Archive for the ‘Lessons’ Category


Posted: October 27, 2011 in Family and Friends, Justice, Lessons, Peace

Integrity & Moral Cautiousness

Posted: October 2, 2010 in Lessons, Peace

One of the more intriguing course titles in my law school career is my current “Law & Morality” class. This seminar is taught by the highly-esteemed visiting professor, Ellen Pryor. Professor Pryor has showered us with interesting readings throughout the semester. Recently, we read large chunks of Sissela Bok’s classic book, “Lying.” Me, the smart aleck, thought it would be great fun to go out to some public place to read this book, and when an astute observer would undoubtedly ask why I was reading a book on lying, I would respond, “Oh, it’s for law school.” 🙂 My follow-up line would be, “I took Cheating last semester, and Stealing is on tap next.”

This week, we’re reading Stephen Carter’s excellent book, “Integrity.” Which, if nothing else, is better PR for the legal profession should I choose to read it in public. But there was one passage that really struck me as profound, so I thought I would share it with the world via blogging/Facebook. As one who has from time to time been accused of moral relativism, this passage really resonates with me.

Your comments would be interesting and welcomed, but honestly, my motivation in sharing this is to provoke reflection more than to inspire conversation. Here goes (from pages 59-61):

“. . . we Americans do public dialogue badly. I suspect that the principal psychological difficulty that frustrates our national efforts to conduct public moral dialogues is not, as is sometimes asserted, that nobody believes that there are right answers to our moral dilemmas; no, the American problem is that we all believe that our own answers are the right ones. In this sense, we are a land not of moral relativists, as is often charged, but of moral objectivists: people who believe that there are universal, moral truths. Our necessary if sometimes uncomfortable celebration of moral tolerance is a mark not of our relativism but of our objectivism; having learned the lessons of history, we are trying in America to be morally cautious. It is not that there are no right answers, but that, given human fallibility, we need to be careful in assuming that we have found them. This point was made famously by John Stuart Mill, and today the very variety of moral truths in which different Americans wholeheartedly believe is proof of the wisdom of tolerance. Tolerance is the reason that the most liberal Americans must accept hateful speech and the most conservative Americans must accept homosexuality. It is not that nobody could hold the view that one or the other is morally wrong; it is rather that history has taught us to be careful about enforcing our moral views as law.”

A Pensive, Born-Again Pirate

Posted: September 19, 2010 in Lessons, Music

Been thinking about pirates and Jimmy Buffett and such, what with the coming and going of my fortieth birthday. Not that I feel as if my life’s calling disappeared a couple of centuries ago—and not that I’m all that attracted to pirating as a career path in the first place; instead, here I am, staring at forty, embarking on career number three (or so), and sitting in school with bunches and bunches of beautiful and talented twenty-somethings. It’s enough to make a guy stop and think about life.

Once upon a time, I actually had a little life philosophy. My idea was to live in such a way that I could look back on it all someday and honestly say I had no regrets. Sounded good at the time. Of course I didn’t realize that this would later serve as a poignant illustration of shooting oneself in the foot before getting started, but all in all, I am glad I adopted that approach. It has led me on an interesting journey, and I doubt I’d be sitting where I’m at right now without it. And, oddly enough, I like the view from here.

I’ve heard it said that life begins at forty. Seems somewhat appropriate since I get to graduate and (re-)enter the real world this year. (And no, I’m still not exactly sure what I’ll be when I grow up, but as for now, I’m simply hoping that I’m a second-half team.)


Here I sit, born again at forty, all eat up with pensiveness, and wondering what to think about it all. What is life all about? What really matters? What should be my philosophy of life heading into the second half?

Answer: I don’t know.

But the older I get, for whatever reason, the more I’m okay with not knowing the answer.

Maybe I’ll just be a pirate.

R.I.P. Katrina

Posted: August 28, 2010 in Lessons

This weekend marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I guess my family will forever mark these anniversaries since it reminds us of such a dramatic scene in our collective life. I can’t imagine “not” remembering.

Strangely enough, over the last couple of years, I have heard myself on multiple occasions refer to the Katrina Experience as one of the best times of my life. Now I fully realize that for many, especially those who lost loved ones, it represents the polar opposite. But for me, it really was a life highlight. If love and relationships and serving (and/or being) “the least of these” really do lie at the center of the meaning of life—and I think they do—then that crazy storm really did churn up a time and place deserving of such a description.

It was good for me to be a beggar. It was good for me to be homeless, helpless, overwhelmed, and darn close to the neighborhood where you can find hopeless, too. I really doubt there will be a big line of people signing up for any of the above, but if you ever find yourself there, I’d offer that there are some good lessons to learn therein.

Like what it feels like to be helpless. How could I ever refer to “the poor” as if they were something other than me?

Like what it feels like to be rescued. Forget the celebrity, intellectual, and political heroes of this world: I know what real heroes look like.

Like what it feels like to be the object of condescension. Sometimes the manner in which one is rescued makes being lost preferable.

Like what it feels like to really be loved. Real love involves actions, not mere sentiments or emotions.

Like what it feels like to survive. Weathered (literally), violated, humbled, and yet, proud still to be kicking when all is said and done.

Five years, huh? Heh. In some ways, seems like yesterday; in others, like from a former lifetime.

Katrina has been called some awfully ugly names, and I completely understand. She’s like that abusive parent that doesn’t deserve any semblance of praise and yet helped turn you into the person you’ve now become. I can’t really say that I miss her, and I can’t even say that what she produced in me has been all good. But I really can say in retrospect that I somehow appreciate the fact that she was a part of my life.

May she rest in peace.

Sports Bucket List: First Draft

Posted: August 7, 2010 in Lessons

Here I am, circling the tower on age forty, realizing that I’m really not going to have time to do everything I’d like to do in this life I’ve been given. And I’m okay with that. In fact, I came to terms with that some time ago.

Some people go a little nutso at this realization, taking off on some frenetic journey to taste everything they’ve missed so far. We often call this a mid-life crisis. I’ve joked that law school is my mid-life crisis, and maybe it is, but if I was wanting to drink from the fountain of life you’d think I would have found something that didn’t require so much time stuck in a library.

So how am I okay with the fact that I’m not going to do it all? Well, I just realized that I have already done a lot. Why complain when you have done so much? “Just be thankful” seemed good enough advice for me.

And yet.

What do you live for when you quit dreaming? This is the problem I’ve been contemplating lately.

I should preface the rest of this ramble with the caveat that I fully realize sports is not the most important thing in the world. Nonetheless, I have carried on a lifelong love affair with the silly stuff, so what I’ve decided to go and do is develop my own little Sports Bucket List: sports stuff I’d like to do before I kick the proverbial bucket.

Now I’ve only placed twenty items on this list, but most are so crazy hard that they ought to last me forever. I figure if I’m lucky enough to run out of things on my list that I can easily come up with twenty more. Likewise, if I accomplish zero things on my list, that’ll be okay, too. I know I will have had a blast remembering how to dream again.

Of course I’d like to go to the Super Bowl and see all the baseball stadiums and all the other obvious things sports fans would like to do. But I decided to make my list unique. Some are completely crazy, and those are my most favorite ones.

Here goes:

1. Run a marathon.
2. Bowl a 300 game.
3. Get in a street basketball game on the famed courts of Venice Beach.
4. Kick a 40-yard field goal.
5. Wear a Cowboys jersey to a road game and feel the hatred.
6. Win AT LEAST a hundred bucks on the horses at Santa Anita.
7. Hit a half-court shot in a halftime promotion at a basketball game.
8. Bench press 250 lbs.
9. Spend a couple of weeks at Cardinals spring training.
10. Hit a witnessed hole-in-one.
11. Collect the top 100 sports movies of all-time and watch every one.
12. Sit courtside with the stars at a Lakers game.
13. Hit a home run over the fence in a softball game.
14. Go to the Army-Navy football game and sit and imagine what it would have been like if my dad would have accepted the appointment in the late 1930s and played for the Midshipmen.
15. Make 100 consecutive free throws (my old record stands at 71).
16. Sit in the stands at the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics.
17. Go to the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame in Kansas City: I may have missed Buck O’Neil, but instead of lamenting the fact, I’ll follow his lead and say I made it there “right on time.”
18. Catch a home run ball in my glove at a major league baseball game.
19. Take a vacation to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College Baseball World Series.
20. Fund and coach a championship AAU basketball team consisting of economically disadvantaged kids.

Wulp, that’s it. I’m calling this a first draft, so suggestions are welcomed.

Blood, Sweat, and Dreams

Posted: July 31, 2010 in Lessons

A couple of weeks into my summer law firm gig, I recognized that my newfound healthy lifestyle was slipping away fast. I had quit my morning exercise routine due to such a long drive to the office, not to mention the fact that the most physical activity one seems to get at the office is going out to lunch. And we don’t go for especially healthy lunches.

So I decided to get my butt in gear, discovered a local high school football field with a circular track, and started jogging a little bit in the evenings. This high school apparently isn’t in an affluent part of the Houston metroplex. It is suddenly one of my new favorite places in the world.

I’m rarely alone in the late evenings at the track; in fact, I am joined by a mostly young, racially diverse crowd. There have been young men in the middle of the track–without coaches–running football drills on their own in the searing Houston heat. There have been young men and young ladies out on the track–without coaches–running quarters and attacking hurdles while I make my laps. There was once a young soccer goalie laying on his back in the mosquito-filled grass while his friend tossed balls to either side of him for what seemed like forever.

I am moved by these champions.

What is it about these hungry young athletes that touches my soul? I don’t think it’s as simple as their hunger for success, to be the next one that “makes it.” I don’t think it is that because that would make me feel pity instead: their not knowing that their choice to be on that track exuding all manner of self-control and work ethic shows that they have already “made it” to the champions’ circle.

Instead, I think I am moved because I am getting older now, and I miss what it feels like to really dream. I should’ve guessed it would end up being all about me, whatwith my selfish streak and all. But anyway. I guess it really is true that we spend our adult lives trying to recapture our youthful imaginations. To become like children again–the kingdom of God and whatnot.

True or not, I love going to that track. Just being in close proximity to the dreamers is a good tonic for my aging disorder.

In Defense of Commercials

Posted: July 25, 2010 in Lessons

Don’t think of this as an anti-technology manifesto. Think of it more as the ramblings of an out-of-touch loser. And don’t think the irony that I’m posting these ramblings on a blog that will magically transport itself to Facebook is lost on me. Wasted, maybe, but it isn’t lost on me.

I haven’t listened to much “car radio” in a long time, and that may be because I’ve never had both a long commute and work I could pretty well leave at the office. But since I seem to have both this summer, I found myself searching for radio stations. Eventually, I saved three: a classic rock station with a terrible morning show, NPR, and ESPN Radio.

It dawned on me that I’m always late to the game. Here I am, picking up regular “radio” of all things, when everyone else in the world is either listening to their iPod, or for the edgy folks, Pandora—your favorite songs, all the time, with no commercials.

And it isn’t just radio. I finally started following an actual television show a few months ago and began to arrange my schedule accordingly. Then I was told that I was supposed to have TiVo so I could watch it whenever I wanted without commercials. I finally got a “flip phone” and a laptop. But I think I’m supposed to have an iPhone now so I can access my email—and the world—at any given moment. I don’t even know how to describe my videogame deficiency since I never got past Frogger when you had to plug quarters in at Circus Circus on West Kingshighway.

Now, to be fair, I was pretty early on the email craze, and thanks to my friend, John Dobbs, I was one of the first bloggers. But to confess my sickness, I sometimes feel a little guilty about both. I think we lost something when we stopped writing letters, and even though I love the audience offered by blogging, I can’t help but think that when everyone is a writer, then no one really is anymore.

But I digress. I am writing this in defense of commercials.

It isn’t that I like commercials. At all. In fact, blatant consumerism is the opposite of what I like. But I worry that the technological revolution that has produced a nirvanic world where we never have to listen to pesky commercials on our radios or our television shows anymore has a significant downside to go along with its obvious upside. And here’s the downside: we lose practice in learning how to wait for anything.

Instant gratification has finally won.

This may be the crazed screams of a radical, but I fully believe that it is okay to do without something. At least in two to three minute stretches, I would think.

Something might come up where I miss my favorite television show one week, and I am fairly certain the world will not end. When listening to my favorite radio station, I may actually possess the inner strength to endure one entire song that isn’t one of my favorites or, God forbid, be forced to listen to a local commercial in between songs. And I know for a fact that I can do without getting an email the second it is sent.

I think Jesus once said something about the importance of learning how to “deny yourself.” Because I believe that to be a decent piece of advice, I raise my voice in defense of commercials.

A Theory of Devolution

Posted: July 3, 2010 in Lessons, Peace

In the beginning, a man was attacked by someone more powerful than he.
So he started carrying around a great big stick.

Then someone else got an even bigger stick.
So he gave his weapon a sharp point.

Then someone else made theirs with an iron tip.
So he made a bow to shoot his enemy from a distance.

Then someone else created a gun.
So he made a cannon.

Then someone else made a bomb.
So he made a land mine.

Then someone else began dropping their bombs from airplanes.
So he created a nuclear weapon that could vaporize an entire city.

Then someone else made a missile that could destroy a city from half a world away.
So he made a system that could destroy everyone else’s missiles after they’d been launched while stockpiling an arsenal of nuclear weaponry that could destroy the planet multiple times over.

Game over.

But then, someone else flew some airplanes into some buildings, and hidden people began to manufacture biological weapons so that one person can destroy an entire nation no matter how many weapons it has.

Finally, someone asked: “Is there something wrong with this entire game?”
And everyone attacked the questioner.

So the questioner died.
But his question didn’t.

Winning, Jesus-Style

Posted: June 27, 2010 in Justice, Lessons, Peace

I like to win. Always have. Sports. Grades. Board games. Philosophical debates. Didn’t really matter what it was, I always wanted to win. In addition, true to character, I avoided things if I didn’t think I’d be good at them. Always have. You know why.

Taking Jesus seriously has always been somewhat problematic for me, what with his “turn the cheek” and “love your enemies” language, not to mention the whole “first will be last” shocker. Not really “winner” language if you ask me. Undeterred, I found comfort growing up with being told that our type of church was better than everyone else’s. That’s winner material. Further, the whole “heaven” concept was a sweet addition: “ultimate triumph” was a thought right up my alley.

But the actual language of Jesus was always there, and over time, I started facing it. And it threw me for a loop. In fact, as a young high school basketball coach, it was partially responsible for my first career change. When you begin thinking that winning is overrated, it sort of deflates one’s idea behind that particular career path. It messes with a lot of other things besides sports, too: academic accomplishment, patriotism, and yes, even religion. Maybe especially religion. The story of the Rich Young Ruler is practically inexplicable for winners.

Thankfully, for my personal sanity, my understanding of Jesus continued to evolve. A big breakthrough came when I understood that Jesus wasn’t a pushover, nor did he instruct his followers to be pushovers. (I credit Walter Wink with much of this personal breakthrough – check it out HERE.) Jesus doesn’t advocate being a loser; instead, he holds forth a very different conception of a winner.

I think I’m writing in an attempt to articulate what a “win” looks like Jesus-style. And to put it bluntly, I think it looks like this: when people learn to love and respect one another in spite of all the legitimate reasons not to.

Yeah, that’s what I think.

With that in mind, turning the other cheek and loving your enemies and the first will be last all make a heckuva lot more sense. In fact, the whole first will be last lesson is predicated on the desire to be a winner (“whomever among you wants to be great…”).

I don’t think the competitive nature of this world is wrong in and of itself. I am (at least, once again) all for non-violent competition (e.g. sports, business, politics, law, debate). It’s just that the definition of what it means to win is generally screwy in my humble opinion.

Take sports, for example. You see, I could be a basketball coach again. Now, however, while doing our very best to win the game on a scoreboard (the whole point of the sport), my ultimate (and countercultural) goal would be to learn to love and respect my team, the officiating crew, and our opponents. That’s what it really means to win.

Remember the recent story of umpire Jim Joyce and the destroyed perfect game of pitcher Armando Galarraga. Sports reporters used words like “sportsmanship” and “class” and phrases like “taking the high road” to describe what happened after the game (see HERE). I call it a win, Jesus-style.

I wish to God those of us who claim to follow Jesus would learn this lesson when we talk politics, but that’s another article for another day.

My latest challenge is to be a lawyer. I am set to enter a profession that is built on competition—winners and losers in an openly adversarial system. My challenge is to do my very best to win the case for my client, but my ultimate (and countercultural) goal will be to love and respect my client, my adversary, and everyone in between.

And I plan to do it, too.

Because you know me: I like to win.

What I’m Thinking Today

Posted: June 20, 2010 in Lessons

Back when it was cool to teach a class at church about postmodernism, I taught a class at church about postmodernism. Because you know me: Mr. Cool. Part of what we talked about was the shift that’s been occurring in our culture whereby we just don’t trust authority anymore. It used to be that doctors (medicine) and lawyers (law) and preachers (religion) and politicians (government), for example, were seen as the experts in their particular fields of expertise. Now, we are all the experts in everything. We prefer telling doctors/lawyers/preacher/politicians how to do their jobs because we’re pretty sure we know better than they do what is best. At the very least, we’re highly skeptical that they know.

In the class, I argued that the root of all this was the growing realization that “modernism”—science and reason and whatnot—had failed us by not really saving us after all. If doctors are so smart, then how come we keep dying? If lawyers are so smart, how come justice never seems to emerge? If preachers are so smart, how come churches are so screwy? And if politicians are so smart, how come government is so ridiculous?

So we just can’t trust anyone in authority anymore. They have all failed us.

Generally, count me in, all this not putting hope in authoritative structures. That’s the postmodern in me. I don’t think the “powers of this world” that I read about in the Bible involve little men in red suits brandishing pitchforks; instead, I believe they are things like Power and Greed and Insecurity found in systems and structures like Government and Business and Religion. So distrust of authority is right up my alley.


A friend sent me a link to a really good (and really long) article about politics and such (“The Tea Party Jacobins” by Mark Lilla), that prompted this little essay of mine, and it concluded: “We [are] all individualists now.” Autonomy is the highest American cultural value anymore. “Leave me the hell alone” is our new national slogan.

But here’s the problem: we are left as our own personal saviors. (Sidebar: I know that many would trumpet individualism and autonomy while claiming God/Jesus as savior, but I’d counter that it is awfully easy to make God into whatever we’d like God to be—see, e.g. fanatical terrorists; see also most of us, too).

I have really tried to look at Jesus objectively. I really have tried. I have tried to place everything I’ve ever believed about him on the table, willing to sacrifice any to all of it if need be, and in the end, I’m convinced that setting humanity free from the “powers of this world” is right at the center of his message. Now a message of “freedom” plays well in our country today, but it’s the “how” of this freedom Jesus offered that’s the kicker. Jesus’s “way” to live free had nothing to do with tinkering with—or overthrowing—or fighting for—a political system (or any other type of system for that matter). His path to freedom, best I can tell, is to love indiscriminately. To risk sounding cliché, Jesus taught that love really does conquer all.

So on one hand, I remain comfortable believing that placing hope in systemic solutions to our world’s problems—through law, medicine, government, and even religion—are misplaced hopes. If you’re waiting on better days because any of these promises to provide them, prepare for a long wait. But on the other hand, equally misguided, is the belief that the solutions to the problems of our world lie in being “anti-system.” If you think better days depend on fewer laws, alternative medicine, smaller government, or a simpler church, you’re still depending on a solution that is systemic in nature. (I’ve been “anti-system” for quite some time now, but the libertarian in me just happens to be more religious than political. So my critique is aimed mostly at me.) Thinking that less is somehow more is conceptually the same “type” of hope.

I believe there’s a third choice worth considering (neither “system” nor “anti-system”), and it is this: Live differently within the systems.

Let’s face it: There will always be systems and structures, and if all of us with libertarian leanings (and postmodern tendencies) will admit it, we don’t want to live without them (case in point: the BP mess). And because there are systems and structures, there will be power to be had, which will produce some ugly things. It is an inescapable mess.

So what do we do?

Doctors? Keep trying to heal those diseases. Lawyers? Keep trying to bring about justice? Preachers? Keep trying to get a group of people to take Jesus seriously. Politicians? Keep trying to build a great society. But everyone? Don’t expect any of the above to accomplish these goals. At least not a large scale. They just aren’t equipped to pull it off.

And quit being so angry at them. What do you expect? Expend that energy learning how to love.

The third choice—to live differently from within—is to be salt in the earth. This is hard to wrap our brain around, learning how to “be” something instead of learning how to “do” or “organize” or “accomplish.” But I am convinced that Jesus taught us to “be” something within the systems of this world, and what he called us to be was someone who loves everyone around you.

Because our only real hope is love.