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Rick Sutcliffe

Last Lecture Series--Proverbs To Live By

TWU Chapel 2010 03 18
R. Sutcliffe

The premise of a "last lecture" is to say what you would tell students if you knew this was your last chance to address them. At this point I have given somewhat more than 18K lectures. This may or may not be the last.

The most famous "Last Lecture" was that given by Randy Pausch 2007 10 22 at Carnegie-Mellon University. Like me, Randy was also a computing science professional and therefore high on the nerdity scale. Unlike him, I have not yet been informed that I am imminently about to die, so do not think a retrospective summary of my life and its lessons would yet be helpful. Instead, I shall venture to emulate Solomon in small part, and offer in proverbial form a compendium of what may pass for a dim reflection of what little wisdom may have stuck as I've rolled through life. So let me pack as much advice into twenty minutes as I am able.

Rightness Be right with God. Put your faith, hope, and trust in Him and his word. He gives meaning to life. Try as you might, you will never find it elsewhere.

Be right about doctrine, too, but don't extend that to thinking you are right about everything, or you will be insufferable.

On that note, as far as possible, be right with others. It is better to be wronged than to be forever trying to vindicate yourself, even if you are right. And, be careful about your use of the terms "frankness" and "speaking the truth in love" because either is a common euphemism for an abusive tongue sharp enough to cut sheet metal. And don't forget: there is no difference between exaggerating and lying, between pirating books, music and software and stealing.

Moreover, when you are wrong, repent of it specifically, and change your ways. On the one hand, doing the same thing the same way over and over and expecting a different outcome is a good definition of insanity. On the other, there is no difference between a repentance that has no visible application or fruit and no repentance at all, indeed no difference between one who claims to be a believer but lacks fruit in his or her life, and an unbeliever.

Positivity Be a builder not a destroyer, a praiser not a critic. People who make a career out of fighting and criticizing only poison their own souls. Remember that the Holy Spirit is not yet finished instantiating the character of the Christ in you either.

Life Enjoy life. God took an entire six days to create the heavens, the earth, and all in them. He could have done it in six milliseconds, or in no time at all. Why? Undoubtedly because he was having so much fun. And if you don't believe the Lord has a sense of humour, I refer you to Genesis 1:27 ... male and female he created them.

And, remember that, post fall, life is a fatal disease. You haven't lived well until you have died well.

Intentionality Plan ahead. Thimk. Have an engineering mindset. The intelligence God gave you is the difference between random data and meaningful information, indeed all meaning derives from intelligence. You're not on a random walk through life. Do things on purpose. Otherwise you are indistinguishable from a machine. There is no difference between a life without plan or purpose and no life at all, no difference between an unintended or undocumented feature and a bug.

Know your discipline's epistemology. Until you understand what it means when you say you know something is true about your discipline, you cannot credibly claim to know anything about it at all.

Understand that the Creator has already given substance, form, meaning, and beauty to the creation. Look for and marvel at the concinnity of meaning and beauty that is already there; do not arrogantly suppose you can create your own consilience.

Problems By definition, problems have solutions. Otherwise, they are called something else. However, not every problem is worth your trying to solve. You may lack the resources to finish a software project, to calm a troubled soul, to deal with a difficult person, to build that network, to complete a business venture. Count the cost ahead of time before starting, count it again as you decide either to continue or to fold your hand. Know when to turn that TV show off or discard a book as not worth reading. Don't throw good money after bad. You cannot do everything.

And if someone offers you a business deal that sounds too good to be true, assume it's a scam.

Addictions Everyone has a potential for addiction, whether it be to alcohol, tobacco, another mind altering drug, sex, work, fame, power, money, social networking, games, work, pride, self-righteousness, food, beauty (your own or others), or even learning. Give in, and you will be a slave forever, of no practical value to God or humankind. God made your body to be a temple of the Holy Spirit unto the praise of his glory. Don't abuse his property, turn it into a crack house or a slum tenement. He may evict you. Same goes for the environment around.

To pick on one of those again, I've twice mentioned beauty. Remember this: there is more real substance of beauty in a kind heart, a generous soul, and a smiling face, than in all the sham and illusion found in all the clothing stores, makeup kits, jewellery collections and beauty parlours in all the world.

To pick on two others, while drugs and alcohol are a tax on intelligence, gambling is a tax on stupidity. Pickle your brain with one, flush money, home, relationships and livelihood down the toilet with the other.

People The most important things in life are not things. So give rather than take. Invest in people and ensure they know to pay your investment forward, rather than back.

Be a team player--there are few software projects and almost no other worthwhile things that can be profitably achieved alone.

Be a peacemaker, but keep in mind that the beatitude pronounced for same is not primarily for this life, but the next. The same passage says you are blessed for being reviled, and that's what generally happens to would-be peacemakers.

Connectedness The New Agers are right about one thing. Everything is connected to everything else. We cannot live alone. That is why we have Church. What you say and do always have consequences, even if you repent of them.

Reality Know the difference between fantasy and truth, between imagination and reality. The world is not the way you want it to be, no matter how hard you try. So be rooted in the reality of God, his church, his people, his ways.

Technology, Money and Stuff Everything costs more and takes longer than you expect, especially hardware and software projects.

She who dies with the most toys may well win, but what does she win? After all, money not only isn't everything, it isn't anything-just an abstraction for keeping score, like chalk, or ink, both of which fade or are wiped away. In the very long run, money is meaningless. In the short run it's all God's, as are you and your other "possessions", and the cattle on a thousand hills. Handing over a tenth of your money and a seventh of your time every Sunday is merely a reminder of your dependence on Him.

Before you plan, buy, deploy, and train for technology, ask some questions about its effects on people. If you don't deal with the ethics of technology, who will?

Tools Cheap tools ruin your work and waste your time. Both are too expensive. Get the right ones. Don't use a sledgehammer to crack a peanut. Use screws to attach sheet goods, not nails. Rototill your garden at least twice before planting. Remember that a computer is not an appliance like a toaster, but a tool like a compound sliding mitre saw or a Swiss Army officer's knife. Get a Mac. Use the right software. Write the software the customer needs. Do the job right at least by the third time.

Learning Be a student all your life. If you're not growing in grace and knowledge, you're dying. Moreover, remember that university is NOT about deconstructing your world view and building another, it's about engaging ideas.

Practical corollary: lean as much about mathematics, science, and computing technology as you can, for these three are keys to understanding God's works. They will also dictate many of the everyday circumstances of life for the next generation. Moreover, they'll get you something better than a McJob.

Exercise your brain. Read the and study the Scriptures (no book is more important), engage your mind also with the classics, with philosophy, history, science, novels--but if you want your mind not just filled, but challenged to think creatively, read science fiction and even some fantasy. After all, today's Science Fiction is tomorrow's everyday technology.

And, while we're at it, don't neglect music and art--also windows to the soul.

Teaching It is sometimes said by the ignorant that "those who can, do; the rest teach. Rather, say, "you have not done something really well until you have taught another person to do it better." The goal is to replace yourself, and then some.

In business, the bottom line can be totalled up at the end of the month or quarter, and you see how successful you have been. In teaching, success is realized over decades, and measured by former students who return to tell you what influence you have had on their lives.

Practice The Spy's Second Law, a variation of Murphy's states: The practice of theory never matches the theory of practice--or, what's a beta tester for? So learn from your disappointments, and when life serves you lemons, savour the lemonade. Romans 5:3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. Hey, I know. By the time you get to my age you'll be telling the Lord you have quite enough character, thank you very much.

Faithfulness Be a faithful servant. Keep your word even when it costs you, even if you feel you were tricked into giving it. Be the kind of person who is always there--at Church, at work, at your appointments, the one person other people CAN take for granite, a pillar, not a missing person.

Multiply your talents. Be prepared. We will give account for our stewardship.

Occasionally violate the rule of predictability to do something unpredictably kind and loving. Perform a Random Act of Kindness or treat that homeless bum to a sandwich. She may be an angel in disguise sent to test you.

Specialization & Generalization

The Human Being

-- From the Notebooks of Lazarus Long, by Robert A. Heinlein

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

The Christian Human Being

A Christian is a human being (see above) whose heart is passionately subject to Christ, a person of integrity who is sound in eclectic and integrated knowledge, compassionate in love, and filled with good deedsĐable to dry someone's tears, lead in prayer, help the needy, give a testimony, sing the praises of God, visit the sick and imprisoned, write a defense of the faith, clothe the naked, build up the church, offer encouragement to those burdened and oppressed, give generously, expound the scriptures, lead a fellow sinner to Christ, be an example of righteousness, preach a sermon, witness to anyone, or dieĐall on a moment's notice. A Christian is one in whom the Holy Spirit has begun to incarnate the heart, the soul, the mind, and the deeds of Christ in all holiness of character. A Christian thinks and acts for the glory of the Father, through the redemption and righteousness of Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit alone. All who enter here do so by faith alone and must abandon ignorance, egotism, equivocation, duplicity, hesitation, materialism, and self-satisfaction. These are all for pagans.

--Rick Sutcliffe


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