Two Warring Spirits

We have two warring spirits inside us, of criticism and of discernment, and of late I have become acutely aware of their battle within me. Even in posting this, and admitting my own failures, I’m tempted toward criticism rather than discernment — tempted to point out the motes in others’ eyes (maybe even yours) rather than acknowledging the beam in my own.

What is this critical spirit I struggle against?

The critical spirit bites and devours. The critical spirit tears down and does not rebuild. The critical spirit speaks without thinking or reflecting. The critical spirit does not have equal weights and measures; it does not apply the same level of scrutiny to itself as it does to the other.

In contrast, what is the discerning spirit that I try — and all too often fail — to employ?

The discerning spirit wants to protect, not destroy. The discerning spirit warns; it does not push. The discerning spirit can speak hard words, and often does, but it is the scalpel of the surgeon, not the cudgel of the mugger.

Do you struggle with this, at all? Or am I the only one?

Lord, help us — help me — discern more than criticize, build more than demolish, and support more than undermine.

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That Pesky Constitution

That idea I floated yesterday? The one about making Legislative pay and benefits dependent on how well Congress, you know, actually does its job? Turns out it wouldn’t take immediate effect because of the 27th Amendment.

Herein lies a lesson in how age dims the faculties … especially when one’s references are also old.

The copy of the U.S. Constitution that I have near to hand, and that I used before publishing yesterday’s post, was printed in 1984. Thus it predates the 1992 ratification of the 27th Amendment — and, frankly, I had forgotten that amendment even existed. Given that it was ratified during my second USAF assignment, and didn’t make a big impression on me at the time, perhaps I can be forgiven that error.

Anyway, the 27th Amendment says, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Thus, Congress can’t vote itself an immediate pay raise (which I knew, and joked about in “I Think I’ll Run for Congress”), but they also can’t have their pay immediately docked. The first thing makes sense, but I’m not so sure about the second.

Pay to the order of...
(Image: “Pay to the order of…,” by dslrninja, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

So, a law like the one I laid out yesterday could be passed, but it wouldn’t go into effect until the next congressional session. That might be okay — in fact, it might be good, because it would give a little bit of time for lawmakers to start buckling down to their fiscal responsibilities.

I suppose another way to go, though it would take more time, would be to put forward a new amendment. Maybe something like this, to change one word in the 27th Amendment to allow for pay reductions to take immediate effect:

Amendment

Section 1. The twenty-seventh article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. No law, increasing the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

In the current climate, I imagine something like that would be ratified fairly quickly by the states. But, like yesterday’s proposal, I doubt I’d find many people willing to co-sponsor it.

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Another Wacky Idea: Legislative Pay Based on Fiscal Performance

In honor (ha!) of the latest government shutdown, I present another of my wild ideas about the government from the perspective of the “Anti-Candidate.” This idea would fit in well with a series of blog posts I wrote several years ago called “If I Were My Own Representative” — I’ll link to them at the bottom of this post, for anyone who’s interested — or with the myriad other tax ideas I’ve floated through the years.

The Anti-Candidate, of course, running the perpetual “Anti-Campaign,” has no chance of ever implementing any of these oddball notions. But if anyone wanted to fund and run a campaign to get me elected to the U.S. legislature — I don’t want to deal with the hassle of getting elected, but despite my joking around about politics I’d actually be honored to serve — I’d take great pleasure in submitting a bill something like this:

Whereas, it is the solemn responsibility of the U.S. Government to act as a trustworthy steward of the citizens’ treasure; and

Whereas, the endless accumulation of debt is not indicative of good stewardship; and

Whereas, the U.S. Constitution charges the Congress with the power to lay and collect taxes, and the power to spend the revenues therefrom; and

Whereas, the mechanism for spending the collected revenues is the annual budget for the operation of the U.S. Government; and

Whereas, the U.S. Constitution forbids the withdrawal of monies from the Treasury except under duly-legislated appropriations;

Be it hereby enacted that salaries and benefits for Legislative Branch personnel, including Senators, Representatives, and the top-paid half of their respective staffs, shall in perpetuity be limited as follows:

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under a complete budget in which authorizations and appropriations are projected to be revenue-neutral or produce a surplus, 100 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under a complete budget in which authorizations and appropriations are projected to produce a deficit, 80 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating under an incomplete budget, leaving any U.S. Government function to operate under a continuing resolution, 60 percent; or

– For any period in which the U.S. Government is operating entirely under continuing resolutions, 40 percent; or

– For the first 7 calendar days of any period in which the U.S. Government ceases normal operations for lack of appropriated funds, 20 percent;

– For any period beyond the first 7 calendar days in which the U.S. Government ceases normal operations for lack of appropriated funds, zero.

The above adjustments shall be made automatically by the Treasury except in cases where the President has returned duly passed appropriation legislation to the Congress, in which case the adjustment shall be as if the President had signed the legislation.

Or something like that. Obviously I’m no master of legal lingo, and I’ve probably left out some important details, but hopefully that gets the idea across.


(Image: U.S. Capitol, Western Front, from Wikimedia Commons.)

It would be amusing to listen to legislators explain why they should receive their full pay when they haven’t performed one of the most basic functions of their job. But for that to happen, the bill would have to get to the floor, which means getting through committee(s), which means it first must be brought up — and something tells me it would be fairly difficult to find a co-sponsor.

Still, it’s fun to think about.

___
P.S. For anyone who might care, the five parts of the “If I Were My Own Representative” series were:
If I Were My Own Representative, Part I
Part II: Knowing What I’m Voting For
Part III: Hearings and Caucuses
Part IV: My Touchstone for Voting
Part V: A Positive Message

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Panic in the Face of Change

It seems as if all of us resist change to some degree, for at least some kinds of change. Like so many things, we vary in how comfortable we are with change, even when we have some assurance the change will be beneficial. Sometimes, however, we are so caught up on what the change is doing or is likely to do to us — per Reaiah’s Maxim, “There is no change without tension”* — that we cannot envision a way for it to turn out well. Yet,

One of God’s great patterns is that of taking apart, and then restoring fully. The restoration, the resurrection, is fuller, deeper, and richer than the original unity ever was. But before God tears, we consistently tend to panic, afraid that this time He will not be able to put anything back together. But He always does.

“We consistently tend to panic” — no matter how often we study the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.** Momentary panic may not be all bad, though, if we eventually return to obedience and trust.

And what do we trust, if we claim to be Christian? That

The death of Jesus was not done in our place so that we might not experience it. Jesus did not die so that we might live. He died so that we might die; He lives so that we might live.

Lord, help us — help me — not to panic, but to trust.

___
*Bonus points for anyone who recognizes where this comes from.
**Upon which is printed, “Don’t Panic!”

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The Case Against Christian Activism …

I used to feel bad, as a Christian, that I never put a lot of emphasis on the whole “WWJD” question. I don’t think I ever had one of the bracelets. The whole thing seemed like a fad, and I wasn’t interested.

Until now, I never thought about it in the negative: “WWJND” — “what would Jesus not do?” What things do we do that go so far beyond what Jesus said and did as to be at best tangential to the Gospel? In some respects, that question seems just as important.

Consider this tidbit from Empires of Dirt — a book I’m interested in reading:*

The textbook case against Christian activism can be made in one word—Prohibition—the word that would have made the Lord Jesus at Cana into a moonshiner felon.

We err both when we fail to do the things Jesus urged us to do — and still urges us to do — and when we do things he clearly would not. That seems true on the individual level, and just as much on the level of collective action in the church writ large.

Lord, help us. Or, more to the point: Lord, help me.

___
*Along with a few dozen other books, of course.

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The ‘Spinach in Their Teeth’ Test

I’m trying to be a better person, but it ain’t easy.

A couple of years ago, I decided that I would try — with all deference to Yoda and his “Do or do not, there is no try” advice, which is patently ridiculous — to implement a leadership principle I learned in the Air Force to my social media and other interactions. Specifically, that I would try to praise in public but correct in private.

In other words, I decided that I would try to avoid coming down hard on people in public — to not flame them in comments on their posts or hold them up personally to ridicule, and instead to try to find good things to say in public (or to say nothing at all, following the advice of Thumper’s mom). That is, if I thought someone needed to be corrected, I would try to do so privately: in person, perhaps, or at least in a private exchange of messages.

Which leads me to what I’ve come to call the “spinach in their teeth” test. When I hear people say things or see them post things on social media that I think warrant some form of correction, I’m trying to treat those people the same way I would if they had spinach in their teeth. I might be tempted to say nothing at all, but if I thought they needed to know I certainly wouldn’t stand up and announce to the world, “Hey, so-and-so has spinach in their teeth!” No, instead I would lean in and say softly, “Hey, looks as if you have some spinach in your teeth.” Correcting in private.

Because being corrected in public can make us pretty uncomfortable:


Being corrected in public can feel rather like being pulled on a scamnum. (Image: “G. Guidi, The correction of dislocations,” from Wellcome Images [UK] on Wikimedia Commons.)

I admit that I fail from time to time — probably more times than not. As I said, this self-improvement thing ain’t easy.

Does it work? Sometimes. I’ve had a few good conversations with people about various issues, though from what I can tell some of them still have bits of metaphorical spinach in their teeth. And that’s life: we can’t expect everyone to heed what we have to say, especially when it’s a corrective. (Lord knows I don’t heed all the corrections that come my way. [Please don’t look too closely at my teeth.])

At the very least, I hope that having these conversations privately, one-on-one, at least comes across better than broadcasting to the world. But maybe I’m just deluding myself.

What do you think? Is that leadership principle even valid anymore, in our social-media-saturated world? Because sometimes it’s hard to bite my tongue, or stop my fingers from typing out responses….

___
P.S. In case you’re interested, you can find more of my views on leadership in my novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, and in Quality Education. I’d be much obliged if you’d check them out! GR

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I Would Be a Peacemaker

I would be a peacemaker, if I were more at peace with myself.

I would be a peacemaker, if I were not so quick to anger.

I would be a peacemaker, if I were not so slow to listen.

I would be a peacemaker, if I saw you with the eyes of God, loved you with the heart of God, reached out to you with the hands of God.

I would be a peacemaker, if … if … if.

Easter - iPhone Background
(Image by Patrick Hoesly, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

___
P.S. A possibly related post: Peace on Earth Starts with Good Will Toward Men

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It’s Not Illogical, It’s illogiCon!

This weekend is our local Research Triangle, North Carolina, science fiction and fantasy convention: illogiCon!


(Professor Schrodington, the illogiCon mascot.)

Here’s what I’ve got going on:

Friday:

  • 3:00 p.m. — Panel, “Geeky Gateway Drugs”
  • 7:00 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies — I get to play the opening song!
  • 8:00 p.m. — Panel, “They Blinded Me With Science”

Saturday:

  • 10:30 a.m. — “Office Hours” — come by and chat! (and maybe buy a book or CD)
  • 12:00 noon — Baen Books Traveling Road Show
  • 4:00 p.m. — Panel, “Science Clickbait”
  • 6:00 p.m. — Reading

Sunday:

  • 12:00 noon — “Music for the Road” Farewell Concert w/ David Tyberg

I’m glad I only have one convention-related event on Sunday, because I’ll be heading to north Raleigh right after I’m done to host the monthly “Writers Coffeehouse” at Quail Ridge Books — from 2-4 p.m., all writers welcome!

Should be a good weekend!

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A Novel Year

I don’t want to let 2017 close out without one last look at some of the press about my signature accomplishment of the year: my novel, Walking On The Sea of Clouds.

Readers have called it:

  • “Faithful and gritty”
  • “Amazingly authentic”
  • “Meat and potatoes for the hard science fiction fan”
  • “As entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction”
  • “Much like The Martian

Not too shabby.

If you’ve read it, thank you very much! If you’d like to, or know someone else who might enjoy it, you can get your local bookseller to order it for you or you can buy it on Amazon or from other online sources including Baen e-books.


A novel of survival and sacrifice among lunar pioneers. (Click for larger image.)

The novel was, without a doubt, the “big event” of 2017 for me. I hope you had a good year, and that 2018 will be even better — for all of us!

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Peace on Earth Starts with Good Will Toward Men

On this Christmas Eve, some thoughts leading up to Christmas — for whatever they might be worth.

According to Saint Luke’s research, presented in the Gospel that bears his name, angels announced Jesus’s birth to shepherds as they stood night watch over their flocks. We don’t know whether Luke was able to question one of the shepherds who was there that night or (more likely) the story came to him through untold number of tellings and retellings. What did those angels really say? And what did they mean?

The translation I grew up with, the King James Version, closes that episode with the angelic proclamation, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” I particularly like the poetic nature of that version.

Another translation I generally like, the New American Standard Bible, renders Luke 2:14 as, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” “Peace among men” gives a different feel than “good will toward men,” though, and leaves me a little cold. Other translations, notably the New International Version and the Berean Study Bible, give the last phrase as “peace to men on whom His favor rests,” which I do not like at all.

I am not a Bible scholar; I know no ancient Greek; so I will not presume to debate the merits of any translation. It intrigues me that in the Greek the difference comes down to a single letter: specifically, the last letter of the verse in the Codex Sinaiticus was erased (apparently the erasure is visible), and that single change made “on earth peace to men of good will” into “on earth peace, to men good will.” How much does that change the sentiment?

I’ve heard it taught that the proclamation is a promise of God’s peace and good will coming to earth in the person of Christ. I’ve also heard that it is more a prayer — it is, after all, a multitude of angels praising God, since the specific message about Jesus has already been related. That idea is particularly worthy: the angels first give reverence and worship to God, and then ask that peace be manifest on the earth.

But of late I’ve come to think of it in a different way. I doubt that mine is an original thought, but I’m not prepared to conduct an exhaustive search to see who else has presented it. To my way of thinking, “Glory to God in the highest” is clear enough. The creator of everything is worthy of praise. After that, I find that I prefer “on Earth, peace; to men, good will” — giving a definite separation between peace and good will — because it turns the entire verse into a triad that moves from the heavenly to the earthly to the individual.

To God, glory: not peace, because the creature is not in a position to offer peace to the creator; and not good will, because the creature’s good will cannot match the creator’s. On earth, peace: not glory, because earthly glory is more a product of victory in conflict than of peace; and not good will, because good will is something best expressed person to person. To men, good will: not glory, because compared to God men deserve no glory; and not peace, because to achieve peace — especially any secure, lasting peace — requires first good will among and between people.


(Image: “Peace on Earth,” by Sam Howzit, on Wikimedia Commons.)

“There is no peace on earth, I said,” according to the poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” — but it seems to me that, if there is no peace, it’s because there is precious little good will.

And so, I will try with the time remaining to me to be a man of good will. No doubt I will fail, and have to try again. I trust that God will forgive me those failures, and I hope my fellows will forgive me as well.

Part of the reason I will fail goes back to the translation that is probably more accurate: “peace to men of good will.” First, that sounds more like a promise of God’s peace than a prescription for achieving peace. Even if it is a promise, it doesn’t absolve us of all responsibility in the matter. After all, Saint Paul instructed the Christians in Rome to, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” — which remains a good principle for all of us to follow.

The second reason I’m uncomfortable with “peace to men of good will” is that it seems no great challenge to wish peace to people of good will or to act peacefully only toward people of good will. It is far more difficult to live peaceably when we are confronted by people of ill will. That’s why “turn the other cheek” is so revolutionary — and so difficult. And, as noted above, I explicitly reject the idea that God’s peace is offered only to those “on whom His favor rests”: I believe God’s peace is offered to all, though unfortunately many reject Him, and it.

All of that being said, tomorrow is Christmas, and tonight and tomorrow we celebrate Jesus’s birth. But even though we are fairly certain he was born in an entirely different time of the year, whenever it happened originally the annunciation still rings out, and the annunciation is fulfilled: Jesus glorified God; Jesus’s teaching, death and resurrection offer a “peace that passes understanding” to any on earth who would accept it; and Jesus empowers us to act as men of good will, i.e., gives us wisdom and strength and discernment to show good will toward others — if we choose to do so.

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!”

Merry Christmas, one and all.

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