Monday, January 31, 2011

The Effort Myth Myth

People really want to believe that effort is a myth. Especially when you consider what today’s media tells us:
• Politicians and beauty queens who get by on a smile and a wink
• Lottery winners who turn a lifetime of lousy jobs into one big payday
• Sports stars who are born with skills we could never hope to acquire
• Hollywood celebrities with the talent of being in the right place at the right time
• Failed CEO’s with $40 million buyouts

It really seems, according to popular myth, that who you know and whether you get “picked” are the keys to succeed. In other words: LUCK.

The thing about luck is that it is a matter of perspective. We are INSANELY lucky to be born in the United States instead of Bangladesh. We are CRAZY lucky to have been born in this time period and not during the Black Plague. We are UNBELIEVABLY lucky to be born with the tools and opportunities we have right now and in this place. But if we set that luck aside for a minute, something interesting shows up.

Delete the extremes – the people who are hit by the bus on one side and the people who hit Megabucks on the other and we are left with everybody else. For EVERYONE else their success is not related to luck; it is related to effort. Smarter, harder working, better informed and better liked people do better than others; MOST of the time.

Effort takes many forms. Simply showing up is an important form of effort. Knowing stuff is a result of effort more than being smart. ( I know a LOT of smart people who don’t know much). Being kind when it is easier NOT to be takes effort. Paying forward without reward takes effort. Simply doing the right thing. I know, I know, you have heard this all before, so I guess it is easier to bet on luck over effort to win your future for you.

If you aren’t betting on luck then why do you make so many dumb choices? Why aren’t useful books selling at fifty times the rate they sell now? Why does anyone watch the crazy reality TV shows? Why do people do such dumb stuff with their money? Why do you not get up at 5:00am every morning?

I think we have been tricked by the extremes. Those lucky people who have their own reality TV show, or hit the lottery or megabucks, or get that great idea that Microsoft will buy for a billion bucks. We look at those exceptions who get SO MUCH more than we think they deserve and we, who deserve more, don’t get anything. Effort is a myth, right? That’s the Effort Myth Myth. Don’t be fooled by the Effort Myth.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Trip Down the Rabbit Hole with Me

I am kind of weird. In many ways, but the one that comes to mind is that I spend a lot of time thinking about certain ethical and moral issues and that tends to send me down some pretty weird, deep and amazing rabbit holes. My current gristle is the good dog/bad dog within us. We each have a good dog and a bad dog within us; which wins? Call it an angel and a demon if you like, which one wins? We struggle with this daily in every decision we make so it seems important.

The first answer is: the one you say “sick’em to”. In other words if you tell the good dog to “go after” the bad dog, it will and it will chase him away. Or vice-versa. The second answer to that question is: the one you feed will win. If you feed your good dog by doing good things the bad dog will wither away over time. Both of these answers take an act of will on your part. YOU have to say “sick’em”; YOU have to feed the good dog. YOU have to make a decision.

On a deeper level JRR Tolkien dealt with the same issues with my favorite character in the “Lord of the Rings” series: Gollum. In the movie, Peter Jackson even displayed the good and bad dog in Gollum as he talked to himself and his reflection in the water. But Gollum was also a reflection of Frodo, the hero. Throughout the story Frodo’s battle with the good and bad inside him comes more and more out into the open. The One Ring brought to the surface that battle for all who were near it.

On a deeper still level Hemingway fought his own demons in the “Old Man and the Sea” story. The fish represented that battle, the Old Man represented that life long struggle, and the fish carcass represented a hollow victory where no one was there to see it. We fight our greatest battles in secret, when no one is looking.

Still deeper we go down the rabbit hole and we find Don Quixote de la Mancha. His battles were thought of by EVERYONE as imaginary. He tilted at windmills as though they were dragons, he fought barbers for golden helmets, and he fought for and showed honor to his lady who was little more than a prostitute and wanted nothing to do with him. Many of our battles are thought of as simply in our minds but they are VERY real to us.

And down we go even further and we find Solomon. The wisest king who ever lived yet he was also the most foolish. The man who spoke of how to love and honor yet had a thousand women to go to bed with. The man who asked for wisdom only to find it meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Solomon sought the “profound deep” of understanding (Ecc. 7:24) and could not find it. He went on to say that he searched for that GOODNESS and EVILNESS, Wisdom and Folly in people and found both but also found no difference between them. Did you follow that? Or have we gone too far down the rabbit hole?

Solomon’s conclusion to the matter was simple: “Eat and drink with gladness … enjoy life with those you love… do what you do with all your might.” (Ecc. 9:7-10) and to make it your duty to “Fear God and keep his commandments.” (Ecc. 12:13)
I like Don Quixote’s conclusion as well: “Dare greatly, love deeply, win with grace, and lose with magnificence!”

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Oh that I could sin once see!
We paint the devil foul, yet he
Hath some good in him, all agree.
Sin is a flat opposite to th’almighty, seeing
It wants the good of virtue and of being.

But God more care of us hath had:
If apparitions make us sad
By sight of sin we should grow mad.
Yet as in sleep we see foul death and live
So devils are our sins in perspective.

(George Herbert, 1593-1633)

It seems every so often in years there is a slew of movies and TV shows on the supernatural. From Harry Potter to Twilight we are riding the crest of that wave now. TV shows on vampires and movies on the occult show the devil is popular again.

These shows paint the devil or the evil so opposite of us especially when they are exposed somewhere towards the end of the show. They “turn” into their “true” self and are shown to be hideous and easily identifiable. So we all wonder what fooled us in the first place as the heroine stands against the devilish looking ghoul and defeats him in the last climactic minutes. The evil is so opposite of us!

In his poem George Herbert recognizes that sin is us. He recognizes that the devil exposed is really our sins realized. We have found the devil and it is us! Today’s society covers up sin as a life choice, as a personality disorder that needs to be overcome, as an ADD moment that needs to be medicated, as dreams that tell us of previous lives or abuses, and as ANYTHING but what it truly is: the devil in us.

We started a new year and what I would like to do is pull down the thin veil of our personal devil and call it what it is: SIN. We SIN! We do it a LOT and OFTEN. The burden of this on our hearts should “make us grow mad” but God’s wisdom put in a failsafe allowing us to go on. We have taken this opportunity for crushingly true repentance and turned it into ignorance and TV shows of vampires.

In 1961 the Nazi War Criminal Adolf Eichmann was on trial in an Israeli court. Many Holocaust survivors were brought in to testify against him. An elderly Jewish man walked his way into court forced to use a cane because of the horrors done to him in a Concentration Camp. As he got to the front of the courtroom to see Eichmann in his bulletproof glass enclosure he collapsed and had to be taken by stretcher from the room. When asked later if it was the site of the devil Eichmann and all the horrors he perpetrated on him and his family he answered, “no”. “What was it then, that caused you to collapse?” they all asked him. The elderly man looked them in the eye and said, “I’ve painted him a satan in my mind for all these years and now that I see him I find he looks JUST LIKE YOU AND ME!”

So devils are our sins in perspective.

Egypt #7: Floating on the Nile River

Our cruise ship on the Nile was little more than a glorified house boat. It had probably 50 rooms on three floors along with a dining hall to feed us and a “night club” type room to entertain us. But by far my favorite place was on the roof of the ship. The whole upper deck was open to the outside and allowed a 360 degree view of Egypt. There were awnings to sneak under when the sun was too hot and a small pool to hop into to cool off.

In the morning, before most were up, I would climb to the top deck and secure a deck chair at the stern of the ship and just stare at the drifting away countryside of Egypt. The Nile river valley is one of the most fertile places on earth and the lush green shores were beautiful in the early morning. In some areas it looked much like a modern farm with tractors working in the fields and trucks hauling the produce to market. But in other areas I saw the Egyptians getting water from the Nile by an ancient cantilevered system with the long tree branch pivoted on a stump with a weight on the other end to counterweight the bucket of water which was moved from the Nile to a waiting trough.

I liked the stern of the ship because I could see the small waves of the ship’s wake “V”-ing out to the shores making a million sparkly diamonds on the surface. The Nile is the longest and one of the largest of rivers in the world and the diamonds stretch all the way across its half mile width as we pass.

Before the sun has a chance to burn off the mist you get an eerie, other-worldly feeling as you pass. Almost like you step back in time to be a part of the Pharaoh’s barge heading from Cairo to Luxor for his twice yearly sacrifices. While papyrus is now rare in Egypt it used to cover the shores of each side and now you can see other reeds and bushes coming down to the shore where a princess might have come to find a reed basket that contained a future leader.

Many temples or ancient building can be seen from the Nile and you cannot imagine how beautiful it must have been in its heyday. Majestically carved, painted and decorated for the arriving dignitaries or celebrations. 18th dynasty gold was so common that most kitchen chairs had gold in them so you could imagine what the kings throne was like and how the barq that carried the sculpted god was gilded.

I sit now in my 30 year old home wondering if it will make it another 30 and think of Egypt with its 5000 year old buildings. We’ve lost something in our make-it-quick- and sell it mentality. We wonder why time seems to go so fast when we build our lives in the fast lane. We wonder why nothing seems to last when we can’t wait for a few years for something of value to be built. The Ancient Egyptians can still teach us, someday you should ride on the Nile with me and listen to them.

Egypt #6: Religious Deconstruction

The ancient ruins of Egypt are amazing. One of the amazing facts is that they survived the wind, desert heat, and sun for thousands and thousands of years. What is even more amazing is that the ruins are not ruined because of the desert but because of human DE-construction and DE-struction. A lot of that destruction is for religious reasons but let’s start at the beginning.

The Great Pyramids of Giza, as majestic as they are, would have been in a LOT better shape if the later generations of Egyptians didn’t remove the shiny limestone surface and use it for other buildings leaving us just the huge granite monoliths to view today.
Many Pharaohs were either an embarrassment to the next pharaohs or they were heretical and so all of their construction was demolished, their statues broken down and buried, and their hieroglyphs sculpted over. The female Pharaoh Hatshepsut was one who later generations tried to erase. The heretic king Akhenaten was also deconstructed after his death and all his statues demolished.

Later kings simply needed the building materials and so “borrowed” from previous Pharaohs for their own construction. And finally during the Intermediate Periods of Egypt (kind of like their Medieval Dark Ages) they scavenged all they could to live and used tombs for homes and mummies, wood implements, etc. for firewood.

Most of this we can understand, not like, but understand. But some of the destruction of ancient antiquities that really gets us is when it is done for religious reasons. When Greece and Rome conquered Egypt they didn’t have a problem with all their gods, they simply incorporated them into their pantheon by calling Ra Zeus and Isis Athena and so on. But in the 300’s, when Rome became Christian and the 2nd commandment prohibited “graven images” or images made by man, then the real deconstruction happened. Christians defaced and destroyed images of the Egyptian gods and then used the ancient temples for new churches. The religious fervor can still be seen today in the scraping off the faces of gods and in the carving, plastering and painting of Christian symbols into the walls. Later, in the 700’s when the Muslims conquered Egypt they did the same to the Christian churches and even completed much of the deconstruction of the Egyptian gods.

Religious zealotry has its place and we must be on guard against syncretism (combining two or more religions by watering them down) but there must be a place and a way to preserve the culture of a place WHILE changing the worldview of the place. I mourn the loss of Egyptian antiquities to the hand of Christian zeal because there would be so much we could have learned from that history. Even if that learning is simply what NOT to do.

A thousand years ago Christians battled over icons for the same reasons and there was the terrible destruction of the iconoclasts. Today Muslims destroy Buddhist statues in Pakistan that survived 1300 years so we still have not learned from our mistakes.
Apostle Paul used an ancient stone with an inscription to the “Unknown god” to teach that Athenians about the true God. I use the ancient temples of Egypt to teach people today about their religious heritage from Egyptians through the Hebrews to us We attempt to deconstruct the religion by destroying wood and stone instead of deconstructing the heart by shining the light of truth on it.