Monday, April 28, 2014

American Exceptionalism?

Last week I watched an interview with Senator John McCain. McCain is storied for his short fuse, quick wit, political savvy world view of things but for me, he is actually rather refreshing for you never have to question very long what he believes and thinks regardless of party affiliation.  In the interview with Charlie Rose, whom I admire for his interviewing skills and demeanor, the topic was, of course, America's place in the new century globalized economic system flavored with specific event discussion of today such as the Palestinan / Israel stalemate, Iran, China and the aggression by Russia in the Ukraine.
I was most taken with his lucid and I believe correct assessments on these issues and others when he took a direct shot at Mr. Obama by stating that "he does not see America as exceptional on the global scene ..."  That term has fermented and resonated in me since that moment for some reason and I have awakened earlier than normal with that chiming in my brain.  As many of you reading this due to your point in history and age, I believe you will agree in the twentieth century, especially the last half, America was the poster child for Exceptionalism in an array of avenues. Education, military, power projection, blue sea navy, manufacturing, entrepreneurship, music, the arts, medicine values, the US dollar and the list goes on and one. That provided America at the aggregate an earned sense of pride which melted into arrogance and in that arrogance, we began as a nation to take for granted that we were by some divine right exceptional so we stop or slowed in pushing that envelope I believe.
Most of the nations in the world were in recovery mode from the devastation of WWII and later the scars of Vietnam from which many lost faith in the American Dream and the world began to look at Exceptional America as America the Bully or America the Uncaring. We the Baby Boomers led the way in destroying the sense of Exceptionalism via drugs, mores, values deterioration that led to divorce on a historic scale, sexual liberalism and all of this has evolved to what I would call an Age of Toleration.  Instead of America being exceptional and all that goes with that in the form of challenge and responsibility, we have devolved to a place where we are to tolerate every thing with less and less fundamental absoluteness as the boilerplate of a culture.  We we are living through, I believe, a very negative and unattractive time in our history where our exceptionalism has changed polars caps meaning we are becoming less and less culturally exceptional.
Thus, instead of people pushing to come to America and be part of the Dream as we all were somewhere in our DNA contributors, we have now devolved via distrust and too much Government. We see toleration of aberrant lifestyles as a mandate which holds true for spiritual beliefs exemplified with our nation moving more rapidly toward a Godless society. We as a Nation continue to turn from our Creator and the very clear absolutes contained in the Holy Bible. So if that is true, and it is, is it any wonder that our scepter of Exceptionalism has been taken away in the form of not fearing American military power and its projection capabilities, mores shifting negatively, overflowing jails and prisons, a generation of young people most of which have grown up in homes with unconventional family structures?
As I bring this to a close I realize these words from my heart actually are more of an indictment or even worse, and epitaph of a once great nation when we were, in fact, Exceptional for many stellar reasons.  More and more foreign students that come here for their education that would have just a few years ago longed to remain in America are more and more returning to their home countries which I find sad, frankly.  As I have written on these pages before from my decade of university teaching experience to over 7,000 students, having an Asian student in a class of fifty American students would always cause the American students to work harder for they saw first hand the Asian student working harder than they, hungrier than they for knowledge and desiring more deeply than they to learn.  There was no sign of laziness, disrespect, work not getting done and done well, coming to class late or not coming at all. Is it any wonder, then, that Asia is overtaking American Exceptionalism? Certainly no surprise to me!
If some of you take offense to my thesis, then great and my challenge; prove me wrong via example and experience, please!  America needs to be Exceptional. I believe the world wants America to be Exceptional but I do not see our national political leadership seeking nor acting as a nation of Exceptionalism for we are more focused, it appears to me, to be seeking install safety nets of entitlement and the multi-generational cost of that taking precedent over America standing tall in the shadows of dictatorships, national aggression and colonialism. I do not see America standing up for the weak and struggling nations of the world that need time and room and protection to given them a chance to learn to walk and then run.  I see American diplomacy as weak, impotent and misguided.  That which made us strong seems to be evaporating an at ever increasing rate which is depressing and scary as the implications. But then when you study the rise and decline of all histories' great empires, you will their fall came not from external aggression but primarily from internal strife, rife and entitlement spending they less and less could afford.
Remember my five Principles?
  1. If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten
  2. If you do not stand from something you will fall for anything
  3. If you do not know where you are going, you will most assuredly get there
  4. Whatever it is in this world you are looking for, you will find it
From my perch what I see being fought for is political advantage, political campaigns measured only by the amount of monies raised and provided by prostitutional PACS and lobbyists and not by qualified men and women yearning to fight the fights for betterment.  I see American diplomacy focused on wrong paths that are wired to misread historical triggers.  I sense deeply that embracing China for her size, her wealth, her drive should be a priority but it seems we are taking a very reverse tact which will have global implication.
The Russia aggression will not stop for there is nothing there to stop it thus we are watching the only nation of earth that could have made a shift in this fiasco as wavering, inept and seemingly fearful to tackle the tough, core contributors to this aggression thus cowering on the side lines hoping it will just all stop and go away.  This with Russia is proven, it is historical and it is Hitler circa 1939 with America playing the role of UK's Chamberlain of assuring the people of the world Hitler posed no threat.  All historical evidence to the contrary as we all know, I believe we are watching that same aggression unfold Russian style being unleashed first on the former Soviet republics AND THEN the more Western nations of Europe. Yes, that can happen again never forget!
We serve a Risen Savior, He's in the world today, I know that He is living no matter what men may say. I see His Hand mercy, I hear His voice of cheer and just the time I need Him, He's ALWAYS NEAR. He Lives, He Lives, Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way. He lives, He Lives, salvation to impart. You ask me how I know He lives, HE LIVES WITHIN MY HEART! Such a great song of the church. Such a great reality for our world going forward. 
Be blessed this day!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Actions do Speak Much Louder than Words

This day has been a long and laborious but certainly eventful day for me.  I was part of four church services beginning at 7 am in a county jail this morning and was quite tired when I got home but a good tired.  Met nearly one hundred men and women inmates this morning and saw many tears, many smiles, many hurting, many disappointed people which I seem to live in a sea of people like that. It is very interesting how my life has turned or shifted into areas where people that are struggling, pushing, wanting, etc, something better in their lives even though many, most, have shot themselves in the proverbial foot with very poor choices.
A television program I enjoy watching is "Charlie Rose" for he has great guests and I find him to be an excellent, incisive interview.  In the link above is an abbreviated talk by David Brooks whom Rose was interviewing in his program I watched as Brooks was speaking to a group a couple of years ago.  Brooks is an excellent writer for the New York Times and I find him very astute and well targeted in his writings.  In watching him with Mr. Rose today in my time of tiredness from the rigor of my morning, my mind was captivated by what Brooks was discussing.  At sixty-six years of age and still going strong, a Praise I wish to add,  Brooks's thesis was that what we say or utter from our lips, means relatively little as to what we do, what we mean or how we affect life in the main but rather we are most impactful in our deeds and actions in what others see, say and do as a result of our actions.  I realized, all over again, how very, very true that thesis truly is in my own life.
An example, small one but still an example, was this morning at the conclusion of a chapel service for thirty-five women. One was a young lady I learned was twenty-two years old from Massillon, OH and in jail for her fourth DUI. She came up to me before the deputies took her and the other inmates back to their pods to thank me for the chapel service, my singing and what my words meant to her.  In our very brief conversations, learning she was in for Driving Under the Influence, I saw my own life bubble in being around alcholism and its horrific implication on families for generations.  This young lady went onto tell me her mother is dying of alcohol poisoning and she, the girl, her daughter, is in jail for alcoholism and poor driving; sickened me at the heart to see this which I see week after week and much worse.
She then asked me if I taught at Kent State, which I did, for one of her high school heroes, a football star and former student of mind, had spoken of this tall guy with a Southern accent that taught him so much about life and values and did a lot of church work inside the jail.  When I called out the student's name and the connection was made, I saw joy light up in her for that brief few moments before exciting to her cell.  That moment when I was able to encourage her, to lift her with a few words based less on what I said in the chapel service but much more from the connection of a friend of hers talking about someone, me, she had no idea who I was other than the influence I had had on her friend; wow, see where I am going with this and Mr. Brook's astute thesis?
What we say is important in the near term? What we say with our actions and deeds has generational impact for our actions create institutional perspective of our purpose on this earth. God created each of us with and for a purpose but that purpose cannot be accomplished with mere words or symbols but rather by investment in human capital, challenge, taking difficult steps, doing the tough things when nobody else is around or watching; giving your best when best is potentially hazardous to health or reputation for it is the right thing to do! 
That young lady from Massillon and the connection with a hero she knew from high school and that connection to me closed a circle of dots around she and I in a scant few moments but the power of worth in deed came flowing through my brain and my heart. How much and what we do must be brought to the microscope of history and future. Each of us are capable of making  life for others much, much greater and better if we cast aside simply moving our lips as we push air through those lips to the greater need of investing out values, our heart, our drives, our hopes into actions for those around us.
This has all lifted me to a new level of worth for Man on this earth and on this day before the Easter celebration, that value for me resides and resounds on that Cross for my Jesus died for ME!  It is my greatest hope that my true legacy will never be realized until generations of students, inmates, concert listeners, friends and family has move along their journey and affected thousands of others due to something I might have said, sung, prayer over, given myself for; none of this is about words for words or a means, not an end to human endeavor.  Today, Jim Williams has learned something anew about this amazing thing called Life! I am so blessed!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Ebb and Flow of Life

Sitting here watching the squirrels operate in wolf packs in attacking the bird feeder with those animals hanging in all directions off the feeder to enjoy the bird food from our squirrel resistant feeder, sarcasm intended, I am loving the beautiful day God has given us. The sky is perfectly blue, no wind, temperature in upper 60s, have had my second cup of coffee after a great breakfast and am still basking in the enjoyment of the concert last evening.  Given all that warmth of this morning deeply in my heart and soul, I realize this has been quite an interesting week for me but then, most of my weeks are pretty interesting meaning I rarely stop to think about that wonderful reality of life.
The week began with a great day at church as we launched our World Missions Conference which is always a blessing but ended that Sunday with Alicia and I driving to Columbus, OH to overnight to be there for  my court appearance on early Monday morning in the State Court of Claims.  No use going into the details but a frivolous suit was filed by a disgruntled former student against the University so I got to be in court for the first time, a thrill, and actually testify which went very well. An amazing experience! My prayer going in was that God would use that experience to be a beacon in that young man's life and I believe God answered that prayer.
Tuesday I was honored to sing at the funeral of a dear, sweet lady from my church and that experience was a blessing in so many ways as well. It is amazing to me to be asked to sing at many funerals and I find joy in each experience in meeting family and friends and getting to celebrate the home going of a Christian for it is a celebration.
Thursday night my quartet, The Pathway Quartet, sang a concert at an assisted living facility to a wonderful group of people that made us feel so special. That is an amazing ministry opened to PQ and we always look forward to each concert.  There are many places we could be singing but we are believing that this ministry was created for us. We see so many examples of elderly people placed in those locations and family basically abandoning them there. We create friendships and relationships through our songs and words; such a blessing.
Last night we were honored to share a Southern Gospel concert with the legendary Ed O'Neal and the Dixie Melody Boys here in Canton. I was never more proud of The Pathway Quartet in singing a seven song set. Over two hundreds folks gathered for this concert and the energy of the evening was high. It takes a great deal of time and work to craft a sound in a male quartet, learning songs, memorizing lyrics, creating stage presence and singing with confidence.  Thy guys did a great job last night.  Mr. O'Neal was very complimentary in his gracious comments about the Quartet and his words were much appreciated coming from a Hall of Fame singer.
We move now to a filled weekend but more than that I can sit here this morning in reflection mode feeling warm inside my heart that this has been a great week for my family and for the Kingdom of God.  To be able to say that I am truly happy is worth a King's ransom for that is what I am feeling; happy, peaceful and calm yet excited for the tomorrows each of which are opportunities. I have always viewed the next day of my life like that; a new horizon to cross yet the older I get, the richer that sense of seeking the horizon becomes.  When I witness the aging process in people I know and love and see the slowing, impeding nature aging can present, I am realize all over again how blessed I am at sixty-six years old to still have the quality of life, stamina, drive and enjoyment of this wonderful thing called life.
Seek joy in life this day!  It is there!!!!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

You Know, Life is Good!

I awoke this morning with a sense of rejoicing about this thing called life.  I have about decided to rip the televisions out of the house, abolish Internet, smash my laptop, blah, blah, blah for you finally realize, as it has always been by the way, that there is no good news ever beamed into our homes and lives by media for bad news sells, right?  As most of you know, I do a great deal of singing and love to sing not for the praise of singing but for getting to see the touch and the blessing in the faces and hearts of those I and the Pathway Quartet get to sing to.  You are never far from the reality that in each person there is loneliness, fear, procrastination, doubt, worry; all negative forces that are amplified, I believe, with the whitening of the hair and dimming of the mind.
When we sing, I believe there is a pre-song message to be told that leads into the essence of the song.  A few weeks ago I found a YouTube link song sung by Greater Vision and its name was LAND OF THE LIVING. I had never heard it but what captured my heart about the song was Roger Bennett, that played piano and was about to enter a time of cancer that led to his early departure for heaven, talking about the Land of the Living. He stated that he had realized that ten out of ten people are going to die! BOOM!!  None of us are going to make it out of here with here being life. We are living in a land of the dying as evidenced by disease, war, suicides, massacres, murders, etc, etc. It is life on this earth. Our challenge, then is to seek our home in the land of the living which, of course, is Heaven.
The Pathway Quartet is learning that great song LAND OF THE LIVING and it thrills me each time we practice it for the message of the song is so very real meaning striving to make everything perfect and grand on this earth, this journey of life, is impossible and improbable.  In practicing the song with the guys earlier this week, the great song, WITHOUT HIM, seemed to flow from the LAND OF THE LIVING for read the lyrics to the first song:
Without Him I could do nothing
Without Him I’d surely fail
Without Him I would be drifting
Like a ship without a sail
As my hair grows whiter and the obituaries loom with younger than me people leaving this world daily, the truth of that great song is so very real for without Him, I really could not do anything and I would undeniably fail for I know the sense of drifting on the waves of life.   I saw two of my younger cousin's grand children on FB a few minutes ago and the passing of time hit me in the head all over again but that is a great thing I realize on this walk. 
Today's blog is intended to be a supreme encouragement.  I love living in seeing my children be successful in life, in marriage, in their spiritual walk, in how they love and respect their parents as do their children. Seeing and being an active part of Ms Hope, our African Queen grand daugther from Ethiopia and to realize how her entrace to my family's culture changed the dynamics of that culture greatly in so many ways. is astounding. To get to do what I love to do each day with no physical nor emotional pain and get to feel loved, respected and appreciated as I get to love, respect and appreciate so many in my life; wow, tell me life is not great!
In just completing a long, intense study in the Book of Hebrews, the ending chapter underscores the challenge for us to be obedient to our leaders, pray for them, support them so I needed that challenge and reminder for it is so easy to let the media create anxiety about leadership. While I may not agree in what is being done, still these men and women are in positions of leadership so it is for all of us to lift these leaders in prayer.  We are so blessed to be actively involved in a church, The Canton Baptist Temple, that passionately and consistently preaches and teaches and sings the Gospel message in a myriad of means and our Senior Pastor, Mike Frazier, does an amazing job of preaching and leading; we are just so blessed.
To conclude, today is a day of rejoicing and relishing the good things of this life.  To love the people around us, to hurt when they hurt, to smile when they smile, to be part of something that is bigger and better than we are individually is a true blessing.  It is my greatest hope that my words bring a smile and a renewed hope that we are blessed in so many ways!