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Excellence is an art won by training and habituation … not an act but a habit.

Aristotle

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Very few visible in mass media are habituated to excellence.  If you want mediocrity or less, mass media provides an endless supply of such lightweights. However, beware: if you have a diet of mediocrity you will disgorge yourself of the attitude, instinct, discipline and will for excellence.

Excellence takes strength of soul.  Excellence understands sacrificial love. Excellence honors God in its being and doing.

All have the capacity needed for excellence.  Yet many forfeit the strength of soul.  Those who forfeit strength of soul live lies – excuses are common to them, envy too – they seek nothing more urgently than to thwart the will of others, to neutralize the soul.

Those who forfeit strength of soul are weak links.  They abound in politics today. They prefer dependence to a free populace for they fear being challenged to live fully.  They keep others bound-up so they might wallow in under-achievement, the cost of which always includes dishonesty and corruption.

When mediocrity rules, men are targeted, for it is men who do the dying, who come easily to sacrificial love.  A warrior class is always necessary.  Today, the weak seek their demise.  Men are targets for the weak fear them. 

Want to see the locus of excellence in American culture, look at the middle class and those like me who lived in poverty and in daily combat.  Look, not just at me but at my petite mother – one tough cookie … and her parents, and her brothers Don and Ray.  Their habit was excellence – its byproducts: humility, confidence, contentment, compassion, joy and laughter, insight, wisdom, generosity, gratitude.

Excellence comes to those who must work hard to survive, and to whom difficulties befall because in the hardest things they live daily by strength of soul. This is why the Left so despises the middle class and seeks to make dependents of the poor.  Don’t let yourself be sold short or sold out.

Live in excellence.  You’ll scare the heck out of the elites and make of us again a great people.  And, in the habits of excellence is satisfaction.

Enjoy the life God has given you.  Don’t let anyone deny you a life of excellence – especially of moral excellence.

Shalom.

We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passion, unbridled by morality and religion … Our Constitution was only made for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.  (Emphasis added.)

John Adams, 2nd U.S. President

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These are the words President Adams delivered to the military in 1798.

They are as true today as they were then.  But alas, we have come to believe that we can proceed without religion and without God.

Many have come foolishly to the view that religion has no place in politics. Really?  Would slavery ever been ended but for the religious views of men and women who opposed it?

Lest you think otherwise, think of the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 22, verses 37-40, when asked by the Pharisees which of the commandments is the greatest he replied:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”  (Emphasis added.)

Yesterday, I had the help of an African American man at a store where I was purchasing a few things.  In our exchange we shared warm conversation which included sincere wishes for health and safety in the new year, and an exchange of blessings with one another.  Civic life as it can be, and should be.  Neighbors, mutual respect – helping one another, gratitude, warmth and friendship.

Is that possible without God and religion?  Not likely.

Just look at what people have done to separate us from one another.  The godless in the political class (in the present age the Left does this over and over) create envy and division and make us enemies of one another.  If we but heeded John Adams and thought about what Jesus said we would live so much better, so much more peacefully.

Don’t fall for division and envy, they present a new slavery and rekindle hostility and unease.  And, yes – there is a vital role for religion in politics and civil society and it is at the center, as our foundation.  Those who act to the contrary destroy us.

Shalom.

Postscript – For all the people who have “problems” – especially from your past, your up-bringing: you are the only one who can solve those problems.  No one but you can decide to move forward and discard the injuries of the past and those who “caused” them.

If you “checkmate” yourself by fostering all sorts of odd behavior and limitations because of yesterday, and those people and events of yesterday, you are consigning yourself to weakness and unhappiness – and that is all so very unnecessary.  You have the capacity to say – “enough, I shall live!”

I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we first change ourselves.

Etty Hilesum, in An Interrupted Life

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These are the words of Etty Hilesum, a young Jewish girl who engaged Christ while awaiting her death at Auschwitz.

She lived in the chaos of godlessness, created by hostility to God.  She suffered the satanic violence that is the product of love’s absence, its rejection, its exile, its banishment.

As I look at the world today and our nation as well, I think: How can we be better?  How can we live well, in peace and with kindness and understanding?

For the Christian, I come to this answer: Live your Baptism, for the stakes are high and getting higher everyday.

What am I saying?

At Baptism you are initiated into the mystery of Love – the God who is Love. Just as Baptism is the cornerstone of our faith adventure, so is it that Love must be evidenced in that primary and central way.

It is no exaggeration to say that evil and violence and chaos are visibly present in our nation and in the world today.  Love is its only counterweight, its only response.  This we know in Christ, and we are Christians.

Baptism is to be lived out each day.  To do so in our secular culture whose message is so prevalent in mass communication – ask yourself this: Is what I hear communicated echoing the words of Christ?  Of love?  Understanding? Community? Kindness?

Or do I hear despair?  Hatred?  Racism?  Antagonism?  Envy? Division? Discord?  Disorder?  Self-promotion? Selfishness?

You have the opportunity as a baptized Christian to live each day as Christ, with Christ.

We are presently far afield of Christ-like living.

Our political voices are the prime agents of that treacherous distance.  Too many in politics breed envy, and division. Virtually none seem versed in faith.  Most place their confidence in the dubious notion of their own “genius.”  They ignore this: their limitations and lack of humility.

If this nation will know its better self, it will be when it returns to God.  If it does not, it will cease to be.

Pray that we might begin to live as we are baptized to live.  Let it start with me and with you.

Shalom.

For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died.  He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves … (Emphasis added.)

2 Cor 5: 14, 15

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This passage is from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians and specifically from a section entitled “The Ministry of Reconciliation” in which St. Paul reminds us that the heart is superior to boasting about external appearance, that the flesh is less than the soul, mortal life less than eternal existence.

Likewise, he tells us that those in Christ are a “new creation;” that it is God’s intention and purpose to reconcile us to Him through Christ.  Further, that the world is reconciled to Him by the gift of His Son and it is our responsibility to further that reconciliation as “ambassadors for Christ.”

“Ambassadors for Christ.”

Last night the Dallas Police were attacked at their headquarters just as the midnight shift-change was occurring. Pipe bombs and automatic weapons were used.

We have let some pretty antagonistic political conversations run unchallenged for some time now.  Charging the air with antagonism creates an explosive atmosphere.

“Ambassadors for Christ.”

The next election will be a referendum on faith.  It will be a referendum on who we are?  Neighbors and friends?  Brothers and sisters?  One Nation under God?

We have let the resentment and division brew.  Enough.

Christ?  Or not?  America?  Or not?  Freedom?  Or not?  Peace? Or not?

Where do you stand on this?  Neighbor?  Or enemy?

Who are you listening to?  What hateful conversation have you tolerated?

Shalom.

Share with others who might wish to think about where we are and what our responsibility is.  God bless.

It is much easier to be critical than to be correct.

Benjamin Disraeli

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In a neat little book by philosophy professor William B. Irvine, A Guide to a Good Life, he explores the pre-Christian philosophers known as Stoics.  These thinkers sought to understand how one might live a good life.  They examined life and experience so they might find what a contented and valued life might be, and how it might be realized.

The challenge to know and live a good life is no less present today than it was before Christ.

Deflated footballs makes this point for us today.

The recent controversy about the New England Patriots having footballs in the first half of their playoff game that were inflated below the National Football League standards gives us clues to a philosophy of a good life.  How so?

Well, consider this.  There has been no shortage of conversation in the press and on television about these deflated footballs.  The overwhelming content of the conversation was this: the Patriots cheated by intentionally deflating the footballs to gain an unlawful advantage in passing and catching the ball in cold and rainy weather.  Their coach was presumed to have ordered this.  Their quarterback as well was presumed to have been the prime mover in this act of deception and deceit.  Accusations aimed at them were asserted as truth.

Hold your horses, gang.  Few expressing their opinions knew the governing League rule, nor knew who in the League had custody of the footballs prior to the game.  None of the commentators had one fact surrounding the footballs that implicated either the coach or the quarterback, or any Patriot staff person in any act that caused these footballs to be below League rules.

Worse yet, there was not one word spoken about the science involved.

People were so intent on offering damning opinions they never asked: What is the science here? Who had custody of these footballs?  Did the game officials properly check the footballs as they were required to do?

No, there was more appeal to making accusations and judgments without reason, out of ignorance.  A habit we can all fall prey to.

Sadly, some of the comments seemed to reflect dislike for a particular team, a coach, a person and their repeated success, their record of excellence – indeed, a dislike for excellence itself.

Ironically, science can explain what happens to the air inside a football when it is cold and there is a steady rain and wind exerting itself on the ball.

What happens is simple to explain.  One, air molecules contract in cold air and expand in hot air.  Two, a football losses air pressure in cold. Three, rain and wind add to the effect cold has.  It is a matter of science, or nature that air pressure falls in cold, rain and wind.  These are easily ascertainable facts, significant to the issue at hand.  They are not to be ignored.

So what does this have to do with a philosophy of life?

By default the common philosophy on display in this public episode did not flatter the pundits and accusers.

The philosophy on display was: judge without facts, let your ignorance lead to opinion, speak before you know, accuse without reason, remain uninformed about basic aspects of the event you are commenting on, ask no particular probative questions, abandon restraint, forget the science, forget the governing rules, discard a presumption of innocence, shelve good will, doubt and calm, judge and risk defaming others, give no ground to demonstrated excellence that envy may take voice.

Is this a philosophy of life?  A way to a good life?  The way we sustain a good society?  Community?

You know the answer to these questions.  Now ask, is faith not at least a restraint on the poor conduct of those who judged so readily?  What else might give pause?  Are we not all susceptible to judging without reason?

Think about what a philosophy of life looks like and how it can be honored day by day.

Shalom.

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