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THE HAPPY WANDERERS

BLOG #34, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE HAPPY WANDERERS
August 24, 2016

Turns out that traveling makes us
far happier than any material wealth
ever does. – Bright Side

Ah the lure of the open road, the ever-changing sea, the trackless sky! And travel-writers are right when they postulate that anticipation trumps destination. Without anticipation: planning, scouting, researching, dreaming, etc., travel would be ever so much the less.

Scan0004

As our faithful blog-readers may remember, we have done our best to infect our two grandsons, Taylor and Seth, with the travel virus by taking each of them on separate cruises to Europe. The catch: they had to master the entire geography of the world before their 13th birthdays—took each of them an entire year to accomplish.

After we visited them recently, en route home from our 24,000-mile trip, Taylor addressed a card to:

“Dear wonderful wandering-all-over-the-world grandparents.”

We suspect both boys will turn out to be wanderers as well.

As for us and our faithful traveling accomplices, Bob and Lucy Earp, we never leave home without first singing “On the Road Again” with Willie Nelson.

I once wrote an article for Ministry Magazine titled, “When Missionaries Go Forth, What Happens to Their Children?” What happens is that children of missionaries (also ministers and Armed Forces personnel) grow up with a permanent case of wanderlust. Home for them, [us] is not a place, but rather wherever in the world their parents happen to be at a given moment. My parents certainly bequeathed that great gift to me and my two siblings.

Scan0005But it is oh so frustrating to be tied to such a short life-span. So many places to see and experience, so little time. I felt it keenly in these two recent trips: In most cases, we only got to spend a couple of days in countries we’d have liked to have spent months. All we got were hummingbird-brief tastings.

Indeed, life is so brief, as I get older I’ve come to resent traveling on routes I’m already familiar with—worst of all: freeways. So, instead, my wife and I find backroads we’ve never explored before whenever possible.

I suspect that much of America’s current isolationism, myopia, and narrow simplistic thinking is a product of squirrel-cage living: just mindlessly spinning around and around on the same trajectory, never going anywhere new. Same for the failure of millions to learn anything new. Instead of reading, they waste their lives away on mindless yada yada. Or as Ted Koppel famously put it: “Almost everything said in public today is recorded; almost nothing said in public is worth remembering.”

As for travel, St. Augustine’s great quote is worth going back to again and again:

“The world is a great book, and those who do not travel—
have read only one page.”

Scan0006As for the money it takes to travel, we are anything but wealthy. However, like everyone else, our lives are governed by priorities: In order to travel, we do without things others may consider essential—like new cars for instance.

The more that I live, read, experience, learn, and become, the more I’m convicted that deep in our DNA, God has implanted a yearning to explore, to become, to grow. No one revels in sitting on something day after day. Always, each day, God expects us to stretch towards growth like a spider casting out filaments. Or as Robert Browning memorably put it in Andrea del Sarto:

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?”

* * * * *

Then there are those who yearn to travel but are incapacitated or anchored to one vicinity because of the illness of someone dear to them. Millions are in this situation. Many of these travel vicariously, and grow in the process.

Nor should we forget visionaries such as Thoreau who expanded his world mightily for two long years—yet never left Walden Pond.

* * *

With this preamble, I shall begin our new two-part series:

We Discover Northern Europe
and
We Discover America’s Backroads.

Not all at once, of course, but in small doses at a time.

Look forward to traveling with you, beginning next week.

 

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Life Without Father

BLOG #25, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LIFE WITHOUT FATHER
June 22, 2016

“Life Without Father” – that was the title of David Popenoe’s disturbing article in the February 1997 Reader’s Digest. Since that was published 19 years ago, the state of fatherhood in America has worsened every year.

So how bad was it back in 1997? Here is how Popenoe (Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University) began his study:

“The decline of fatherhood is one of the most unexpected and extraordinary social trends of our time. In just three decades—1960-1990—the percentage of children living apart from their biological fathers roughly doubled to 36 percent. By the turn of the century [2000] nearly 50 percent of American children may be going to sleep each evening without being able to say good-night to their dads.”

Popenoe goes on to say that most of today’s fatherless children have fathers who are perfectly capable of shouldering their responsibilities: “Who would ever have thought that so many of them would choose to relinquish those responsibilities?”

So what are the results? Most of the parents who opt out of their marriages blithely maintain that their kids are resilient—they’ll be able to get along fine without them. Not so, declares Popenoe: “A surprising suggestion emerging from recent social science research is that it is decidedly worse for a child to lose a father in the modern, voluntary way than through death. The children of divorced and never-married mothers are less successful by almost every measure than the children of widowed mothers.

“Out-of-wedlock births are expected to surpass divorce as a cause of fatherlessness later in the 1990’s [they did]. . . . And there is reason to believe that having an unmarried father is even worse for a child than having a divorced father.”

Popenoe then points out that men are not biologically attuned to being committed fathers. “Left culturally unregulated, men’s sexual behavior can be promiscuous, their paternity casual, their commitment to families weak. In recognition of this, cultures have used sanctions [and shotguns] to bind men to their children, and of course the institution of marriage has been culture’s chief vehicle.”

And as we know, no society devoid of strong families has been able to long flourish down through human history.

Popenoe then points out that without strong societal sanctions mandating fatherhood responsibilities, terrible things happen—and are happening with ever greater frequency today: teenage sexual promiscuity, teen suicide [epidemic today], rampant substance abuse, and early dropping out of school.

Next, Popenoe turns to what fathers bring to family life: bringing up children by two parents is stressful enough, but alone it can be devastating. Fathers are also protectors, protectors of both the mother and the children. They are also role models (without them, boys find it difficult to internalize what it means to be a husband or a father; girls find it difficult to learn how to be a wife. Or in Popenoe’s words: Girls “still must learn from their fathers, in ways they cannot learn from their mothers, how to relate to men. They learn from their fathers about heterosexual trust, intimacy and difference. They learn to appreciate their femininity from the one male who is most special in their lives. Most important, through loving and being loved by their fathers, they learn that they are love-worthy.

And then there’s play: “From their children’s birth through adolescence, fathers tend to emphasize play more than caretaking. The father’s style of play is likely to be both physically stimulating and exciting. With older children it involves more teamwork, requiring competitive testing of physical and mental skills. It frequently resembles a teaching relationship: come on, let me show you how. The way fathers play has effects on everything from the management of emotions to intelligence and academic achievement. It is particularly important in promoting self-control. . . . At play and in other realms, fathers tend to stress competition, challenge, initiative, risk-taking and independence. Mothers, as caretakers, stress emotional security and personal safety. On the playground fathers often try to get the child to swing ever higher, while mothers are cautious, worrying about an accident.”

“We know, too, that fathers’ involvement seems to be linked to improved verbal and problem-solving skills and higher academic achievement. Several studies found that the presence of the father is one of the determinants of girls’ proficiency in mathematics . . . and the amount of time fathers spent reading with them was a strong predictor of their daughters’ verbal ability.” The same is true with boys.

One finding in Popenoe’s study really surprised me. It has to do with empathy, “a character trait essential to an ordered society of law-abiding, cooperative and compassionate adults. . . . At the end of a 26-year study, a trio of researchers reached a ‘quite astonishing’ conclusion: of those they examined, the most important childhood factor in developing empathy was paternal involvement in child care.”

Surprisingly, studies also reveal that, as more and more fathers bail out of their paternal responsibilities, child neglect and abuse has skyrocketed. “One of the greatest risk factors in child abuse, investigations found, is family disruption, especially living in a female-headed, single-parent household.”

Popenoe minces no words in his powerful conclusion:

“In order to reinstate fathers in the lives of their children, we must undo the cultural shift of the last few decades toward radical individualism. Marriage must be re-established as a strong social institution.

“Many practical steps can be taken. Employers, for example, can provide generous parental leave and experiment with more flexible work hours. Religious leaders can reclaim moral ground from the culture of divorce and nonmarriage by resisting the temptation to equate ‘committed relationships’ with marriage.

“Marriage counselors can begin with a bias in favor of marriage, stressing the needs of the family at least as much as the needs of the client. As for the entertainment industry, pressure already is being brought to curtail the glamorization of unwed motherhood, marital infidelity and sexual promiscuity.

“We should consider a two-tier system of divorce law: marriages without minor children would be relatively easy to dissolve, but marriages with children would be subject to stricter guidelines. Longer waiting periods for divorcing couples with children might be called for, combined with mandatory marriage counseling.

“If we are to progress toward a more just and humane society, we must reverse the tide that is pulling fathers apart from their families. Nothing is more important for our children or for our future as a nation.”

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Confucius Lives Again

BLOG #22, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CONFUCIUS LIVES AGAIN
June 1, 2016

Ever since the defeat of Nationalist China on the mainland, the erstwhile rule of Confucius over Chinese thought has been in decline, replaced as it has been with Mao’s brand of Chinese communism. Except, of course, for Nationalist Taiwan.

But something wholly unexpected occurred in recent years: Communist leaders discovered, to their dismay, that communism was incapable of replacing traditional Chinese faith, ethics, and morals. By default, that role was inherited by a new gospel of pragmatism and money: Get rich—that would be the ultimate goal of life. But since that too was revealed to be powerless to affect positive character development, Chinese leaders today are belatedly resurrecting Confucius and his disciples.

The lead article in the “Review” section of the April 2-3, 2016 Wall Street Journal was titled this mouthful:

THE COLLEGE OF CHINESE WISDOM

Telling young people to discover their true selves causes confusion and anxiety. Better to follow Confucius, who knew that our identities are in constant flux.

It was written by Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh, and condensed from their new book, The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach us About the Good Life (Simon & Schuster).

Their study begins with these insightful paragraphs:

When students arrive at [Western/U.S.] college these days, they hear a familiar mantra about the purpose of higher education: Find yourself. Use these four years to discover who you are. Learn flamenco dancing or ceramics, start a composting project, write for the student newspaper or delve into 19th century English poetry. Self-discovery, they are told, is the road to adulthood.

So why is it that so many students feel such anxiety? On campus [Dr. Puett is a professor of Chinese history at Harvard], we hear the same complaint again and again: ‘I’ve done lots of extracurriculars. I’ve taken a variety of courses. Why can’t I figure out who I am and what I want to do?

One answer: Read Confucius, Mencius, Zhuangzi and other Chinese thinkers who lived more than 2,000 years ago. Recognize that the contemporary Western emphasis on self-discovery and self-acceptance has led your astray.

According to Confucius and other Chinese philosophers, we shouldn’t be looking for our essential self, let alone seeking to embrace it, because there is no true, unified self to begin with. As Confucius understood, human beings are messy, multi-dimensional creatures, a jumble of conflicting emotions and capabilities living in a messy, ever-changing world. We are who we are by constantly reaching to one another. Looking in is dangerous.

I am reminded as I read this study of a fascinating observation by a student of Chinese history. He noted the patent inability of American leaders and Chinese leaders to reach mutually satisfactory consensus. For instance, he pointed out, an American may postulate, “It’s a fact that —,” and the Chinese counterpart will look at him in puzzled disbelief. Reason being that, in Chinese, there is no such word as “fact” —the closest word they have to it is an amorphous blob, constantly changing: shrinking, expanding. The American, on the other hand, perceives “fact” to be akin to a hard-shelled cassette, with continual running around and around perpetually inside—no change possible. So this is why Americans and Chinese find it so difficult to communicate effectively.

Puett and Gross-Loh go on to postulate that westerners consider the following:

•      Think of life as a series of ruptures, with one thing leading to another [Advocated by Mencius].

•      Don’t be confined by what you’re good at, and do a lot of pretending.

But the essence of this study is that Western students tend to follow a rather standardized process of finding out what they are best at, strengthening those skills, building walls around that expertise, and rarely, if ever, escaping from that box.

Instead, the authors suggest we borrow from Chinese thinkers who urged their disciples to continually grow, to abandon self-imposed incarceration into boxes, in favor of branching out in every possible direction, dramatically enriching their lives in the process.

* * * * *

What I find illuminating in this study is that nowhere do I find references to God. Nowhere is it mentioned that God has been for millennia the center of character and personality growth in Western culture. That the God-element introduces a new force into personal growth. By joining forces with our Creator each day of our lives, and continually seeking His will, it is possible to achieve certainty that we are on the right path. Also inner peace.

None of these Chinese philosophers offer that. Indeed, it is not possible to reach our full potential by philosophical gymnastics alone. Perhaps this is a key reason why suicides among our young have reached epidemic proportions during the last two generations (that can be characterized as distancing us from God in American education). Result: by and large, American education has all but lost its spiritual, moral, and ethical moorings.

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Marriage and Family — Then and Now

BLOG #19, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY—THEN AND NOW
May 11, 2016

During the last few weeks as I have been leafing through thousands of old magazines, gradually, just as is true with photographic negatives developing in a tray, an image has been evolving of the American family during the first half of the twentieth century. A number of things contribute to it: magazine cover art, story illustrations, advertising illustrations, story plots, cartoons, quotations, articles, essays, etc.

The century began with an almost stereotypical template of the roles of men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. Initially, there was a very clear line of demarcation between male roles and female roles. Boys were expected to be strong, somewhat reluctant to exhibit emotion, masculine, competitive, work-driven, and dominant. Girls were expected to be soft, loving, emotional, dependant, homemakers-in-training, spiritual, care-givers, and appreciators of fine arts.

As I read or scanned through stories, again and again I was jolted by teenage and young adult women who were motivated to flower and achieve . . . up until a certain point: when the male has made good in the job world, has enough money to invest in a home, and proposes, the female is expected to surrender the rest of her life to him. “Love, honor, and obey” were wedding vows. In most cases, the male would assume almost total control over the purse. The jolt, for me, came in reading love stories in which the male would often threaten to spank, or actually spank, the female. Once married, women were regularly ridiculed, demeaned, and (in jokes and cartoons) depicted as being inferior to the male in judgment and decision-making.

Then came 1914-1918; during World War I, women filled many of the roles heretofore filled by males (now serving in the Armed Forces). After the war, women were more than a little reluctant to be pushed back into their boxes. World War II (1939-1945) accelerated the change in roles. I could see it changing in the fiction carried in popular magazines.

The major shifts came later, no small thanks to birth-control. Thanks to it, women had a say in whether or not they were to remain in thrall by almost perpetual pregnancies. All this was followed by Women’s Lib, the gay movement, deconstructionism, secularization, cohabitation out of wedlock, substance abuse, and a resulting major shift in male self-worth.

Which brings me to Frank Bruni’s April 10, 2016 New York Times column: “Building a Better Father.” Here are some of his observations:

“As a child I was schooled constantly in how different mothers and fathers were. TV shows spelled it out. . . . A mother’s love was supposedly automatic, unconditional. A father’s love was earned. Mothers nurtured, tending to tears. Fathers judged, prompting them.

“And while mothers felt pressured to lavish time and affection on their children, fathers could come and go. As long as they did their part as providers, the rest was negotiable.”

Then Bruni references a new book, Ron Fournier’s Love That Boy. In it, Fournier admits that it took his wife’s command (tougher than a request) that he spend more time with his twelve-year-old son who was battling autism and Aspergers. . . . Fournier’s narrative, however, ends up addressing fatherhood, then and now.

“He examines his paternal feelings and failings with a nakedness that was rare in fathers of a previous generation. He wrestles soulfully with what kind of father he is and means to be. He weeps. He trembles.

“And he mirrors many of today’s dads, who are so changed from yesterday’s. In Fournier I saw my two brothers, who don’t adore their children any more than our father adored us but who do it with a gentler, tenderer touch, unafraid to broach discussions and display emotions that most men once shrank from. . . .”

“According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, men spend almost three times the number of hours a week with their children than they did half a century ago. And they feel conflicted about not devoting more. While 23 percent of mothers said they shortchanged their kids on time, 46 percent of fathers did.”

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I know that one of my own biggest regrets, in terms of my involvement with our two children during their growing-up years, was that I let my wife carry a disproportional percentage of the load—especially time-wise. In a homily I recently gave to parents of third-grade students in six area elementary schools in our Colorado mountain community, here are some thoughts I shared with them.

Friends, up to now, everything we’ve said and done today has had to do with your kids; but now, I’d like to share some thoughts and concerns with you:

As I look back through the years to the time our children were young like yours, I can’t help but realize I failed to take full advantage of those crucial years. I had other priorities that seemed more important at the time. In the process, I let my wife bear a disproportionate share of the load at home.

But there came the day when I was shocked by the discovery that our children were already bridging to mentors other than us. If the speed of child growth could be accelerated and shown on a screen, we’d realize that our children were changing all the time—there are no plateaus in a child’s life. So I can tell you, from personal experience, that the sobering day will come all too soon to you too, and you will look at your spouse and say,’We’re all but through; whatever they are now, our children are likely to be as adults. Our window of opportunity to make a significant difference in the trajectory of their lives is closing.

So I urge each of you, in the time you have left, to make your children your #1 priority. Institute a daily story hour and spend that precious time moulding their characters while you still have time to do so. May God bless each of you and the children entrusted to you.

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EUROPE IN TURMOIL

BLOG #49, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
EUROPE IN TURMOIL
December 9, 2015

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The fall of the Berlin Wall was hailed as a new beginning for Europe—an entire continent with no border stops, just as is true in America. Only unlike America, European citizens do not carry guns—only the police do.

Paris and the downed Russia-bound airliner add up to a real game-changing situation. Finally, the French government has been forced to take a strong stand, and is rethinking its entire immigration program. Currently, 10% of French citizens are Arab. And since they tend to avoid higher education and grant very few rights to girls and women, unemployment among the Arab young has skyrocketed. Not surprisingly, a recipe for extremism and violence. In short, France has been unable to assimilate Arabs.

Now, France is at the crossroads: where do they go from here? Clearly, its leadership belatedly realizes that ISIS, unchecked, will not only destroy freedom in France, but all across Europe as well. “Containment” is not working. Nothing but the complete destruction of the ISIS caliphate is likely to make much of a dent in the current epidemic of suicide-bombers. And even those are likely to continue even after ISIS loses its geographic base. Also, ISIS is only one branch of world-wide Arab extremism. It is indeed a global war we are facing.

We in the U.S. are being warned: We are next. We have rarely faced anything like it. Not since the Japanese kamikaze suicide dive-bombers during World War II.

Complicating the situation has been the U.S.’s all but abdicating its historical role as the protector of peace around the world., If our promises to protect weaker nations are not honored, the entire planet will most likely spiral into chaos.

On November 16, novelist and Middle East authority Robert Wise, noted that:

“Before the terrorist attacks exploded in Paris, eastern European nations were already balking at accepting the unprecedented migration flowing out of Syria and the war-torn countries with multitudes knocking on the doors of Hungary, Austria, Germany, and beyond. America may do the same. . . .

“There is no end in sight in the Middle-Eastern conflict that has now spilled over in Europe. The French and Parisian ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity are definitely being challenged. More conflict and problems will follow.”

If ever world leaders needed divine wisdom, it is now.

 

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A WORLD ADRIFT

BLOG #43, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A WORLD ADRIFT
October 28, 2015

Once, very long ago, we had Pax Romana, which lasted for a very long time. If you include the Eastern Byzantine Roman Empire, it lasted well over a thousand years. Then came Pax Britannica that lasted over a hundred years. It was followed by Pax Americana—it has lasted about a hundred years. But now that America has all but abdicated its role of global peace-keeper, the proverbial Pandora’s Box has been opened with a vengeance.

Up until recently, a system of global alliances, anchored by the authority and credibility of America, has helped keep the world from ripping apart. Not so today: Hardly any nation seriously believes America cares much about anyone other than itself any more. Result: Russia has stormed into Ukraine—and now Syria; America is retreating from Iraq and Afghanistan; and is permitting China to challenge it across the Pacific. The Middle East is in shambles and millions of displaced people are overrunning the nations of Europe. Europeans assumed national boundaries meant something—but when people are starving, nothing short of wholesale slaughter will stop them from their desperate search for a better life.

In history, democracies have rarely lasted longer than two centuries. Now many are wondering whether or not the same will hold true for America.

In economics, if global trust breaks down, nothing will be able to save the global economy.

If we ever needed God before, we certainly need Him now.