Monday, April 26, 2010


I was calmly eating with a friend of mine at a deli-type restaurant and a waitress goes by with a tray full of glasses and coffee cups that she had just bussed from a table. A woman's purse lay in a place that was unexpected and as the waitress rushed past the table she caught the purse. You can guess what happened: the glasses and cups made a loud crash as they broke into a million pieces, the silverware added a light percussion as they bounced, and the cry of surprise seemed to echo in the deli. Everyone heard it and some gasped, some had a direct inhalation of air until they found she was okay, others helped her up, but some, and not just a few, some cheered and applauded.

In a Simpson's episode Ned Flander's business is failing and Lisa has to explain to Homer that he is feeling "schadenfreude" a German word for taking pleasure in the suffering of others. The Broadway show Avenue Q sings of schadenfreude as "me being glad that I am not YOU!" and "Don't you feel all warm and cozy when you see people out in the rain." Homer remarks, "Those Germans have a word for everything!"

Solomon, in Proverbs tells us "Do not gloat when you enemy falls; when he stumbles do not rejoice or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him." We know it is wrong and we often feel guilty about it but there is something in us that celebrates when an enemy falls.

The Greeks had the concept pegged as "epikhairekakos" which means taking pleasure in another's ill fortune. But they also had the opposite but SAME response of "phthonos" when means getting pain from another's GOOD fortune.

Wow ... I just realized that was a broad brush stroke from the Simpsons to Broadway to German to Ancient Hebrew poetry and finally to Ancient Greek philosophy ... all because a waitress dropped her tray. But I think that just proves how prevalent schadenfreude is. EVERYBODY deals with it.

Our nature tends to lift ourselves through denigrating others. We feel better about ourselves because others are worse off. Or we are upset because others have good things happening to them. But we are not animals, we can fight our nature. We can decide to help the waitress. We can decide to rejoice in the good things of others. We can decide to shove schadenfreude to the shelf and live a life of joy not matter the circumstances. We CAN decide. I think it is called fahrvergnuegen ... those Germans have a word for everything.

Monday, April 19, 2010

We Suck at Receiving Gifts

When you sell something to me we exchange items of value. I give you money and you give me something, or some service and the deal is done. We each go away with what we started with only in a different form. You got money lost the thing, I got the thing and lost the money. Even Steven. This is good, and it works and it is what most economies are based on.

But what if I gave you more money than you asked for? What if you gave me more "stuff" than I paid for? There is an imbalance created, a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. The imbalance must be resolved.

In Native American tradition in the Pacific Northwest giving was a sign of power. A powerful chief would give away everything he owned as a sign of his wealth and power. This was called "potlatch". Think of the power and confidence behind that kind of a gift, that kind of an imbalance!

We sometimes resolve the gift imbalance by acknowledging the givers creativity and insight. Artists do this when they put a painting in a museum or a song out on the internet. "Here's a free gift" they say. We don't pay for it but we acknowledge it and then, if it is good or powerful, we pass it on and we become givers by sharing with others.

Sometimes we repair the imbalance of a gift by becoming closer to the giver. What was a simple transaction in business now becomes a friend to a friend. We develop a sense of preferred customers, vendors or clients because of the gift.

BUT sometimes we develop a sense of resentment. "Why are you rich and powerful and I am not?" so a cycle of dependency is created "You NEED to give to me because you are rich and powerful!" This gifting hurts both parties.

The key to giving gifts is in the sense of FORWARD motivation. If my gift to you inspires you to do something so you can give to another and another and so on; then the gift has a forward momentum. If my gift to you causes you to resent me and begin to EXPECT that gift or an BIGGER one next time and the next and so on; then my gift has a negative momentum that is destructive to both of us.

People love to give gifts. Not just because of the sense of power like the Native American Chief but simply because that is how we were built by God. But as receivers of gifts we generally suck. We don't know how to receive gifts. We become resentful and dependent.

So here is your quick primer on receiving a gift: 1] Thank the giver profusely and ask if there is anything that you can give them in return. 2] Understand the gift is from the heart and a love for you, or just people in general and don't resent it. 3] When the opportunity presents itself (and it WILL) give back, not necessarily to the one who gave to you (in fact, it would be better if not because the joy then spreads). 4] Lather, rinse and REPEAT!

Monday, April 12, 2010

I'm Mad at Everybody!

Jay (Will Smith) to Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) in Men in Black, "Why the big secret? People are smart, they can handle it." Kay answers, "A PERSON is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody KNEW the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago everybody KNEW the earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you KNEW that humans were alone on this planet!"

I am mad at EVERYBODY and his sister EVERYONE! No, I'm not mad at you or anyone in particular I am just made at EVERYBODY and EVERYONE. I am mad at the concept of EVERYBODY and EVERYONE. I am mad at the idea of a nebulous group of smart people who make the rules, who say whatever they want and want whatever they say.

But I guess that is okay because I have had EVERYONE mad at me before.

I have also had EVERYBODY disagree with me.

It seemed like EVERYONE was against me at times and EVERYBODY was trying to hurt me.

I am sure that you have had EVERYONE upset over something you did too.

EVERYBODY knows everything so if you are wrong EVERYONE knows it.

EVERYBODY knows you are not good enough.

EVERYONE is out to get you.

EVERYBODY says you should do it THIS way and not THAT way.

EVERYONE is an expert at whatever.

You get the idea. I am mad at THAT everybody and everyone. Using those words is usually a copout trying to justify a weak defense. "Well, I'm right and everybody knows it!" "You ALWAYS to that, everyone tells me you do it to them too!" I hate everybody and everyone because they really don't exist. They are just a label we use for "masses" of people who SEEM to move as one unit and the way they move is usually WRONG.

So don't tell me that EVERYONE or EVERYBODY are your reasons for disagreeing with me. First, since I am part of that group it is false and, second, it's a weak defense for your opinion.

Don't use EVERYONE and EVERYBODY because they don't exist. Besides, I am mad at them.

Split Time

It is rare to have occurrences that impact the WHOLE WORLD in such a way that everybody is affected by it. I remember things that impacted my life: 9/11, fall of Soviet Union, assassination of Martin Luther King, Viet Nam, and I even remember the assassination of Kennedy even though I was only 3 at the time. My parents and grandparents will add World War II, the Great Depression, and even World War I as having the BIGGEST impact on them and the lives of all those around them. But that PALES in compression to the greatest event in all history, the even that split time in half.

Anno Domini was the Latin we used to use for when time split in half. "Year of our Lord." We used to be in the Year of our Lord 2010. Before time split we called it BC which is the very UN Latin "Before Christ." It actually used to be the Latin form AC (Ante Christum) which means the same but Pope Gregory thought it was too confusing so he used the "english-ized" form of BEFORE Christ. Earlier versions of the 1580 Gregorian Calendar even had the FULL designation of ADNJC (Anno Domini Nostri Iesus Christi) or the Year of our Lord Jesus Christ. Can you imagine that moniker on our calendars today? We are in the Year of our Lord Jesus Christ 2010; somehow I don't think that would make it in today's public schools.

In fact we are even going further from it today. You will notice new designations on the Discovery Chanel and new history books called the Common Era. We now designate the years as BCE or Before Common Era and CE which is Common Era. We are now in 2010 CE. We have taken Christ out of our year designations.

I have preached on the fact that miracles become mundane when time is added. The more time, the more mundane a miracle becomes. This is happening with the life of Jesus Christ. The event that split time in half is now becoming mundane.

We have forgotten the trauma of WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, Korea, Viet Name and even 9/11 already.

We have distanced ourselves from the shock of the assassinations of both Kennedy's, Martin Luther King, and even the attempts on Ford and Reagan and the Pope.

AND we have forgotten or simply gotten used to the most IMPACTFUL event in all history: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The event that split time in HALF!

I don't care whether you call it BC or BCE, AD or CE, it really doesn't matter because they are still split by the REALITY of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ!

He is risen. He is risen indeed!