Goliath

God, who delivered me from the teeth of a lion and claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine. 1 Samuel 17:37

Everyone likes an underdog story, particularly where someone has no chance at succeeding.  Lots of movie and novel plots have been written using this simple storyline.  One of the first such story comes from the Bible where the outmanned Israelites face off against the Philistines.

The Philistine “champion” was named Goliath. He was huge, standing nearly 10 feet tall. His armaments – a spear weighing 15 pounds and body armor weighing 126 pounds – were intimidating.  He was THE man, and he challenged the Israelites to “Give me a man” to fight. He did this for three days.  The Israelites cowered in fear.

Enter David, a shepherd, who left his flocks to visit his brothers in the Israelite army. While there, David took up the challenge but refused body armor. He was armed with a shepherd’s staff, a sling and 5 smooth stones. The battle didn’t last long – just one stone to Goliath’s head and he was done. 

We have a modern day David vs. Goliath story that came up in the investing world. It has surprised many.  The Goliath in this story is Hedge Funds that have used the tactic of shorting stocks – literally betting that the company’s stock value will go down.  These are big entities worth billions of dollars and their investors are limited to the ultra-rich. 

A little background first. In the investing world, taking a short position in a stock is not uncommon.  I won’t describe all the means to do that, but for the normal publicly traded stock, it is not unusual to have a “short position” of 1 to 3% of the total shares outstanding. These are investors who believe the price of the stock will go down, not up.

In a short transaction, an investor “sells” stock he doesn’t own by “borrowing” it from institutions who lend it.  The investor’s plan is to buy back the stock at a lower price, replace his loaned stock, and take a profit.

This short information is tracked.  Enter Robinhood, a no cost way to buy and sell stocks that mimics social media by giving you prompts on its App just like Facebook or Instagram.

Investors who use shorting are sophisticated. But what happens if the stock goes up, not down?  Good question.  It’s called a “short squeeze”. In order to limit losses, the short interest investor has to buy back the stock at higher prices, which, in turn forces the price up more.

When the pandemic hit, people had time on their hands and quickly figured out that investing is fun, particularly in a market that is going up. Robinhood became very popular. Social media also brought another feature – chat rooms and other forums where small retail investors band together and share thoughts about investing.  

Forums appeared on Facebook and Reddit, including WallStreetBets, which quickly grew to a million users. Founded in 2012, the site morphed into a powerful force of amateur investors.  The forum realized hedge funds were predators, often making outsized bets that a certain company will fail. 

One such company was GameStop, a struggling retail store that sold video games. Hedge funds raised the short interest in the company to a staggering 140% of the outstanding shares. Then something happened. A lot of amateur Davids showed up with their sling and started buying the stock, sending the price up by 500%.  

It was a massive-short-squeeze. You could say the hedge funds got caught with their shorts down. One estimate of the damage was around $19 billion in losses just on GameStop alone. Two hedge funds almost collapsed because of the losses.  Small amateur investors took on the hedge funds. 

Not sure where this story will end. Everyone on all sides is pouncing on this – some calling for more regulation (not less). Under pressure, Robinhood stopped the ability to buy GameStop in the middle of the day – you could only sell it. Lawsuits will abound. 

Many of these amateur investors are millennials and Gen Z and their motivations for being involved are varied. Some want to pay off debt, others to make a statement, and still others are in it for the lulz

This story is fascinating to me on many levels.  This is not about investing, by the way.  It is a form of speculation. None of these amateurs looked at the financials on GameStop to see whether it is a good company.  Eventually, GameStop will return to normal trading levels. Some small investors will get hurt

It is also a demonstration of the power of social media and the internet to change institutions in ways never thought possible.  The latest story shows the power of people to band together to cause something to happen. I picture in my mind an image of a large school of small fish in the ocean that collectively can turn on a dime as if they were choreographed.   

The next generation is using “the tools they have to upend the status quo” according to Tim Elmore. They are leveraging the power of numbers against the power of status which they believe needs a day of reckoning. They now have a voice and feel empowered to use it and possibly in things other than stonks.

The challenge is that the next generation may overdo the movement of the crowd. They haven’t learned that the market has its own “gravity”, and the price of a stock will return to a normal after being artificially increased through speculation. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  If your mentee is following the GameStop pack, be sure to caution him to be careful with wagering on the stock market in big amounts which results in big risks. Risk and reward go hand in hand.

FURTHER READING:  WallStreetBets Founder Reckons with Legacy – WSJ

Freewheeling Millennials and Gen Z Are Starting a New Side-Hustle Career – Forbes

What the GameStop Market Surge Teaches Us About Gen Z & Millennials – Elmore

The Real Force Driving the GameStop Revolution – WSJ

A Long Cynical Post – Taibbi (R rated language)

WORSHIP: You Make Me Brave – Amanda Cook

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Nineteen Eighty Four

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. Romans 15:4

The year 1984 had its share of historical highlights, among them an agreement by the United Kingdom to turn Hong Kong over to the Chinese.  Homosexuality was declared legal in Australia. USSR boycotted the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles because of anti-Soviet “hysteria”. 

1984 is also the title of George Orwell’s dystopian novel about what totalitarianism might look like 25 years after it was written in 1949. 

I read 1984 in high school in the 1960’s, and I remember the plot well.  I thought it was fanciful and far-fetched at that time.  No more.  Sales of the book soared several times – the most recent in 2017 when the phrase “alternative facts” was used on national television. Orwell used the phrase “Big Brother is Watching You”, which, in 1949, was not possible with available technology.

What makes Orwell’s book interesting is that the word “totalitarian” didn’t exist before the 20th century.  It replaced the word “tyranny”. Aristotle defined tyranny as the rule of one person or a small group of people to advance their own interests according to their will without any restraint.

Totalitarian governments employ the tools of science to control the totality of things, even one’s thoughts.  Today those tools are being used more than ever before to control thoughts of others.

Thought control goes back to the 5th Century BC when the historian Herodotus described the folly of the Persian Empire to make illegal thinking about something illegal.  In 1984, Orwell describes the Thought Policethe organization that surveils the populace through telescreens, hidden cameras and microphones. 

Farfetched?  One only has to look at China today where there are cameras everywhere doing facial recognition, and anything done on the internet or social media is monitored. They have algorithms to assign each person a social credit score to reward or punish citizens.

And it’s not just in China. It’s here in America where big tech companies track your digital footprint so that they know in advance what people will do. They use your information as a means to manipulate your thoughts and decisions.  

A US Senator warns that ‘Communist-Style Social Credit Scores [are] coming to the US in the form of ‘Cancel Culture’. His book was blacklisted by a publisher, not because of its content but because he had challenged the electoral results in Congress. 

Given recent incursions into what you are able to see or not see because of cancellation of opposing voices, you are being controlled. Big tech has become a modern day thought police. 

In 1984, a man named Winston Smith’s works for the state, and his job is to rewrite history. If anybody is deemed against the state, he puts their record into a memory hole, and it is gone forever. He searches for every written record in media or books and makes it disappear.

America has its own version of 1984:  destroying statutes of historical figures because of wrongs in their past, such as being a slave owner. Winston comes to realize that history is being rewritten so that there is no past, only the present which has been sanitized. Today,  a Vice-Presidential past controversial record is being erased.

In 1984, there were three levels of society:  the elite were called the “Inner Party” – they are those in control.  Winston was part of the “Outer Party” who are the bureaucrats.  The last group is the “Other Party” who are the unwashed masses who live blue collar lives. Does this sound familiar?  

Winston becomes disillusioned with erasing history and escapes to an area where he believed safe from surveillance.  He begins writing in a diary and meets a woman in secret.  

Winston gets caught and, instead of the usual fate of death, is sent to be de-programmed by torture. He has to learn doublethink by which things that are obviously wrong are true. As Christians, we know that no lie is truth.  

Logic works this way: If A is heavier than B, and B is heavier than C, then C cannot be heavier than A.  That’s how the law of contradictions is supposed to work, but now we are told that C is heavier than A. Or, that objective truth is false. Winston’s torturer works for the Ministry of Love where the slogans include things like “War is peace.”

Today, in China, the Uighurs, a minority Muslim group, have been rounded up and sent to “re-education” camps which is a euphemism for de-programming.  In America, some have called for “de-programming” supporters of a former President.  

In the recent COVID pandemic, we were told that it is too dangerous to hold church services, but protest marches were fine.  Protests are essential and religious services are not. We are also told under the new gender guidelines that a man can declare himself a woman and vice versa. Gender is now only what one wills it to be. 

There is an unrelenting effort to rewrite our history, and the Woke culture has taken the helm in public debate.  They are destroying what patriotism looks like and our freedoms of speech and religion are in jeopardy. 

In his farewell address, President Ronald Reagan worried about whether we were properly educating children about America and world history. He warned that the eradication of history could result in “an erosion of the American spirit.”

We are facing an Orwellian world where erasing history and surveillance have become commonplace and the media and Big Tech has been complicit. As believers, we need to be on guard for these kinds of intrusions on our freedoms because they can lead to religious persecution as in China.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Your mentee may not know history or what it means to our culture. One task is for you to take the time to provide historical truth. 

FURTHER READING:

Law of Contradictions – Phillips

How China is Using Facial Recognition to Control Human Behavior – CNET

How I Survived Chinese Re-Education Camp for Uighurs – Guardian

China’s Social Credit System- 15 Bad Behaviors – FEE

Can Trump’s Cult of Followers be De-Programmed – Vanity Fair

1984 and Today –  Hillsdale College Imprimis

The Christian and Totalitarianism – Christian Post

The Terrifying Now of Big Data and Surveillance – Ted Talk

WORSHIP: Truth Be Told – Matthew West

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No Fear

What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true. Job 3:25.

My wife has an outsized fear of snakes. It’s technically called ophidiophobia.  I have assured her that there are good snakes like black snakes that help control the rodent population. It hasn’t helped. As she says, “the only good snake is a dead snake”.  I think it is funny; she thinks it is very unfunny.

Young children have a fear of the dark (nyctophobia). As a parent, you know that the dark isn’t something to fear, but your child isn’t convinced, which is why you put “night lights” in their room.  They grow out of it. 

Fear is an emotion. Everyone has it within them to be fearful. It’s part of the package of being human.  On a recent Zoom, a friend of mine said: “The biggest problem we have is fear.”  That says a lot.  

We live in unusual times where a pandemic disrupted our lives overnight, not necessarily for the better. We have learned to social distance, wear masks, and stay isolated from others to avoid getting COVID. Family events like holidays and vacations were postponed and normal activities altered. Many have lost jobs.

Another friend said that fear was basically a concern of losing control.  The next generation already was highly anxious before the pandemic, more so than previous generations. Millennials joined the job market in the 2008 recession. Not good timing. It took them a long time to get jobs and move out from their parents’ homes.

Millennials were often brought up by parents who protected them from difficult things, and they were shortchanged on developing resiliency.  They haven’t faced adversity which is a valuable commodity today. They fear failure.

Gen Z is learning to live with school restrictions which often means virtual classes instead of in-class teaching. They were already isolated due to social media. Social distancing and virtual classes only have made it worse.

They are watching world events unfold in ways not imagined by previous generations. It seems that events and trends are happening at warp speed instead of over decades. The pace of change has increased.

When I talk to my friends, both Christian and others, all have described a sense of fear, often the fear of the unknown or of circumstances that they can’t control. It’s epidemic today and it may last beyond the pandemic.

As believers, we actually have an antidote. We have the ability to paint a picture of what your life is going to look like. It’s a form of self-realization, and studies consistently show that it works. 

Paul even suggests it in Philippians where he exhorts us to fill our minds with positive thoughts – “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” “Think on these things.”  Not a negative thought in the list.

A friend of mine used to call negative thinking (including fear) “stinking thinking”. He had a point. Most of our fears are about worldly things – our physical self, our finances, our health, our success (or lack thereof), or a challenge that we face. 

As believers, it is easy to let yourself be afraid of life.  I faced fear head-on several years ago when financial setbacks took me to the brink of bankruptcy. I feared financial disaster and the loss of possessions.  Even more, I feared the scorn of my peers for my failure. I was afraid of what others might think.

A watershed moment occurred when I sat down with my wife who put it in perspective. She asked me: “What is the worst thing that could happen?”  My list of “worst” cases included losing our house, our possessions, bankruptcy, etc. 

She nodded her head and said no matter what happens to us financially, we had our faith in God, each other, our kids, and our friends. No financial set back could take those away. 

I began to rely on God to get me through it.   I was unable, in my own strength,  to solve financial problems.  God wanted me to get to a point of dependence on Him, not on myself. 

When a financial bump in the road hit such as getting a letter from the IRS that I owed money beyond my ability to pay, it became a game to see how God was going to solve it. I remember praying “OK God, this one is in your court to solve because I have no chance to do it on my own.”

We got through the tough times, sometimes with some almost miraculous events which provided resources from unplanned and unexpected sources. I learned to visualize a positive result but only because I could see God’s hand in the outcome.

It was a lesson in overcoming my fear of losing control.  That’s where many are today. If that is your situation, you can learn to depend on God in ways you haven’t expected.

The challenge is that losing your fear and depending on God may be harder said than done.  But if you are willing to let go and let God work, you will be in a better place. As the Proverbs 3:5 notes, lean not on your own understanding.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  The next generation is consumed by fears – often of the unknown. They need help in seeing that being in control all the time is impossible, and that reliance on God is one solution that they may not have thought about.

RESOURCES:  A Bible study on overcoming fears – Zach Williams

WORSHIP Fear is a Liar – Song by Zach Williams

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The Prodigal

For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:24

One of the most familiar stories in the Bible is that of the Prodigal son.  The son demands his inheritance from his father up front so he can go “find” himself in the world.

While gone, the son blows his inheritance and finally hits bottom.  It doesn’t end well, unless you think living in a pig pen is good. The son comes to his senses in his brokenness and returns to his family. His father runs to greet him, which is frowned upon by the culture of his day.  Instead of getting an “I told you so” from his father,  the son is welcomed with a celebration. 

There are a lot of prodigals out there today, but with a twist. Today’s prodigal is part of the next generation and likely to be on drugs, alcohol or other substances.

Over the holidays, we learned that the 36-year-old son of a friend had died of an overdose. We had no idea. What we learned was devastating. The son had been an addict for 20 years, and had managed to turn his family against him, not because they didn’t love him, but because they were protecting themselves from more emotional trauma.

We learned this from through the eyes of a mutual friend whose son has been an addict for many years. She knew our friends’ family and their 20-year journey of dealing with an addicted child. 

She told us that the story of every addicted child is the same. Their families experience dishonesty, theft, car wrecks, lying, imprisonment, rehab and back out again. Rinse and repeat.  Only the name of the child is different.

Siblings of an addict become protective of the parents, often trying to insulate them from further emotional hurt. Parents have distant hopes that their child will be like the prodigal son in the bible, but after years of failure and disappointment, they realize that they cannot trust their child. My friend said that a counselor told her that “if their lips are moving, they are lying.”

She knows the prodigal story well but is steeling herself from getting the call that her child is dead or in prison. She fears that he will hurt other people in an accident.  She is trying to numb her emotions because, unless nothing else changes, she knows she will eventually get a call.

She is not alone. Addiction and substance abuse increasingly affects the next generation – mostly millennials. What is sad is that this is too commonplace but it is not being discussed.  I recently asked a group of 23 people on Zoom if they knew of someone dealing with addiction (either the person or their family). Almost all raised their hands. It is the elephant in the room.

Families that have an addict don’t talk about it preferring to keep it to themselves, whether from embarrassment, hurt or other reasons.  Statistics reveal how widespread the problem has become.  One commentator said the numbers were “astounding”.

COVID-19 has obscured and worsened the addiction problem.  Because of social distancing, isolation has increased addiction and relapses.  For context, San Francisco reported 621 people deaths from overdoses but only 173 died from COVID.  The lenient drug policies in cities like San Francisco have only made things worse.

What was a problem before is now even greater because access to recovery treatment has been limited to virtual meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymousand other in-person rehabs.

Statistics are impersonal to families dealing with an addicted child. Their story is personal and up close, and often heartbreaking. I mentored a young man who narrowly escaped from becoming an addict. He started with friends on marijuana and then graduated to other drugs.

My mentee interrupted his life to get straightened out under court supervision. He is a lucky one. Most are not lucky – either the addict or their families. One thing he told me was that, contrary to popular belief, marijuana is a gateway to other drugs. Yet we have state after state legalizing marijuana.

Recently, huge amounts of drugs including cocaine, marijuana, Molly and other drugs were sold on nearby college campuses by dealers connected to the Mexican drug cartels on the west coast. The drugs were distributed through college fraternities. Eleven of those arrested were current or former students.  Access to drugs is not hard, even on prestigious college campuses.

This has been a hard post to write. This is not an uplifting topic. While my family has been spared this problem, many families have not.  My friend whose son is an addict estimated that 25% of the people in our own church have experienced or know of those who are dealing with addiction.  

There are good resources for addiction, including rehabs, but all too often relapse is commonplace.  As friends and Christians, we can do little else other than provide support and prayer for families dealing with an addicted child, and to oppose the legalization of marijuana from making addiction even worse. We must pray for the prodigals to return permanently.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Be vigilant with your mentee who might be experimenting with drugs. It is hard to detect as I learned from my own experience. 

FURTHER READING:

The Pandemic has Hit Addiction Recovery Hard – NY Times

Opioid Crisis Compounded by the Coronavirus Pandemic – Archer

Addiction is a Disease of Isolation – KHN

Drug and Alcohol Abuse During a Pandemic Detox/South Florida

Drug Dealers Sold Mass Amounts of Cocaine and Other Drugs through Fraternities – WaPost

San Francisco’s “Progressive” Drug Policies are Killing Hundreds Annually – Hoover

Best Practices in Dealing with Substance Abuse – US Dept. of HHS

WORSHIP:  Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone– Tomlin

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Hiding In Plain Sight

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,[ …..] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  Matthew 28:19,20

In 2021, I want to affirm the commitment to help others mentor the next generation through this blog.  This is the time of year where people make resolutions, usually about making yourself better, losing weight or reading the Bible through in a year. 

All that is good, but often it becomes personal navel gazing. I have a suggestion.  Consider focusing not on yourself but invest in someone else’s life to make them better. We are consumed by our need for self-improvement and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

But we often ignore that Jesus last command on earth was a call to disciple others. It’s a call to an outward, not inward focus. Sitting in church worshiping (or virtually these days) and Biblical learning are good disciplines.  But becoming a discipler of others is equally if not more important.

The next generation is starved for mentors.  One of the things I’ve had to do over the past several years is study millennials and Generation Z.  If you’re going to help the next generation, you need to know where they are, or often where they aren’t.

So, if you want to get into their minds, why not listen to what they are saying.  The following is from a Quora post by a 16-year-old girl and was titled “What We Won’t Tell Our Parents.”

Sixteen year old girl here. Woo, this is going to be an interesting answer. Possible trigger warning.

  1. Relationships – if we know that you (our parents) are going to disapprove of the person we’re seeing, then we’re likely to hide it from you. We can be crafty in hiding messaging and time together.
  2. Friendships – basically same as #1, except no romance involved.
  3. School – I might be a straight A student, number 4 (out of around seventy students) in my class, but does that mean I will share everything about my academics with you? No. Some of it is embarrassing (like not doing great on a test I studied my behind off for), and [it] shall remain in the confines of my thoughts.
  4. Bullying – If we’re being bullied at school, we’re probably not going to say anything because we think either you’ll handle it in a way that will embarrass us, or you simply won’t care.
  5. Mental health issues/conditions – Variety of reasons for hiding these. Maybe we don’t feel we can talk about this with you, we don’t want to burden you with our problems, or we don’t want to change the way you look at us because of the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. This ties in with the next couple.
  6. Eating disorders – These can be hard to recognize for the affected person, and also, we may hide this for reasons above.
  7. Self-harm/suicidal thoughts – We want you to think we’re fine. We want you to believe you have the happy child you always dreamed about.
  8. Social media – If you don’t think we should have it and everyone around us does, we’re going to want to fit in.
  9. Sexuality – I’ve never had to deal with this so if anyone has, please add on to this. You might have beliefs against being LGBT but since we’re not you, we could be.
  10. Religion – I’ve been raised in a Christian home. Church every Sunday, yadda yadda yadda. I walked the lines of apostasy for almost two years before anyone found out. Now I’m somewhere in between deeply devout and an apostate.”

Those 10 topics cover a lot of waterfront. It makes you wonder what they do discuss with parents. I’m pretty sure it is very superficial. 

If you are not familiar with Quora Digest, you should know that it is a hangout for many in the next generation. It is instructive to what they are thinking or feeling, but not telling their parents.  

I have often said that parents can tell the actual moment when their children become adolescents. That moment is marked by their turning deaf overnight.  It’s a humorous way to say that at some point in time, your kids will tune you out. 

But they may confide in someone else.  Someone they trust.  Someone they have developed a relationship with, like a mentor.   I have had mentees open up about topics like those above with me. One even said that he would never think of discussing certain issues with his own parents. 

So, if you are looking around for someone to invest in, you don’t have to look very far. They are all around you and hiding in plain sight.  Their parents would love to have you involved in their lives as a mentor and positive influence in this day and time where social media is a pervasive influence.

Below is a list of some topical mentoring posts from the last five years. 

MENTORING RESOURCES:

Influence – a model for mentoring.

Moses – the first Mentee – Part I – Biblical principles of mentors

Moses – Jethro Principles Part II

Selfie-Esteem – The impact of social media

Spirituality – a look into the spirituality of the next generation

Communication – how to communicate with the next generation

Millennials – a profile

Fine – asking questions to get beyond pat answers

Gen Z Distinctives – Gen Z profile

Fingerprints – a strategic view of mentoring.

Why Not? – a call to get off the sidelines

Pay Attention – the impact of shortened attention spans

Gen Z Trends – more insights

Google GIGO – the next generation getting wrong answers from the internet

WORSHIP: Overcomer – Mandissa

MentorLink: For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Reflections

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:24

The old saying is that Hindsight is 2020 (watch the video).  That may be more accurate this year than any other. Normally, we celebrate the coming New Year. Instead, many will celebrate the end of 2020.  

Each day I get up in the morning and go into the bathroom.  I am greeted with a face in the mirror.  The mirror doesn’t lie.  I usually look sleepy and in need of a shave. But it is the face of today.  I remind myself that today is yesterday’s tomorrow.  I can’t change yesterday, and tomorrow has yet to come, but I can work on today.

Another mirror is your car’s rear view mirror. It reflects what is behind you, not what is in front of you.  It is an important tool for a driver because keeping an eye on what is behind you helps you anticipate problems.  So, what does 2020 look like in our rear-view mirror?

This past year is one for the books. But according to history, it was not the worst. That distinction goes to the year 536 AD when a mysterious fog covered much of Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia.  A fog blocked the sun during the day for 18 months. It was a literal “Dark Age.”

The cause?   A huge volcanic eruption in Iceland which was sufficient to cause climate change for years. Temperatures, on average, dropped 35 to 37 degrees, causing crop failure in Ireland, Scandinavia, Mesopotamia and China. Famine ensued leading to the Bubonic plague that wiped out 25 to 50% of the Roman Empire’s population.

That would be, in my estimation, a bad year. By comparison, how does 2020 stack up? 

For many, it was a difficult year which started well, but took a quick turn when COVID-19 showed up. We learned terms like “flatten the curve”, “lockdowns”, “quarantining”, “Zoom” and “social distancing”.  School closures became the norm, stunting the academic growth of our next generation with long term consequences. 

We learned a geography lesson.  No one had heard of Wuhon before, but now most recognize it as a large city of 11 million people in Central China and the epicenter of a pandemic.

Life was disrupted to a scale not seen before in modern history. Despite extensive research and national planning on coping with a pandemic, the world’s health systems were taxed, sometimes beyond capacity. We will learn from those mistakes, but they cost lives.

Economies shut down; businesses closed – particularly those that were deemed “non-essential”, often an arbitrary political decision. The economic toll will be felt for years. In America, most businesses that were damaged were small businesses – restaurants and Mom and Pop businesses which cannot operate “virtually”.  

The small entrepreneur got crushed by the pandemic, and sadly, this will have a larger impact on those in the lower economic strata of our culture. The most vulnerable are the ones that will suffer the most. 

Vacations and family get togethers were cancelled or postponed. Plans for the year were abruptly altered.  Some things will never be the same again. My brother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s so missing a family reunion impacts my family as he continues to decline.

For those lucky enough to have a job which can be done remotely, “going to work” took on a new meaning. Bricks and mortar offices in large cities remain empty today, which does not bode well because I doubt that they will return to normal capacity any time soon. 

Companies will retool their office needs downward resulting in a huge dislocation from city centers. Already, cities like New York are seeing an exodus of population. Those leaving are often a large part of the tax base, and they will not be replaced any time soon meaning that the quality of life in those cities will suffer.  

We are not sure when there will be a return to “normalcy”, whatever that looks like. How do you face an uncertain future, even as a believer?  For the Christian, it is simple. For a non-believer, not so much.

The answer is contained in a poem from my son-in-law’s favorite author and poet, Wendell Berry, titled “The Peace of Wild Things”:

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be.

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.  For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

This poem is a reminder that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. When we feel afraid or in despair, we can turn to Him in simple places like nature because he is Immanuel or God with us.  

I wish each of you blessings in the New Year.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  You have the ability to shape your mentee’s perspective on life. It is an incredible opportunity. Don’t miss it.

FURTHER READING:  Hindsight is 2020 – Video by Tom Foolery

 The Worst Year in History:  Is 2020 a Contender?  Discover 

Why 536 Was The Worst Year to Be Alive  AAAS Science

The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

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Immanuel

Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

It’s the week before Christmas.  And all through the church, nothing is stirring. Not this year anyway.  If you are lucky, your church might have a virtual Christmas Eve service, but going to Church to sing Christmas songs in a pandemic is a non-event.  Still,  you have to retain your sense of humor and sanity by soldiering on. 

My wife went to Hobby Lobby, a Christian crafts store, and found a Nativity Scene that she liked that was marked down by 60%.  As she was checking out, she commented that she couldn’t believe it was so inexpensive. The store clerk answered: “Oh, that’s because Joseph is missing.  But that’s OK because he didn’t do much anyway.”   I’ll let that sink in.

This is a year where everything has been turned upside down. People have lost health, finances, jobs and freedom. Even smaller losses have passed us by such as music and worship. We have lost touch with music because we spend less time in venues where music is played. Concerts have been cancelled and singing in choirs may not reappear until after vaccines have been widely distributed. 

Life may not get back to normal until next winter, according to one creator of a vaccine.  I suspect it will be quicker than that, but still, normalcy is months away.  I doubt there will be government mandates to take the vaccine. But I also suspect that your life will be limited unless you do just to board an airplane, meet indoors or conduct other normal activities.

With government restrictions trying  to tamp down on families spending Christmas together, I thought about what I and others are missing. I love to sing. I joined our worship team several years ago, and it is one of the joys of my life. This Christmas, we won’t perform. I am bummed. I will miss singing.

I understand that singing in a closed area increases the risk of spreading COVID.  I get that.  But somehow, I approach this Christmas with a feeling of loss.  I suspect I am not alone because the entire advent season has been restrained by COVID.

Which brings me to Immanuel (or, if you are reading the King James version, Emmanuel).  The name appears only three times in scripture.  The first is in Isaiah 7:14, above. The third is in Matthew 1:23 which shows the fulfillment of the prophesy and the name assignment of Immanuel. 

Immanuel means “God with us” or “God is with us”.  It is a humbling paradox that God came to live among his people.  That’s us. He came for us and gave His life in exchange for us unholy, sinful people.

But we still have Immanuel. We can still celebrate God with us on our own.  Immanuel expresses a seeming paradox that the Kingdom is here, and the Kingdom is coming. That’s what Advent songs are about.  Here are some to enjoy:

If my wife were writing this, there would be more 19th century hymns.  But these are a start at worship during Advent when the church is empty.  We yearn for the presence of God in our lives during tumultuous times. May this music bring you closer to what God promised Moses in Exodus: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

May it be so with you.  May you be blessed this Christmas!

MORE SONGS25 Advent Songs (Includes traditional hymns)

FINAL SONG:  The Blessing – Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes

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Truth or Consequences

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Besides being the name of a town in New Mexico,  Truth or Consequences  was also a TV game show in the 1950’s. Contestants called from the audience were asked an obscure trivia questions.  A wrong answer caused them to participate in an embarrassing stunt. 

The show lasted for almost 30 years and was a staple of day-time television. The show always ended with the line: “May all of your consequences be happy ones.”  Nice!  We need that kind of encouragement today in apost-truthpost-modern and post-Christian era. 

I recently had a back-and-forth discussion with a former law colleague about my last post on Journalism which he labeled as spreading falsehoods. I was stunned. He might as well have poked a finger in my eye.

I finally realized where he was coming from when he said this:  “Every person determines what is true and what is false”. Wow! Not exactly an objective test for truth. Reminds me of the line from the movie Shooter: “The truth is what I say it is!”

But that’s where we are today. If I get to determine what is true and it conflicts with what you think is true, then you can be attacked, censored, shadow blocked or even shamed on social media.  I consider that a dangerous assault on our democracy and free speech because only one view is allowed.

One of the more recent truth or consequences games being played is with COVID-19. Long before COVID, a 2006 study planning for pandemic responses cautioned that lockdowns were bad health policy. 

When the pandemic hit, everyone scurried to determine what to do, and politicians gave due deference to technocracy, which is government control by “an elite of technical experts”. Unelected technocrats, under the guise of knowing everything, were happy to promote public policy.  

What followed was something that at times looked like a keystone cops comedy chase scene from the silent movies. Recommendations first said don’t wear masks and it’s OK to go to Chinatown for meals. 

Then, they reversed course and said wear masks which became the gold standard for elected politicians who demanded everyone wear a mask based on “science”.  And some “experts” now say to continue using masks after you have been vaccinated.

Only it’s not science as Alex Berenson wrote in Unreported Truths: MasksThe “science” on masks is anything but settled but you wouldn’t know that based on government mandates and media support.  Berenson’s books were initially blocked on Amazon because they contained “misinformation”, a code word for something that those in power don’t like.  

Even though it is not settled science, mandatory masks requirements still exist as public health policy. As far as I can tell, nothing has changed. You can’t go into a business, restaurant or doctor’s office without a mask because the government says so. A family recently got kicked off an airplane because their 2-year-old wouldn’t keep his mask on. 

Oh, and eating meals out in restaurants is forbidden in many states and cities.  The consequence:  110,000 restaurants are permanently closed with more to come. Scientific data show that restaurants that properly adhere to social distancing guidelines are less dangerous than household get-togethers.  

Large gatherings were deemed to be “super-spreader” events, unless you were an antifa or BLM protests which were described as “mostly peaceful protests”, which ignored the resulting  $2 billion of damage, 31 deaths and the destruction of many inner city businesses.

The media was complicit in setting the narrative that protests were good, while meeting in a church for a religious service was both bad and non-essential.  At best, protests were termed “risky”, and the media uniformly failed to condemn violence, looting and mayhem. Again, a mismatch of truth with consequences.

Which brings us back to lockdowns, the preferred public policy in many states. We were told to “cancel” Thanksgiving with our families, and Christmas is also on the chopping block. Schools remain closed around the country even though the CDC and other “experts”  are in favor of opening schools

School closures will have long term devastating consequences, given that urban schools were already failing before COVID.  Those consequences include a precipitous drop in math test scores and learning. 

One study asserts that school closures will reduce lifetime earnings as well as the life expectancy  for children Isolation has caused mental health to suffer and  suicides and drug overdoses have spiked. These are terrible consequences to the next generation.

As James Freeman notes, the widespread myopia on COVID risks has ignored other risks to human health.  The vaccine will end COVID.  But there is no vaccine for the long-term collateral damage to our health, education and economy. 

Stepping back, it appears that we are being led by “truths” from experts without a proper evaluation of all the consequences. When something that has been held up as a “truth” turns out to be false, there is no adaptive change in policy, resulting in more adverse consequences. 

As we approach the Christmas season, Christians have one truth that we can count on: Jesus was born, lived on this earth and died for our sins. The consequence of his birth two millennia ago has provided hope for generations in a hopeless world. It’s a hope story that needs to be told again and again. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentors are on the front lines of communicating the hope that we have at Christmas in a world that is searching for truth.

FURTHER READING: Death toll reaches 30 during “mostly peaceful protests” – Federalist 

When Experts Fail, Everyone Pays the Price WSJ

Family Kicked off United Flight for Toddler Not Wearing Mask – Newsweek

The 2006 Origins of the Lockdown Idea – AIER

Adverse Consequences of School Closures – UNESCO

How School Shutdowns Have Long Term Effects on Children – Wired

The Double Pandemic of Social Isolation  Health Affairs

ADVENT SONG: Joy to the World (Joyful, Joyful) – Wickham

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Journalism

You who plot deceit, your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor. Psalm 55:2

Journalism is defined as “the activity or profession of writing for [media] or preparing news for broadcast.”  The operative word is “news”, which is based on fact and truth. At least it used to.

A functioning democracy is based on freedom of speech.  Freedom of the press follows close behind. But what happens when media picks sides and only “reports” opinions and advances narratives but not facts?

Peter Fischer, my daughter’s father-in-law, has a Ph.D. in Russian Language and Literature from Harvard.  His family fled Poland to Austria when WWII broke out and later emigrated to America. 

Peter taught Russian at three American Universities. He became the Russian interpreter at the Moscow embassy during glasnost, assisting the US Ambassador with increased contact and outreach to a previously locked-down Russian society.

Peter submitted a piece to the Wall Street Journal hoping it would find its way to the Opinion page.  It wasn’t published. It was titled:  “Fairytale: A Brief Primer on Socialism and the Current State of the U.S. Media”.  It chronicles the downfall of the U.S.S.R. (the second “S” stands for “Socialist”).

He quotes Winston Churchill:  “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.”  Peter adds:  “If, in our current political debate, we willfully ignore the lessons of history and give credence to the Left’s clamor for socialism as a solution to our problems, we do so at grave peril.”  This from a man who has experienced the failure of socialism during his lifetime.

Peter thinks that the leftist push today for utopia only results in dystopia. He described how the U.S.S.R. used “control of public information to keep the populace ignorant and brainwashed.”  The press and media spoke with one voice shaping the narrative. 

There were two newspapers in the soviet world: “Pravda” and “Izvestiya” which in Russian means “The Truth” and “The News”. Irreverent Russians joked that  there is no “Truth” in “The News” and no “News” in “The Truth”.

He notes the irony that we are  “confronted with a weirdly inverted mirror image of how the press and mass media functioned in the now defunct U.S.S.R.”   The two leading newspapers (Washington Post and the New York Times) have morphed into “ideological bastions of the left”, willfully and deliberately slanting the ‘news’ and ignoring or upending the ‘truth’ “.  

Even Thomas Jefferson was skeptical of media when he said: “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in the newspaper.  I will add that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads one.”

Today, 90% of all media outlets are controlled by five media “behemoths” (Comcast, Disney, Newscorp, Viacom and Time Warner) according to Matt Talibi. He goes on to say that “if you don’t trust the news, you have good reason”.

If you add in social media giants Google, Facebook and Twitter, each of which have liberal leanings, you have American media control similar to the old Soviet media.  Social media, besides promoting a left leaning agenda, also acts as a censor of conservative thought or what they term “misinformation”, which is not misinformation at all, but a different viewpoint.

Today, you cannot post to YouTube any story about “election fraud”, notwithstanding that there is a case in the U.S.S.C. on this very topic. That’s a fact and not “misinformation” as claimed by YouTube as if we are in an alternate reality.

They do it by scrubbing a post,  canceling access (which happened to the New York Post recently), or shadow banning. As Talibi notes, “any ‘triggering’ content is quickly gunned down by trigger happy censors.”

A New York Post story is an example. Epidemiologists from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford University wrote that Sweden’s model of obtaining herd immunity was the best public policy for COVID. That view broke with “conventional wisdom” of the CDC. The Post, the 4th largest paper in the U.S., had its  twitter accounts blocked when it ran the story.

What makes this vexing is that the media bias is not due to government control as in China or Russia. In Cameroon, stories of deaths caused by civil unrest in the Anglophone region have been suppressed by the government for years.  Instead, this is an ideologically driven phenomena, where only one side’s narrative is told, and the other side’s is suppressed.

How do you find news you can trust?  Matt Talibi, along with other investigative reporters have begun to flee from media giants and are now independent. That’s a good sign, but it’s a little like David fighting Goliath because they don’t have the bandwidth of the media giants.  

Alex Berenson,  a former NY Times reporter, found that his books on Unreported Truths about Covid-19 were initially censored by Amazon, even though it cites published medical studies and research  and the World Health Organization.

These are examples from the medical field. It gets worse when one strays into politics and public policy. John Inazu wrote that we will have a vaccine for COVID-19, but the “information virus” has no vaccine. 

Inazu’s remedy?  Get back to face-to-face relationships which “force us to confront complexity rather than caricature, and who challenge [us] to maintain friends, not just followers.” That’s a call for mentors to speak into the lives of the next generation.

The challenge here is that the next generation is absorbing news, often in snippets or headlines, from a biased media.  They don’t read, relying on crowdsourcing and emotion to make decisions, instead of facts, reason, logic or critical thinking.

It’s no wonder the next generation favors socialism rather than capitalism. That’s all they have heard because that’s what the media wants them to hear. Developing a relationship with them is something that is sorely needed to challenge them.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentors need to be clear eyed when it comes to news. They need to separate fact from opinion with their mentees and help them with develop critical thinking.,

FURTHER READING: If You Don’t Trust the News, You Have Good Reason – Talibi

 Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World –  Murray

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents – Dreher

The Virus Without a Vaccine – John Inaza

How the Hunter Biden Story was Suppressed Until After the Election – NY Post

YouTube to Delete Videos that Allege Fraud, Errors that Changed the Election – PC Magazine

ADVENT SONG: Emanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground) – Chris Tomlin

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Fingerprints

7D Ranch

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. Psalm 71:18

Anyone who has watched a crime show knows that your fingers have unique prints, and wherever you have touched something, they can leave an imprint.  Often the imprint is not obvious to the naked eye.   When police are at a crime scene, they often “dust” for latent fingerprints to help identify who was there in order to solve the crime.

So it is in life.  You often leave your fingerprints on people that you have met or have a relationship with. Your wife, your kids, your grandkids, your mentees, your friends or colleagues. The list goes on. You may not realize it, but those fingerprints often don’t go away, just as they don’t go away from the scene of crime. You’ve left them behind.

That’s a good thing in my estimation.  My wife and I have always thought about our legacy which is not about us, but about those we leave behind. God has blessed us with good health in our later years which enables us to continue to be active while many of our contemporaries are sidelined. 

We have been strategic in our reaching out to our 9 grandchildren. Several years ago, we set about designing trips or events to take them to without their parents. We started with a trip around Europe with Sarah, which led to taking our four grandsons to an Army Navy game in a freezing and snowy Philadelphia football stadium. We didn’t make it to halftime. The boys were more excited about the snow than watching the game.

We then took our grandsons to 7 D Ranch, a dude ranch in Wyoming.  Sis is not a horseperson, so this was a challenge for her. It was a big hit; all of them want to return.

The next trip was with our two oldest granddaughters, one in college and the other in high school. Both have musical talent, so we toured through the southeast emphasizing music venues.  We started with country and western in Nashville and ended up with Jazz in New Orleans. One of them, Allie, played in a High School jazz band as did my father who put himself through college playing piano.

Our upcoming trip is with our two youngest granddaughters both 11, and they chose to return to the Dude ranch, although we gave them both a number of other options to consider.  Not to be left out, their Dads decided to join us which will be a first. My other son is considering joining, too even though he won’t have a child there. 

Our intent is to leave our fingerprints all over our kids and grandkids. I never knew my own grandparents, so this is something I missed in my life. My mother’s parents died when I was very young. My Dad’s parents lived in Los Angeles while we grew up on the east coast. In those days, flying across country was a luxury and expensive, so we rarely saw them. 

And so it goes with my mentees.  Even the ones that I didn’t realize I was mentoring in my law career who later said that they consider me a mentor.   When that happens, I think about latent fingerprints – those which you can’t see but are still there after you leave. 

When I became a Christian at age 38, it took me a while to get my spiritual bearings as husband and father. It’s been a straight up learning curve in some ways.  I had to unlearn a lot of selfish habits. I can honestly say that I was far from perfect, either then or now. Going from a god of self, to obeying the God of the universe is a big change.

As I grew in maturity, I realized the importance of not only mentoring my kids, but also mentoring younger men around me. That was about 30 years ago. I have always been an encourager, but this was different when I became an intentional mentor. 

Over time, I have mentored dozens of men, some young, some not so young. Everyone needs a mentor at a different stage of life, even men in their 40’s.  I guess I could even use a mentor in my 70’s because I am always learning life the hard way.  

I may have underestimated my impact in some ways because it’s not about me.  My job is to build up and invest in someone else and help them in the future. It’s a selfless art, and certainly not a glamorous process. I don’t ever expect to see my name in lights, and that’s fine with me. 

What drives me is that leaving fingerprints (and mentoring) is what we are called to do in this life. I learned that it is not optional. When I see older men who haven’t “gotten it”, it makes me sad that they haven’t realized the impact they can have on the lives of the next generation.  

Many in the next generation have not had the benefit of growing up in an intact nuclear family of a father and a mother. Those are the ones most in need of help. 

The challenge is that there are now two generations – millennials and Gen Z – who are open to having a mentor. But those interested in mentoring are too far and few in between. In this day of social distancing, the ability to develop a relationship with a younger person is probably the easiest it will get. They are starved for having someone invest in them.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Encourage other mentor aged men and women to get out of the stands onto the sidelines coaching and interacting with the next generation. We need more mentors.

FURTHER STUDY:   An Introduction to Mentoring: Mentoring 101 – Radio Interview

Relational Mentoring

Fatherlessness

WORSHIP:  Let My Words be Few – Redman

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