Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Smell of Books

With fall's arrival my mind turns to books and reading. If there's a hint of early color to the leaves outside, my thoughts are redirected all the more. By the time there's dew on the grass, frost on the pumpkin, and steam when I speak, it's full-on book mode. It's at this time that self-absorbing reveries increase as summer's exuberance wanes, against cooler temperatures and the more meditative frame of mind autumn ushers in. With this mental shift, the world of literature takes on a newfound significance, inviting me to remember why I love to read in the first place.

And while I'm at it, the smell of books is a beautiful thing too, isn't it? Any book lover can tell you, often in terms waxing poetic, about the exhilaratingly rich oxygen that exudes from the printed page. This is especially true of those careered volumes that have lived a few years on a book shelf, be it a public institution or a private library. For the lucky book-handler wandering the stacks, there's the serendipity of discovery; the joy of cradling the chosen tome; the tactile sensation of locating a particular passage; and then the realization that he has but one choice: a nosedive into the book's spine for some rarified air.

Odd perhaps, but for the like-minded, it's one of life's little pleasures.

Clay tablets, papyrus manuscripts, vellum parchments, books: what's your favorite thing about books (besides reading them, of course)?

Do you have any special connection with books that seems out of the ordinary? If so, let us know what makes a book tick for you.

You can do this by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Gridiron Clock

We're moving headlong into fall now! Labor Day festivities wrapped up yesterday, and football is back. High school games have begun; college pre-conference season games are underway, and the NFL kicks off with a bang as the Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncs host the Carolina Panthers at Mile High Stadium this Thursday night.

I always wanted to play football when I was a kid. I dreamed of being the star running back on the team, my name echoing out over the loudspeakers as I ran for touchdown after touchdown. But there was one problem to this pipedream: I was thin and scrawny. Consequently, I ended up on the sidelines, playing tuba in the marching band. Only later did I learn that for every glorious minute on the field the football team spent hours grinding through practice and working out.

The guys on the football team and those of us in the marching band took our separate paths. Each day we both practiced, honing our respective skills. But Friday nights we came together, each ready to take the field in his or her own time, bringing glory to our school, and a little to ourselves. Even now, on Friday nights when I drive by a high school and see the stadium lights and hear the drums pounding, it takes me back.

Life seems cyclical, doesn't it? These days I find myself in a somewhat similar situation with my son. He's finished high school now and is in college. I'd love to be there with him, enjoying all his experiences -- the struggles as well as the triumphs. But both of us have a different path to take: I'm off to work each day, while he's pushing through his college course load and forging plans for his future.

Like the marching band and the football team, we'll end up doing our stuff apart, in the future. But I can encourage him from the sidelines with my thoughts and prayers. I'll look forward to those game times when I can take my place on the sidelines, and cheer him on.

But life presses on, and the chances are not far from slim that I may not be there for some of his greater achievements, especially if they happen later in his life. The differences in our ages being the determining factor on that issue.

Football with its start in the late summer-early fall of the year has a way of marking in our minds that sense of transition we feel with the changing seasons. In fact, the next Men's NetWork blog you'll read will be one day short of the first day of autumn. How quickly time flies. How helpless we are to do anything about it.

How do you feel as you watch your children "spring up" before your very eyes? Do you have any special or innovative ways of staying a part of their lives, especially as they move beyond your household?

You can let us know by clicking here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Checking Our Presets

I was thinking about all the tiffs between people that, seemingly, have no end. Sometimes even finding the origin of the dispute is an exercise in futility. What happens at the human micro-level, of course, plays out between groups of people and extends even to the hostilities shared between nations. It reminds me of a bit of dialogue fashioned a while back by that American master, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain. In it he relays a bit of homespun conversation between Huck Finn and Buck Grangerford in his timeless classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The gist of it is Huck trying to ascertain how the long-running blood feud between the Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons all started -- and why it keeps going.

Huck begins the conversation:

"Did you want to kill him, Buck?"

"Well, I bet I did."

"What did he do to you?"

"Him? He never done nothing to me."

"Well, then, what did you want to kill him for?"

"Why, nothing -- only it's on account of the feud."

"What's a feud?"

"Why, where was you raised? Don't you know what a feud is?"

"Never heard of it before -- tell me about it."

"Well," says Buck, "a feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man's brother kills him; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the cousins chip in -- and by and by everybody's killed off, and there ain't no more feud. But it's kind of slow, and takes a long time."

"Has this one been going on long, Buck?"

"Well, I should reckon! It started thirty year ago, or som'ers along there. There was trouble 'bout something, and then a lawsuit to settle it; and the suit went agin one of the men, and so he up and shot the man that won the suit -- which he would naturally do, of course. Anybody would."

"What was the trouble about, Buck? -- land?"

"I reckon maybe -- I don't know."

"Well, who done the shooting? Was it a Grangerford or a Shepherdson?"

"Laws, how do I know? It was so long ago."
"Don't anybody know?"

"Oh, yes, pa knows, I reckon, and some of the other old people; but they don't know now what the row was about in the first place."

Hmmm. While our mental defaults might not be as entrenched -- or trigger-happy -- as that of Buck Grangerford, it's still easy to go through life with a preset frame of mind.

As you consider your own positions on various issues, is there anything you can say you inherited from your forebears -- good or bad?

Care to divulge?

You can let us know by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Someday, Maybe

This spring in Forbes magazine, Dan Hesse, former Sprint CEO, was asked by writer Robert Reiss what CEOs and presidential candidates can learn from ancient Greek philosophers. Hesse referred to a tome he read in college as an undergraduate: The Republic by Plato. It was the first book he read that shaped his views on leadership. Here is their interview:

Reiss: "What are the leadership lessons you learned?"

Hesse: "First and foremost, that it's a privilege and a responsibility to lead. Socrates talks about how a good ship's captain is more concerned with the sailors than for himself, how the good leader is more concerned with the welfare of his subjects than for his own.

"Second, great leaders bring people of different skills and walks of life (the aristocracy, the producers and the soldiers) together for the common good.

"Third, good leaders are always learning and constantly seeking the truth, and that the value of uneducated opinion pales when compared to facts or the truth.

"Fourth, that leadership needs to be earned, that leadership should only be bestowed on the 'best,' or most virtuous person. Justice is the first and most important of the four virtues, it enables the other three-temperance, courage and intelligence."

Reiss: "What is the relevance of a book written 2,400 years ago to our presidential election or business leaders today?"

Hesse: "Plato describes how the same qualities that make a person lead well make the organization or state function well (that an organization functions much like a person). A just person is in balance. They are educated in science, the arts and in sport, and healthy in body, mind and soul. Socrates argues that women, if provided the same education, are as capable of being fine leaders as men. A just person must lead the state, and the state must be in balance between the interests of all of its citizens, the workers, aristocracy and military if it is to function well. A leader who creates or foments class warfare is extremely dangerous, and this behavior can lead to tyranny or dictatorship. Plato asks how the tyrant 'tries to rule others when he cannot be master of himself?' Even though tyrants or the greedy gain physical possessions, Plato describes them as unhappy, as 'the most miserable.' Tyrants can exist in governments and in companies.

"The Republic helped shape my view that business leadership is a vocation, that how a business is led impacts the lives and livelihoods of so many people -- employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers and the communities served by a company, and this is why Corporate Responsibility is important of and by itself, not because the ends might justify the means (in reputation or brand). The openness, intelligence, civility and quality of the dialogue and disagreements between the participants in these Socratic debates are also important to foster within companies, in our political campaigns, and in Washington.

"Our founding fathers created the United States on Plato's principles, which had been developed further by political philosophers like Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. Plato said that the best leaders often don't seek to be leaders -- they don't seek power. George Washington was practically 'drafted' to be our first president. The idea of a couple of open party conventions where the most virtuous or best person is 'drafted' is an interesting idea whose time may have come."

Interesting ... "drafting" the most virtuous -- the most capable and qualified candidate -- to lead our country.

If only that were the case.

Well, someday, maybe.

Is there anything you care to add concerning our prospects for the coming election?

If so, you can drop us a note by going to the Men's Network blog and clicking here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

So What?

Over the years I have become fairly cynical about what I read, watch and hear. I do not believe there is such a thing as "unbiased" media. In today's world most media conveys a specific point of view, agenda, or call to action. The same "news" story reported on five different channels will deliver five different conclusions. Corporations and governments alike employ a cadre of media specialists to provide "spin," so their point of view is portrayed as fact.

Over the years I have looked for the "So what?" in what I hear, see or read, especially in the media.

I define the "So what?" as an action or attitude that the author wishes me to adopt.

For example, when watching a car commercial, the "So what?" is that I be moved to purchase that vehicle. Those so whats are easy to spot.

Ads promoting the lottery offer the "So what?" that you will be a hero to school kids as you spend your money on the lottery, which funds education. Some of these ads leave me feeling as if I am a terrible person who hates kids if I don't plunk down my dollars for them -- at least once in a while.

Now to all this some of you may be saying to yourself, "So what?"

The "So what?" I want you to think about is to become a critical consumer of media. Too often we accept everything we hear or read without thinking objectively about it. We buy into the adage that "If it's on the Internet, on the national news, or in the newspaper, then it must be true ... at least mostly." This also applies to hearing it from "live" sources as when we wholesale accept something because we heard it from a friend or family member. Suffice it to say, critical thinking should a close companion, a very close companion.

As for me, I read the fine print, look for the angles, and will not send money to Africa because someone died and named me in his will.

This whole critical-thinking thing is something worthwhile to pass along to the next generation too. The world's awash in hyperbole and trivial nonsense, and this schlock is targeted (as it has been for years) at the very young as well. For impressionable, young minds the world is full of choices like never before. Some are of value; many are not, and it's a huge help if by our input and experience we can help them see the difference.

As any guy knows, some of the priceless benefits that come with age are the lessons gained from our hard-won experiences. But let's not let these life-changing gems remain with us. Be sure to pass them on when you get a chance, but do so tactfully, in small, steady doses. As we all know, it's good medicine for those who hear it, but for some it may be hard to swallow.

Thinking outside the box is a skill worth working on. Are you a critical thinker? Have you found yourself resisting staid and worn-out kinds of "knowledge" and, instead, going deeper, digging past the fluff and surface noise, to get at a more reasoned sense of an issue -- whether it's politics, theology or science?

So what does all this matter? Well, it can matter quite a bit when what's pawned off as true and real is a semi-sophisticated spin of dubious details and questionable facts -- something we're all getting an ear full of this election cycle.

Heard anything that's made you ask "So what?" lately? If so, let us know by going to the Men's Network blog and clicking here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Freedom!

The Fourth of July is at hand. It's time to celebrate our freedom, but freedom from what?
Or maybe the question is freedom for what?

I remember my teenage years when all my friends were craving the freedom of adulthood: freedom to go where we wanted, when we wanted, and especially freedom to stay up as late as we wanted. Then too there was the freedom to follow our dreams, embrace our desires, be who we wanted to be, away from our parents' rules and responsibilities. Man, we didn't know what we were thinking.

Actually, in hindsight, it sounds a whole lot like Adam and Eve in the Garden. They declared their independence from God and His rules, and just look at the world today. Humanity still follows its own dreams, embraces its own desires, shuns God's rules and responsibilities and, in the end, struggles desperately against the consequences of countless reckless decisions.

Several months ago, two men were driving through Yellowstone National Park and picked up a bison calf that was all alone. They put it in their SUV and drove it to the ranger station. They meant well, but the rangers said they had now contaminated the animal with their scent, and it would be rejected by the herd. Since it would slowly starve to death, without a mother to nurse it, they had to put it down. It really appeared like the two tourists had made a reckless decision that doomed the young calf.

But there was more to the story. Deby Dixon, a wildlife and nature photographer who frequently shoots photos in Yellowstone, had seen that calf two days before the two in the SUV stopped to help. It had already been orphaned or somehow separated from its mother. Dixon wrote, "I do not condemn the people who picked up the orphaned calf. I understand and know that they thought that they were doing the right thing. These tourists could not have known that the bison calf was an orphan and that no other female bison would adopt and care for it. They could not have known that the calf would die, as nature intended, despite their efforts."

I agree with everything she wrote except three words: "as nature intended." That is not what "nature" intended -- at least not nature's Creator. That is the curse that fell on creation when Adam and Eve declared their independence from God's command. Little did they know the bondage to sin and its addictions they would bring on themselves, and all the rest of us: their descendants. And now the creatures of the world suffer right alongside mankind from the folly of our declaration of independence from our Creator -- whether it's a bison calf, a gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo, or our pet dogs and cats when they get cancer, epilepsy, and diabetes. Yep, it's quite a legacy we've inherited from our first parents' independence day (see Romans 8:19-21).

But wonder of wonder, God didn't just abandon us to our self-destructive declaration. He promised to send His Son to save us, and to restore that shattered creation. Like us, creation longs for that day when Jesus Christ will return and set it free. That day will be a new day of true freedom and liberty as Jesus sets all His creatures free from suffering, pain, death and a meaningless existence. At that time He will free us believers from all our trepidations, anxiety and fear, from guilt, self-doubt, and death.

No, it is not independence from God that gives us true freedom and liberty; it is the dependence of faith on God, in our Savior Jesus Christ, that frees us. It's just as Jesus said: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

How free do you find yourself as the Fourth of July approaches?

Stop by the Men's NetWork blog and let us know. You can do this by clicking here.

Have a happy Fourth!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

If Today Was Your Last Day

We've heard plenty of health scares in recent weeks: doctors found a bacterium immune to all known antibiotics and are afraid it will pass along its immunity to other, more dangerous bacteria. There's the frightening news that the Zika virus is being carried by another kind of mosquito that hunts further north than the original mosquito. And now the killer bees are back.

One recent morning Alex Bestler, 23, decided to walk a trail near Mesa, Arizona, with a friend. They stuck to the trail but suddenly found themselves under attack. While the friend ran for help, thousands of bees swarmed around Bestler. When park employees arrived, they tried to rescue him to no avail; they couldn't get close before they too were driven off by the insects.

Finally, Maricopa County Sheriff Sergeant Allen Romer arrived at the park, jumped on a park utility task vehicle and raced to Bestler's location. Two rural metro fire fighters helped him load Bestler onto the UTV and remove him from the scene, still covered with bees, while the swarm pursued. They distanced themselves from the swarm and arrived at a waiting emergency vehicle where life-saving measures were begun. Unfortunately, Bestler died after arriving at Desert Vista Hospital. Medical staff and sheriff's detectives estimate he had over 1,000 stings.

Experts say the so-called "killer bees" have migrated from Brazil into the American Southwest. They are actually Africanized bees. They look like normal bees and are no more poisonous, but they're much more aggressive and more likely to attack in swarms which relentlessly pursue their target.

What gets me about these bee attacks is how they strike without warning. Construction workers and people mowing lawns have been attacked and killed by swarming bees as well.

Every morning when I wake up I take for granted my life will go like normal -- as will the lives of the people around me. But these stories remind me that my life -- or theirs -- can be altered or ended without warning, at any moment.

Every time we hear of a person killed in a car accident, a heart attack, or a violent crime, we need to stop and see ourselves, our loved ones, and the people around us at work and in our community. We need to live with more purpose, more understanding, and a greater sense of urgency in sharing our faith. They may not always be tomorrow. Today may be their last day -- or ours.

Thankfully, all of us who have been given faith in Jesus will be ready when our last hour arrives. But what about those who don't trust in Jesus? For their sake we need to remember the urgency of our Lord's call and get busy!

Whether it's killer bees, malicious viruses, or some other scourge, they're just subtle reminders that there are no lifetime guarantees when it comes to the number of our tomorrows.

What do you think about when something like killer bees make the headlines?

Visit the Men's NetWork blog and let us know. You can do this by clicking here.