Category: Agency

A disarming chart

A January 23 article in The New York Times “The Morning” newsletter by German Lopez, “Mass Shooting in California,” was a brief, “just the facts, ma’am,” story about a 72-year-old male shooter who shot others, then took his own life. We search for a motive, but a more important issue is the weapon, a semi-automatic assault pistol:

This kind of mass shooting has become tragically common in the U.S.; what would be a rare horror in any other developed country is typical here. Yet the cause is no mystery. America has an enormous amount of guns, making it easier for someone to carry out a deadly shooting.

It is a point this newsletter has made before: All over the world, there are people who argue, fight over relationships, suffer from mental health issues or hold racist views. But in the U.S., those people can more easily obtain a gun and shoot someone.

Last night, word came of another shooting with multiple deaths, this time with a 67-year-old male in custody. To better cope with our gun insanity, I’m trying to set my newsfeed to give me a weekly summary of these events, rather than hearing about them immediately. It’s too much.

Chart by Ashley Wu, The New York Times (the US is almost “off the chart”)

“Let ’em go”

Years ago, an automobile dealership’s advertising punch line was, “The boss said, ‘Let ’em go.'” As in, “Should we give a big discount on these vehicles? The boss said, ‘Let ’em go.'”

I’ve thought about that line as United Methodists move deeper into the “disaffiliation” process. It has been personally painful to watch it unfold, but Phyllis Tickle’s wise observation has been helpful. She said this era of deep change in our culture and all religions will be like the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s–the faith and the planet will emerge stronger as various groups go their separate ways.

The Lester Memorial UMC in Oneonta has worked out a relatively amicable divorce, where a sizable contingent of those not desiring to disaffiliate are forming a new congregation. In a large city, those wishing to stay with the denomination, but find themselves in a group where the majority want to leave, can easily join another UMC that intends to remain. In a small community like Oneonta, it takes more creativity.

From “Oneonta United Methodist Community,” by Rachel Simmons, The Blount Countian, January 11, 2023 (via StayUMC Facebook page)

A memorable year

The LA Dodgers swept the NY Yankees in the 1963 World Series. Of 36 innings, Sandy Koufax pitched 18; Don Drysdale 9: Johnny Podres 8 1/3; and Ron Perronoski 2/3. 1963 was my last year of baseball cards. The sport moved down several notches in my consciousness due to adolescence and due to some major events in 1963.

On May 3, high pressure water from fire hoses and police dogs were unleashed on Civil Rights demonstrators in Birmingham. The children and youth began to stir the conscience of white America with their powerful witness.

On August 28, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That was only peripheral for me then, but its significance has grown with time.

On September 15, Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14) were killed by a bomb while attending Sunday School at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. “Infamy” is an appropriate word.

On November 22, news of President John Kennedy’s assassination was broadcast over our school intercom. My 7th grade science teacher wrote on the chalkboard “Lyndon Johnson,” and then “John McCormack” after reports of LBJ’s chest pains. This began several sad days and 60 years of wondering “what if” (regarding Vietnam, especially).

From “Rep. John Lewis’ Fight For Civil Rights Began With A Letter To Martin Luther King, Jr.,” by Kerrie Hillman, Aisha Turner and Emma Bowman, NPR, January 17, 2020

A good life

For 80+ years, Harvard researchers have studied what makes for a good life. One surefire predictor has emerged: developing stronger relationships. The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness will be updated on January 10. Robert Waldinger described the study’s work in a 2016 Ted Talk.

The New York Times has a health and wellness desk known simply as Well, which was inspired by the Harvard study to develop a “Seven Day Happiness Challenge.” Times subscribers can sign-up for seven daily emails (January 2-8). Jancee Dunn, a reporter for the Well desk, described her experience with one of the challenges.

The challenge is to write or tell someone why you’re grateful for them. Dunn wrote to her 4th grade teacher, Roseann Manley to thank her for a note she wrote on Dunn’s report card: “Jancee is a very talented writer, and I think she’s going to be a famous writer someday.” Dunn remembers thinking, “Oh, she sees something in me.” Dunn said the teacher’s affirmation changed the course of her life.

So I tracked Ms. Manley down, all these years later. And I told her how grateful I was. And we’ve now exchanged dozens and dozens of letters. She’s 91, widowed and doesn’t have kids. I call her every Christmas. She sends me letters with puppies and kittens on the stationery. She’s become my substitute grandmother. It’s been a wonderful thing.

From “A Happier New Year,” by Lauren Jackson, The New York Times, January 1, 2023 (photo from Times Square on 12/31/22 by Andres Kudacki/Associated Press)

A new year

Clarence Jordan (pronounced JER den), 1912-1969, biblical scholar and agent of social change, gave us a “Cotton Patch” version of Hebrews 11:1 in the New Testament: Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds. It is betting your life on the unseen realities.

My 2023 question is: “How can I make a difference?” My 8-syllable 2023 prayer is: Abba-Amma: Lebh Shomea. This is an inclusive version of Jesus’ Aramaic-language name for the Deity (Abba, or “Daddy”), coupled with a Hebrew-language yearning for a “listening heart/mind.” This Aramaic/Hebrew combo is shorter than my “briar patch” English prayer: Father-Mother: Give your servant a listening heart-mind.

I believe this short prayer will help me discover the unfolding answer(s) to my question. May you find how (and where) to turn your 2023 dreams into action.

From “What Did Solomon Pray For?“, by Rick Hamlin, Guideposts (based on the story in 1 Kings 3)

Consider the source

Elise Jordan’s October focus group conversation with Pittsburgh-area voters included an interesting comment by one of the folks about his sources of information. In my final years as a church staff person, I became increasingly aware that conversations with parishioners tended to be heavily shaped by their choice for TV or Internet news.

My two most recent posts (about Joyce Vance) reveals that she is one of several voices that help shape my understanding of current events. Others include Barbara McQuade, Chuck Rosenberg, Neal Katyal, Admiral James Stavridis, Ambassador Richard Haass, Ambassador William Taylor, and Eddie Glaude, Jr., to name a few.

Today, much of our information comes from a plethora of unvetted, sometimes anonymous sources on the Internet, supplied by individuals and organizations, including propaganda from various governments. Who and what are your information sources?

From “Trump voters in focus group say he couldn’t have stopped Jan 6 violence,” by Elise Jordan, Morning Joe, MSNBC, October 24, 2022.

Humbly confident adaptability

How can we use technology for ethical, healthy purposes while limiting its destructive uses? The daunting nature of rapid change can keep us humble while we muster the confidence to face the future with adaptability that is purposeful and flexible.

John E. Kelly III, in Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late, describes three eras of computing: (1) a tabulating era (1900s-1940s), with single purpose mechanical systems to count, sort and interpret data; (2) a programming era (1950s to 2007) of computers, the Internet and smart phones; and (3) an emerging cognitive era, with the capacity to write multiple algorithms that could teach a computer to make sense of unstructured data … and thereby enhance every aspect of human decision making.

Three examples: (1) the rise, fall and re-purposing of IBM’s Watson; (2) Nick Saban’s complex “process” that adapts to changing excellence in athletic acumen and skill; and (3) the Internet of Things (IOT) via the “cloud,” a word for connected data storage systems. The insurance industry is excited about self-driving vehicles because this technology will be safer than human drivers. I’m excited because it may get here before the kids take away my keys,

From “How Champions Think: Coach Nick Saban and the Process Thinking Mental Model,” by Ryan Duffy, Knowable, April 4, 2022.

Dynamic stability

This is the third post about Thomas Friedman’s 2016 book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. A brief excerpt of Friedman quoting Eric “Astro” Teller:

There are some ways of being, like riding a bicycle, where you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier. It is not our natural state. But humanity has to learn to exist in this state. …

When that happens, said Teller, “in a weird way we will be calm again, but it will take substantial relearning. We definitely don’t train our children for dynamic stability.”

We will need to do that, though, more and more, if we want future generations to thrive and find their own equilibrium.

My understanding of dynamic stability is this: Our tacit knowledge (what we learned from our parent figures, in school, in our life experience, our humble share of the accumulated human wisdom and common sense) coupled with new, lifelong learning discoveries and insights we make each day. (Tomorrow: Some personal examples.)

From “George the Skateboarding English Bulldog,” a 4 1/2 minute video from ClarkCountyNV, via YouTube

Addressing the problem

Thomas Friedman: …if it is true that it now takes us ten to fifteen years to understand a new technology and then build out new laws and regulations to safeguard society, how do we regulate when the technology has come and gone in five to seven years? This is a problem. (Current example: SBF and FTX.)

We go to school for twelve or more years during our childhoods and early adulthoods, and then we’re done. But when the pace of change gets this fast, the only way to retain a lifelong working capacity is to engage in lifelong learning.

Eric Teller, per Friedman: If we could “enhance our ability to adapt even slightly… it would make a significant difference.” He then returned to our graph and drew a dotted line that rose up alongside the adaptability line but faster. This line simulated our learning faster as well as governing smarter, and therefore intersected with the technology/science change line at a higher point.

In sum, said Teller, what we are experiencing today, with shorter and shorter innovation cycles, and less and less time to learn to adapt, “is the difference between a constant state of destabilization versus occasional destabilization.” The time of static stability has passed us by, he added. That does not mean we can’t have a new kind of stability, “but the new kind of stability has to be dynamic stability.” (More tomorrow.)