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Thanksgiving Thought

“I will praise the name of God with song and magnify Him with Thanksgiving.” Psalm 69:30 (NASB)

The above passage is taken from the NASB translation of the Bible. However, the word “magnify” above is rendered “glorify” in the NIV translation. 

Many people like the idea of “glorify” versus “magnify” for this verse. Magnify, seems somehow, inappropriate. There is nothing that I can do to make God any bigger than He already is goes the reasoning. “Glorify” is a perfectly good word, but I think “magnify” is appropriate, and particularly needed in my own life.

You see, the older I get the smaller the print on the page looks to me. I need glasses. Sometimes, I even use a magnifying glass to read small print. My magnifying glass does not magically make the text on the page bigger, it just enlarges my perception of what was there all along.

This is exactly what our thanksgiving does regarding God. There is more of Him than we will ever grasp. Our praise does not enlarge Him, but it certainly enlarges our perception of Him. God instructs us to praise Him, not because He needs the compliment, but because we need Him magnified in our lives. Give thanks in this Thanksgiving Season. Warm Thanksgiving wishes to all — may He be MAGNIFIED in our lives and homes!
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A shout-out to my friend from college, pastor Dr. Glenn Young, whose words I have used (with some personal twists) above.

41BuYD+W4OL

I’ve been reading much on the fantastic and inspiring life of Winston Churchill.  This volume, the eighth and final is the masterful series by Randolph Churchill (Sir Winston’s son) and Martin Gilbert (who took up the task when Randolph died), brings to life the final 20 years of this tremendous leader’s life.

What stands out, as it does in earlier volumes, is Churchill’s devotion to duty and his courage in life — as does his uncanny foresight and vision.  He saw (and acted on) what it took (and has taken) so many others to figure out years, even decades, later.  And he understood that truth is not subjective and that effective policy and effective, impactful living must be built on truth.

This monumental effort will take significant time and effort to properly read and truly absorb. Its strength is also its weakness – namely it’s exhausting attention to daily and minute (and sometimes tangential) detail.

This detail, to the observant and insightful reader, will reveal and enable a greater understanding of what was truly happening and being experienced as it happened (where hindsight is of no help). It will thus also provide a true look into how, what and why Churchill and those around him thought and acted as they did.

Finally, it will so provide, if you have the eyes to see, true lessons on living life, even into extreme old age.

But this exhausting detail brings frustration in that it can detract from the overarching and main themes, lessons and critical points of history because they are lost in the day-to-day detail.

Nonetheless, this is a remarkable literary achievement and an excellent addition for those who have a good understanding of the major events of history and who seek deeper understanding of what made Churchill great and what animated him on a deep and “in the midst of life” level.  Perhaps more importantly, Churchill’s life provides object lessons in living life well.

 

Three related thoughts which I’m noodling around:

1) If we feel guilty for not measuring up to God’s standards, we often try to ease this guilt by lowering Him to ours.

2) Don’t act in ways that justify your critics. A Spanish proverb suggests, “If one person calls you a donkey, think nothing of it. If three people call you a donkey, buy a saddle.” Will Rogers’s advice is worth remembering: Live in such a way that you can sell your family parrot to the town gossip.

3) Jesus noted, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” A country saying notes: “If you’re not running against the devil, you’re probably running with him.”

What to take from all this? I’m still learning (a life-long journey), but I think it’s summed up in this: The basis on which one makes choices matters. Choose wisely.

Christmas1974

Today, 79 years ago, my Dad was born (yes, he was a Christmas Eve baby). In the pic above, that’s him holding my baby brother with my sister and me many years ago celebrating Christmas when we lived in Virginia (1974, I believe).

Sadly, he did not see his 55th birthday, abruptly and unexpectedly taken from us as a result of a heart attack. This grievous and dreadful event capped an approximately 18-month period when a dear uncle, my precious grandmother and my respected father were all seemingly snatched away, leaving us with wounded hearts, fractured faith and voids in our lives.

Growing up, Christmas always represented a time of hope for me. Year after year, I would ponder and reflect that God showed He is faithful to His promises and to us in the sending of His Son, Immanuel, God with us. Year after year, I anticipated that life would become more and more fulfilling; that my calling and purpose would be revealed and, with sincere effort, fulfilled; that my loved ones would find and grow in Christ and God the Father.

But as I’ve grown older and witnessed & shared in the pain of dear friends losing children during pregnancy or childbirth; of the unexpected and unexplained loss of family; of the life-changing/world-shrinking effects of Parkinson’s and other diseases; of the immense struggle to adapt to the results of stroke, Alzheimer’s, Lupus, aging – I’ve struggled more and more with belief. Hope has often seemed a light disappearing from view as I travel farther down “the race set before me.” And I battle feeling as if my life has been invalidated as the institutions I’ve counted on seem to have declared my accomplishments as inconsequential; my beliefs as ignorant, my faith as unprofitable and counterproductive. Immanuel? God with us? Sometimes, I confess, I have misgivings as to whether that is true…..

But I’m continually brought up by the fact that the evils of this world do not contradict God nor His Son. “In this world you will have trouble,” He told us. Trouble of my own making and trouble resulting from a world increasingly spurning God and His Son. We are described as imbued with the dignity of God and yet infected with death, fear and self-defeating tendencies. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” It was into this world that He came. For you. For me.

I continue to be rescued by this Immanuel, God with Us. This God who did not consider equality with God as something to be held onto and used to His own advantage. Rather, He emptied Himself and became human. He experienced what we experience – He experienced our reality. And, in order to save us, He became obedient unto death.

The Christmas hope (Immanuel) is a future hope – for a place where the kingdom of God is actually and fully realized. Where creation, now broken, will be made anew. Where the losses, the wounds and the voids will be redeemed, healed and closed.

The Christmas hope (Immanuel) is also a present hope – those who seek God, who come to God through His Son, will be sustained through present sufferings and will know peace and purpose in this life.

So, for grieving widows to abuse survivors to those suffering illness, disease, depression, doubt and fear.

For those who have made bad choices and despair of ever being able to repair what has been broken as a result of those choices.

For those who have experienced or are experiencing heartbreaking and confusing loss.

For those who were not loved growing up and have developed a hard layer to try to deaden the pain and insulate from any more pain.

For the widows alone, unable to sleep at night, remembering nights past and the laughter of family filling the house.

For the parents who feel overwhelmed and wonder how to build a family.

For those who feel insignificant …. lost …. alone.

For those who are weary and ready to give up.

For those who worry that the hour is too late for them to return.

This night, and the birth of this Child so long ago is meant to bring the hope of salvation.

He came to bring light to the world.

He is the gift.

May this gift bring you the hope of the realization that you are loved. The hope that a way to God has been made for you. That abundant life and abundant living can be found even here and even now.

Merry Christmas.

 

My son turned nineteen years old today.  Today he is recognized as a full adult by our great state.  I’ve had this date marked for some time as “the milestone” for his launching into adulthood.  Today has been an emotional day for me.  Having children was not something I decided on lightly.  My wife had desired children for years, but I had been most reluctant — because I didn’t know or think I had what it took to be a good father.  It was only after 10 years of marriage and much soul-searching and prayer that I made the very personal and life-changing decision to father children.  I have not been a perfect father — I can think of many occasions for which I wish I could have a “do-over.”  But, in the really important things of life, especially in faith, knowing right and wrong, being a man of integrity, my son is largely where I have prayed and hoped he would be.  And now we have begun the transition of his leaving our nest and setting out on his own.  Bittersweet doesn’t begin to describe what this transition, just now in its early stages, has been like. 

Today, on this milestone day, I drove to his college to spend time with him and have a little private “ceremony” recognizing his transition to manhood.  It was important to me that I do this — and I hope it was meaningful to him.  I presented him with a serious gift in the form of a book regarding what true manhood involves and also a letter in which I wrote from my heart and which I hope will be one he treasures, keeps, and re-reads many times over the course of his life.

To my son on his 19th birthday:

Nineteen years old – the beginning of life as an adult (per the great state in which we live 🙂 ). Where have all the years gone? Why does life have to go by so fast? I wish I could hit rewind and pause buttons and just savor the blessing of you as a child and adolescent.

But as much as I might like that, there is no stopping time. It’s a bittersweet moment because we are saying goodbye to the child we raised and embracing the young adult you have become.

This is how I feel today, buddy. You’re no longer a little boy, no longer an adolescent. You are a grown man who is beginning to make a life of his own. BUT, that doesn’t mean you are simply “on your own.” I (and your mother) deeply want to be in your life and you in ours.  We know we are not in the “parent-child” stage anymore, but we still remain your loving parents – ready to provide advice, support, friendship; we pray for continued involvement in your life – the ability to share in the up’s and down’s it brings.

I’ve often thought of what I would tell you as you launch into manhood. I’ve wanted to give you thoughts that you will hide in your heart and practice in your life. Here they are:

  • Take time for introspection (thinking about who you are and what you want to be in terms of character, integrity, calling). You will find that life sometimes gets more complicated the older you get. Sometimes it’s very easy to figure out, and sometimes it will take you years to find the answer.
  • Dare to dream. Work hard and persistently to make your dreams reality. Don’t get discouraged when you fail – learn from it and move on and keep trying.  Everyone has failures in life as they work to succeed.
  • Be brave.  Don’t be afraid to stand for what is right and for truth (especially among your friends).  Remember Deuteronomy 31:6 & Joshua 1:9.  Be selective in your close friends – you really do take on the characteristics of those you surround yourself with.
  • Keep your family in your life.  We love you and we want to share in your life; remain a part, a supportive part, of your life.
  • Most of all, commit yourself and your ways to the Lord, and you will succeed in life (that desk ornament I gave you years ago and insisted you keep on your desk? I did for a reason – to remind you of this very thing – Proverbs 3:5-6 🙂 ).

I have great confidence in you because you have a good heart, good character and most of all, you have faith in Jesus.  Live that faith!  I say again, LIVE YOUR FAITH.

It’s an exciting time, a time of transition, of looking to and planning for your future. You’re now fully responsible for your decisions and actions. Remember your actions and decisions have consequences (for good or bad; now and in the future).

Establish in your heart and mind that being a man is a purposeful effort which does not come about by simply growing older.  Being a man is more about character, compassion and courage than it is career. A man has character when he is a person of integrity who can be depended on. A man has compassion when he is caring for others by putting their best interests ahead of his own. A man has courage when he does what is right even what it’s difficult. I believe you have come far on this journey to becoming a man. You have learned so much already. Continue faithfully on!

You will make a difference! You certainly have in my life. You are heaven sent.  I thank and praise God for placing you in my life. I know I’ve not been the perfect parent, but I hope I have been a good one and that you are able to live well in part because I have been (and continue to be) your loving father. I am a better person because you are in my life.  I love you fiercely and as long as I have breath, I am here for you.  If you need to talk, need advice, just give me a call or a text or a visit.

Your loving and proud,

Dad

I just know the handful of you who read this blog are dying to know what I’ve been reading this first half of 2018!  Below is a list (beginning with most recent read) along with a brief review of each (star rating is based on a maximum of 5 stars)

1. The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith and Idiocy by Rainn Wilson **** – A surprisingly poignant and balanced book by the actor who brought Dwight K Schrute (of The Office) to life. As you read Rainn’s story, you realize how much we are shaped by our parents and by how much we need to belong, have purpose/meaning and how critical it is that our lives are lived on truth. Some of this is learned by Rainn’s story, but much is learned by realizing where Rainn has built on the relativism of “everybody having their own truth.”

Much more than a “here’s how I became a successful actor,” this is an very educational read on human need and the importance of how we are impacted by, and can be of positive impact to, others.  I’d give it 5 stars but Rainn essentially ends his story when he comes to LA at the age of 34 and subsequently begins to list his acting and philanthropic endeavors. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it leaves one wishing he told the subsequent 18 years as vulnerably as he did the first.

2. Founding Rivals: Madison vs Monroe, The Bill of Rights and the Election That Saved a Nation by Chris DeRose ***1/2 – A lively and interesting look at the lives and friendship of James Madison and James Monroe and how they individually and through their friendship and rivalry contributed to the establishment of our nation from the time of the Revolution through the Constitutional Convention and the First Congress under the new Constitution.  The author claims the election of 1789 for the House of Representatives (the first under the new Constitution) from VA’s 5thDistrict (in which Madison and Monroe ran against each other) ensured the survival of the nation under the Constitution resulting in the creation of the Bill of Rights and the ratification of the Constitution by every remaining state – thus preventing the calling of a second constitution convention which likely would have done great damage to, if not the undoing of, the union.  Mr. DeRose makes a very credible case for this argument while also providing interesting facts and details of which I was not previously aware.  A great and light read for those who love U.S. History as well as one which provides meaningful insights from time-to-time.

3. To Change the Church (Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism) by Russ Douthat **** – An excellent look at the struggle for truth within the Catholic church.  In particular, though Douthat doesn’t use this term, it is a struggle against eisegesis which many priests, bishops and ultimately Francis (at least in part) have been employing over the last several years. His examination of this struggle and its potential consequences have striking parallels (and potential consequences) for evangelical churches as it already has for mainline Protestant churches.  In addition, Douthat provides an excellent summary of Catholic church history, particularly how the Vatican II council came about, what the Vatican II council brought about, and its ramifications to the present day which is critical in understanding how the current state of the church has been brought about. The initial dividing line which Douthat highlights in this struggle for truth and the church’s call to stand for it, is the debate over remarried couples participating in communion. While the Catholic church admirably argues for the sanctity and sacrament of marriage, it fails to acknowledge and apply the doctrine of repentance and forgiveness which is central to Christ’s mission and thus reveals a church which also struggles with rigidity and the appropriate application of grace and mercy.  Douthat doesn’t explicitly bring this out in his writing, but it is glaringly obvious. Douthat employs a masterful writing technique in expounding the arguments of “liberal” and “conservative” viewpoints, and one must be mindful that he is employing this technique lest one think he is endorsing the liberal (eisegetic) view.

I highly recommend this book as, for the discerning reader, it highlights the critical struggle going on in the Catholic and evangelical churches for truth. The church can’t be the effective body of Christ functioning as Christ’s ambassador and light if it simply seeks to accommodate the modern view that “everyone has their own truth”.  It cannot be a mere puppet for never-ending and always-changing relativistic views that seek to justify worldly wisdom, vanity and mores in place of God’s design and Jesus’ teaching.  Douthat makes an excellent case for this, while also, perhaps inadvertently, highlighting the need for true and faithful application of grace and mercy in the context of truth.

4. Helena by Evelyn Waugh **1/2 – Set in the time period of approx. 300 A.D., the book is intended as a didactic with the story of Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, as the central (and searching) character. While the book is true to ancient history as we know it, the author fails to develop both plot and characters leaving the reader to wonder why certain events in the story happened and large gaps in time in the plot with no explanation of what happened in between. I’d heard much about this book and looked forward to reading it, but was left disappointed as the story felt incomplete.

5. The Storm of War (A New History of the Second World War) by Andrew Roberts *** – A solid history with emphasis on the Allies’ effort against Germany (only 2 of 18 chapters devoted to the Pacific War against Japan, one of those largely perfunctory). Solid analysis of why the Axis lost and several interesting notes on individuals in the war.

6. Reflections on the Christian Life by Anthony Esolen ***** – quite simply one of the two best, if not the best, devotional book I can recall reading. To call this book a devotional book is really incomplete and does not do the book justice. Mr. Esolen has crafted a wonderful book that brings out timeless truths in a way that enlightens as you meditate on what he has written, and, more importantly, the Scripture behind it and how it can help form the story that is your life. Buy it and read it – but not hurriedly. Truly read and meditate and think through the truths and their application to your life. I spent months doing just that and was highly rewarded!

7. Grant Takes Command by Bruce Catton ***1/2 – This is a highly readable, informative and enjoyable history (written in narrative style) of the end of Grant’s western campaign (the Battle of Chattanooga), how and why that led to his appt as General-in-Chief of the Union armies and his subsequent Overland Campaign of 1864-1865 which culminated in the Appomattox surrender of Lee. It also ably tells of the struggles Grant faced in getting the commanders of the Army of the Potomac correct (all of the corps commanders save Meade [who was essentially demoted as a result of Grant’s presence with the army] were replaced within a year) as well as how his overall strategy of coordinated movement of all armies in the field led to ultimate victory. Only drawback is the heavy geographic detail which can be confusing without constant reference to maps not provided by the book.

8. Lessons in Hope (My Unexpected Life with St John Paul II) by George Weigel ***1/2 – From preliminary reviews, I expected this book (by George Weigel, a writer whose works and articles are must reading for me) to be a series of vignettes which highlighted stories the author witnessed (or heard about from others) during his eyewitness times with Pope John Paul II.  I also expected there to be lessons, if you will, in the hope that resulted from these stories as well as insights into John Paul’s character — what he valued, what “made him tick.”

This book, however,offers “biographical sketches” which show a fascinating and well-lived life.   The author assumes his readership is very familiar with Catholicism, Catholic history and the Catholic church which can make some of the reading something of a slog for Protestants such as myself.  However, ultimately, I gained a deeper understanding of the Catholic Church’s roots, its formation in the likeness of a nation, its bureaucratic shortcomings and, most enlightening, the contents of some historically important papal encyclicals. Of the greatest importance, however, the book offers a penetrating look into what many Catholic Church leaders thought of the pope and the inner workings of the church itself, particularly since Vatican II.  It offers insights into John Paul’s thoughts on the relation of the gospel and religion to culture (it is foundational and without it culture decays and devolves) and the importance of objective truth (it is a necessary condition and understanding it/living by it essential to liberty), as well as what he viewed as challenges to be faced in the 21st century and how Christianity should prepare and offer answers.  We also see a John Paul who continually sought God, whose relationship to God formed the core of his being and informed his purpose and peace in this life and resulted in a historically impacting pontificate.

The engaged and perceptive reader will find insights, truths and wisdom on the importance and potential impact of the gospel in history — both epochally (with the fall of Communism being the prime example) and in individual lives.  And in finding these truths and their impacts, one finds indeed, a rich store of Lessons in Hope.

9. Always Right by Niall Ferguson ***** – Excellent summary book on Margaret Thatcher, her views, her actions and why they were so important to history. While I am not a Briton, all Britons should be grateful to God for her – for she, and those who worked alongside her, truly did save the United Kingdom from itself and its slide into irrevelance. She reminded the UK of her contributions to history and restored pride. And, of course, she was so important to world history in the victory of the Cold War. “She was the leader, proof that sometimes it really is a single individual who can change the course of history.”

10. Out of the Ashes (Rebuilding American Culture) by Anthony Esolen **** – a fascinating, challenging and convicting read.  But beware, it is not for the faint of heart nor those easily offended. Dr. Esolen is a man of learning and conviction, and his tone and some of his thoughts on culture and divine truth will put off some. The author is largely accurate in his broad cultural analysis (if not always in the remedy, particularly regarding generalities on manhood and womanhood). The book has much to offer regarding , and boldly and accurately states, truth, beauty, education, God and man, how we rationalize evil and ugliness, and the need for ordinary people to be willing to resume the humanity that has often been lost (and how to do it). The last two chapters are classic and timeless!

11. Love Does (Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World) by Bob Goff *** – At its best, and that is often, the author provides motivation to “put legs” on their faith. It is, in this sense, a series of modern day parables (though they differ in that they are based on his and other’s life experiences) that emphasize what the book of James emphasizes — namely “What use is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”

At its “less than best,” there are places in which the book comes across as a Tony Robbins/Robert Kiyosaki “you can do it” motivational book with religious (though Mr Goff would not want anyone associating his book with “religion”) bromides and bumper sticker theology substituting for deep seeking of God. Example: “…[God] doesn’t pass us messages, instead He passes us each other.” “…our understanding will always have gaps and gaps are good because they leave room for God to fill in the spaces.”

12. Reagan at Reykjavik (Forty-eight Hours that Ended the Cold War) by Ken Adelman **** ½ – Deemed an abject failure at its conclusion in late 1986, the Reykjavik summit has since been realized to be the event in which the leaders of the USA (Reagan) and USSR (Gorbachev) “laid their cards on the table.” The result was an irrevocably altered understanding between the two leaders which resulted in the foundation and accelerator for the ending of the Cold War. Reykajvik was a summit like no other in the history of the Cold War.

The author, who was director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) from 1983-1987, was an active participant in the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev summit at Reykjavik. He has crafted an excellent book which (even allowing for some minor contradictions and a style that sometimes brings confusion on chronology) covers the summit in vivid, but not excessive, detail and formulates well-supported conclusions of this historic summit.

Highly recommend for any serious student of history, and a must for those Cold War, Russian and/or later American history devotees.

13. Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage by Nicholas Wapshott **** – an evenhanded overview of the Reagan-Thatcher partnership which proved so pivotal and impacting to their countries and to the world at large.
While not all of the author’s assessments are correct, the essentials are. He also provides the right amount of informative detail for an overview of arguably the most important political alliance of the 20th century and of two of the most important leaders of the same.

 

There you have it! On deck thus far in the 2nd half of the year:

  • Reagan: The Life by H.W. Brands
  • Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times by Leon R. Kass
  • Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Modern World by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput
  • Dictator: A Novel by Robert Harris
  • The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard
  • Not a Day Care: The Devasting Consequences of Abandoning Truth by Dr. Everett Piper

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The Masters golf tournament ended yesterday (yes, I got to roam the grounds of Augusta National Golf Course!).  Patrick Reed won his first major tournament.  In doing so, he overcame many obstacles:

  • He was NOT the one the crowds wanted to win.  Again and again, the crowd favorites were greeted with roars of approval when they were introduced and when they made a great shot.  Patrick, on the other hand, was given only “polite golf applause” when he was introduced or when he made a great shot.  It was evident to all that he was not who the crowds were rooting for.  One of the headlines on CBSsports.com even read, “How a Villain Won it All” in describing Patrick’s victory.
  • The pressure of some of golf’s best players gaining significant ground (one even getting tied with him) when he faltered early.  When Patrick began the day with a bogey and a par (on a hole in which he should have had birdie), it looked like he would wilt under the pressure.  Instead, he steadied himself and made the shots he had to over the next 16 holes.
  • The challenge issued by one of golf’s best golfers, Rory McIlroy, with whom Patrick was partnered on Sunday, the last round of the tournament.  Rory was playing the “mental game” against Patrick.  Patrick stayed mentally tough throughout.

How did Patrick Reed manage to overcome all of these obstacles?  He won because he remained focused and committed to his purpose.  As I think on this, I’m reminded of Paul’s exhortations to us as Christians:  “Do you know know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win.”  (1 Cor 9:24)  “Run in such a way that you press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

The need for Christians to live up to our identity and calling in Christ in today’s deteriorating culture cannot be overstated.  Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest, the April 8 reading, states: “[Jesus’] resurrection means for us [Christians] that we are raised to His risen life, not to our old life….we can know now the [power and effectiveness] of His resurrection and walk in newness of life.  Thank God it is gloriously and majestically true that the Holy Ghost can work in us the very nature of Jesus if we will obey Him.”

Like Patrick Reed, we will face significant obstacles in seeking to live in (and live out) our new life and identity in Christ.  There will be those who root against us, those who actively work against us, those who try to bully and pressure and shame us with “mental games.”

But Oswald Chambers is right … we can know now the power and effectiveness of His resurrection, we can walk in newness of life and the Holy Spirit work in us the very nature of Jesus … if we obey Him.

Patrick Reed won the Masters because he “ran the race” focused and committed to golf’s ultimate prize.  As Christians, we must run for a greater calling and prize.  We do this that we may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:1-4) and because if we don’t, we simply deny the light culture so desperately needs.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. [We are] like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Are you (am I) “too easily pleased?”