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Fidelity to the law is keeping faith with a law that is not divine but human, not universal but particular, not timeless but historical; it is fidelity to history, to civilization, and to Enlightenment values; it is fidelity to the humanity of man! The point is not to betray what humanity has made of itself and, in the process, of us.
It is abundantly plain by the Holy Scriptures, and generally allowed, not only by Christian divines, but by the more considerable Deists, that virtue most essentially consists in love.
What makes an individual virtuous, and how does living a virtuous life change my world?

Entrée:  Our Values Shape Our Character and Culture by Jim Clemmer
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Principles are to people what roots are to trees. Without roots, trees fall when they are thrashed with the winds of the pampas. Without principles, people fall when they are shaken by the gales of existence.

When he spotted his grandpa asleep on the family room couch, the rambunctious ten year old saw his chance. With cat-like stealth, Jason quietly crept up on grandpa and gently smeared a small bit of smelly old cheese into his moustache. As grandpa mumbled and stirred, Jason bolted from the room. Peeking around the corner, Jason fought it hard to contain himself as he watched grandpa open his eyes and take a sniff of the air. "Whew! This room stinks", grandpa exclaimed. Rising from the couch he went into the front hall. "Why, the whole house stinks", grandpa declared as he went out the front door into the yard. Watching grandpa take a few deep whiffs of the air, Jason lost it. He burst out laughing as grandpa bellowed, "Everything stinks."

Our principles, values, or beliefs are the lens through which we see the world. We then find the evidence and examples to prove our point of view. If our behavior sometimes smells a little  -  we cheat, cut ethical corners, or "stretch the truth"  -  we assume (and often justify our behavior with) "everybody else is doing it." Then we notice just how many other people are doing the same  -  their behavior stinks.

If people with this mindset become managers, he or she will build on his or her assumptions and experiences by putting rules and practices in place to catch the "stinkers." As psychologist and personal effectiveness coach, Peter Jensen, puts it, "Most of what we see in others is what we project from ourselves."

Visions are values projected into the future

As with our visions or pictures of the future, every organization, team, and person has a set of principles, beliefs, or values. And whether they're optimistic or pessimistic or filled with hopefulness or helplessness, we "magnetize" and pull those same people and circumstances toward us. What we get is what we are.

Visions and values are an inseparable matched set. One grows from and in turn spawns the other. Both provide the basis for the skills we choose to develop, time we choose to invest, and the improvement systems, processes, and habits we choose to use. Yesterday's vision and values have formed our personal character and  -  when taken collectively  -  the team or organization culture we have today.

The vision and values we choose to fix in our minds today determines tomorrow's character and culture. We start to change who we're becoming and where we're headed when we change what we value and picture in our future.

About the author:

Jim Clemmer is a bestselling author and internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and management team developer on leadership, change, customer focus, culture, teams, and personal growth. During the last 25 years he has delivered over two thousand customized keynote presentations, workshops, and retreats. Jim's five international bestselling books include The VIP Strategy, Firing on All Cylinders, Pathways to Performance, Growing the Distance, and The Leader's Digest. His web site is

Main Course: The Noble Portion of Mankind
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An essentially virtuous life consists of living and acting - choosing, if you will - according to the most excellent concepts of social order and the highest standards of moral rectitude: politeness, fidelity, prudence, temperance, courage, justice, generosity, hope, compassion, mercy, gratitude, humility, simplicity, tolerance, purity, gentleness, good faith, humor, and love. I am sure that there are a few more virtues I might have missed in this list, as well. Nevertheless, these few concepts define a rather broad spectrum of positive choices, and outline the best that is within an individual and within society at large.

What is the source of virtue? There seems to be two schools of philosophy as to the origin of virtue. Compte-Sponville, a French philosopher, was of the opinion that virtue is a natural outgrowth of society and its own self-governance. He posited that mankind becomes virtuous in order to thrive and grow of (and strictly, for) the individual self. It was his contention that individuals of the highest quality in society were merely reflections of the best concepts of social order. On the other hand, Pastor Edwards understood virtue to be God-given. It is a reflection of God, he proposes, and not other humans, that makes an individual virtuous. It is mankind reaching higher, searching for a lost nobility and yearning to return thereto.

I guess I must sit on the fence in this matter, because I think that both things took place. I believe that mankind became more virtuous at the same time as they formed societies and formulated a belief in something greater than themselves. I believe both of these things were processes that were begun out of simple necessity among the ancient inhabitants of this world. The formulation of a belief system, and the inculcation of the concepts of virtuous tolerance and simple mercy were just as important to peoples, tribes and families in their personal and social interactions as clothing and shelter were to their personal comfort. Else, there would be no society, and all would be anarchy and chaos!

I am not convinced that it is a choice of one concept over the other. I believe that both means were used to this end. It would be necessary for peoples to learn to be kind and understanding, to practice temperance, prudence, fortitude and justice. It would be absolutely vital that they learn and promote the concepts of faith, hope and charity (also known as the Cardinal Virtues). At the same time, such thinking upon what is good and right leads one to look for an example of that which is just and perfect. Such philosophical musings naturally lead to a belief in the One God of the ancient Egyptians, without doubt.

It is in the process of forming individual and collective belief systems within societies, and the formation of families and communities and nations, that mankind has gained its rudimentary understanding of the concept of love. Individuals grow to love their family members, their community and their nation. Who, after all, could possibly love all of humankind more than its Creator?

Such thinking leads me to the idea that love must be the crown or the sum of all the virtues. Here is why I think that: The reason that mankind has morals and that people learn to be polite and courageous and just and compassionate and so forth, must be because mortals do not fully comprehend the divine ideation of love. We may have but an inkling of the full concept, and we do our best to practice what we have learned. If a full comprehension of divine love were the case, if we really understood and practiced love in the sense that our maker intends that we should, we would naturally practice all of the other virtues.

As a result of forming societies, as well, it became self-evident that an individual who lives a virtuous life is more likely to be happier than the one who lives selfishly. One of the biggest obstacles to virtuous behavior, says Jonathan Edwards, is that most people would rather feel good than be good. It is not in our nature to be spontaneously virtuous, so to possess virtues requires one to work at it, and to make consciously positive choices.

To learn and do is the soul's work here below, whether one is a deist or a humanist. The noblest portion of mankind are those who choose virtue for virtue's sake.

Michael Rawls, Friday's Inspiration © 2004

Second Helping: High Fidelity by Bill McKibben
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I live in the north country mountains, where winter begins in late October and gives up, some years, in early May. That means you come to church half the year in boots - heavy boots, in case you get stuck in a snowbank on the way. Which means, in turn, that the carpet on the floor better be some shade of brown.

Two or three times in my years there I've vacuumed the church. (Not very often, because we tend to divide up jobs along Traditional Gender Lines. Men make sure the furnace is turned up, change the storm windows, lift heavy things, paint, put away folding chairs, shovel the stairs. Women do everything else.) The first time I vacuumed I was merrily buzzing away between the pews, listening to the random click-clack of sand disappearing up the hose, when all of a sudden the noise trebled - click-click-click, like a Geiger counter in a uranium mine.

At that moment I was vacuuming beneath the third pew right along the center aisle. Right where Frank and Jean have been sitting every single Sunday that I can remember. I believe that Frank and Jean began attending our congregation the Sunday after the Council of Nicea. Each time they claim the same spot.

I kept vacuuming, hoovering up the same steady background level of sand, until I reached the sixth pew, against the right wall, where Velda and Don sit each Sunday - each Sunday they possibly can, that is, as both of them have been as much in the hospital as out lately. Again my Geiger counter went off. I decided that instead of radioactivity, it was measuring something else. Fidelity.

"Spirituality" is our watchword at the moment, of course. And rightly so. But Woody Allen had a point when he said that 90 percent of life consists in just showing up.

Consider what it means to belong to the same rural Methodist church for 60 or 70 years. Because Methodist central command insists on changing preachers about as frequently as Sheraton changes sheets, and because small, poor, rural congregations serve as practice ground for the rawest seminary graduates, anyone sitting in the pews for a decade or two sees a head-spinning mix of styles, theologies and talents.

When I first arrived, the incumbent pastor was a jailhouse convert - a holy roller with a pinkie ring who returned whence he had come after embezzling a widow's insurance. Since then we've had wonderful people in the pulpit--some conservatives, some progressives. Some of them illustrated their sermons with examples taken from some preacher's helper that must have been published in 1921 because the anecdotes all involved World War I. We've taken communion by every method short of scuba diving into a tank of wine. We had one truly great preacher. She was young, smart, funny, full of love, able to talk to young and old, able to afflict the few of us who were comfortable while simultaneously comforting the many afflicted. And she hadn't been there a month before we were, all of us, worried sick about what it was going to be like when, inevitably, she would have to leave. Though none of us would have traded her years for anything, in certain ways it was the hardest passage of all.

Through it all Don and Velda and Frank and Jean never wavered. They might not have liked some new theological twist or liturgical gambit, but they didn't complain very much. (Not even when every other pastor would reinstitute the Greeting of the Neighbors, or the Passing of the Peace, or whatever they called it - a practice that makes less sense when the same 15 people are there every week, and you've greeted them when you came in, and you're going to greet them again at coffee hour.) And they kept doing the fairly awesome amount of labor even a poor small church requires if it is to keep going.

It's easy to say that all this doesn't add up to a daring relationship with God, that it's Mary and Martha come to life, that routine can suck the meaning out of something as bracing as the gospel. But those of us who've claimed this place were attracted by the sheer dogged devotion of the regulars.

My generation has been good at many things, but tenacity - faithfulness - is not one of them. Sometimes, in fact, we simply want too much. Like marriages that complete us, fulfill us in every way, make us whole, instead of marriages where, on most days, it's enough to be living faithfully together, adding another increment of quotidian devotion, giving each other the benefit of the doubt. Or like religious experiences, instead of the experience of being religious. I have no real sense of what it might have felt like to inhabit the medieval world, when the church was simply the air one breathed, the environment in which one lived. Or rather, what sense of that world I have comes from watching people like Frank and Jean and Don and Velda.

One spring day some years ago, when Don and I had finished taking down the storm windows, we decided to climb up into the steeple on a rickety ladder so that we could take in the view across our small town. We could see the house where he'd grown up, and the graveyard where many generations of his ancestors were buried. And while we were up there Don showed me something else - the place he had carved his initials, and Velda's. Sometime in the 1920s, when they were in grade school.

About the author:

Bill McKibben writes regularly for The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, Natural History, The New Republic, and many other publications. His first book, The End of Nature, was published in 1989 after being excerpted in The New Yorker and was a national bestseller. His other books include The Age of Missing Information, Maybe One, and Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously. His currently acclaimed bestseller, Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age is published by Henry Holt & Co. He lives with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, and daughter in Vermont. The above was reprinted by the kind permission of The Christian Century, linking Christian faith and contemporary life.

Soup to Nuts: From the feedback button
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Regarding the last newsletter, Spring Forward - contributing author Anne Duncan responded, "I enjoyed reading all the bits and pieces you included in your newsletter. Keep up the good work." Many contributing authors have become loyal subscribers to this newsletter, too! Maralyn1 commented, "This message is wonderful and very inspiring to me at a time when I really needed it the most. Peace, blessings and much gratitude."

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