Saturday, May 25, 2013

Advice To The New College Graduate

Dear Graduate:
When I first graduated from college I remember how I felt that I had accomplished some great thing; looking back now I can see that education itself is no great thing, but merely a necessary foundation for life.  Education is kind of like building a piano: if you take the time you can create a truly fine instrument, but if you stop there all you’ve done is created a piece of furniture --- and not a particularly useful one at that.  You cannot sit on it, or bathe in it and it doesn’t tell time.  But, you might quickly respond: “That’s not what it’s for.”  Ahh, you begin to see my point.  A piano is made to create beautiful music, not to be something which just sits in a corner, but something which can be used to enrich your life.  That is the value of your education, and like the piano it is something you must now learn how to use.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
To make music to your name, O most High.
  – Psalm 92
One thing you undoubtedly notice about old people, Graduate, is that many of them think they are wise.  I would not be so brash.  I am wise only insofar as I agree with the adage that “A truly wise man knows how unwise he is.”  All our life we are meant to take education and experience and use them, with God’s grace, to grow in wisdom and holiness.  You are just at the beginning.
You know what wisdom is, Graduate; you’ve experienced the feeling of wisdom.  Since I also majored in science (Physics) I’m sure you had some classes where you memorized tons of facts and formulas because you HAD TO memorize them; they just didn’t make sense.  Then suddenly one day – or perhaps in some more advanced class: Bang!  You looked back at all the A’s and B’s and C’s you’d memorized and realized they equaled or implied a D.  Suddenly you saw the light:  the reason and sense of what once was only a memorized knowledge.  That is what wisdom is, and it cannot be memorized, or indeed taught.  There are only seeds of knowledge which you can plant which may grow into wisdom.
And so I take this opportunity to offer you some of the knowledge I have gained over my life, some of it gained “the hard way” and at great cost.  Perhaps this will make things easier for you, and you can advance even further than I have to date, and perhaps you might even see the wisdom of some things.
The following are some of the most important things I have learned in my life:
1.  Don’t Forget God, and He Won’t Forget You.
Early in elementary school, a nun told us:  “Pray three Hail Mary’s each night and the Mother of God will never forget you.”  I know I still today think that advice strange, but even during the years when I hardly ever went to church, I said those three Hail Mary’s each night, out of habit if nothing else.  And when, in 1987, I was at the absolute lowest point of my life, when I felt the totally illogical, stupid, insane urge to fly halfway around the world, I believe it was at Mary’s urging.  She did not forget me.  And from then on my life was not led by my knowledge of what I thought I should do, but with wisdom, choosing His will, and then I saw how my life made sense and that it was important.  Psychological nonsense, some might say, but I am a scientist and I have seen miracles that no scientist could have explained.  God has been with me; I’ve known it; my life is a life of joy, even in the hard times.  And as evidenced by the many who have told me, my life means something in this world, to other people.  My only prayer these days, is that it means what God intended it to mean, in the great plan of His creation.
2.  Never Stop Learning.  Read.
Education is the seed of wisdom, and there are many sources of education, and ways to go about it.  Certainly before any major upcoming event in your life, you should read the what’s and why’s about it.  For instance, before you might remotely consider getting married, I’d strongly recommend you read Fulton Sheen’s book: Three To Get Married. 
Before I invested a lot of money and time building my backyard deck, I spent a year reading and looking at other people’s decks, especially the ones that seemed to have problems.  And then I designed and built my deck, and now 30 years later it is rock solid and without a creaky board, while neighbors’ decks have collapsed and been torn down --- at great expense.  Before you do any of the big, time-consuming, expensive things: Read!
I enclose as a graduation gift a book on the philosophy of life.  Frank Sheed writes with great clarity, and his philosophy goes far in helping you answer one of the most important questions you can and should ask often in your life:  Why?  Whether it’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church or a textbook on chemical engineering, there are many educational resources to answer the what and how’s of life, but few resources to answer the why’s.  Look for them.  “Why” gets to the truth of the matter.  I know, Graduate, that your college likely taught (as most do) that there are no absolute truths in life; science affirms only theories and truth is thought of as a relative thing --- and your truth and my truth may differ.  All I can say in a short answer is that you need to read more.  Even the latest proven scientific facts of Physics conclude that it is virtually impossible that a supreme being does not exist, despite many who say that God is only a myth or an opinion.  In my life I have found that most people who have an opinion about the truth of a matter usually are not very well read on the real truth of the subject. (I said I never stop learning.  To understand these latest discoveries from Physics on the existence of God, get the DVD of Robert Spitzer’s lectures titled: In The Beginning, the Big Bang.)
Graduate, you will only ever do great things with your life if you understand WHY you should.  Never stop learning. 
3.  Be Better To Be Noticed
You have a degree, Graduate.  So what?  A lot of people have degrees.  Why should I hire you?  Why should I promote you?  Why should I pay you more?  One of the frustrations I had in my business life was with the new hires who did exactly what I told them to do.  When it came time for their annual performance review, they didn’t understand their “average” rating: “Didn’t I do all you asked well?”  They thought they were still in school, where you did what was required and then you advanced.  Business, and life in general, doesn’t work that way.  You need to do more, better, to be noticed --- and respected.
This follows on the advice never to stop learning.  Doctors and lawyers know they must keep up with advances in their fields, but the same holds true in any field of learning.  If you don’t get better, you are falling behind, because if you don’t get better, someone else will, and they’ll get recognized, and respected, and promoted.
One of the best things I ever did was to become proficient in computer programming.  Graduate, if you are not proficient in at least two of the more popular data analyses programming tools, take some classes --- now.  There are many companies which use software to analyze data, but the software is a fixed program and often with it you cannot access data in the way you might want. Worse, you might not even know what data is available to analyze.  In my career I was respected as a business analyst.  Executives respected my opinions because they were based in fact, data I extracted from corporate data bases.  They say “knowledge is power” in business, but I found that knowledge was respect also, not only from others, but I found that I respected myself more when I analyzed things well, which lead to good decisions.  I felt good about my work.
4.  Do What You Must, But Take Any Opportunity to Do What You Love.
My degree was in Physics, but during one of my first job interviews I met a man in a warehousing department who told me about some of the problems of his department, and how they were attempting to solve them.  I found it all new and interesting, and in the end said I’d agree to go work at Ford, not in the engineering area they wanted to hire me in, but only if I could work for that man --- and I did.  I never regretted that decision.  It began a series of very interesting jobs, in which I excelled because the job interested me.  I never used my Physics degree for even one day, and later got my MBA.  In business I went from warehouse management to information technology to finance to marketing, always seeking the more interesting, more challenging state-of-the-art jobs.  As time went on, I was sought out to take jobs and promotions (although I did turn down some jobs and promotions because I thought the work boring or unimportant.)  My job never felt like work, and over the years my salary increased twenty-fold.
5.  There Is More To Life Than Work
Graduate, in this world there are many people who you will meet who think that their happiness is the most important thing --- and some who think that THEY are the most important thing.  But I assure you, into every life a little rain must pour, and some will see downpours.  You will not always be happy, and so don’t put a huge priority on making yourself happy.  Choose to be content, with some happiness, some sadness, some joy and some sorrow --- and some money.  These things are the lessons of life; you learn from the good and the bad.  Yes, these are the things that provide opportunities for wisdom.
As I said earlier, you need to find some satisfaction in your work.  This is the one area of your life where you can have a measure of control.  Choose your work wisely, find contentment there, and then leave it at the office.  There is a life away from work, and in many ways it is more important than work, especially if you have a family.
I said that it is important, Graduate, that we make a difference in this world with the unique life we have.  The most important place you can make a difference is in your family.  Should you someday become married and have children, your family should be your number one priority.  No matter how far you advance at work, a couple of months after you retire from a long career, no one will remember what you did.  But through your family, you may impact generations long after you have died.  You want to make a difference in this world, make a difference in your children’s lives.
6.  Some People Will Never Agree With You.  They Are Not Stupid
I first learned this lesson in high school when I campaigned for John Kennedy for president, and said that you’d have to be stupid to vote for his opponent.  Approximately 49.9999% of the country did, and I suddenly realized that all those people couldn’t be stupid; I was missing something.  I learned that lesson again during the OJ Simpson trial when he “obviously” was guilty, but the jury said otherwise, and so did some very intelligent people I respected.  And I couldn’t understand why they thought that way.
Sometimes, Graduate, two people will look at the same facts and come to radically differing conclusions, when it seems that only one answer is obvious.  You will want to call them stupid, but don’t.  Many people’s educational and life experiences give them a different worldview than yours.  Many times, looking at the same facts you will reach different conclusions, and neither person will ever convince the other that he is wrong.  In some matters you will have to find a way to compromise the truth, so that you can reach agreement on larger issues.  That happened to me many times when I negotiated contracts with Japanese or Korean auto companies; their cultures looked at facts or priorities differently than ours.  So on some matters along the way, we had to agree to disagree, and accept our differing views, accept it without prejudice.  That is not to say that some things are in fact not wrong, or are so important for you that you cannot compromise.  Matters of faith and morality are like that.  It wouldn’t have surprised me too much if one of my ever-practical Japanese partners would have suggested we bulldoze down a few hundred homes to build a factory together, but I would have considered the people living in those homes a bigger priority than the factory, and found another way to build it, even at a higher cost. 
I once dreamt up a parable which explained how we might deal with people who have a different worldview than ours.  I said that the facts we were looking at were “as obvious as the nine fingers on your two hands.”  You can read the full parable on my blog if you have time to waste.  Compromise can be difficult, sometimes, but one of the key steps to compromise is that you are sure of your facts.  One of the gifts I enclosed for you is a book on Islam, which presents facts from Islam’s viewpoint and from Christianity’s viewpoint.  Having read the Koran and spoken with a number of Muslims at Ford, I agree with most of what is said in the book. 
Like the Kennedy election first opened my mind to how people differ in their thinking on political philosophy, I recall the first time my mind was opened on matters of religion.  As part of a diversity initiative at Ford, many dozens of groups were formed by the diverse members of the Ford family of employees, and they were encouraged to learn from one another.  I was curious about Islam, and before ever reading the Koran I asked some of the team members about their religion.  I learned new and interesting things, but then one day I read how non-Muslim religions were outlawed or looked down upon in Muslim countries, and so I asked an engineer at one of our meetings: “What if there were a likeable Muslim candidate who got elected president, and had the support of Congress, how would he treat other religions in this country?”  He answered matter-of-factly: “Well, he’d outlaw them, of course.”  Of course.  Like the Kennedy election results, that was an eye-opener for me.  And I resolved to learn more facts, and I did.
Well Graduate, I’m sure that you are relieved that I am stopping here, but there are so many more lessons I learned in life --- most of which you’ll have to learn yourself, and maybe you’ll quickly forget these and have to learn them also --- or not.  Not everyone does learn these hard lessons, but I offered them to you that you might at least be aware of them, so when the opportunities come for you to learn them --- and they will come --- you might make wise choices, even if all you have is a little knowledge.
Just one final, important point, Graduate:  Never confuse love with something you get.  Jesus came to earth to create a new covenant with man; covenant means family.  If a God could die for His family, surely the family is supremely important – more important than any individual.  Love is a giving of yourself to another, as Jesus did to those He called his family.  Love is something you give, not something you get.
And if you truly become wise, Graduate; if you truly learn how to love; there is one more thing to remember. It is more important than work, or money, or respect or anything in this world.  It is that there is heaven and eternity.  “Memore mori,” -- remember death, is an old Christian motto.  We do not live this life only for this life, but for eternal life.  And there, no matter what you have accomplished in this life, it will seem unimportant.  The only thing you will take with you when you leave this life is how you learned to love.
Call if you ever feel like talking, Graduate; write if you have nothing better to do; and know you are always welcome here at my humble abode --- the spare bedroom at my house is always available.  I look forward to someday, God willing, be a bigger part of your life, but if not, or until then, please take the time to be part of His.  I wish you a joyous and important life, dear Graduate.
With prayers and love,

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How Catholics Think Differently

It seems somewhat silly to quote someone who was quoted in a magazine which quoted his words from yet another magazine, however when something is said well, it deserves to be spread around.
In the latest edition of First Things magazine, it quoted Scottish philosopher John Haldane’s interview as printed in 3:AM Magazine.  Haldane, speaking about how Catholics think differently (or at least differently than the liberals at 3:AM Magazine), said:  “Catholics learn … to draw distinctions.”  The distinctions, for example, “between the value of an office and the quality of its occupants; the content of the message and the character of the messengers; the dignity of persons and the wrongfulness of human actions; adherence to truth and tolerance of disagreement among truth-seekers; and between what is attainable naturally and what requires grace.”
I’ve never read a more precise, succinct description of true Catholic thinking. 
On another matter, if you are a reader of quality thinking, you might also like another article at the beginning of the June edition of First Things.  It speaks about the decline of Solidarity between the top 20% of American society and the bottom third, a growing gap on moral, cultural, and social issues.  “Today’s cultural elites promote a nonjudgmental ethos that often makes ordinary people embarrassed to express strong moral views.  The result is often tepid, tentative exchanges by people fearful of sinning against political correctness.”  And then it states this:  “The successful upper middle class now lives at a distance from everyone else.  This distance cannot be overcome by increasing taxes on the rich, because it’s a social as much as an economic gap that separates us.  In fact, it’s a dangerous temptation to imagine that redistributing wealth suffices.”  What I think the author is saying is that what once was valued in this country (by those who worked their way to the top) as the “Protestant work ethic” has been replaced with a “work ethic,” in which religion (Protestant or otherwise) contributes to no meaning or value in one’s life.  The article is correct in stating that passing money around will not solve that problem.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Colleges Are Teaching Your Children

The DVD which the men’s group watched this morning had a college professor speaking about early Church history.  I wasn’t paying particularly close attention his words, as I (rightly or wrongly) felt I was pretty familiar with the topic, but then he said something which, to me, sounded like fingernails squeaking on a blackboard:  “This event happened in the year 440 of the Common Era.” 
Perhaps my emotions were more on edge because of my recent dream experience about college professors (the topic of my last post), but the term “Common Era” always has irritated me.  Dreamt up by college professors, the designation of CE and BCE to replace AD and BC are blatant advertisements of 1) I don’t accept that Christ (or God) was the center of any history, and 2) I will teach this in my classroom, and you WILL also designate history in these terms, OR ELSE! 
All I can think of to say about such men (without calling them names) is: What arrogance!
I know there are exceptions, but I have personally met many college professors (and even have a few as friends), and I have read about the feelings of many others, and the word “arrogant” does adequately summarize their worldview.  Because they have some extensive KNOWLEDGE --- often on only a single subject --- they believe they have WISDOM, and they preach on worldviews often far beyond their designated area of instruction.  This example of their refusal to recognize terms used for centuries, to recognize that Jesus Christ WAS an important turning point in history, is a refusal to recognize the wisdom of the ages.  And if relegating the billions who have lived before you as ignorant compared to you isn’t arrogance, then I don’t know what is.
Most college professors these days believe they have every right to expound their view of truth to the young minds they are charged with.  They seek not to form them into thinking minds, but to form minds which think like them.  While blatantly ignoring or denigrating God, they act as if they were gods.  Like gods, they view themselves as on a creative mission, not to create something out of nothing, but to mold young minds into their view of wisdom.  They can’t understand that Wisdom is Truth, and Truth is Beauty, and so they look at the minds they have molded as their masterpieces, not seeing how warped they really have become.
In their wisdom, they were ignorant.  They saw as beautiful what they themselves were, even as Lucifer did.  And they sought to lead others astray to their way of thinking.
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.  (Mark 9:42)
just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them  (2 Peter 2:1)
If you can’t accept these words as reasonable, if you can’t take the time to research on this topic yourself, then at least take the time to watch the movie, EXPELLED, by Ben Stein.  I write these simple words to demonstrate a simple example of who we are sending our children to be educated by, and an indication of what they will become --- which is why I also seek to promote a true Catholic college education, to create true THINKING minds in our youth.

Monday, May 20, 2013

What Does God Want From Me?

I concluded my last post here with a question: Considering the way in which so many of us are “looking out for number one,” are we that much different than Judas?  I titled that post “Was Judas a Good Guy?” not intending to say that he was, but to bring out the point that all of us think we are good guys.  Even the worst of us thinks that whatever we do, we do for a good reason.  It is not in man’s nature to hate himself, but to love himself and only see the good in himself. 
Would that we could look at our neighbor in the same way and only see the good, as in the manner in which Jesus saw his neighbor.  It doesn’t seem natural for us to love others that way, but then: He came to teach us how to love.
Most of us ARE like the apostles before Pentecost.   We know Jesus is a prophet, perhaps even God, but we don’t know the full truth of his message or his life.  We see Jesus healing many people, and we hear him say that if we only have faith in him all things will be possible, but what things do we think of?  We think of those things we want for ourselves.  We pray: “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief,” but I think our belief is in his miracles and so we call on him to work miracles for us, and our unbelief is in that he expects similar great things from us, too.  He wants us to be one with Him, with a precious Life flowing not only from him, but from us --- together.  He sends his Holy Spirit to dwell in us that we might love as he loves:  that we might love the Father and our neighbor --- together. 
This is the belief that he asks: that we trust in him, and in his trust in us.  He asks that we live our life with a self-giving love, as he did, freely giving to others wherever we are, in whatever we do.  In our role as parent, as teacher, as neighbor, as citizen, or as a stranger passing on the street, first and foremost we should see Christ in all we whom we meet, and we should love them.  We should act, not thinking of what we want or need for ourselves, but first and foremost in love.
That is what God wants from us.
- - - - - - - - - -
I awoke with a start on Pentecost Sunday morning.  The 8:45A mass I attend lets me sleep hours beyond than my normal waking time, but so often my internal alarm clock says: NO; it’s time to get up.  And as I lay there in bed, I remembered vividly the dream I awoke from, and there was a fire in my heart:  and in my mind, I wanted the dream to continue.
I had dreamt of seeing two old college professors in the library.  They were looking over a section entitled: The New Evangelization.  I heard them laughing and talking loudly, like they wanted to broadcast their opinions for all to hear.  “Look at this nonsense,” one said, as he looked at CDs and books on the shelves --- ones, I noted, that I had heard and read, and recommended.  “These people have no idea who God is!  I can’t wait to get some of the youths who are being fed this trash into my classroom.  I’ll prove to them that there is no happy God like this presents.”
“God is God!” he said loudly.  “They don’t even understand the concept of God.  By definition, man cannot know the mind of God.  God means all powerful, not all playful!  (If there even is a God,) He created everything and set it all in motion, and his creative actions have evolved to where we are today.  Even the Catholic Church has come around to accepting evolution as a thing of God.  This New Evangelization talks about people finding some new relationship with God, as if he’s changed!  No, what these young minds need to accept is that MAN has changed, and the man of today is not the man God first created so long ago.  Man is now so much better, so much wiser.”
“We need to teach these young minds not to go out and have fun and dance with God,” he continued, “but to go out and use the talents we now have, to use new scientific discoveries and reason to finish the plan of creation, to change the world.  This is the task of the educated mind: to make the world a place of no more pain and no more suffering, to ensure that everyone has their fair share of God’s gifts.  This is how God wishes us to honor him.”
At that point I couldn’t contain myself any longer, and I walked firmly over to where they were loudly advertising the wonderful truths taught in their classrooms.  “You talk so proudly about how far man has evolved, but listening here to your self-congratulatory babble, I think I now understand those who say that man is no different than animals; I think you’re both poster examples of that thinking.”
Not used to being talked back to, the two stood and faced me, and were about to start to “put me in my place,” but I wouldn’t hear any more of their tripe.
“You talk of man evolving to the point where his science and his reason can change the world to how he wants it, but this isn’t any evolved man.  You’re describing the first man in the Garden of Eden who wanted to change the world to the way he wanted.  You’re describing his son who killed his brother for what he wanted (and I suspect you’d probably approve similar actions, in order to create a “fair” world).  You’re describing the Roman Empire which gave the people all they wanted, in order to keep them happy.  They too wanted no more wars and accepted a Senate who decided what was best for them (not unlike our Congress of today), only what they decided most often was what was good for themselves --- (probably like you:  What are your salaries, anyway?)  You talk of giving man all that he wants, but your science and your reason can’t begin to measure or obtain what man wants most:  he wants love.”
“You say man cannot know the mind of God, yet you claim to know man’s destiny as intended by God, and you desire to bring it about.  So then you (and only you) know what God has intended?  You hypocrites!  You liars!  You self-deceivers!  You claim to know what you tell us cannot be known.  Even the blind leading the blind listen for sounds around them, but you listen only to yourselves.”
And with that, I awoke with a start.  (And I’m guessing my blood pressure was up.)  Glancing at the alarm clock, I saw that I had at least an hour before I needed to arise, and so my thoughts went back to that dream, and then they drifted to the date:  Pentecost Sunday. 
I spoke in my last post about how self-giving love is a unique focus of the New Testament.  I think this is a key point which Judas – and perhaps even most of the rest of the apostles and disciples --- didn’t understand about Jesus.  He came to give us “new life,” and he said he WAS “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  He said that he had to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come, but what did the Holy Spirit bring at Pentecost?  What changed?
Catholics have a prayer to the Holy Spirit:  “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, enkindle in them the fire or your love.”  The Fire of Your Love came at Pentecost.  Love is what changed; a self-giving love came upon the apostles and into the world, and it was of such intensity that they could only experience it as a fire.  Love is what changed them.
In the Old Testament the Ten Commandments set man in obedience to God’s laws, but Jesus came to clarify further the meaning of those commandments.  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (Jn 13:34-35)   This is what so noticeably set the preaching and actions of the Christians apart:  they loved one another.  St. Augustine said it simply: “Love, and do what you will.”  We can study the Bible and Jesus, we can study science and reason, but love and the understanding of true love, a self-giving love, is a gift, a gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is a love which drives all the actions of one who loves.  It is the innermost desire of our life, and what Jesus promised us would be ours, in union with the Trinity, forever.  And it first entered the world of common man on Pentecost.
O God, you are my God, for you I long;
For you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
Like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.
For your love is better than life.
   – Psalm 63:1-3
I’m not sure that Psalm-writer knew the meaning of love as it is known in the New Testament.  The Old Testament people were concerned with their individual relationship with God, and that “God is on our side.”  They wanted a Messiah who would lead them to change the world, but we now know that what we need in order to change the world is the Holy Spirit, as he came on Pentecost.  It is not for us to design a world of perfection, but rather to trust in the words Jesus said, not that God created us and now we must change the world --- alone, but rather trust in what he said to us: “I will be with you always.”  And together, we can change the world.
He said he’d give us living water that we might never thirst again.  He did not mean we’d become like a reservoir full of water and so we’d never want for more.  Rather than just giving tons of water to us, his gift was to change us, to be like Him.  We don’t become like dammed waters, but rather like a free-flowing river, so that the Spirit’s unending waters flow to us and through us, to our neighbors.  His love is a giving love; when we receive it we also readily give it. 
Each morning I pray: “Make me a channel of your peace.”  In one sense, I mean that literally.
I got up and went to mass on Pentecost morning.  Looking around the church, I had the feeling that I was at an Ohio State football game, as the bright red color was everywhere and on everyone.  (Note to self:  You need to buy a bright red shirt.)  You could say that we were rooting as a team at mass, or as a family. 
If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1Jn 4:12)  If we would love perfectly, as Jesus taught us, we would love one another.  If we still have a trust in God, if we can get beyond only wanting things for ourselves, and if we would really want to make the world a better place, we would first pray that the Holy Spirit might also come upon us, that we might love as Jesus loved, and that we might be a channel of his peace ---- and not of our will. 
This, I believe, is what God wants from us.