Cheating, Lying and Winning in Losing

“Win if you can; lose if you must, but cheat always!” ~ Gorgeous George

Back in the late 1940s a 215-lb, five foot-nine inch professional wrestler of modest talents smashed the paradigms governing professional sports and entertainment forever. In 1947, he probably accounted for more sales of the new contraption “television” than all of the celebrity entertainers, ball-players and politicians combined.

George Wagner, AKA Gorgeous George, dyed his thick wavy hair platinum blonde, donned sequined robes and was preceded into the ring by a valet who sprayed perfume and disinfectant ahead of the One and Only.  His in-the-ring persona was a foppish, likely queer man, who would almost certainly rather cheat than win. He was professional wrasslins’ first and ultimate heel. He was the guy working folks paid their hard earned money to hate. He rendered the time-honored notion of “fair play” passe. 

Also, no doubt, the popularity of his flamboyant persona was not lost on a generation of entertainers and athletes — celebs such as Little Richard, Elvis, Muhammed Ali and Ric Flair got it.  And might The Donald be another?

Years ago I recall some psychiatrist saying that Gorgeous George played a valuable role in our nation’s mental health. He said something to the effect that folks could vent their pent up feelings of murderous rage by hating and yelling at the gorgeous one instead of acting it out with real people in their daily lives. Gorgeous George became the ultimate object of the defense mechanism of displacement. The public’s angry, unacceptable feelings were harmlessly discharged at George on the 14-in black and white screens in their living rooms.

Fast forward seven decades: Okay, today, who is the contemporary equivalent of Gorgeous George for the American public, the mainstream media and for that matter, the whole wide world?

Well, that was too easy.  The Donald of the bleached blonde ducktail has supplanted cheating in the ring with confabulation, lying and mean spirited tweeting — and in the process he’s become the man millions love to hate. The bottom line is that it’s his version of reality that matters the most.  And that fact drives his enemies completely craaaazy. He has probably legitimately earned 60 or 70% negative stories in the news media. But 92% is ridiculous. Even so called journalists buy into his shtick. They take what he says and what he tweets seriously. They are late-comers to the game. The joke is on them and they still don’t really get it. But what they do dimly grasp is that he is the story — and they are not.

And is who he is as Chief Executive of the Free World not just an extension of his Apprentice show persona?  I did not spend more than a few minutes channel hopping on viewing The Apprentice but I gather that crushing the dreams of some little guy the audience had come to identify with was part of the show’s appeal — waiting for, or perhaps dreading, the words, “You’re fired!”

With a ridiculous unqiue pompadour wave even before his hair had thinned, The Donald had branding down to a science decades ago. He was a celebrity even before he became a billionaire or a presidential contender. He had a knack for garnering headlines and talk show interviews. He made big deals and he talked even bigger. He became the Gorgeous George of real estate development and big business. He became THE show and along the way acquired plenty of enemies and more than a few admirers.

So in the interests of both science and mental health we must ask if the Gorgeous Donald of 2018 has the same functional role in our nation’s psyche as George in 1947?

Probably not: The late-1940s were a time too proximate to the real life horrors of WWII to allow the willy-nilly sale of assault weapons to assorted cranks who had mental health issues and a grudge against humanity. However, it was a time when most homes had a shotgun or hunting rifle to help put food on the table. It was an era before social media and 24/7 infotainment could spread hate like the plague and allow a garden variety nutcase their 15-min of fame. In 1947, folks could hate and boo and throw stuff at their villains — harmless stuff. Today they have the will and the means to massacre them.

Lying is not really lying when you believe what you’re saying is true — especially so in this era of fake news. I will see your fake news and up it with my own fake story. And losing isn’t really losing when the visibility of your branding goes up.  I also think The Donald’s popularity/loathing continuum has become sort of a barometer of our nation’s collective mental health/cognitive dysfunction. I have blogged several times about Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS). It is real; it’s not going away– and in fact it seems to be spreading.

Unfortunately, Trump has inspired the Antifa goons and other assorted left-wing organizations to destructive, violent acts. They march, smash windows, dress in black, wear masks and publicly harass their perceived enemies — behavior eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s fascist Brown Shirts and SS. And they feel quite self-righteous in the process of  spreading their anarchy and hate. Reality becomes particularly dissonant when the extreme left accuse conservatives and Republicans of being the real fascists.

As for me, I’m kind of over the hyperbolic madness of 2018. I long for a time when our villains were harmless caricatures like Gorgeous George, our real foes were the Commies, newspapers employed journalists and were the primary source of news and TV was an innocuous form of entertainment. I long for life writ small and black and white like the television of seven decades ago.

 

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Tests, Trials and the Way Everlasting

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: test me, and know my anxious thoughts:

And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Psalm 139: 23-24

Yesterday I was rereading Psalm 139 for the umpteenth time. This is a Psalm of David and one of the most beloved in the lexicon. Most focus on the verses that say how God knew us before we were born and how He is omnipresent in our lives. Anyway, 139’s last verse, quoted above, jumped out at me — specifically the two words “test me.” In the NIV it’s “test” and in the KJV it’s “try me.”

In the NIV the word “anxious” appears before thoughts but not in the KJV.  I’ve had a lot of anxious thoughts lately and so the NIV version resonates with me.

It appears that David is asking God to place a test, a trial, a tribulation or a temptation in his path to reveal his heart. Further, it seems that David wants to demonstrate his faith, trust or love for God by overcoming the test — perhaps the test of enduring and overcoming fear or anxiety thru trust.

That kind of stunned me. Most maturing Jesus-followers know that the Lord will bring trials and tribulations into our life to help us mature. But few would go so far as to ask for them. It also made me think of a quip from Graham Cooke I’d heard earlier in the morning to the effect that sometimes we don’t need to take the “leap of faith” — because God pushes us.  That gave me a chuckle.

Satan’s schemes and God’s plans all work together in a perfect economy. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is high, I cannot attain unto it.”  (Ps. 139:6) 

Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.” Ps. 139:12

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The M-Word: In the Eye of the Beholder

It is an old psychological truism that what we see in others is really what is inside of us. The evil we attribute to others is most likely ours as well.  People would do well to acknowledge that tendency — and to own it.  It belongs to the those who “doth protest too much.”  The phenomena is called “projection.”

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus addressed our tendency to see evil in others because our own vision is dark. “But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness.” (Matt. 6:23)

Every time I hear someone on the political left cast aspersions of racism on someone from the right I’m reminded of the defense mechanism of projection — and of the darkness reigning within the accuser.  The folks obsessed with finding racism in the most innocuous of statements are living out the truth of projection — and very likely because of their obsession, they are in fact the true racists. We become what we think about most and if our thoughts are preoccupied with seeing racism everywhere then we are condemning ourselves.

A recent example is the candidate for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis using what his opponents have termed a racist “dog-whistle.” DeSantis said that electing his socialist opponent Andrew Gillum, who happens to be black, would “monkey up” the situation. I think interpreting that expression as racist is beyond absurd. The use of the word monkey in this context derives from an old expression about throwing  a monkey wrench in the works.  It’s an old expression which has zero to do with anything racial — but is instead about blundering and incompetence creating chaos and messing up a situation — or perhaps trying to fix something which is not really broken.

Over the past few decades the so called N-word has acquired the status of something almost holy. We can take the Lord’s name in vain willy-nilly but God forbid we utter the N-word in polite company.  So now we may be adding the M-word to terms too sacred to utter. So what will we rename the monkey wrench?

The political left in this era of political correctness has appropriated the word “racist” and pretty much any associated term and made it the assault rifle in their arsenal of epithets. It all worked very well for them until the ascendancy of Donald Trump. Yet it’s no surprise that they have trotted it out again and applied it to DeSantis. Lacking substantive ideas, name calling is what passes for a strategy.

Also, according to the race baiters, in referring to Andrew Gillum as “articulate” DeSantis was again showing some sort of racial prejudice — as in most black people aren’t usually articulate but Gillum is. So instead of it being a complement it is construed by the race-obsessed as displaying a racist attitude.

Similarly, President Trump’s insistence on building a wall along our southern border became, to those obsessed with race, all about Trump being a racist. Although he has made some ugly comments about Mexicans, building a wall is about having a country and not about race. Every country on the planet has rules governing entrance, exit and citizenship. Open borders means you no longer have a country. Open borders is an appealing idea to those who see any sort of nationalism as evil — such as former president Obama — who, BTW I see as our racist in chief. One only need read his biography Dreams from My Father to see his racial obsession and its roots.  Added evidence of that is that during his eight years running the country racial tensions increased. He did not heal old wounds, he exacerbated them.

President Trump has a well documented history of getting along with blacks and other minorities. His obsession is with business and money, not with race. He wants to do a deal and make money — his obsession is not with black or brown skin, its with green, as in the color of money.

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Megalothymia

I happened upon this word today: Megalothymia. It was a term coined by the political  philosopher Francis Fukuyama in his 1992 book The End of History and The Last Man. It is the compulsion to be superior to others; it is the spirit that drives tyrannical ambition.

I love this word. But I think it is descriptive of a not so lovely, often downright evil aspect of human nature — and one dystonic to Christian values and behavior. It is something like Nietzsche’s will-to-power, which was an extension of Schopenhauer’s will to survive and to propagate. The 19th Century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer believed that all life was animated by the twin drives to survive and to propagate the species. But Friedrich Nietzsche added, “Life simply is the will to power.”  To Nietzsche, human consciousness itself was no more than a manifestation of the will to power.

I have written about the temptation of power/control in my book Jesus v. satan: The Message of the Wilderness Temptation. I describe the drive to dominate others as one of the three wilderness temptations presented to Jesus by Satan during his 40-days in the desert.  The all too prevalent drive to control others and seeing that need as possibly the essential human evil was brought to my attention back in the mid-1980s by the writings of psychiatrist M. Scott Peck.

Dr. Peck was in the Army during the Viet Nam War and was part of a team that investigated the My Lai Massacre.  In 1968, a company lead by the infamous Lt. Calley went on a rampage and slaughtered over 300 unarmed Vietnamese civilians in and around the hamlet of My Lai. That investigation, plus working with several inexplicable clients after the military, led Peck to the conclusion that there were people outside of the conventional psychiatric diagnostic nomenclature who could only be diagnosed as “evil.”

One of the characteristics of evil people was the need to control others for their own nefarious purposes. Desiring to have control over others is one of the characteristics of a psychopath, and the psychopathic/sociopathic behavior of some individuals was nothing new to the behavioral sciences. However, casting the value judgement “evil” as a diagnostic category was new.

Labeling some behavior as evil inevitably leads one to think about value systems, morality, religion — and ultimately to God — not something science and medicine is at all comfortable addressing.  However, Dr. Peck did, and in the 1980s his first two books The Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie were groundbreaking. The first book was about the search for meaning, for the transcendence of a God, and the second book about evil and evil people.

As I read Peck’s book about evil people it struck me that this need to control others was the essence of most manifestations of evil on this earth — it was the essential evil, the source of most human generated misery. Controlling another could be as small as manipulating ones neighbor for an advantage, micromanaging an employee, tyrannically ruling ones family — or as large as the unrestrained violence of genocide, of the Holocaust. Committing murder is the ultimate control of another person.

I could not readily think of a term for the need so many have to be dominant over their fellow man. But voila, Fukuyama’s “megalothymia” fills the bill rather handily.

The Greek word for spirit thumos is rendered thymic in English. Thus, the word for a long lasting mild to moderate depression as a diagnosic term is dysthymia or Dysthymic Disorder. The word for something which agrees with our nature is euthymic. And now for the drive people have for power/control we have the term megalothymia. Some may disagree and say that Fukuyama’s use of the term is not exactly the same, but at least as far as I’m concerned it fills a need rather nicely.

Megalothymia is so prevalent that one could say that it is endemic to human nature. Perhaps for primitive man it was a survival skill.  Perhaps. without the drive to dominate and control others we would not have survived as a species. This may have been true after the Fall — but before Jesus.

One of the fundamental truth’s about Jesus was that He came to set men free. But free from what? I believe that what He came to free us from is not only sin and specifically  our basic After-the-Fall human natures — and an integral part of that human nature is our survival at the expense of others.

Jesus said that after loving God wholly and passionately we should love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40). All of The Law is encompassed in that one commandment.  But beyond loving others as ourselves He proposes a sacrificial love — in a way loving others even more than ourselves. Jesus laid down his life for our freedom and so in various ways we should sacrifice ourselves for our brothers and sisters. The Good Shepherd (John 10:11) leaving the 99 to seek the one lost sheep (Luke 15:4) makes no sense from a practical human survivalist point of view but in God’s upside down economy it makes perfect sense.

I believe Jesus came to set us free from our megalothymia, our often obsessive need to run the lives of others, to dominate others, to exert power and control over others. Loving others means giving them the same freedom that we are offered by Jesus.

 

 

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The Political Theater Reality Show

Would Brett be voted on to Supreme Island?  Would Christine make the final round of American Idolater? And what did the Tweeter-in-Chief think?  We all stayed tuned-in for the next breathless social media update.

I watched about 30-min of the Senate proceedings live and heard some more on the radio, and of course was inundated via the media with updates and propaganda from both sides — enough cognitive dissonance to wonder if our planet and nation had been consigned to some galactic looney bin.

It’s probably just me but it all seems like a performance. Perhaps that’s because when I take it seriously it just becomes too awful, too painful. It’s probably just me. Can I just close my eyes, go back to sleep and when I wake up it’ll all be gone? I feel like I’ve been watching the death of our nation — or at least the eradication of the last vestiges of civility in our political system.

Initially I thought both testimonies were credible.  First I leaned one way and then the other. Maybe they were both telling the truth — at least their version of THE TRUTH.  Given the vagaries of human memory and alcohol consumption that is a real possibility.  Human memory is much squishier than we think. Also, fake memories are easily implanted in the naïve and willing.  I know more than a little about this subject as my Master’s thesis was in verbal learning and involved memory.

Christine was superbly in character with a hesitant little-girl-lost voice (and a valley girl at that).  Her wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look was initially compelling. But upon reflection it was hard to believe that this was a 51-year old PhD who grew up in the affluent, sophisticated DC suburbs and attended elite private schools. It just didn’t seem real to me; it seemed a studied, rehearsed performance.  Brett, on the other hand, overplayed the All American boy jock role more than just a bit. And as someone noted, the anger he displayed under oath was enough that one would not want to see him drunk.

It was the ultimate he said, she said, and it was eerily reminiscent of the ambiguity of Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas furor from 1991. The truth is only known to the two parties involved. But it was certainly compelling political theater. It was the ultimate reality show, and the consequences of Brett and Christine’s performances and the subsequent Senate decision will reverberate for decades. The 2016 election of  a billionaire reality show host with a unprecedented understanding of the power of celebrity and social media guarantees that things will never be the same in our political system. But in spite of the Age of Trump creating a sense of unreality for me — and likely many others, it’s okay. The DC swamp badly needed to be drained. The hearings revealed all that is bad about our system. However, its one redemptive moment was provider by an aging career politician, Senator Collins. Her rationale, her exegesis of Constitutional scripture was a shining moment, and perhaps provided a badly-needed confirmation of our Founding Fathers divinely inspired vision.

For me, the first of many smoking guns was who paid for Christine’s polygraph? She either lied when she said she didn’t know — or she is a complete dope, or she has been duped by the Democrats.  In any event the subsequent efforts from both sides to discredit the integrity of the principal characters was disheartening to say the least. It felt as though our fractured nation would never be the same. The final scene from Romeo and Juliet keeps coming to mind. The stage littered with carnage the Prince thunders: “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate. . . EVERYONE IS PUNISHED.”

 

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The Idol of Worldliness

“Without the Cross, without Jesus and without stripping ourselves of worldliness we become pastry shop Christians, nice sweet things but not real Christians. . .The Christian cannot enter the spirit of the world, which leads to vanity, arrogance and pride. These lead to idolatry, which is the gravest sin.”  ~ Pope Francis, 2013, on his visit to Assisi 

The believers who sincerely try to follow Jesus are in a to-the-death struggle against the spirit of worldliness, a tide perpetually driving them against the bauble-encrusted shores of this world, to the idolatry of material possessions, to fame, to power and to pride in sanctimony.

The first two commandments of the Decalogue are about idolatry and because they are first, one can presume that they are the most important — that what the Lord is saying is:  “Listen up, this is important!”  ~ YOU, YEAH YOU, HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME !!

God says murder is bad, lying is bad, lusting after your neighbor’s wife is bad — but paying attention to an idol instead of ME is far worse. I believe C.S. Lewis thought that pride was the worst sin. It was Satan’s sin. But really pride is just another idol. It is the polar opposite of the cardinal Christian virtue of humility. And one doesn’t get very far in their Christian walk without humility (Matt. 23:12).

Once again of late I’ve become convicted of my worldliness — of entropy and the vacuum in the mire gradually, almost imperceptibly sucking me back into the  quicksand of the world.

It is far from the first time. I’ve repented hundreds of times. However, for the past eight years I am at least able to publicly confess my sins. At my Celebrate Recovery small group meeting I can vent openly about my fallenness and take another blue chip.  James 5:16 reminds us that airing our sins with our peers is integral to healing.

My addictive tendencies are many — CR’s “hurts habits and hang-ups” — but mostly they’re just subsumed under the heading of sin, subheading: Worldliness.  You’d think at my age, and after so many repentances, I’d recognize the symptoms of worldliness when they initially appear: first disappointment, then sadness, followed by a slight hardening in my attitude, and then the faux self-protection of outright cynicism. And the cynicism gives me permission to sin some more.

Two occurrences in the past week seemed like messages from the Lord. A Christian client of mine spoke about being a victim of spiritual warfare. That had the ring of truth and something I’d not thought about for a while. ‘Twas a painful but needed reminder that I’d written a book over a decade ago about spiritual warfare: Satan’s Top Ten Tricks. Heck, I’m an expert of sorts and I hadn’t really been thinking that the chaos, stress and disappointment in my life this year just might be an ongoing satanic attack. It certainly gave me something to pray about.

Also, In my CR meeting the lesson this week was about how we use our devotional time and about making a daily spiritual inventory. I have my prayer time around 8:30 or 9:00 most mornings — and I even have a special chair that I sit in. I’m fairly compulsive about my devotionals but I’ve never kept a journal or done a daily spiritual inventory. Doing the daily inventory feels like an extra burden at the end of the day when the forgetfulness of sleep beckons. And it’s just another unpleasant reminder.

A couple of the guys in the group mentioned that their prayer/devotional time was at bedtime. That would certainly be the best time to do an inventory — but like I mentioned, I’ve never kept one. Basically it’s a tool to keep us accountable to ourselves. Some of the questions are: What good did I do today? In what areas did I blow it? Did I say or hurt anyone? Do I owe anyone amends? What did I learn today?  It’s Step-10 in any twelve step program: “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

I believe that just like the serendipitous comment about spiritual warfare, the lesson on keeping a daily inventory was an illumination from above, and that I would do well to have two devotional times: morning and bedtime. The battle against the idol of worldliness is won one day at a time, one moment at a time — remaining accountable to God, ourselves and our Christian brothers.

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“Angela’s Ashes”

 

Frank McCourt (1930-2009) taught English in the New York public schools for many years. In 1996, he published a memoir of his childhood Angela’s Ashes and the following year it won a Pulitzer Prize. Around that time in the late-90s I recall a friend reading it and I thought someday I would as well.  There was something about the title that captivated me.  ‘Twas still on my to-do list until a couple weeks ago.

The book is described as a tragicomedy and it is. It chronicles his chaotic, squalid childhood in New York and Limerick, Ireland. McCourt was born in New York City to immigrant parents on the cusp of the Great Depression. His father, Malachy, was a chronically unemployed alcoholic and when McCourt was four he moved the family back to Ireland. Angela was his mother. He had several younger siblings who died in childhood from malnutrition and the lack of proper medical care.

The book is at once terribly sad and hysterically funny. The family lived in a two story flat without plumbing facilities or electricity. The downstairs periodically flooded and so they lived much of the time in one room upstairs (which they euphemistically called Italy) where it was drier and warmer. The family slept either on the floor or in one enormous bed. A privy that served the whole block was outside their front door and at most times the odor was overpowering.

Though solidly Roman Catholic Malachy McCourt was originally from Northern Ireland and as such, and with his northern accent, was discriminated against in Limerick and Dublin. The family generally lived on the dole. When there was work Malachy rarely lasted past the first payday. On his way home from work he would stop for a pint or two — and one led to another and then another and soon his wages were gone. He would come home drunk in the middle of the night and rouse the kids out of bed to sing patriotic songs about martyrs in the Irish insurrection.

In spite of the family’s pathetic circumstances Malachy remained a prideful man. He would send Angela to collect the dole money and to beg for aid at the St. Vincent DePaul Society. Asking for help was beneath his masculine dignity. That was a woman’s duty. However, in spite of being somewhat of a despicable character it is obvious that Frank loved his dad and sought his approval. Malachy was a drunk and he was neglectful but he did not physically abuse the family, and it is apparent that in his own skewed way he loved his children, and when sober showed them affection. However, Angela suffered severe depression —and why wouldn’t she given the desperate circumstances of her life.  And seriously depressed mothers are often not very warm and nurturing. At the very least Angela had post-partum depression and unresolved grief from the death of her four infants.

It was Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said that in the end if you were Irish the world would break your heart. And I have some familial understanding of the tragedy of being Irish. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Murphy and she was one of ten siblings. During my childhood eight of the ten were either active or recovering alcoholics and most lived out their lives in a strata somewhere between poor and lower-middle class. Their father, like so many other Irish, came to this country as a result of the potato famine in the late-1840s. To say the least, 800-years of English subjugation followed by signs in the new world saying “No Irish need apply” might make one both melancholy and angry — and provide a thirst for the faux balm of whiskey or a pint of ale.  But like the Jews, the Irish also developed a strong sense of humor and irony as survival mechanisms, and my grandmother’s family was no different

It gives one pause to read about a childhood like McCourt’s — a childhood where a cup of weak tea and a slice of bread for breakfast was a treat — and shoes were almost a luxury. Like many folks I know there were some definite glitches in my childhood and sometimes I feel sorry for myself — but then thru a memoir like McCourt’s I’m exposed to a childhood unimaginably worse, and I realize I’ve been quite blessed. It also begs the question of how does one survive and ultimately grow up sane and successful?

A few months back I read another memoir German Boy by Wolfgang Samuel. The author was 10-years old in 1945. His father was in the Luftwaffe and it was not known if he was dead or alive. The book chronicles the author and his mother and younger sister fleeing west often just a few hours ahead of the advancing Red Army — an army bent on revenge, destroying, raping and pillaging everything in its path.

German Boy is not infused with the hyperbole and humor of Angela’s Ashes but it is nevertheless a gripping memoir of survival — and ultimately of triumph. Samuel retired a full colonel from the U. S. Air Force — an organization that officially tried to bomb the country of his childhood into oblivion. I could not put the book down. And once again I thought how does one survive a childhood so precarious and traumatic?  A childhood where one sees loved ones killed, can feel the concussion of 500-lb. bombs and knows the gnawing pain of chronic hunger.

For that matter how does one survive growing up in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan where violent, meaningless death is a daily occurrence — and has been for decades?  Or the fire bombing of Dresden or the nuclear nightmares of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  Or the death camps of the Holocaust?

People often emerge from those terrible scenarios albeit scarred but fully functioning and  productive adults. I contrast those survivors of unimaginable terror and deprivation with the snowflakes and ninnies of our nation’s contemporary millennial generation — a college campus culture and welfare mentality that obsesses about microaggressions and seeking safe spaces, and that blathers on and on about hunger in a country where most poor people are officially obese and possess the instant connectivity of cell phones. How did we devolve in just a couple of generations from rugged survivors into such infants?

I have to conclude that humans are much tougher than academia generally gives us credit for being — and that there is a built-in resiliency in both most individuals and our species that transcends sociological dogma. And one must also consider that both survival and eventual thriving may be no more or no less than God’s grace. Frank McCourt was surely blessed with gifts that transcended the circumstances of his childhood.

 

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