There’s no such thing as can’t

God has given us the capacity to accomplish almost anything we want, if we just believe we can.

RGS 90 yrs

In October my family, brother, daughters, nieces, nephews and cousins, gathered in our “home town” of Ramona California to remember, honor and celebrate the life of my mother Rebecca Gertrude Stoker, who had passed away in July.  Gertrude, as most people called her, I called her Mom, had touched all of our lives in some fashion and her spirit and gifts live on in everyone who has ever known her.  Her life had been full of blessings and challenges and through it all she persevered and she never gave up.  She seemed to embrace the belief that if you wanted something bad enough and were willing to work hard enough you could achieve any goal – she believed…

“There’s no such thing as can’t.”

During the early 60’s, Chuck, my oldest brother, attended and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD.  At that time the Navy football program was nationally ranked and was blessed with two Heisman Trophy winners, Joe Bellino a running back who you probably have never heard of and a guy by the name of Roger Staubach who you might have heard a little something about.

Well, Mom was a big fan and we tried to watch any game Navy had that happened to be televised, not many back in the days before cable.  However, the annual game between Army and Navy was always aired live and we would make every effort to watch the game, reception permitting. Some of you may guess what I’m saying here.  The dance of someone out at the antenna and you in front of the TV yelling suggestions about turning the antenna one way of the other trying to defeat the televised snowstorm.

It is an understatement to suggest that the Army-Navy game was a big deal to Mom.  She wanted to help the team beat Army so she did what she always did best – baked cookies and gave encouragement.  I don’t know if she would do this each year that Chuck was at the Academy but I can remember on more than one occasion helping her pack up the cookies for shipment to the Navy football team along with a note encouraging the team to do their best, to believe in themselves and that there is no such thing as can’t!

That was the essence of Mom, always the optimist – Well that, a little Stoker stubbornness and ultimately a belief in Christ!  All of which got her through life.

The stubbornness and the can-do spirit are a direct product of her parents and the circumstances of her childhood.  Born in Gainesville, Texas in February of 1919, the second of four children by Sam (Snooks) and Bessie Stoker, Mom grew up during a time when your wits, determination and creativity were the only things that kept food on the table, clothes on your back and a roof over your head.  I’m sure that Snooks and his family would be considered poor by today’s standards but he and Bessie managed to hold the family together and provide their basic needs.  Snooks was gifted with the talent to construct things and combined with his entrepreneurial spirit led him and the family from Texas to Oregon to California.  He did what he had to to support his family and he took responsibility for finding new opportunities when the latest endeavor turned sour.

Snook’s wife, Bessie was the glue that held the immediate family, and eventually the extended family, together.  A God-loving Christian, a mother, a cook, a baker, a seamstress, a gardener, Bessie took care of almost all the her grandchildren at various points in their lives so that her own adult children could deal with the issues that seemed to happen frequently in their lives, divorce, unemployment, reeducation, relocation.

It was this galvanization of spirit and character received from her parents that forged the can do spirit in my mother.  When the going got rough, as it did repeatedly, she didn’t wallow in the misery or look to the government for assistance, she hunkered down and found a new way to support herself, to reinvent herself, to provide for her children.  I never felt like we were poor or lacked for anything growing up and I now know that this is because of how Mom (and my brothers) dealt with her struggles.  Her upbringing had taught her to be resourceful, creative and optimistic and she taught these same qualities to me and my two brothers.  Mother personified the true, original American spirit of independence and responsibility.

Mother’s childhood and struggles through her adult years is not the sole reason that she developed her “there is no such thing as can’t” character.  In fact if her worldly experiences and situations were the only basis for her character then she would never have survived to be 94-years old.  The foundation of her can do spirit was her faith in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.  I’m convinced that her belief in God helped her see opportunity in the darkest days of her life.  God was the rock that gave her the strength and energy to push through the toughest of times!

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast. —Hebrews 6:19

I don’t know when Mom accepted Jesus Christ as her savior but I’m thankful that she did.  When I traveled to Kingman, Arizona the day before she died I was apprehensive about my reaction to her impending death.  However, when I arrived late Thursday night and found her laying in the hospital bed with a breathing device strapped to her face I knew that her time had come.  When she awoke shortly after my arrival she reached out, raised her head up a little and through the mask, and with a forceful gesture of her hand said, “Get this thing off me! Just let me go!” or something to that affect considering she had a stoke a few years before.  I told her that I understood and asked her to be patient while I sorted out the details with the Doctors and nurses.  I didn’t want her to be in any pain while at the same time I knew I must respect her wishes.

On Friday morning I discussed her condition with the various doctors and we developed the plan to take Mom off the breathing machine, give her medication to ease the pain and to let God decide when it was her time.  Trish, my second cousin, arrived and as we sat on each side of the bed holding her hands the nurse administered the morphine and removed the mask and Mother instantly appeared to relax although she was not awake.  At first she was breathing normally but then more and more labored but never gasping, never painfully.  At one point near the end she opened her eyes focused on something, not anything in the room, not me, and a single tear traced a line across her cheek.  She closed her eyes and she fully relaxed into the waiting arms of Jesus, she was no longer burdened by this life, with this world.

Sitting there watching her breath her last I was surprised at my reaction, I was at peace.  This peace came from knowing that Mom was going to a better place, the best place possible.  She was going to heaven and she would soon be with her mother Bessie, Jesus and God!  My peace was born from the knowledge that Mom had been saved!  I don’t know when or why she accepted Christ as her Savior, all I knew was that I was thankful she had.

As I mentioned earlier, Mom’s legacy lives on in everyone who was fortunate enough to know her and is represented by the generations who now carry on her creativity, her love and her can-do spirit into the world. I ask each of us to keep that legacy in mind as we live our lives; as we raise our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I ask that we each pray, not for her, she is in the best place possible, instead pray for each of us, our families, our neighbors, our countrymen to live positive, responsible lives dedicated to Christ!

I pray that we all live by the creed that,

”There’s NO such thing as can’t!”

Lincoln

“The assertion that “all men are created equal” was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain and it was placed in the Declaration not for that, but for future use.” Abraham Lincoln

The music was playing yet it seemed as if the theater was totally quiet.  The movie had ended and the credits were rolling on

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States

the screen yet no one spoke, no one moved, no one got up to leave – everyone sat silently staring at the screen, not even turning to look at whoever they had come to the movie with.  Finally, as the credits began to end, one by one people began to get up from their seats and head for the theater lobby, again in total silence.  I turned and looked at my wife and she was in tears and I understood instantly what impact this film had had on her.  For myself I was angry, very angry.

The movie? “Lincoln” by Steven Spielberg.

This film will certainly join “Schiendler’s List,” the other great Spielberg film, as one of the best motion pictures of all time.  It is a powerful piece of cinematic story telling and I’m sure the quality of the experience had something to do with the audience’s reaction.  However, my belief is that what stunned the audience was the contrast between real, principled presidential leadership with the lack thereof from the current occupant of the Oval Office, and for that matter most of the recent occupants.

“Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as a heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.” Abraham Lincoln

In this portrayal of only a small portion of Lincoln’s tenure as President, Spielberg artfully and with great emotion presents a profile in courage, leadership and values of arguably one of our greatest Presidents.  Lincoln remained focused on restoring the union and fulfilling the promise made with the Constitution to provide equality for all people regardless of race.  He accomplished both by facing the problem and the opponents head-on and always from a place rooted in faith in God and universal principles of right and wrong. He wasn’t trying to transform America, he was trying to restore America.

What we saw from the brilliant performance by Daniel Day-Lewis was an authentic, heroic President that inspired and empowered the people.  This man, Abraham Lincoln, was tuff, sensitive, caring, wise, powerful and smart – he was an authentic man who knew what he had to do even when no one agreed with him.  Did he have shortcomings, certainly and these are woven into the story and the performance.  But above all he was a man for the time. A man for all times.

The movie inspired me to reacquaint myself with Abraham Lincoln, to learn who he was and how he became the President.  I downloaded and listened to a historical podcast by Michael Medved, “The Real Lincoln.”  What amazed me was how incongruous it was for Mr. Lincoln to have been elected President.  Mr. Lincoln was a “common man” and as it turns out that is exactly what was needed at that time in the history of our country.  He was a man of courage and purpose and not your typical politician. His goal was to serve the people and to empower them to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens.

Lincoln“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” Abraham Lincoln

It was this stark contrast between the authentic leadership of Lincoln with the current crop of self-centered, power hungry politicians that brought the tears to my wife’s eyes and the anger to my heart.  How could we let this happen? To trade our liberty for token bits of security from Mother Government?  Why has the country, the majority of citizens turned away from the ideals of the Founding Fathers and now look to the government to take care of them?   Lincoln fought heavy odds to preserve and strengthen the principles of personal liberty and responsibility, in contrast Obama, the Democrats and most of the Republicans (especially the career politicians) want to impose their ideology and their all-powerful central planning vision on us.

Sitting in that auditorium drinking in the power of the film I felt the anger boil up.  The anger that my fellow citizens have fallen so far from what I judge to be the best governing structure ever created by man, the United States Constitution!

Go see this movie, own this movie, make sure your children and grandchildren watch this movie.  I know it’s hard but we must stand up as Lincoln did and do the right thing, to restore liberty, to reclaim the Power for the People.

“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.” Abraham Lincoln

The Measure of a Man

Is this a real man?It felt colder than normal that morning as I sat in a circle of inmates inside the Chapel of the maximum security prison.  I was the only “free” man in the group and the emotional flow of the discussion added to the chill that was penetrating my bones.  Myself and six or seven inmates sat in a circle on rickety chairs around a tattered rug with a small wood stump supporting a flickering candle in the middle.  The chapel was a large concrete block space, maybe thirty feet wide, fifty feet and with a ceiling approximately twenty-five feet above the cold hard floor.  The main fluorescent lights were off and the secondary incandescent lighting was dimmed to create a somber yet reverent atmosphere.

It had been serval months, over nine in fact, since we had last gathered.  The result of an “incident” on the yard that ended with several injuries and the inmates “locked down” in their cells – no program, no group time.  This was our first time meeting since the “lock down” and the chill in the air was the grief that each was feeling and expressing about a friend who had been murdered during the time of the “lock down.”  This friend, an inmate had been in our group for many years before being relocated to another Yard at the prison where he was brutally killed by his cell mate.  This first circle back was our first opportunity to share our grief and to honor the spirit of this man who had touched each of us in a special way.

An inmate had a picture of our dead friend and he placed it with honor on a heavy wooden chair that we used as an “alter” in the circle.  This chair was never sat in by members of the group and was placed at the head of the circle as a place of honor for the founders of the work we were carrying on.  We took turns expressing our anger and the grief we each felt for the loss of a dear friend and we shared stories about the man to honor the impact he had on our lives.  A touching and cathartic experience for us all.

What troubles me now as I write this is the selfish feelings I experienced that day.  I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of  appreciation for this fallen brother and the respect that each of the men had for him.  My predominate thought, “Will people miss me like this when I’m gone from this life? Will they gather to tell the stories of how I have affected their lives?”  The selfish pain I was feeling underneath the grief for the dead inmate was that the answer to these questions is, “No.”

My wife will often kid me by saying that “people are always talking about me behind my back.”  Her intent is to good-naturedly tell me that I matter to her and her children.  This has been the core of my inner personal work for the past 22-years but it’s not the point of this blog.  The point is, “What is the Measure of Man?”  This is the question that stuck with me after dealing with those feelings, emotions that morning inside the prison

With this question tugging at my soul the week after that circle inside the prison I came across a book that just so happened to be titled, “The Measure of A Man.”  Go figure.  The full title is “The Measure of a Man, Men Mentoring Me,” by Gene A. Getz.

Pastor Getz presently serves as Senior Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church North, located in Plano, Texas and his ministry career has involved a variety of experiences including Christian education and music ministries, college and seminary teaching. He has also authored over 40 books mostly focused on what it takes to lead a Godly life.

“The Measure of a Man” is an excellent read but it’s true value is if the reader uses the text as a basis for a men’s study group.  The book uses the values presented by the Apostle Paul to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-7 ) and Titus (Titus 1:5-10) that Paul believed to be necessary for godly men.  Dr. Getz explores each of these values and provides an outline for further group exploration and discussion that if followed will help men to clarify what it really means to be a man.

The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task.  2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher,  3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.  4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way—  5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?  6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil. 1 Timothy NRSV

I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you:  6 someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious.  7 For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain;  8 but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled.  9 He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it. Titus 1: 5-10 NRSV

Dr. Getz has distilled Paul’s letters into the following 20 attribute of a man and then challenges his readers to evaluate themselves in each area. Talk about convicting!

  1. Spiritual maturity (a well rounded man)
  2. Above reproach (a man of good repute)
  3. Husband of one wife (Morally pure)
  4. Temperate (balanced in words and actions)
  5. Prudent (wise and humble)
  6. Respectable (good role model)
  7. Hospitable (unselfish and generous)
  8. Able to teach (communicates sensitively in a non-threatening and non-defensive manner)
  9. Not addicted to wine (not addicted to substances)
  10. Not self-willed (not self-centered and controlling)
  11. Not quick-tempered (void of anger that becomes sinful)
  12. Not pugnacious (Not abusive)
  13. Gentle (sensitive, loving and kind)
  14. Peaceable (non-argumentative and non-divisive)
  15. Free from the love of money (non-materialistic)
  16. Manages his own household well (a good husband and father)
  17. Loving what is good (pursues godly activities)
  18. Just (wise, discerning, non-prejudiced and fair)
  19. Devout (holy, devoted to God)
  20. Self-controlled (Disciplined)

My first reaction was, “there are 20 qualities!” Really?”! I’ve come a long way since my youth and thinking that the only manly quality was physical strength as portrayed by the Charles Atlas ads in the comic books,  but a man is measured by these 20 qualities?  Even with all of the personal growth work I’ve done, first with the New Warrior Adventurer Trainings and more recently the Inside Circle Foundation prison ministry, I had not considered the specifics of what it truly is to be a man in the eyes of God, family and friends.

Dr. Getz’s book opened my mind and heart to the word of God.

“Listen to God’s voice, which is saying, ‘I love you no matter what you’ve done, no matter where you are in your spiritual growth, no matter what your feelings.  I’m on your side, I have not rejected you.  You are my child.  You can become a man of God, and I’m here to help you.’”

Get the book, challenge yourself.  Find a group of like-minded seekers and use the book as a guide for exploring the soul of becoming a man.  Change the world because we need more men who will take responsibility for their lives and not look to or blame others for their situation in life, especially the government.

“The greatest contribution we can make is to be everything God wants us to be as individuals, as families and as local churches.”

In closing I welcome feedback from those who know me.  How do you see me? How do I measure up to the 20 points made by Paul?  Your honesty and truth would be appreciated.

“If you really want to know what I am like, you’ll have to talk to those who really know me.”

(All quotes, with the exception of the two verses from the Holy Bible, are from “A Measure of a Man” by Gene Getz)

Joe Cryns and the Ugly Hawaiian Shirt

No more Hawaiian shirts, but what's up with that hat?

“Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Remembered

This man shows up at an early San Diego New Warrior Training Adventure in an ugly Hawaiian shirt and he’s reluctant to make the commitment needed to enter the training.  He struggles but participates even though he has doubts.

After the training this man shows up at the “graduation” celebration in Olivenhain again wearing an ugly Hawaiian shirt.  Once more he’s not sure if he wants to participate, especially in the suggested follow-up groups.  After kicking the dirt and jawing for a while he participates in the celebration.

A week later this man shows up at the warehouse in San Diego where we stored the training materials between trainings and where we conducted the post training Integration Groups (I-Groups).  Again, this man shows up in an ugly Hawaiian shirt expressing doubts about this “work” being for him.  At this point I bribe him and he makes the commitment to participate in the eight week I-Group program.

This man was Joe Cryns.

The world is a better place because Joe made those decisions back in the early 90’s however reluctantly and I’m a better man for having had the privileged of knowing him.  Joe’s passing last week is a blessing in that he no longer suffers from the cancer that was attacking his body and a great loss for his family, friends, and those who won’t have the great joy of having their lives “roughed-up” by Joe.

In a recent Blog Posting, “The River Flows Through Me,” I pass along the metaphor, provided by a recent retreat leader, of our dysfunctions being a raging river that is excavating deep emotional grooves in our souls.  In that article I suggest that what is needed to change the course of that river is someone or something to “disturb” the flow and change the course, radically and in a positive direction.  Joe was someone who could “disturb” your life!

Many of the postings since his death talk of Joe’s irreverence, his mischievousness, or how he didn’t follow the “rules.”  They are all correct, Joe was all of that and more.  Once Joe was able to throw off the shackles of his “ugly Hawaiian shirt life” and discover his true self there was no stopping this man from helping others to do the same.  Joe didn’t “color outside the lines” because he wanted to be an anarchist or nonconformance, he did whatever was necessary to “disturb” the person who was struggling, as Joe had, by finding out who they were and what was working and not working in their lives.  And Joe always accomplished this with joy, humor and compassion.

The compassion and sensitivity of Joe is not often discussed but he had a great capacity for both.  You get past the bravado and elfish playfulness and you find a man that cares about life deeply.  Two stories from past New Warrior Training Adventures in Edmonton Canada paint the picture of this side of Joe Cryns:

Trainings in Edmonton always included several members of the local native tribes and this particular training was no different.  Early in the weekend, probably Saturday, a staff member, a native, came running to me and another senior staff member saying that we had a serious problem, the training participants from the tribe wanted to kill Joe!  We tried to calm the man down but he was serious and he began to educate us “guys from the States” that when someone touches a medicine man they must die.  What?  What medicine man?

It turns out that Joe had gone up to the medicine man who was a training participant and gave him a hug, not realizing that the man was considered sacred and should not be touched.    Joe was attracted to his man by his sacredness and not knowing the “rules” authentically expressed his compassion for the man in his own honest way.  Joe was thinking about the man, not the labels or cultural stereotypes and I’m not sure he wouldn’t have still offered the hug even if he knew the “rules.”  Joe wanted to share his love and passion with this man at any cost.  I don’t remember how we resolved this matter other than the obvious – I do remember how Joe owned his actions and stood up as a man.

The other situation I choose not to elaborate on the actual event other than to say that after another training, or it could be the same one in Edmonton (they all run together for me), a group of us where staying at the late Gordon Walinski’s (I apologize for not knowing the correct spelling) house in Edmonton.  We all had flights back to the States on Monday so Sunday night after the training we decided to “party.”  Again, the details about this night are not important in fact I can’t remember who was there except for Gordon, Rich Grahalva and Joe.  What is important was that I experienced a side of Joe that night that I’d never seen before – the speechless, humbled and sensitive Joe Cryns!  That night I discovered that underneath all the bluster, bravado and masculine joking Joe was a humble and sensitive man with depth and caring that most rarely got to see.  For those of you who knew Joe just imaging him speechless and transfixed, incapable of action and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

Thinking back on these and many other treasured experiences with Joe I realize that I don’t think of him as having been irreverent, mischievous or undisciplined.  I don’t remember just  the jokes, the bravado, the teasing, the playfulness – What I see and will always remember about Joe is that he was a Man, no adjectives necessary and no more ugly Hawaiian shirts!

Stepping Up

Are you a man?

Are you a father?

Are you a grandfather?

Are you an uncle?

If the answer is yes then you must read “Stepping Up” by Dennis Rainey! No arguments, no hesitation, no excuses, you must read this book and read it now! I’ve read many books about manhood, fathering and what it means to be a man but this is the absolute best and simplest presentation I’ve come across. Mr. Rainey’s faith-based program for putting our selfishness aside and stepping up in the lives of the young boys and men in our lives is convicting. As I finished reading this short but profound book I found myself flat on the floor, metaphorically, ashamed that fear has keep me from stepping up and mentoring the young men in my life.

I’ve been on a journey (consciously) to discover who I am and what it means to be a man since August of 1990. That August I attended, survived might be a better term, a “men’s” retreat known as the “New Warrior Adventure Training.” My life changed that weekend and since then I’ve been on the quest to become the man God always intended me to be. I’ve written about that experience in a previous post (“An Awakening”) so I won’t recount the experience here, I’ll just say that “Stepping Up” crystalizes everything I’ve learned on this journey – Men must be courageous and take responsibility for their lives and the lives of their families!

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” C.S. Lewis

Mr. Rainey provides a straightforward program for learning to step-up in your life and the lives of young men. At the heart of this program is that men must have the courage to face their fears, sinfulness, limitations and ironically their strengths. To do this men need to trust God and surround themselves with other men to be challenged and mentored. This support shouldn’t be solution based, the mentors shouldn’t be tying to find answers to the problems in a man’s life. Instead the support should focus on what’s working and not working. What does it mean to be an authentic man and what stands in the way of realizing that authenticity in your life? And Mr. Rainey drives home the importance of this by reminding us that our sons and daughters are watching, intently.

“A Little Fellow Follows Me

A careful man I must always be;
A little fellow follows me.
I know I dare not go astray
For fear he’ll go the self-same way.
I cannot once escape his eyes;
Whate’er he sees me do, he tries,
Like me, he says, he’s going to be,
This little chap who follows me.
He thinks that I am good and fine;
Believes in every word of mine.
The base in me he must not see,
This little chap who follows me.
I must be careful as I go
Through summer’s sun and winter’s snow,
Because I am building for the years to be
This little chap who follows me.

Lee Fisher, as cited in Wooden and Carty, “Coach Wooden.”

Another important point made by Mr. Rainey is that it isn’t enough to be aware or conscious. For a man to be truly authentic and effective he needs the moral compass that can only be provided by God. After all if I don’t have a source greater than myself what is right and what is wrong? If there is no God then moral concepts are subjective not objective and therefore meaningless. And it is this connection and appreciation of God that a man needs to foster in the young, otherwise within a generation or two the values will decay and the culture will die.

Mr. Rainey tells the story of when he was a young boy, about 12-years old, he was helping his father paint the house when he became bored or impatient and wanted to quit and go play. So the young Dennis went to his mother and asked if he could go play with his friends and his mother agreed. Just as young Dennis was convinced he had been saved from the labor his father came in and asked what was going on. When Dennis’ dad heard the pleas he said the following:

“That boy one day is going to be somebody’s husband and somebody’s father. There are going to be people depending on him. He has got to learn how to do what he has to do and not what he wants to do.”

To his credit and the credit of his mother, Dennis returned to his labor, learning a life lesson in the process.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned on my own journey is that the answer to the question of what it is to be a man isn’t contained in a book, even a book as good as “Stepping Up.” The answer is in the hearts of authentic men that courageously step up and challenge, support and love the next generation and the insight and wisdom of Mr. Rainey caln helps us all get there.

“A real man rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, and expects God’s greater reward.” Robert Lewis, founder of Men’s Fraternity.

So, what stands in your way? What stands in mine?

“Hey Occupy Wall Street, Who is John Galt?”

The “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations and encampments provide a fascinating and clearly defined illustration of the dramatic difference between Liberals and Conservatives – the Left feels entitled and the Right believes in freedom and personal responsibility.

The name itself, “Occupy Wall Street” tells the story.  The OWS crowds don’t just demonstrate they occupy and seize private and public property, and they defend this seizure by stating their bedrock belief that they are entitled!  The government  they say (that’s you and me by the way) owes them certain basic economic needs, housing, health care, jobs, education, and robust salaries.  They bemoan the the wealth gap between the 1% and the 99%.  They’re owed all this free stuff just because they are alive and they have the right to take anything they want because it’s unfair that some people make more money than they do!

The Left believes that the government must make decisions for the citizens to create fairness and to provide for everyone the “basic” needs of life.  They’re not concerned about how much this costs or if there are revenues to pay for the services, after all  “compassion” trumps common sense and the realities of economics.  In sharp contract the Right believes in the freedom to make personal choices, to succeed or fail by your own skill and effort.  The Right believes that “safety nets” for the less fortunate are good and needed as long as they work and they can be paid for.  Government should provide a safe environment for freedom to flourish and afford a helping hand, not a hand out, when needed.

A book that illustrates the great divide between Liberal and Conservative policies, and does this in a powerful and entertaining manner is “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand.

I finished reading this tome while the OWS phenomenon was taking place and I was taken aback by how prescient Ms. Rand’s 1956 insight was to the events of today.  The anarchy, the seizure of power by the federal government, the destruction of the economy due to that seizure and the erosion of the human spirit due to the lack of any hope are artfully and forcefully told in this story of the conflict between collectivism and personal freedom.

Pundits and critics of Ms. Rand dismiss her philosophy as a glorification of the self-centered and the selfish.  That greed is good and compassion is bad.  That rationality is short sighted and feelings are paramount for a fair and just society.

Contrary to the pundits Ms. Rand glorifies personal freedom and the right to personal property.  The thesis presented is that the State has no right to seize your personal property, either physical or intellectual.  She believes that each individual is responsible for his or her success or failure and should reap the rewards or consequences accordingly.  If you develop a cure for cancer, or produce a better product than your competitors, if you  invest your time and money to accomplish this then you should profit from your skill and effort.  And you should profit as much as the market will bare.

Ms. Rand is unapologetic about the wealth generated by the industrialists of her story.  Again, she isn’t a champion of greed, she’s a champion of freedom.  Ms. Rand creates a tension in the book between the “producers” and the State.  The State is run by champions for “fairness,” for the right of every citizen to receive his or her fair share, regardless of their talents, efforts, or capabilities.  What’s truly discouraging is that the scenarios and the outcomes presented in “Atlas Shrugged” are happening today and the OWS is just the initial exposure of the disease of entitlement that is destroying this country.

 

 “Only a ghost can exist without material property; only a slave can work with no right to the product of his effort.”

In the interest of “fairness” the State is controlling more and more of society and the economy.  As the restrictions, taxes and regulations increase more and more of the producers, the wealthy, stop producing and abandoned the market leaving the State with the responsibility to provide the products and services demanded by the citizens.  The result – an accelerating slide into anarchy and chaos – as the people start to “occupy” the property of others in a futile attempt to provide their basic needs.

It’s this futility that echoes throughout “Atlas Shrugged.”  The futility of the State and the intellectuals to central plan  the society.  Another good source for insight on this subject is “The Road to Serfdom,” by F.A. Hayek which was written near the conclusion of World War II and Great Britain was struggling with how to address their economy after the extreme cost of the war.  Mr. Hayek’s basic argument is that it is impossible for a Central Planner to effectively control the millions of transactions that occur within the economy on a daily basis, therefore a free market is the only viable economic solution.

 “Thus, the more we try to provide full security by interfering with the market system, the greater the insecurity becomes.”

Unfortunately many of the “industrialist” of today don’t have the integrity of their counterparts in “Atlas Shrugged.”  Today the wealthy support and encourage the State and the Central Planners in the “interference “ with the market because they want to influence the system to their advantage.  What the producers of today need to do is to take a lesson from Ms. Rand and be proud of their accomplishments and if the State doesn’t want to stop interfering in the market then they should leave the market and let the State try to figure out how to provide basic goods and services to the citizens.  The result would be anarchy, but out of the ashes we would return to the original founding principles of this great country.

 “We’ve heard it shouted that the industrialist is a parasite, that his workers support him, create his wealth, make his luxury possible – what would happen to him if they walked out?  Very well.  I propose to show to the world who depends on whom, who supports whom, who is the source of wealth, who makes whose livelihood possible and what happens to whom when who walks out.”

The Occupy Wall Street folks are attacking the wrong statistic.  Instead of being concerned about the wealth gap between the 1% and the 99%, they should be focused on the fact that close to 50% of Americans are dependent on or receive some major economic assistance from the Government!  That’s means you as a gainfully employed, responsible citizen are fully supporting one other person beyond your family!  I don’t begrudge the Bill Gates of the world their wealth, they earned it.  I do take exception to one half the population being subsidized by the other half.  This is more than an economic disaster, it’s a  human tragedy!

The supporters of OWS and Liberals in general would be well served to read “Atlas Shrugged” to learn what is in store for this country and the world if the current entitlement mind set is not abandoned!  And this brings me to my final point regarding the relevance of “Atlas Shrugged” to the events of today – Accountability and Integrity!

My recent blog postings have focused on the responsibility of men being fathers to their children and the current state of the culture is the consequence of that abdication by men.  For the entitlement mentality to take hold people must surrender their God-given freedom to others so that they don’t have to bear the responsibility for their lives.  The participants at the OWS events are chanting that they want their needs to be taken care of by the State, thereby avoiding the responsibility for their own lives.

The OWS crowd and Liberals in general refuse to be accountable for their success or failure in life.  They project the accountability on to the State which means that the rest of us are saddled with their care.  This approach is unsustainable and will eventually lead to the destruction of this country unless men of integrity stand up and say no to the growth of the Nanny State!  And this is the pint that Ms. Rand is making.  That by letting the government continue to erode our freedoms, by not demanding that they stop, by just “shrugging” and hoping for the best, we are complicit in the destruction of the economy of the culture of the nation!  We must be accountable and we must stop the march to Statism!

True compassion is for men, and women, to teach their children to be responsible for their lives and not to look to the Government accept in extreme circumstances.  We need to model integrity and accountability in our own lives so that our children learn the hard truth that each of us must be held accountable for our actions, that there isn’t a “get out of jail free” card in an honest and free society.  So, I encourage everyone to read, “Atlas Shrugged;” watch the movie that was released earlier this year; read Thomas Sowell; read F.A. Hayek; read the Constitution and Declaration of Independence; study the history of this great country and teach your children to be accountable!

“He is the man who became the symbol of the idea that need, not achievement, is the source of rights, that we don’t have to produce, only to want, that the earned does not belong to us, but the unearned does.”

“I swear – by my life and my love of it – that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

“The only proper purpose of government is to protect man’s rights, which means:  to protect him from physical violence.”

“When you work in a modern factory, you are paid, not only for your labor, but for all the productive genius which has made that factory possible:  for the work of the industrialist who built it, for the work of the investor who saved the money to risk on the untried and the new, for the work of the engineer who designed the machines of which you are pushing the levers, for the work of the inventor who created the product which you spend your time on making, for the work of the scientist who discovered the laws that went into making of the product, for the work of the philosopher who taught men how to think and whom you spend your time denouncing.”

Fathers Need to Fight For Their Children!

Rock-em, Sock-em, Biff, Boo, Pow!

What a fight we’ve witnessed here tonight.  A classic, a contest for the ages, the battle between the world champion and an unknown, under-rated contender.  The classic David and Goliath battle.

No this wasn’t a classic Gillette Friday Night Fights on the snowy black and white TV in the 50’s; it wasn’t Ali/ Fraser – the Thrilla in Manilla; it wasn’t Rocky.  It was Atom versus Zeus in the World Robot Boxing championship.  This is the climax of a very good movie, “Real Steel” starring Hugh Jackman and Evangeline Lilly (“Lost”) and produced by Steven Spielberg.

What?

“Real Steel” is an entertaining, exciting and creative film that would be worth the price of admission just for the “transformer-like” thrills.  But that’s not why I strongly encourage everyone to go experience this movie and that’s why this isn’t merely a movie review.

“I want you to fight for me!” was the plea of the 11-year old boy (Dakota Goyo) to his estranged father (Hugh Jackman) when his father asked what the boy wanted from him. The truth spoken powerfully by a child! Do we all have ears to hear?  This request, this demand by the boy comes at a time in the movie when the father is giving up.  He’s started to build a bond with his son after 11-years of abandonment and the father still can’t face the ultimate responsibility of loving the boy so he’s giving him up to his aunt (His mother has recently been killed in an automobile accident).

One of my favorite authors, Stu Weber points out, that fathers need to be fathers and they need to stop making their children responsible for the relationship (I need to reread “Linking Arms” and “Tender Warrior” to find the exact quote).  In “Real Steel” the boy is doing all the work while the father continues to let his dysfunctions and his own negative self-image control his behavior, especially with his son.  This is just wrong, yet so typical, unfortunately.

Men, we need to fight for our children.  We need to be authentic and we need to take responsibility for our actions in the world, especially when we co-create  a new human being!  I don’t know if this was what the producers of this movie were intending but it certainly is the message that comes through to me.  Too often men plant their “seed” and are never heard from again; they don’t participate in the support and care of their children; they don’t pay their child support; they abuse their children;  or they abandon their children either physically or emotionally.  Look at the problems in the minority communities, especially the communities of African decent.  The absence of fathers is epidemic.  What chance do the fatherless children have?  Sure, some will be lucky, but most will end up in prison or dead because they don’t have strong men in their lives, they don’t have fathers to fight for them.

I relate to how the boy in the film feels because I was abandoned by my father.  I know first hand what it’s like not to have a father around as I struggled with the issues of growing up.  It was the memory of this pain that defined my actions as the father of my own children.  I worked hard to be there for my two beautiful daughters and when times were the most challenging it was the awareness of the needs of those girls that kept me focused on the bigger picture, kept me fighting for them.

I wasn’t perfect at being the father I wanted to be for my children. It wasn’t until my oldest daughter was 10-years old that I first became aware of my own “junk” and started to transform my life and behavior.  This transformation continues today and I know that my imperfection has harmed my children and step-children and I regret every time this has happened.  However, through it all I continue to do everything I can to help and protect my children, and I always will…I’ll continue to fight for my children!

 Ephesians 6: 4: Fathers, do not exasperate your children; bring them up in the training and the instruction of the Lord.