Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Solitaire and Christmas films


©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶You have my permission to skip this post. Just realize all the while that you probably will have missed something that someday might have helped you significantly.

Where’s the queen of hearts?

¶I have a confession to make in my cyberspatial confessional. I’m addicted to the Internet game “Yukon Solitaire”. It could be worse, I guess, if I had a smartphone. I saw on the Internet today that many Americans are addicted to that device, which I don’t have; just have a cheap old flip-phone. I tried a smartphone a year ago, but it didn’t respond to my fingers accurately enough, had a bunch of apps that I couldn’t afford to use, and ran out of juice too quickly.
¶But back to the solitaire. I know what many well-meaning folks will say: “Be happy! Playing solitaire can keep your brain rejuvenated! Keep you from becoming senile.”
¶That well may be, but I view playing the stupid game a major waste of time. I could be writing the “Great American Novel” or drawing masterpieces. Instead, I gaze at my monitor’s screen and try to determine if there is some magic strategy for attaining the “perfect win”. And that’s what I actually call it: “the perfect win”. It’s when I can get all the cards in their proper columns and complete down to at least the number “3” cards. Of course it is quite possible (and usual) to win when I’ve had to move several lower cards up to the top, but that’s just a “win”, not a “perfect win”.
¶I must admit that, besides the supposed benefit of keeping my brain active, playing “Yukon Solitaire” has revealed to me some interesting facts of life and facets of my personality. Probably the profoundest fact is that losing is as important an element of playing Yukon Solitaire — or, for that matter, any game — as winning. If I won every game or even several games in a row, boredom would quickly descend upon me. Of course, the opposite is also true: whenever I lose too many games sequentially I become frustrated and irritated and I resolve (for a day) to give up the game. But then that old lust to play returns and there I am before the computer again.
¶A year or so ago, I heard on one of the NPR talk shows a woman who had written a book (or maybe it was just an article) about how people can learn much about their own psyches from playing “Scrabble®”. I played that game only once, many years ago, and it bored me so much I never ventured into it again, so I didn’t listen very long to the radio conversation. However, I did attend enough to gather that it must be possible, indeed, to discover a lot about one’s personality and perhaps even improve it by playing Scrabble® and other such games.
¶Another thing I learned about the Yukon Solitaire game is that the outcome is not as much a matter of chance as in the original solitaire game. The player can calculate odds of moving certain cards as opposed to moving others at times when mutually excludable options exist. Also, one can begin to gauge which rows demand more attention because, if too neglected, they contain too many uncovered cards near the game’s end. Naturally, those rows tend to be the last three. Yet another insight is noticing that one’s odds of winning are proportional to the balance of red and black cards at the opening.
¶I could go on with my insights, but I don’t want to tempt my readers to try the game; for it truly is addictive, and I don’t want to be responsible for your fall.

* * * * * *

O Merry…Merry…something or other

¶While I’m still in the confessional, I guess I might as well admit to having spent a bunch of hours over several weeks in November and December watching Hallmark Channel’s massive array of Christmas romance movies. Even beyond the twelve days of Christmas.
¶It was all part of my attempt — only slightly successful — to escape the pall of gloom that fell over me and millions of my fellow citizens following the November 8 election. I was trying to avoid the news programs, which, in my case, is very difficult because I am something of a news and political junkie. I’m only a nominal Christian: a fellow who no longer attends a church and does not adhere to the Apostle’s Creed. Nor have I paid much attention to Christmas in decades. But this time I wanted to escape into some kind of cheery mythical world. And I found a bunch of that in several of those movies. Of course some were rather saccharine, but others were worth the viewing.
¶When one watches a series of films all pretty much about the same motif, one picks up on common elements. Two of the most common themes in the Hallmark Christmas movies are (1) the Scrooge theme, and (2) the real Santa theme. If you have seen the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street”, you might recall that it contained both themes.
¶I am using “the Scrooge theme” rather broadly here, meaning that the storyline presents a case of a person who loved Christmas as a child but, due to some unfortunate experience in the past, now either denigrates or ignores it. The protagonist is not a “Scrooge” in the sense of being selfish or inhumane, although some might be business executives more intent on making money than on sharing cheerful hours with others. One, for instance, was the story of a developer who wanted to convert a building that, on one floor, had housed a music therapy center. In another, rather preposterous story — even by fictional standards — the reindeer Dancer is too ill to fly on Christmas Eve — so Mrs. Claus sends the North Pole’s handler in cognito to buy a replacement at a reindeer farm; when the farm’s owner declines to sell, she orders the handler to steal a reindeer. (Don’t be concerned: Mrs. Claus finally recognizes her fault and the whole situation is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.) In yet another, a Christmas tree farmer is about to lose his place because, due to bad weather, his crops have not sold well during the past two years, and the banker is set to foreclose on him; but he is saved by the story’s heroine, a business arbitrator, who convinces the banker to extend the loan.
¶By far the most fascinating of the stories, however, is the fantasy tale of a nurse in 1945 who has not heard from her soldier husband. She worries that he is possibly a war fatality. After a few early scenes in which she reveals her charitable good nature, the nurse drives home during a blizzard and runs off the road into a ditch. After she crawls out of the ditch she stumbles through the snow to storage building, climbs through a window, and falls asleep. In the morning she goes to a local police station for help, but on the way she doesn’t recognize any of the vehicles on the road. During her interview with the police, they suspect that she has suffered some brain damage. Eventually, she comes to realize that she is in the 21st century, not the 20th. The police chief takes her home to spend Christmas with him and his family, and to further examine her to see is she is mentally off or perhaps is playing a confidence game. Through some ingenious detective work, the policeman concludes that she really has time-traveled; and the problem now is how to get her back to 1945.
¶I won’t take up the necessary time or space to explain it all, but the nurse’s situation involves a comet that passed by Earth in December 1945 and is scheduled to also pass it this December. So that policeman and the community — which has come to appreciate her because she has reminded them of their long forgotten customs of caroling and hanging Christmas lights on the town gazebo — accompany her to the storage building. She goes inside; and, after the crowd watches the comet pass overhead, they open the door to find she is no longer there. The last scene in the movie is of her shoveling the packed snow from in front of her car and her husband, in uniform and a duffel bag over his shoulder, showing up to help her.
¶Yeah, pretty far out but still heart-warming.
¶And now I, too, am back in the real world. Alas!


Portrait of a Sociopath

NOTE TO READERS:  Happy New Year! (Might as well be optimistic…or pretend that I am.) Today I will step aside and let a couple of other people assume the space at my keyboard: David Porter, MA, LADC; and Christine Hunter, MA, RCC. They authored an article about Antisocial Personality Disorder [DSM-5 301.7 (F60.2)] that was published on the website, which is where I have excerpted part of it for reprinting here (the site invites readers to share). The reason I have brought the article to my blog is that it seems to me to describe a prominent national personality. See if you can detect whom I mean.

* * * * * *

APD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) is a DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), diagnosis assigned to individuals who habitually violate the rights of others without remorse (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). People with Antisocial Personality Disorder may be habitual criminals, or engage in behavior which would be grounds for criminal arrest and prosecution, or they may engage in behaviors which skirt the edges of the law, or manipulate and hurt others in non-criminal ways which are widely regarded as unethical, immoral, irresponsible, or in violation of social norms and expectations. The terms psychopathy or sociopathy are also used, in some contexts synonymously, in others, sociopath is differentiated from a psychopath, in that a sociopathy is rooted in environmental causes, while psychopathy is genetically based.

The term antisocial may be confusing to the lay public, as the more common definition outside of clinical usage is an individual who is a loner or socially isolated. The literal meaning of the word antisocial can be more descriptive to both the lay public and professionals: to be anti-social, is to be against society; against rules, norms, laws and acceptable behavior. Individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder tend to be charismatic, attractive, and very good at obtaining sympathy from others; for example, describing themselves as the victim of injustice. Some studies suggest that the average intelligence of antisocials is higher than the norm. Antisocials possess a superficial charm, they can be thoughtful and cunning, and have an intuitive ability to rapidly observe and analyze others, determine their needs and preferences, and present it in a manner to facilitate manipulation and exploitation. They are able to harm and use other people in this manner, without remorse, guilt, shame or regret.

It is widely stated that antisocials are without empathy, however this can be disputed, as sadistic antisocials will use empathy to experience their victim’s suffering, and derive a fuller pleasure from it (Turvey, 1995). This is depicted in the classic work “A Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, as the main character entombs another man alive “…then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labours and sat down upon the bones.” (Poe, 1846 ). Some research also suggests that sociopaths and psychopaths do have degrees of empathy, but with an innate ability to switch it off at will. (Meffer, Gazzola, den Boer, Bartells, 2013). This connection to empathy may give hope to future successful treatment as it suggests individuals with APD may be trained.

Symptoms & Criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder

According to the DSM-5, there are four diagnostic criterion, of which Criterion A has seven sub-features.

ADisregard for and violation of others rights since age 15, as indicated by one of the seven sub features:
1. Failure to obey laws and norms by engaging in behavior which results in criminal arrest, or would warrant criminal arrest
2. Lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement
3. Impulsive behavior
4. Irritability and aggression, manifested as frequent assaults on others, or engages in fighting
5. Blatantly disregards safety of self and others
6. A pattern of irresponsibility and
7. Lack of remorse for actions (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

The other diagnostic Criterion are:
B. The person is at least age 18
CConduct disorder was present by history before age 15
D. T
he antisocial behavior does not occur in the context of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

Life Among the Ancients


Bingo chip> Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶Well, it’s December 29 again. That day of the year when I change the digits while filling out some questionnaire on the line that asks for my age. The numbers now are “77”. Isn’t that supposed to be a lucky number? No, no, I’m confusing Double Seven with “4” plus “3”, “2” plus “5”, or “1” plus “6”.
¶Ignorant as I am, I Googled “77” to see if it has any meaning besides a highway sign, a TV show, or a whiskey concoction; and, lo and behold, what did I find in a numerology blog but this supposed personality trait: “77 → Intelligent, inventive and spiritually wise.” Wow! That’s awfully flattering, but such spiritualistic readings usually are. And in Dawna Hetzler’s blog I found this explanation: “Seven is the number of completeness and perfection (both physical and spiritual). It derives much of its meaning from being tied directly to God’s creation of all things. According to Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam occurred on October 7th, 3761 B.C. (or the first day of Tishri, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar)…. (He) turned seventy seven—double sevens. (He) must feel exuberant knowing (his) age is the number of completeness and perfection (both physically and spiritually).”*
¶Decades ago, I learned that there is a lot of difference between intelligence and common-sense. Intelligence might be an admirable attribute, but common-sense is more likely to put a roof over one’s head and food into one’s tummy. By the time I had graduated from high school I suspected I was sorely lacking in the latter, so, while I was studying Chinese at Yale, I went to the campus bookstore and bought a paperback biography of Alexander Hamilton. In a letter to my girlfriend back in Dallas, I mentioned that I was reading about Hamilton; and she responded, “It’s nice that you’re reading that book, but why?” I was too embarrassed to explain that I was hoping some of our country’s first Treasury Secretary’s touted common-sense might rub off on me.
¶“Inventive” is, to me, an ambiguous adjective. In its most common use it means able to create something uniquely useful out of raw materials: I never saw myself as an inventor. However, “inventive” can also be used as a synonym for “resourceful”, which denotes the ability to apply one’s wits toward solving a problem with extraordinary elements, material or non-material: now, that I can honestly claim to have done a few times.
¶“Spiritually wise” perhaps might be a positive attribute, but to apply it to one’s self seems, to me, a bit arrogant. I will acknowledge that much of my thinking time is spent on spiritual matters, particularly my relationship with the Holy Spirit. And some people in the past have characterized me as “an astute observer”, “insightful” and “wise”; but their perceptions were based on really minimal evidence; they had not witnessed the moments of my folly. Anyway, I freely and gratefully acknowledge that any “spiritually wise” comments I have uttered proceed not from me but from the Holy Spirit, which I hold dwells within anyone who accepts him/her/it. Sometimes, H.S. surprises even me.

* * * * * *

¶As the late comedian George Carlin noted in one of his sketches, children, eager to be older so they can be taller and supposedly freer from parental constraint, will push their age by saying “almost six” when they are only a few months past their fifth anniversary. And a rather tired old joke is that line about “she’s still 29 and always will be”.
¶We can have all the facelifts we want. They won’t change our internal structure or the way we emotionally react to the passing of time. Some of us manage to stay “happy” or at least “content” for many years beyond the point when others of us falter under regrets and diminishing horizons.
¶I am one of those who have been melancholic almost from childhood. Actually, melancholy can be a pleasant emotion sometimes. I remember how I used to get spiritually inebriated on a winter day when the sunlight pierced the ether at an angle lower than at other times of the year. Emily Dickinson was also affected by that “certain slant of light”, although she received its effect much more negatively than I. Strange, but then, Emily was weirder than I am.
¶As for the diminishing horizon, that has struck me particularly hard. Part of the problem is that I have too many interests: art, poetry, philosophy, theology, history, politics.  Every once in a while, I get excited about a sub-topic of one of those fields and say to myself, “I’ll read up on that (or engage in that) and become a notable expert, ‘blowing away’ every observer with my brilliant performance.” I have a bad habit of hopping from one interest area to another, hardly ever finishing a project to the degree it deserves. Then I am struck between the eyes, so to speak, by the realization that I don’t have the years needed to accomplish such sublime goals.
¶Then there are the regrets connected to personal relationships. Someone I read recently (but can’t recall who) said that indulging in regrets is destructive to the psyche. That well may be, but it’s practically impossible to retard the sudden bolts of regret that strike one’s mind. What is odd about them in my case is that many are about piddling slights, such as not replying to a letter when a reply would have been a deserved courtesy to the correspondent. Many other regrets, of course, relate to psychological or financial injuries I have inflicted; in most cases it is no longer possible to make amends because the hurt ones are no longer alive, or I don’t know where they are. As John Greenleaf Whittier wrote in “Maud Muller”,

For of all sad words from tongue or pen,
The saddest are these, ‘it might have been’.

* * * * * *

¶The worst of aging is “ageism”. This is a current issue in the United States, not exactly on a par with racism or sexism but still controversial. Now is not the time for delving into the general debate, which has more to do with jobs than with socializing. Since I am retired, the job issue holds only an academic interest for me; I am affected more by the social impact of aging, such as those occasions when I irritate customers behind me in the grocery store or café  while I try to count my dollars and coins.
¶There are a few positive benefits in graying. Most young folks will hold a door open for you, especially if you have a cane. They will also surrender a stool for you at a bar if the place is crowded. The problem with that is, in my case at least, they will try to herd you to a stool next to some other old codgers — to corral you in with your generation. I use the terms “herd” and “corral” on purpose because the two other elders at my favorite “watering hole” are a retired Border Patrol agent in his late 90’s and a retired cowboy in his late 80’s. Don’t interpret me amiss: both these fellows are decent, well-mannered gents. The problems are that neither one can hear very well, so talking with them is a chore from the get-go; and I have begun to resent being ushered to a stool beside or between them as though nobody else will be interested in my conversation. It could be that, in fact, no one will be interested, but I’m not ready to face that possibility yet. I will never forget the first time, during my early 30’s, when a young man in a Dallas pub addressed me as “sir”; it was like a flick of cold water in the face.
¶Well, I have to go see if that cake over there can support seventy-seven candles.
¶Happy New Year!


 ∗ Ms. Hetzler used the feminine pronoun (without mentioning any antecedent). Since I am male, I have changed the pronoun to masculine for context’s sake. Thus the parentheses.

A Prophet Already?

Dear friends —

Apparently, I have indeed become a prophet!

Just compare this report from the New York Daily News with my blog post of November 17, “What Price Glory?”

Merry Christmas and have a fun and Progressive New Year!


“What Price Glory?”

By Bob Litton

¶Returning to my keyboard for this brief post is very difficult for me: the lingering post-election depression is too heavy. I am here primarily to assure whatever regular readers remain that I am still alive and going through the daily motions. There are several topics I could write about, but I’m going to concentrate on just one and leave the others for another day…hopefully.
¶For the second time in sixteen years we Americans have desecrated the temple of democracy by falsely employing that antiquated device called “the Electoral College”. For those unaware of it, the Electoral College is a system for indirect voting, for choosing not the president but representatives who will presumably vote for the president at a later date; it is what makes our country a republic rather than a pure democracy.
¶Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000 because of the “college”: Gore actually received the larger number of popular votes. This year, Hillary Clinton has apparently lost to Donald Trump in the same way. The popular votes are still being counted, believe it or not; as of today (November 17), four million votes remain to be counted in Michigan, Utah and the state of Washington. According to “International Business Times”, citing the independent “Cook Political Report”, Clinton leads Trump by more than a million votes and, judging by the trend in California, her margin of victory could eventually reach more than two million. Here are the current numbers: Clinton = 62,829, 832 / Trump = 61,488,190. Other than the snail’s pace in counting votes, the only problem is the Electoral College, for not all the electors are absolutely bound to vote for the candidate their constituencies have indicated. Democracy as a system of government has been tainted by these absurd results: Recall that Russia’s Vladimir Putin pointed to the 2000 election fiasco and declared democracy a nonsensical system if that was an example of how it works.
¶Yes, I hold the Electoral College system primarily responsible for Trump’s so-called “victory”, but there are other contributing causes. Clinton blames FBI director James Comey because he announced finding a new batch of emails belonging to Clinton’s campaign manager, some of which were to—or referred to—Clinton, a few weeks before Election Day. Other people blamed the pollsters, who kept publishing numbers indicating Clinton was in the lead (although slightly) up to the last minute; and they were all wrong; yet that supposed lead might have kept some Democrats away from the voting booths because of a false sense of certainty, and they might have spurred on some last-minute voting by sluggard Republicans and Independents. And lately, even Facebook has received some blame because it allowed false news reports to be disseminated across the nation and beyond. But let’s not forget the least forgivable contributor of all: a large body of stupid Trump followers who reportedly “took Trump seriously but not literally”. Yes, all of those other sources probably contributed, but I still maintain that the primary culprit is the Electoral College.
¶So, what are we left with?
¶Donald J. Trump as President-Elect.
¶All the negatives about Trump (I hate to even write his name)—his narcissism, his misogyny, his racism, his xenophobia, his bigotry, and his lying—have been reported ad nauseam, so I won’t delve into that. No, I consider his most dangerous feature is his belief in his exceptionalism, his sense of entitlement. The people and many in the press let him get by without the usual medical exam report and any release of his federal tax returns. Now he remains ensconced in his New York City hotel suite rather than taking up residence in Washington, D.C.—even though he recently cut the ribbon on a new hotel only blocks away from the White House—and has caused traffic snarls on Fifth Avenue because of security measures. (I can’t prove it, but I believe that Trump is roosting in NYC, his hometown, because he sees that as a way to punish the voters there who did not vote for him; more than 80 percent of them reportedly voted for Clinton).
¶And now he wants to have some of his progeny employed as his personal staff in D.C., a new craving that brings up the question of nepotism. He wants them all to be given security clearances. As of yet, very few in Congress or in the media have become alarmed by these extraordinary, self-centered moves of his. I personally think the fellow wants to establish a dynasty in the White House like the Kim family in North Korea or the Bush family here. He might even eventually seek to have himself crowned as our first monarch. Admittedly, Hillary in the White House would have constituted a quasi-dynasty also (a screwball lateral rather than a vertical one).
¶Trump has joined the club of the “Bully Boys” or the “New Strongmen” that has developed in Russia, China, North Korea, Turkey, and the Philippines. His slogan has been “Make America Great Again”, and the fools have lapped it up. But…What price glory?
¶I cannot stand to watch or listen to the man on TV. Even his demeanor (his Mussolini-like facial expressions and pinching fingers) are annoying. And how can anyone not discern the insincerity in his eyes and intonations? Despite Clinton’s and Obama’s urgings to accept the braggart as our “leader” and to give him a chance to prove himself worthy, I refuse to do so. Like all those other Americans marching in the streets of big cities across the country, I declare: He is not my President!

When “Principle” Becomes Treason

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” — An adage variously attributed to French Protestant apologist Jacques Abbadie (1684); Encyclpopédie editors Denis Diderot and Rond d’Alembert (1754); and American Prohibitionist William J. Groo (1885). Its attribution to Abraham Lincoln began in some late 19th century newspaper articles and is now considered questionable. But, whatever its original source, I deem its use in this epigram appropriate; and I certainly wish that the “some” of our generation were not so numerous.

¶A policeman many years ago said to me, “You can’t reason with a drunk any more than you can with a crazy person.” That remark, as well as its corollary—“preaching to the choir is a waste of time”—have largely kept me from engaging in political arguments over the years. Most Americans discuss serious topics, like politics and religion, only with people with values and attitudes like our own: a phenomenon known colloquially as “preaching to the choir”.  So, perhaps it is a sign of maturing in our national psyche that both tendencies have become fodder for sociologists and political columnists nowadays.  Thus, I suppose readers of the following commentary with any comprehension will be “choir members”. Despite the seeming pointlessness of engaging in that echo situation, I am publishing it anyway.
¶We have awakened to the dire reality that our self-governance has been strangled by self-interest and extreme political partisanship, and we are baffled by the absence of any certain way of breaking the chokehold. When, we wonder, did the ability to get things done in Congress begin to ossify? Was it the shameful period of Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” and Watergate and his resulting resignation? Was it the national fracturing during the extended war in Vietnam? Was it the confusing “rabbit trails” responses to 9-11 and the conflicts in the Middle East? Was it the sudden perception of corruption in our banks, religious institutions, schools, and other former pillars of society? Was it the contrasting perceptions of birth control and climate change? Was it the election of a man of mixed race to the presidency? Was it all of these events combined?
¶Personally, I think it was all of the above, but I would also add the overwhelming and exhausting rapidity of change, not just in the United States but in the world as a whole. And there is the major role—both positive and negative—played by “social media”. It is simply too much for us to cope with at once. Yet there is a sizable minority—approximately 30 to 40 percent—of our voting age population who believe we can return to the “good ol’ days” when the U.S. was the dominant center of manufacturing, when Caucasians constituted the majority of the population, when religious dogma dictated our home and sex lives, and when “people of color” knew their place…and stayed there.
¶I am more liberal than some people, more conservative than others. Although I lean mostly to the left, I think conservatives have had a very positive and necessary role to play in our political system. The problem is that too many modern “conservatives” are not what they claim to be: they instead are “reactionaries”. Let me clarify that remark by revealing my definition of a real conservative, i.e. one who believes nothing should be changed unless and until altered circumstances clearly warrant a change. A conservative capable of reasoning about disputed issues will know when to be adamant, when to compromise, and when to acknowledge his/her error. The goal of a conservative politician—and of a liberal politician as well—should always be the maintenance and improvement of his community’s well-being; it should not be the maintenance of his elected position and his party’s hardline agenda. Some degree of principle is necessary for good governance, but ideology should not be the basis of principle. The Constitution is a living guide, not a halter.
¶And now, since at the latest the surge of the Tea Party, we have had a breakdown in comity in the U.S., as exemplified by the Congress; with the expulsion of many of the moderate Republicans, little to nothing gets accomplished in Washington…unless you want to call forcing a shutdown of government and ignoring judgeship nominations “accomplishing something”. Sen. Mitch McConnell and former House Speaker John Boehner both announced early in President Barack Obama’s first term that they intended to make that term his only term. Near the end of Obama’s second term, McConnell declared that the Senate would not even allow a hearing for Obama’s nominee for a Supreme Court seat. And, confronted with the possibility that Hillary Clinton would succeed Obama, McConnell and his henchmen (Richard Burr (R-NC), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and John McCain (R-AZ) have vowed they would keep the Supreme Court count at eight seats for the next four years; that contradicts their previous rationale for prohibiting a judgeship hearing until after the election to allow “the people’s voice” in the choice of a judge. And now they and the  House Republicans are determined to block all initiatives President Clinton might propose. In other words, the Republicans are ready and willing, just because of their ideological halters, to prevent any legislation—laws, budgets and regulations—that would benefit the people . The Republicans also accused Obama of being ineffective as a leader and at the same time of being a dictator because he has used “executive actions” to get urgent matters resolved while they absented themselves from Washington. What hypocrites!
¶For the above and other reasons, I have developed a very negative view of Republicans overall. I hate to “paint with a broad brush”, but now I see Republicans as either con artists (if they know what is going on) or as willing gulls (if they don’t know what is going on). Some of their leaders, such as McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Richard Burr, I think should be tried for treason or at least for dereliction of duty. They are willing to destroy my country just because, for eight years, we had an African-American in the White House and might have a woman in the White House come January. Phooey!


Expectations of the Church and Disciples

©1999, 2016 By Bob Litton.

NOTE TO READERS: A couple of days ago I published another episode relating my spiritual journey. It is a mostly recondite, mystical piece that probably only a few people would be interested in.
¶But today, before getting off the theology train altogether, I want to publish the drafts for a couple of pamphlets which I wrote back in 1999 for my home church, at the time, back in Dallas. They were never published as pamphlets because the minister considered them too controversial. Perhaps some church elsewhere on the planet might view them in a more sympathetic light and make use of them. I should warn you beforehand that they are wordy: the first (What Disciples Expect of the Church) contains 1,761 words and the second (What the Church Expects of Disciples), 1,324 words.
¶One further bit of information: Recently, an acquaintance who is currently quite active in the United Methodist Church (not the same one I attended) looked over these pamphlets and pointed out to me that the UMC’s bishops have added a fifth item to their list of expectations: Witness. I think that was a good move on their part; however, I did not add it to my presentation here for two reasons: (1) I don’t believe witness was in the group when I composed the pamphlet and I want to publish these pamphlet models as originally intended; which leads me to (2), adding witness would destroy the symmetrical balance of my design (four expectations for each pamphlet). I know that sounds self-centered and childish of me, but there you have it, the dark side of Bob Litton. I should add that these pamphlet models have not been sanctioned or approved by the United Methodist Church or by any other denomination. I am solely responsible for them.
¶As noted next to my by-line, I have copyrighted these compositions. However, I don’t expect to make any money out of them. I want anybody who can make positive use of them—even in an edited form—to go ahead and do so. I just don’t want anyone to claim he or she was the original author. Also, even if readers can’t find a practical use for them, the writings might provide material for interesting conversations. I hope so.

* * * * * *

What do disciples expect from the Church?

¶When a person walks through a church door into a sanctuary full of strangers, what is he or she looking for?  What should they be looking for?  What in fact will they find?  This pamphlet is an attempt to answer those questions as honestly as possible.
¶Four primary elements motivate our search for a church home: Spirituality, Community, Relevance and Mission.  The only significance in that order is in the way these elements correlate, however roughly, with the four contributions the church expects of its disciples: Prayers, Presence, Gifts, and Service; all of which are discussed in a companion pamphlet to this one.  Otherwise, there is no hierarchy in their importance.
Spirituality — Of the four, spirituality is the most difficult to discuss because, even as the Holy Spirit lures us with a yearning to be nearer the holy ground, it thwarts knowledge—even clear perception—of the “holy ground’s” elementary features.  Jesus acknowledged the evanescence of the Holy Spirit:  “Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’  The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  (John 3:7, 8)
¶The Holy Spirit can be “described” only obliquely through analogies such as the manna gathered by the Israelites in the wilderness.  The manna was given freely, it appeared overnight when no one could see it, there was enough for everyone, it was sufficient nourishment in and of itself, and it could not be preserved.  Is there anything in that description that is not true also of spirituality?
So how can a church develop and nurture an atmosphere conducive to spirituality?
¶A cross, a chancel rail, and stained glass windows help to a degree in at least keeping us attentive to the reason we walked into the sanctuary.  By themselves, however, they are insufficient to establish a truly spiritual atmosphere.  What is really needed is a yearning in the breast, both individually and as a congregation, to relate to, and depend on, God during a time of communal tribulation or celebration.  That doesn’t happen every Sunday, but it does happen.
¶Traditionally, spirituality in the church has required separation—however temporary—from the world, even from our church community.  Christ, we are told, went alone into the wilderness for his most intense spiritual focusing.  Later, he separated himself even from his disciples and went upon a mountainside to pray.
¶Today, we have retreat centers where we can go for two or more days, either solo or in a small group, to recollect ourselves through extended prayer and meditation.  That means examining our consciences more intensely, asking for and accepting God’s forgiveness, and rededicating ourselves to spiritual struggle.  Such centers are available throughout the U. S.  There is at least one very close at hand—Mt. Carmel Center in Oak Cliff.  Although operated by Carmelite monks, the retreat is open (for a fee) to all Christians.
¶And, of course, we can always have a prayer service here at our home church.  Unfortunately, the modern prevalence of burglaries and vandalism make it unwise for any chapel to be kept open 24 hours a day, but arrangements can be made to allow small groups to gather in the chapel or the sanctuary for a prayer service at any reasonable hour.
¶Frequent prayer, in fact, is the second factor that contributes to spirituality.  But the type of prayer that is most conducive to spirituality is not of the sort through which the pray-er talks a lot.  The most spiritual prayer is the “prayer of quiet”—the prayer that waits and allows the Holy Spirit to work upon the soul.  Such praying is difficult for the novice, for we discover then that our brain never rests; it must always be busy about something. To keep the mind from drifting onto the “stream of multiplicity” different cultures have devised simple, repetitive phrases such as,  “To you, Lord, I lift up my soul!” or “Lord God, come to my aid!”
¶Most disciples—if indeed they are true disciples—want an atmosphere congenial and conducive to prayer.  Yet most of us are uncomfortable with extended periods of quiet; our culture militates against it.  Even in the sanctuary, the ideal of fellowship usually over-rides the ideal of spiritual quiet.  Do we really want it that way?
Community —  In his book, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, Harold Kushner recalls asking his atheistic father why he went to the synagogue every week.  His father replied: “My friend Garfinkel goes to the synagogue to talk to God; I go to the synagogue to talk to Garfinkel.”  There is much insight in this comment.  Kushner’s father respects, maybe even reveres, his friend Garfinkel enough to go to a place toward which ordinarily he is at best indifferent.  And he goes there to enjoy the wholesome fellowship he covets and that Garfinkel exemplifies.  Moreover, he is not unaware of the irony inherent in the situation: Where Garfinkel is seeking a relationship with the divine; he himself is seeking a relationship with the earthly.
¶Indeed, many people start attending any particular church because a friend, or someone they admire, goes there.  They want both to spend more time in the vicinity of that person and to do the things he does because of a belief that everything that person does must be worthwhile.
¶Once involved, though, the novice may become disenchanted; for, although it is quite possible to find wholesomeness and good-naturedness and kindness in an individual person, expecting every church member to possess all those virtues is naive.  And therein lies the cost of belonging.  While a congregation in the large can be welcoming and nurturing, each member has flaws of character the same as other people have.  Just because we go to church seeking perfection doesn’t mean we’ve attained it; the quest is lifelong.  As someone has well put it, “A church is not a haven for saints; it’s a hospital for sick souls.”
¶The new disciple can find her community only if she reciprocates in the welcoming and nurturing.  Although, to those who have never tried them, welcoming and nurturing may at first seem burdensome, the disciple quickly finds that joy and gratitude are the true recompense for the effort expended.
Relevance — Several years ago, ABC’s Peter Jennings reported of the Yuppie generation’s cynical attitude toward the church:  “They complain that it’s boring, irrelevant, and money-grubbing,” he said.  The churches that were growing, Jennings reported, were the mega-churches which offered programs little different from what might be found in a shopping mall or a country club…with child care added.  And these new churches were offering worship as a multi-media event complete with semi-professional actors and musicians and colored lights.
¶And the message?  The message of the gospel?  It was “feel good”!  In a new rendering of the old 19th century “gospel of wealth”, the assurance of the Good Book was that, in God’s eye, you didn’t earn that Mercedes Benz.  God provided it for you because you deserved it.  But that was years ago.
¶The majority of newcomers to a church today are young marrieds with children.  They say they want their children to receive a good grounding in moral values and community involvement.  They might prefer that they could leave their children in a Sunday school class and go home to their TV football game, but a sense of fairness and decency will not allow them to do that.  So they go to a service and maybe even to a Sunday school.  Let’s begin with the Sunday school and surmise what they hope they will find there.
¶Of course! It’s relevance!  They might be surprised that it’s not a discussion of whether a man can survive being swallowed by a whale or how many wise men actually went to the manger, but instead a discussion of how Christian ideals can be practiced in a secular and mechanistic world on Monday, Tuesday, etc.  Or they might encounter a discussion of particular women of the Bible compared to particular women today. They might find that Christianity is not encased in a 19th century mold.
¶And in the church service, they might find newer songs, different instruments.  They might find a sermon filled more with insight and love than with fire and brimstone.  They might find a balance between the vertical God-human relationship and the horizontal human-human relationship. And above all they might find a renewed sense of values that they can take home with them and share with fellow workers during the week.
Mission  That brings us to the final expectation disciples hold of their church.  They want to go out into the broader secular world and make a positive difference. They come into the church to be spiritually filled and go into the world to empty themselves spiritually.  As the Twelve Step programs put it so succinctly: “The only way to keep it is to give it away.”
¶Our people have expressed over and over again their desire to act outside the local church community.  We have done many kindnesses one to another and contributed, at times sacrificially, for our “little church in the wild wood”. Routinely, we have contributed financially to the community beyond us.  And occasionally we have given of our time and energy to that broader community.  Yet somehow we feel as though we have “hung back” like a shy suitor.  It seems that, considering who we are and what we have, both materially and spiritually, we should be making a more significant impact on the world around us.
¶This impulse may be dangerous because it could be simply the symptom of hungry pride.  Perhaps our contribution may be larger than we imagine; perhaps it is so diffuse and anonymous that notice of it escapes even us.  But in fact, what we want to do is something large, physical and together.  What we want is a sense of focused mission and to encounter that mission as a total church community, not simply as individuals or small committees.
¶That is where leadership comes in.  A true leader is someone who can discern and define the aspirations of a people and then mold and direct those aspirations toward a goal that is realistic, attainable and worthwhile.
¶Our church is in a period of maturation right now, much in the same way that our country is struggling toward maturity.  Won’t you come and help us grow?

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What does the Church expect of its Disciples?

Prayers — The Discipline of the United Methodist Church specifies four things the church expects from its disciples: prayers, presence, gifts and service.  The purpose of this pamphlet is to relate to you what we mean by each of those support elements in this local church.  In another pamphlet we discuss what this church has to offer disciples.
¶Each Sunday at the end of the pastoral prayer, our minister and individuals in the audience add brief prayers for specific persons and groups.  Whoever initiates the mini-prayer introduces it as either “a prayer of concern” (intercessory) or “a prayer of gratitude” (thanksgiving).  After each of these mini­-prayers the pastor pauses a few moments to let the congregation add their own silent, individual prayers.  Then he says “Lord, in your mercy…”, and the congregation completes the sentence with “…hear our prayer.”  There are several varieties of prayer.  We haven’t space to discuss all of them here.  Three types of prayer—petition, intercession, thanksgiving—are the ones with which most of us are acquainted.  At our church, we find occasion for all of them.  However, the prayers most frequently used by us as a community are “intercession” and “thanksgiving”.
¶But praying doesn’t cease when we leave the sanctuary.  We try to adhere to St. Paul’s injunction: “Pray unceasingly.”   By that, we do not mean spending all our time on our knees.  No, we interpret “pray unceasingly” in three other ways:
¶Firstly, it means keeping our souls and minds receptive of the Holy Spirit’s nudging; as a result, we often find ourselves praying brief, spontaneous, even involuntary prayers (what Richard Foster has called “popcorn prayers”) at any time, any place. These happen when the Holy Spirit prays within us for us. Many of these prayers are for ourselves, of course, but also many are for the church community.
¶We don’t really need experiential proof of prayer’s efficacy to persuade us to pray.  What is necessary is a feeling of great and genuine spiritual need and a sense of our own inability to satisfy that need.  Even the hardest-shelled atheist, under certain conditions, will find himself praying, as is witnessed by the so-called “foxhole prayers” of our various wars.
¶Secondly, “unceasing prayer” means keeping one’s mind centered on spiritual things, constantly realizing that we are not of this world even though we are in this world.
¶Thirdly, it means making of our lives a prayer, in other words, a life well-­lived glorifies God and sends up “a fragrant sacrifice most pleasing to him.”
¶All we believers need for motivation is love and faith.  True, even for us God sometimes says “no”, or his idea of what we need doesn’t always jibe with ours.  In other words, he gives us what we need rather than what we want.  Jesus articulated that reality when he prayed at Gethsemane, “Let this cup pass from me … but nevertheless not my will but thy will be done.”
¶Prayer doesn’t come easily for most of us, but with continual practice it gets easier—just like any other worthwhile endeavor. The more we practice it, the more natural it becomes for us.  Prayer indeed is the least demanding responsibility  the church expects of its disciples.
Presence — Primarilypresence means regular attendance at corporate worship services and, especially, active  participation in those services.  Some Christians speak of  the local congregation as  “thecorporate church” and of the larger community as “the scattered church”.  This latter includes district and annual conferences away from the home church.  The former includes the annual charge conference and committee meetings at the local level as well as the regular, weekly worship service.  The church is governed through such meetings, and as many disciples as can should take part in that governing, Sometimes, also, we join other congregations for a special service.  For instance, each Thanksgiving, Cochran Chapel and the Church of  South India combine for worship.
Gifts — There’s a saying: “God provides food for the birds, but he doesn’t put it in their nests.” Yet it truly is amazing how many people think the church simply grows like a plant out of the ground. Yes, we take up an offering.  The offertory is an important part of each service.  It constitutes our return to God of a portion of the bounty with which he has blessed us.
¶It would be nice if everyone tithed. Not everybody is that well off, however.  All we expect is that each disciple give according to his or her capability.  No one here expects anyone else to give so much to the church that they jeopardize their own family’s well­-being, but it is better for the individual disciple’s spiritual and emotional health to “give until it hurts.”
How much is that?
¶Some people have so much and give so little that they don’t even realize they are giving. They should give until it grabs their attention.
Where does the money go?
¶Part of it pays for the utilities, supplies, upkeep and salaries at this local church (General Fund).  Another part, when so specified by the giver, is used to pay for construction of new facilities or for structural repairs and renovations on this campus (Building Fund).  And then there is what the Methodist Church calls “apportionments”, a kind of  denominational tax, based on membership head count, which we as a congregation contribute to the church’s mission elsewhere in this nation—and on this planet.
¶Each of these contribution targets is separate and requires an indication from the giver as to the fund for which the money is intended.  The giver can either use a different envelope for each contribution or write on a single envelope the fund—or funds—for which all or each part of it is intended.
¶Also, once a month when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, partakers are invited to leave at the altar rail a small gift for some special charity.  And about three months of the year our church is asked to be responsible for the lion’s share of food and toiletry items gathered for North Dallas Shared Ministries.
Service — Locally, we are always looking for volunteers to teach Sunday school at least one quarter of the year. The laity also help during the service as liturgists, ushers, choir members, and servers of Holy Communion.  We also have Saturday work days periodically when disciples—those who are willing and physically able—renovate rooms in one of the buildings or improve the Children’s Center playground.
¶From a certain vantage point, Gifts and Service are really indistinguishable. Above, we spoke of gifts as what we give to the church by way of financial support.  But there is also the way of giving through service, both at the local church level and in the mission field.  By  “mission field”  we mean community projects such as North Dallas Shared Ministries and Habitat For Humanity as well as foreign missions—in other words, the Kingdom of God beyond the borders of our tiny church.
¶In the wider community, some disciples help a few hours each week with North Dallas Shared Ministries or the Wesley-Rankin Center in West Dallas.  In the past, those of us who were young enough and apt enough have rehabilitated a house in disrepair.  A group of ladies in the congregation visit the ill who are hospitalized or home-bound each week.  Some classes have adopted a family for Christmas who otherwise would not have had any Christmas.  But, to be honest about it, some of us feel we have not done as much as we ought to improve the wider community—not on a concerted basis at any rate.  Recently, we have awakened to that remissness and are planning community service projects in home renovation and tutoring for the near future.
¶We hope you will be touched by the Holy Spirit and join us in these endeavors.  If you would like to have more information on how you can participate, contact the church office.
—May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.

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