction while others were wholly non-fiction. He did so knowing they would change hearts as well as educate. At their best, the Scribes and Pharisees only educated because they didn’t wrap their dry precepts in real-to-life story coverings; they failed mightily where Jesus succeeded beyond comparison. 

Gary Alan Taylor of Red Letter Christians defines stories as the “currency of human contact.” He reasons that: “We tell stories about ourselves that reveal a great deal of what we as a people believe and value. If you want to understand a culture’s values, listen to her stories. As examples, these are prevailing American narratives: the Godly Puritans at Plymouth Rock, Captain John Smith at Jamestown, George Washington on the Delaware and brave white settlers heading west into the sunset to claim the land God set aside for them.”

Near the end the movie version – also its turning point – of the essentially non-fiction story Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney finally gains the confidence of the reluctant author of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers (aka Helen Goff), by convincing her that she can trust him to visually portray her written human portraits with the respect she intended. He does so with the following words, which are a fitting summary of the film’s theme and, perhaps, the entire body of Disney’s creative work: “That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope, again and again and again.” Such is my intended approach when crafting stories from the themes, events, and individuals under my care.

Occupying an antiquated position in the digital age, the employment of straight-up oral storytelling remains fairly rare today; but when offered in the right setting, it is still highly appreciated. In the not-too-distant past, it was the most prevalent method of values education and of communicating history, traditions, and beliefs. 

In a collection of essays and lectures titled, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, short-story virtuoso Flannery O’Connor accurately stated storytelling’s diminishing circumstances: “There is a certain embarrassment about being a storyteller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics; but in the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells.”

In her book The Story Keeper, Lisa Wingate writes: “Our stories are powerful. They teach, they speak, they inspire. They bring about change. But they are also fragile. Their threads are so easily broken by time, by lack of interest, by failure to understand the value that comes of knowing where we have been and who we have been. In this speed-of-light culture, our histories are fading more quickly than ever. Yet when we lose our stories, we lose ourselves.”

It’s been said that telling about what happened to millions of people is not a story, it’s a statistic. But when that same information is reduced down to what happened to one person or to a small group, it then becomes a story with all the attendant benefits. For example, a mention of six million Jews killed in the Holocaust lacks the human dimension and personal connection to be a story; but make it about one individual, like Eva Kor or Irena Sendler, and now we have a story.

Wilfred M. McClay, author of Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story writes: “We are, at our core, remembering and story-making creatures, and stories are one of the chief ways we find meaning in the flow of events. What we call ‘history’ and ‘literature’ are merely the refinement and intensification of that basic human impulse, that need (to tell and hear stories).”

History is more than just factual times, movements, and locations. Most of my generation had history introduced to us as His Story – alluding to its overarching scale and infinite purpose.

Isaac Bashevis Singer writes: “When a day passes it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like a beast, only for the day. The whole world, all human life is one long story.”

In The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity, Mattthew Kelly shares: “The beautiful thing about stories is that they speak to each person in a different way. Ten people could read a story and get ten different messages. All ten messages were in the story, but each person heard what he or she needed to hear.

In closing, a final beautiful thing about stories is that (according to the results of experiments by Dr. Paul Zak of Claremont University’s Center for Neuro-economic Studies) when stories are shared our brain chemistry changes and our brains unite because the hormone oxytocin is released. Its release helps us to understand and accept our differences – it may not result in agreement, but it is an expanded openness for the ideas of another. I particularly appreciate the title of his 2015 article in Cerebrum: “Why Inspiring Stories Make Us React.” His conclusions may appear to contradict Matthew Kelly’s, but they do not. We retain all the individuality brought into the interaction, but there is less prejudice toward the uniquenesses of the parties.

Help available to us (at all times, including pandemics)…

All of these blessings are potentially available to provide our healing and insure our strength: 

The Word and the promises, the Spirit and the Anointing, His presence, the prayers and agreement of the Body of Christ, your personal petitions, faith-hope-love, God’s mercy-grace-favor, His perfect will, more than conquerors, first fruits, your calling/ministry, and…

Holiness, the blood covering, sanctification, peace that passes understanding, the anointing, the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, a great cloud of witnesses, Sabbath rest, the mind of Christ, forgiveness, comfort-care-counsel, right-standing, Godly wisdom, miracles, ministering angels, edification, helpmates, the beauty of creation, victory over death-hell-grave, the Balm of Gilead, signs and wonders, understanding and knowledge, assurances of a prepared place in Heaven, and…

Power over hell and the grave, revelation and prophesy, eternal truth, clear/clean conscience, life-love-light-liberty, protection and deliverance, His covering, songs and hymns, thanksgiving, fellowship with the saints, endurance to finish the race, the wings of an eagle, an Abba, redemption, a share in God’s glory, prosperity, help in time of need, the Church and the Family of God, guidance, new and eternal life, fresh oil, release from the law, and… 

Covenantal relationship, strong arm of the Lord, joy, dreams and visions, Godly authority, a high Priest to intercede, eyes that see and ears that hear, created in His very image, praise and worship, an Advocate with the Father, new wine, deliverance from fear and ignorance, release from the law, joint-heirs, domination over nature, the good news, breathe of life, access to the throne, our bodies as temples, freedom-faith-forgiveness, a friend that stays closer than a brother, the one new man, and…. 

Full armor of God with a helmet/breastplate/shield/belt/shoes/sword, our daily bread, victory, the name of Jesus, a Helper, nullification of the curse, mourning into dancing, intercession, no weapon formed against me shall prosper, the Way, reconciliation-rebirth-restitution-rejoicing, a Comforter, and shalom (includes: safety, rest, prosperity, welfare, completion, fullness, soundness, and well-being).  

All these and more provisions from the living God for our spiritual and physical health.

Discovering Purple: On Behalf of Social Resolution

    Due to the growing stridency, distance, extremism, and animosity between right/conservative/Republican (“red”) and left/liberal/Democrat (“blue”) proponents, the center (“purple”) is a harmonious location increasingly unshared in America. To describe the red’s fixed position, I borrow authors Alexander Betts and Paul Collier phrase “heartless head”; and to describe the blue’s I borrow their phrase “headless heart”. Journalist James Traub seems to advocate synthesizing these otherwise incompatible mindsets when he suggests reasoning with our hearts and feeling with our heads. The pure tone of the truth is the center, and it’s the only credible place for us, as a bifurcated society, to engage. It’s the magnetic pole that we should endeavor to be drawn toward.
    The proliferation of exclusions to and opposition to free speech (e.g. college campus protests) exacerbates our collective loss of opportunities for civil social discourse and reduces our ability to learn to understand the other side and thus to merge factions. I’m modestly suggesting, rather than over-reaching for general agreement, that each of us simply recognize the problem (i.e. a lack of congenial discourse) and then do our best to rise above it by avoiding the excesses and the caricatures all-too-frequently promoted by those who are morally-failed dividers or just plain noisy advocates of our side. All publically espoused positions come with both blemishes and beauties that need to be carefully and creatively sorted like the wheat and the weeds, the sheep and the goats.
    Let’s invest the individual time to seek the truth as we also adhere to this five centuries-old advice: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity” (translated from the Latin original of an unknown source). No matter how much or how many of our predilections have to be shed to get there, the cost of doing so is incontestably worthwhile for crafting the healthy environment so needed by our individual souls and the larger community spirit.
    Historically, we Americans have faced not dissimilar deep ideological national chasms during and after the Revolutionary War, Civil War and Vietnam War; each respectively occurring slightly post mid-century (1760s-70s, 1860s-70s and 1960s-forward). The signing of treaties and the cessation of fighting after the Civil War did not come close to automatically healing hearts and uniting minds. A national rapprochement was called for by inspirational leaders like Lincoln, Douglass, and Grant. Arguably, today’s bifurcation of the population began with the liberal-conservative split during the Vietnam years and has continued to widen and remain with us since. Another cry for rapprochement should be clarion today, and it can only effectively come from those among us, especially those in leadership, who determine to rise above the common us and me petty politics with its attendant name-calling, contempt, and selfishness. Lincoln’s plea is still in season: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” The failure to attain national discourse leads to continuing escalations, and most any escalation – as we have already seen – leads to outbreaks of violence of a Brown Shirt and Antifa nature. Who among us is not already familiar with Jesus’ warning that a house divided will not stand? If we believe it, our actions should reflect it.
    Healing change comes one heart at a time starting with our own (see “frown power” in the Stetson Kennedy story). “Uncommon Character” presents two dozen individuals – from a variety of locations, vocations, and ages – who have successfully modeled selfless commitment and altruistic behavior for our collective follow-up. Good character knows no political affiliation or religious denomination. It rises above roadblocks like political correctness and name-calling. It is not driven by politics or economics. It comes from having relationships in harmony. This not to say that our American way of life does not have real enemies whom we must resist in lieu of them subverting us. We do have them, many of them. But, we must be able to identify our true life-and-death adversaries from our fellow travelers, with whom we could productively compromise and turn into allies for two and three-fold strength in the real battles.

Why Are Government Entitlements Growing?

Conservatives rightfully ponder whether there exists any upward limit to the non-stop expansion of the welfare state with its escalating governmental intrusion consisting of more regulations, taxes, entitlements, and free stuff; i.e. whether there is any point where the liberal mindset would be satisfied and willing to rest from further agitation against traditional values and fundamental check-and-balance processes. That is to disassociate from an ill-advised mindset that Marvin Olasky has variously labeled promiscuous material distribution, subsidizing of disaffiliation, universalizing depersonalizers, culture of delegated compassion, and false comfort. Each of his descriptors peels away and exposes a layer of liberal falsehood, obfuscation, and deceit as associated with their programs and orthodoxy.

I don’t believe there is a point where leftists will say, “Entitlements and/or government are too big” or, “They are not working.” The left is far less interested in resolving poverty-related problems than in simply continuing to gain from the on-going visibility produced by perpetually defending and funding them at their status quos and beyond. Bob Woodson of the Woodson Center says, “There are a lot of perverse incentives against people being independent” and that these prevent the welfare system from being applied in the manner it was intended.  It was intended (but not correctly designed) “as an ambulatory service, not a transportation system [again, Mr. Woodson speaking].” The right understands and holds superior and more practical positions on helping the poor and the victimized recover, become independent, and continue succeeding; but it is deficient at marketing them at the street level and their solutions are generally long-term; that is they take longer to implement, but they last longer – unfortunately, short-term, ineffective fixes are an easier product to sell.

I hold the following five reasons as support for my position. First, “solutions” like increased welfare spending sound so simple. They sit right at the top of the stack of quickie fixes and are easy to grab and run with, especially since that would be safely traveling incognito and in the same direction as the rest of the pack. Conservative real solutions require thorough thinking, research, and implementation planning with post-execution monitoring and accountability; doing so causes one to stand out, perhaps alone. Because these contrary solutions are opposed and ridiculed by the liberal pack – often accompanied by personal slander and harsh recriminations, the advocates must be exceptionally brave and, therefore, are few in number. (The deliberately hurtful negativity expressed in some of their “reviews” of Uncommon Character stand as clear personal evidence of the strident intolerance of ideas that differ from their own).

Second, they are a practical and proven Machiavellian-like method to secure the support of the masses for purposes of gaining and retaining political power. Fabian George Bernard Shaw says, “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

Third, liberals believe problems like poverty and education are solved by spending more money; they don’t know that solutions require depth, sacrifice, and time (see the first reason above). Liberal thinking is: see the problem, throw money at it; still see the problem, throw more money at it. If the problem remains, it must be because conservatives are preventing them from throwing enough money at it. In reality, the money often is or becomes a significant part of the problem.

Fourth, liberals haven’t thoroughly dealt with three underlying personal issues. One is personal sin, such as resentment, rebellion, and envy; sin on the part of those allocating the supporting funds and on those receiving them. Another is their genuine guilt (rooted in personal sin and overriding rebellion toward God). They falsely assume that this guilt can be avoided or alleviated by mindless funding of issues related to poverty. Until these two factors are recognized and addressed, they remain surreptitiously negative influences. Effective remedying of sin and guilt requires responses that promote the healing of their relationships with God, man, and self. The last of the three underlying issues is their erroneous belief in the essential goodness of mankind. A brief review of just the twentieth century should be convincing proof to the contrary.

Fifth, giving tax money to the poor is an outlet for liberals to feel self-righteous. Attempting to appear virtuous is valued as the equivalent of the actual practice of virtue. Leftists live outside of a truly righteous relationship with God and they are not motivated by Biblical principles such as true charity; i.e. giving of personal time, care, and money. Therefore, tax-based giving is desirable as an inoculation against having to deal with the underlying truths and the sacrificial giving, both of which are preferably ignored. After all, big government is their god, so let their god give; that’s what gods are for.

Advice on Coping for Success

Not everyone has a significant special gifting, aka talent, with which they may choose to heavily practice, modestly practice, or leave entirely unpracticed. Some may even have physical, mental, or circumstantial handicaps encumbering them beyond their natural dearth of talent. I believe that I qualify herein and that I’ve found a helpful path around the roadblocks. There are surely additional routes that I don’t know, and certainly many wrestle with more substantial challenges than I do; but regardless, there is value and balance in my sharing what I found to be a life-enriching, survival tool. I refer to it as developing a coping mechanism.

The following are real examples of my weaknesses, followed in the parentheses by my passable/plausible lifelong adopted solution for coping with each: incapable of understanding higher mathematics (focus on alternative social studies and language disciplines), not well-coordinated for team sports (participate in individual sports like pole vaulting, swimming, and gymnastics), attention deficit disorder (think outside-the-box, be creative and entrepreneurial), slow reader (listen to audio books and read book reviews or abridged editions), challenged both phonetically and with foreign languages (substitute science classes to meet the degree requirements), poor memory (take lots of printed or recorded notes), shy (stretch comfort zone through public speaking, volunteering, and teaching), low to average student with mild learning disabilities (study longer and harder, do extra credit projects, befriend smart people, avoid noisy/distracting environments, and deflect the pain of criticism by exercising a sense of humor and granting forgiveness), tone-deaf and incapable of playing a musical instrument (collect quality recorded music and attend concerts), modest IQ (fully utilize it by being intellectually curious- this is a supplemental type of intelligence), inferiority complex (find meaning in things greater than yourself and have a close relationship with God), raised in a broken home (develop close friends from solid families and court/date discerningly), socially awkward (avoid crowd situations in favor of one-on-one), financially poor background (work both smarter and harder, set goals, and be money-wise).

Your weaknesses will vary from mine (which are ADHD-driven); but regardless, always keep in mind: There is no shame in concealing your vulnerabilities from the public; it’s exercising wisdom to do so. Restated as an illustration: If the traditional path can’t be made to work for you, then find or make an honorable alternative one that is better suited to your limitations. Good character will always triumph in the end, so finish well.

The Other “One-Percent”

The primary purpose of business is to turn a profit; the profit then propels continued creativity, research, employment, equity-investments (open to all comers), capital expenditures, wages, retirement programs, grants/scholarships, and – above all else ­– the on-going provision of ever-improving needed goods and services that are beneficial to a wide range of stakeholders far in excess of the immediate corporate board and executive committee. This loop is how businesses serve mankind’s common good as well as their specific markets.  Business people are public servants as much, or more so, than senators, governors and the others who are mislabeled and self-promoted as public servants. Those who hold these high government offices are well compensated in many fashions including executive pay; thus they are not modestly serving us, and often their priorities are their own and not that of the public. Unlike business owners/managers and employees, they produce no good or service or profit; rather they consume the taxes paid from the profits and pay of productive businesses and workers. If a business primarily worked to please itself, and not the public market, its existence would be brief. This illustrates how capitalism works and why it is a positive philosophy that is far greater than alternatives like socialism.

There’s no shame in advocating capitalism with its adherence to market forces, personal property, and reasonable profit motives; i.e. the promotion of free enterprise and equal opportunity. Proof of its positive nature is overwhelming, historically sound, easily observed, and – many believe – substantiated by the Bible. Capitalism also does best when the means of production are fully in private hands. When government controls and/or owns the means, it is not true capitalism. It’s been labeled corporate fascism because inefficient, greedy, regulation-prone, controlling, prejudiced, and unseasoned bureaucrats operate the economy from myopic fair-share and personal-share agendas. Ayn Rand exposes this concept effectively in her enduringly relevant novel Atlas Shrugged.

This is not to say capitalism has never been abused; it most certainly has, just as has been religion, medicine, science, education, politics and every other positive element of life. There is, however, too much focus on the top one-percent in business when there’s a ninety-nine percent of the population ­­– including all the government bureaucracy – that also benefits either directly or indirectly from the fruits of corporate business. Let’s move some of that negative one-percent focus to those many career-politicians sitting for life in Congress who abuse the people’s faith and the democratic process by entrenching and enriching themselves in excesses while refusing to recognize term limits and declining to act as honest brokers of the public trust; i.e. they do not exhibit the requisite servant mentality (e.g. they exempt themselves from the laws they pass and apply to the public). Congress’s pandering to the lowest common denominators in its constituency about the greed of the corporate one-percent is a smoke-screen to cover their own greed by shifting our attention away from monitoring their proliferate spending. They represent the top one-percent of the biggest “corporation” in the world: the federal government.  We need only to view their lifestyles and examine their use of big money for lavishly living in multiple homes, socializing and traveling conspicuously, and purchasing personal influence, recognition, and favor. As stated above, all good things can be exploited, including politics. Privileged politicians only consume as they spend tax receipts; and, as it is all-too-often reported, they waste, reallocate and give it away as well indulge illegally in self-enrichment, cronyism, graft, and kickback. They do not produce wealth as does capitalistic business. Their real interest in penalizing the one-percent of business is to extract more tax dollars which, in turn, increases their power, control, and influence. Socialism is a giant give-way program that buys selfish politicians the votes that ensure their continued tenure in public office. The engine of this socialistic spending is fueled by the excess outcome of capitalism. Businesses are like the proverbial geese that lay the golden eggs. The eggs are the excess outcomes of production (profits, wages, research and the like). When the geese sicken or die from starvation, overwork, and abuse or lack of care; the egg production declines or ceases as do the many other attendant benefits, including tax revenues.

If we are looking for true public servants in the government’s employ, they are rarely found at the top of the pyramid. There are positive exceptions within any over-simplification statement, and inside the vast government bureaucracy these are amply identifiable deep within such fields as fire protection, the military branches, and law enforcement.

Obituary Not Required

Our Western Gregorian calendar marks the year of this Man’s birth. He was conceived contrary to the ordinary laws governing natural life. His birthplace was a barn, He grew up in an obscure rural village, and His parents were plain-living peasants. Their ancestry was fully Jewish – known as God’s chosen people, but often hated by the nations of the world. They were a typical poor, young couple lacking any formal education and possessing neither wealth nor influence.

Yet His arrival was announced by angels and caused panic in one king’s heart and elation in the hearts of three other kings. As a baby, He was prophesied over twice by strangers at the temple during His dedication. As a toddler, He was visited by a team of accomplished foreign scholars who traveled and searched for months in order to locate Him. Approaching his teen years, the wisdom He shared impressed, engaged, and surpassed religious professionals and highly placed lawyers. As a young man, He apprenticed quietly in his father’s carpentry shop until age thirty, after which He worked for the next three years as a traveling preacher without a church building for shelter and without a congregation to support Him.

In the final years of His unnaturally short life, He belatedly demonstrated the fullness of His nature by walking on water, commanding violent storms to be at peace, converting water into fine wine, healing the sick, raising the dead, and multiplying a handful of fish and loaves sufficient for the satisfaction of thousands of His hungry companions.

He never held an elected office, and never had a title; yet multitudes wanted to proclaim Him their king and were prepared to forsake all other appointed and inherited rulers in exchange for just this one Man. He never owned a home, never married nor had children, never attended college, and never gained any formal credentials or positions. As an adult, He never lived in a big city or traveled more than a hundred miles from the place where He was born. He had nothing in this world beyond the simple clothes He wore.

He never wrote a book, and yet all the libraries in the world contain books written about Him. He never wrote a song, but hundreds of thousands of songs have been written about Him with more being added daily. He never painted, sculpted, or drew; yet the greatest artists in the history of mankind have consistently sought to honor Him by selecting Him as the subject of their masterpieces. He never founded a college nor earned a degree, but all the schools in the world cannot claim as many students. He never commanded troops, drafted a soldier, planned a troop movement, won a war, or fired a gun; and yet no other leader has ever had more volunteers and followers – most of whom are prepared to die for Him.

He never practiced psychiatry nor studied pharmaceuticals; still, He has healed more broken hearts than all the doctors of the world. He cured countless desperately afflicted multitudes without medicine or instruments – even raising several from the dead. He turned no one away while they were suffering, never acted inconvenienced, and never charged for His services. His only incentive was the benefit another would receive.

He was no film or rock star, and He played no professional sports. He never appeared on television, spoke on the radio, blogged or tweeted; yet His words are broadcast worldwide on a daily basis. He turned the world’s concept of greatness and fame upside down while demonstrating true servant leadership. Although He never did any of the things contemporary society considers an indication of greatness or importance, He was a true hero and His life remains worthy of imitation by every generation.

Despite all His good deeds, He was criticized for befriending society’s outcasts and for resisting popular influences and powerful personalities. His words and deeds were forcefully opposed by the ruling elites. His family doubted His motives, and at times thought Him mentally unstable. The tide of popular opinion turned against Him while He was still young. Many were jealous of Him and many others hated Him. Friends deserted Him, one denied Him multiple times, and another bitterly betrayed Him to His enemies. He was arrested by His adversaries, and suffered the harassment and lies of false accusations and a mock trial. Although wholly innocent, He was pronounced guilty, whipped, spat on, beaten, pierced, and sentenced to a criminal’s public death in a painful, bloody manner. He was nailed to wooden crossbeams, set high between thieves, speared, ridiculed, and cursed. As He was dying, the executioners gambled for His only remaining possession, a simple robe. His last words were those of forgiveness and love for the very men who were persecuting Him.

For His burial, He was to be laid in a borrowed tomb donated through the pity of a stranger. At the moment of His death, the earth shook violently and split open, the skies thundered, the sun darkened, and graves yielded their dead who then walked the streets – all bearing witness to His innocence and to the promise of mightier things to come. Although His enemies had tried, they couldn’t destroy Him because even the grave was soon proven unable to hold Him.

Had there been an obituary written at the time of Jesus’ sacrificial earthly death, it would have read similar to this:

Jesus Christ, aged 33, died late Friday afternoon in Jerusalem on Mount Calvary, also known as Golgotha the Place of the Skull. Born in Bethlehem of Judea, He spent his childhood in Egypt and his youth in the northern village of Nazareth. Jesus was sentenced to death by the state for crimes against the Roman Empire and the Jewish religion. He was crucified along with two other criminals by order of Prefect Pontius Pilate with the approval of King Herod Agrippa. Causes of death were extreme exhaustion, severe torture, unrelenting pain, and profuse bleeding. Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, and a member of the royal Jewish House of David. He was the firstborn son of the late Joseph Ben Jacob, a respected Galilean carpenter. He is survived by His mother, Mary, three brothers and two sisters, twelve apostles, and numerous disciples. He was self-educated and spent most of His adult life working first as a carpenter and then as a pastor, teacher, community organizer, and social worker. The entombment occurred just prior to the Sabbath in a nearby hillside cavern previously owned by family benefactor Joseph of Arimathea. In lieu of flowers, the family requests honoring the deceased by embracing His instruction and the example of His life. Monetary donations will be forwarded in his name to local charities.

There was, however, no time or need for an obituary, because three days thereafter, He was resurrected and back even stronger; teaching, speaking, preaching to His friends and family in full view of hundreds. He departed soon thereafter on His own terms and timing. As He left, He promised an imminent future return while leaving His immortal Word and providing a great, new Gift intended to comfort us in the interim. Jesus lives yesterday, today, an always.

Soon the world discovered that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the governments that ever were established, all the kings who ever reigned, and all the presidents who ever held office have not affected history as powerfully or as positively as this one Man’s life. Although more than twenty-one centuries have come and gone since His brief time on earth, He’s continuously been the centerpiece of the human race as its greatest source of guidance and divine inspiration. Many times every week the world over, countless multitudes gather to study His teachings and to show their respect for Him.

The modern world still has difficulty understanding Him. Schools are reluctant to teach about Him. Leaders can’t succeed if they ignore Him. Historical revisionists have tried but can’t erase Him. Scientists remain baffled by Him. Communism, Nazism, and atheism failed to silence Him. New Agers, Hindus, and Muslims can’t replace Him. The proud can’t accept Him. Religion can’t sanitize or convolute Him. And none of the commercial commentators on TV or radio are able to explain His continuing popularity and influence.

Time itself recognizes His earthly presence by its division between that which came before and that which came after His birth. Today, His followers celebrate the date of His arrival on earth as both a holy day and a holiday. Without ceasing, His enemies dispute antagonistically against the mere mention of His name and are hostile to any display of the symbols relating to His humble birth and life. They harass public officials and school boards, they wear out the courts with endless mean-spirited petitions, and they disrupt the celebrations enjoyed by a majority of the population. His symbols are not their issue; it’s the Man Himself: His heavenly ancestry, incarnate birth, Jewish heritage, pure life, selfless death, church on earth, eternal and unchanging existence, renewing resurrection, claim of being God, universal authority, kingdom of saints, eternal judgment, second messianic coming, and His everlasting presence.

The names of the eminent statesmen and thinkers of ancient Greece and Rome have come and gone. The names of past scientists, philosophers, and theologians have also come and gone. But the name of this humble Jewish man multiplies more and more with every season that passes. His life, works, and words are continually studied in minute detail from every possible perspective: historically, educationally, doctrinally, practically, comparatively, medically, critically, devotionally, prophetically, and analytically, and there is always enough to satisfy everyone while keeping them hungry for more. Even though more than two thousand years lie between our generation and His time on the earth, the Son of Man’s name still lives on – JESUS.

What is Faith and What is Fact?

Today, science is believed to be more advanced, and we’ve replaced these old faulty apriorisms — like the earth is flat or the earth is the center of the universe — with new (hopefully) accurate ones. Or, have we?

Are we certain that our current scientific facts about the creation of the universe are correct? Carl Sagan and his colleagues say the universe positively always was and always will be. In saying so, they appropriated and then distorted the language of the Bible, which greatly preceded them. They go on to state that the universe itself resulted from the explosion of a super-compressed grain of pre-existent energy and that, thereafter, the diverse life found within the earth simply evolved from nothing more than a random mix of base chemical elements. Consequently, there’s no god other than the universe itself, and that’s a god with a very small g. There’s no all-powerful, caring, eternal Creator God with a plan. Sagan and his colleagues have a majority of the population deceived into following along with their apriorisms. Perhaps their beliefs really are as foolish as, and more dangerous than, those fifteenth-century ones about the earth that now cause laughter.

Are we certain that our current scientific facts about the creation of earthly life are correct? The Neo-Darwinian theorists who retain a religious-like faith in macroevolution have found no provable arguments in favor of their wild speculation or any against creation. When they look deep into the human cell structure, the only sustainable solution for irreducible complexity becomes intelligent design. From the outward universe to the inward cell, evolution would be a far greater miracle to have occurred than would have creation. Except for the existing apriorism against it, why not go with creation?

Are we certain that our current scientific facts about worldwide climate change (formerly known as global warming) are correct after already missing multiple forecasted dates as to when human life on our planet would cease to exist? Up to the 1970s, scientists predicted the coming of another ice age. Thousands of contrarian experts have put their careers at risk by registering disagreement with CC and backing it with alternative facts and predictions. With its attendant carbon offset credits on greenhouse gas emission caps, CC is more about political control and financial gain, than about saving the globe. The liberal majority says the discussion is over on climate – just as it supposedly is on evolution.  Their opinions are set in concrete and they will tolerate no more opposing research or dialog.

Are we certain that our current scientific facts about when a baby becomes a person endowed with inalienable rights (as well as a soul and spirit) are correct? More than half of the medical population of our nation does not believe that it occurs anytime between conception and when naturally exiting the womb at the conclusion of approximately nine months.  Perhaps, it is more accurate to pose their response as: Does not want to believe in personhood because a counter belief in a clump of organic cells justifies abortion as personally and politically more convenient. The evidence that a baby possesses the potential for an independent life far earlier than the usual nine-month term is incontrovertible and should be the accurate apriorism.

We may never again confuse a spherical earth with a flat one, but there are still plenty of other faith-like myths we accept as facts.

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