Category Archives: Principles


A few days ago I heard the word covenant used as how Christians should align ourselves with the Word of God, as depicted in the Bible and translated into action within a church. Like many of our English words, covenant comes from the Latin language, meaning coming together. An agreement, contract, or promise. Which includes a list of stipulations, privileges, and responsibilities.

At one time I considered becoming a lawyer. I passed the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and received acceptance letters from two universities. After much consideration and conversation with my wife, I decided to extinguish that initial interest. Instead, I remained in the field of education and eventually became a university professor responsible for preparing teachers and school administrators.

My reasons for that decision were complicated but never regretted.

The legal profession is essential in our society, because its practitioners can negotiate the intricacies of binding covenants. They untangle vague understandings and language usage. Lawyers are both admired and disliked for their ability, depending on how well they defend or advocate points-of-view. Depending on who feels supported by their actions and who does not.

They can come across as good guys standing up to those who would diminish or cheat us common folk. Or as mouthpieces with dubious reputations who successfully defend guilty parties with enough money to pay for skillful advocacy. 

They can find ways to prove inaccuracies of covenants such as insurance contracts. Or laws so poorly worded or executed they are depicted as unfair or favorable only to those who gain the advantage. Politics in our democracy depends on lawyers. Or those who think like them. To write our laws and support citizens living under them.

During the early years of my education career, I served as the representative and advisor for teachers who held grievances against school district policies or practices. No compensation was given to me, but it felt good to win. Which I did every time.

But that experience convinced me to rescind my law school applications. I learned how to win, using strategies for clients who may not have deserved to win. To succeed through intellectual manipulation and strategic maneuvering.

But a deeper reason for my disenchantment involved the pervasive existence of ignorance. The unwillingness to accept opportunities to be fully engaged with the soul of covenants. By soul of covenants, I refer to righteousness described by God. Applied as worldly actions that make us one with a holy universe.

Compromise and accommodation are outcomes Christians have long accepted. But they become the soul of covenants only when they become more of who we are than simply what we accept or do.

Our doctrines, often based on Holy Scripture, can be manipulated to align with contemporary attitudes. People who think like lawyers create unjust conditions. They find scriptural passages that support those conditions and the beliefs on which they are created. People accommodate themselves to those conditions and beliefs, and even stand up for them against opponents.

This blog post is being written in a place similar to where I grew up. The sun emerges over the Organ Mountains to the east, revealing a desert landscape like places I once hiked and revered. Similar to the terrain Christ once walked as he fulfilled his earthly ministry. A ministry founded on principles of reverence for the diversity of earth’s features and its living inhabitants. For ALL the human beings allowed to live on this globe. Under a free will that gives us the opportunity to search for purpose. For ways we can better express unconditional love for each other.

His kind of service was rejected by many. By those with enough power to disparage his teachings and attempt to remove his physical existence. They failed.

But their kind keep re-emerging in us today. Sometimes in the form of political or military dictatorships. Sometimes in the form of those with their own self-serving goals. Those who use their charisma, money, and/or ability to encourage others toward their kinds of aspiration. Using legalisms that justify their own self-serving ends yet sound logical and reasonable in the context of social order. Using fear as a justification for violence. Or to build an extreme loyalty to particular cultural beliefs.

Legalisms and fear can appear in the context of religious belief. No one disputes the value of the Ten Commandments as a guide for living, although they are widely ignored or tempered by cultural loyalties and compromises.

Jesus acknowledged their value as the basis for a behavioral covenant. But in his physical life and today he tells us we must seek the soul of our covenants. To know who we are, as people who genuinely love each other and use that commitment to serve. Even when that kind of service is declared unwanted or unrealistic. Or, in Jesus’ days, dangerous on many levels. Too inclusive. Too upsetting to social order and the economy. Too much a threat to existing laws and cultural mores.

This time in the desert is a good opportunity for me to reflect on how well my allegiances have been given and kept. How well the soul of my covenant has been managed in my life. Even when that kind of service was rejected or ignored.

©2023 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved


The word “maverick” comes from the American West, referring to escaped cattle being branded. Today the word has a larger meaning as a descriptor of independent thinkers. People who remain part of the herd but are not swayed by popular opinion. Alternate points-of-view about beliefs and the organization’s mission. 

While mavericks do not avoid joining groups, they make it clear that mindless allegiance or compliance is not part of their persona. A maverick is rarely someone who rejects an organization’s purposes. Instead, s/he sees a different path with thought-provoking reasons  expressed articulately.

Mavericks can be annoying and sometimes disruptive. Their kind of life requires thick skins. They are regularly criticized for not going along with the group’s plans or decisions. But they believe in themselves and their message, often a powerful service to humankind.

Writer Ayn Rand (a Russian/American born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum in 1905) was a prototype maverick. She moved to the United States in 1926 and became a prolific writer of plays, novels, philosophical essays, and other pieces. She created and produced her own periodicals. Probably best known as the author of The Fountainhead, which was later made into a moving picture, Rand also wrote the famous novel Atlas Shrugged

Rand wrote books, essays, plays, and other publications from strong biases about human behavior, governmental philosophy, and religion. Her philosophical system, Objectivism, promoted reason as the basis for knowledge, what she called rational and ethical egoism. Laissez-faire capitalism, including individual and private property rights. She rejected altruism, collectivism, statism, anarchism, and religion.

As a maverick widely admired by many Americans, the admiration of Rand continues today among some politicians and other societal leaders. Those especially proud of America’s successes in meeting its Manifest Destiny through intrepid explorers, entrepreneurs, and enlightened risk takers.

Ayn Rand created and advocated such a radical philosophy. For twelve years, she lived in Russia’s oppressive society dominated completely by the Czar and Orthodox Russian Church. In 1917, the Communist Revolution overthrew both suffocating systems and replaced them with its own. For nine years, Rand and her family lived under the rule of Vladimir Lenin and cohorts like Joseph Stalin.

In 1926 post World War I brought to the United States an era of astonishing technical, industrial, and economic accomplishments. Quality of life advanced by materialism. The quest for greater riches and comfortable lifestyles. For over a decade Americans were inundated with images of wealth and the good life, much of it based on borrowed money or risky investments. A time of great literary contributions, some of which warned that the concentration on acquiring wealth could result in a social and personal disaster. That happened in 1929, but not for Ayn Rand.

Rand advocated unrestrained capitalism as a way to achieve happiness and success. She succeeded in maintaining that idea during the prosperous 1950s.

The maverick and her followers provided a service. They made people think and often act in ways that improved the quality of American life, albeit with serious and sometimes devastating bumps in the road. Rand’s influence continues in American politics and economic thinking today.

My favorite maverick was Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. During his life he was considered a dangerous maverick by the Romans and Jewish cultures that collaborated for their own benefit. Like Rand, Jesus rejected control of people by a political or religiously affiliated authority. Like Rand, Jesus valued each individual and the power of reason. 

Jesus was an advocate of individual accomplishment, but not in the material sense. He believed in taking the initiative. Finding creative ways to improve the quality of human life. Not through nurturing greed and competitive skills, but through building up others through unconditional love.

Jesus asked people to seek a more satisfying life. Not by acquiring more money, power and status. Instead, to fulfill God’s will by spreading his good news about the real purpose of earthly life. To love one another and demonstrate that love through teaching and service.

Many present-day Christians disdain the maverick as being detrimental to faithful allegiance to Biblical teachings and admonitions. Only people who obey God’s word and follow the tenets of the faith are genuine believers, therefore qualified to be part of his kingdom.

Mavericks need not apply. They are not acceptable.

But Christianity has long valued mavericks and benefited from their alternate points of view. The Apostle Thomas, Saul of Tarsus (St. Paul), C. S. Lewis, and hundreds of others. All mavericks with truly moral motives who became powerful advocates for God’s will. Through incisive discernment. Logic and reason.  Some, like Saint Thomas Aquinas, reshaped and upgraded the church.

Mavericks like Rand leave life unconvinced and unrepentant. But they nevertheless make us think and therefore become stronger within our Christian faith and convictions.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved


How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future, is a new book by Maria Ressa. She is a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize because of her contributions as a journalist and change agent. Most of her book addresses dictatorial regimes in the Philippines and other countries in that region of the world. But events in those places are replicated everywhere.

The book confirms the adage that if you are not frightened by what is going on, you are not paying attention. That we all SHOULD pay attention and find ways to deal with the problem.

Ressa’s message: Democracy is fragile and modern forms of communication make it even more so.

How do human societies breed those who wish to dominate others? And, more importantly, allow them to gain power in the first place.

As an armchair student of history, I have observed how some people become dictatorial. But I do not know why. Even more mysterious is how those people can convince others to follow them even into oblivion. Or accept outrageous beliefs toward bizarre or dangerous behaviors.

How does one become an Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, or even a religious cult leader like Jim Jones? Crazed individuals, with amazingly creative minds, convince themselves their warped perceptions of reality are correct. That they have the answers necessary to overcome what they perceive as a society threatened by evil outsiders or mysterious forces permeating the universe.

Lunacy, or a warped view of the world, can be mixed with mannerisms and oratorical or writing skills that somehow make followers listen and believe. Usually, the root of the scenario is fear, allowing the potential dictator or bombastic bully the opportunity to convince others of an enemy outside their doors. That they will be consumed by that alien force if they do not believe the warnings. And they must support the self-proclaimed leader in a campaign to defeat the evil at their doorstep.

That scenario is replayed over and over. Adolph Hitler is probably the prime archetype of that image.

Hitler wrote a book, Mien Kompf, which was influential among certain followers. But his real friend was the medium of radio. Even movies of that era. Broadcasting to people convinced they were victims of a world that made them military losers in World War I. That their economy was crashing because of an economic depression. Made worse by reparation payments to war victors. An imagined Jewish conspiracy that created an economic system in which Jews prospered and everyone else was deprived.

Hitler succeeded in taking Germany to the heights of nationalistic chauvinism — word now more commonly used to describe the attitudes of some men toward women. “Feelings of superiority,” which occurs in both social and political realms. It is difficult to think of a woman dictator, although some queens were known to be ambitious and vicious. 

But the penchant for dominating others through use of skullduggery or excessive assertiveness is fundamentally a male trait. An overwhelming need to dominate in order to feel respected and worthy.   

Advocacy of Democratic Discourse and Resultant Actions Must Be Vigorous and Ongoing

We have all met someone who, in a smaller universe than a nation, strives to dominate through conniving and self-serving machinations. As in a company office, military unit, or an institution such as a school or church. People who gain an advantage through superficial charm, deferential performances, or talking the right kind of talk. Making assertions that make them appear more astute than they really are. Offering solutions to problems that seem clear and straightforward. Even if they are not.

They weave their way through a bureaucracy or chain of command using a combination of crafty observations and witticisms. Building alliances as they go. Making sure the most important alliances are with those in positions to help them later as they seek more responsibility and authority.  

Typically, control is important. More to dominate than to serve. More to dictate than to collaborate.

When such individuals achieve their coveted position in an organization, their kind of control can be exercised. Through intimidation, manipulation, even ruthlessness. Only measured or refined enough to ensure the good opinions of those superior in rank or position. 

Some organizations are tolerant of that behavior. Some encourage it. Some even maintain a culture that ensures its continuance.

For-profit companies and governmental organizations can either encourage it or maintain a culture that supports it.

Early in my various work experiences I decided to avoid being a victim of those who arbitrarily dictated and controlled subordinates. Even as a church member I thought for myself. Disputed those who had a stricter interpretation of what it is to be a Christian. Or a member of a particular denomination. They could think of me as they wished, which was not always kind. But they respected me for having a well thought out and scripturally valid perspective.

I could advocate a different perspective and why it was important to me AND the organization to which I belonged. Whining or complaining was never part of my strategy.

As an army officer I appreciated superior officers who explained the logic of a decision. And I questioned those who did not. Those I commanded were always consulted as to their opinions. Obviously, once a decision was made in either case, it was followed.

It is likely that approach would not have worked as a member of the Mafia. Mob bosses make offers that cannot be refused. Some politicians do the same once they acquire power and privilege. Unfortunately, the same is true in some organizations. Even those associated with religions.

Advocacy against tyranny must be based on something more than a call for freedom. Freedom itself is based on disciplined behavior. Not driven by those who attempt to impose their will on us. But fashioned in the belief that all human beings deserve dignity and the right to pursue happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is only possible when unconditional love prevails, founded on a full understanding of other cultures and beliefs. And advocating the creation and sustaining of all systems that strive to make love happen. 

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved


In the 1959 Hollywood film titled The Nun’s Story, Audrey Hepburn plays the lead character. A young Belgian woman who enters a 1930’s convent to commit herself to the service of others. The film was adapted from a book written by Kathryn Hulme, based on the life of Belgian nun Marie Louise Habets.   

The story’s theme reminds me of my own inclinations during the teen years. My family belonged to the Episcopal Church. It held many perspectives similar to the Roman Catholic outlook on faith and how it should be exercised.

The American Episcopal Church is the outgrowth of British Anglicanism, which emerged during the era of Henry VIII. One of the more intriguing aspects of the Episcopal belief system is the confluence of pious allegiance to rigorous doctrine and the Protestant focus on scripture while understanding its meaning.

To an Episcopalian of my era, the Book of Common Prayer was a mesmerizing guide, reciting how we should believe and act. First published in the mid-1550’s, it was modified over the centuries. The version we used was prepared in 1928. It caused us to regularly recite expressions of faith during worship in language aligned with doctrinal interpretations. To perpetually indoctrinate church members to both the meaning and uplifting language. Powerful and ecclesiastically significant.   

I became fascinated with the power of language in how we behave and believe. But only if our mindset is moved in that direction. The 1950s was not a decade that revered soundbites and supercilious intonations appealing to the emotions. Television, radio, and movie theaters moved us in that direction. But the power of public schools and other institutions with the mission to enlighten people was still pervasive.

The YMCA, YWCA and Scouting programs were in some ways just as powerful as churches. They helped to build a society in which character was based on acceptance of well-articulated principles of living. Principles written in merit badge requirements, and the YMCA’s challenges to behave in ways associated with Christian principles.

In my formative 1950s years, the hymns that meant the most to me were service-related and behavioral. Such as I Would Be True written by Howard Arnold Walter in 1906. It focuses on being pure, humble, brave, and constantly giving to others.

As Richard Rohr suggests in, Falling Upward, how we behave as we mature is often guided by what we put in our personality and spiritual “vessel” when young. “I Would Be True” seemed simple and straightforward when I was a preteen and young adult. Everything became complicated as I matured.

Nevertheless, the admonitions in my personality “vessel” were a good touchstone throughout the years. They still are. Even a compass loses its veracity when unknown magnetic forces pull the needle one way or another. Adjustments are made until circumstances bring us back on course.

In The Nun’s Story, Sister Luke finally realizes her youthful idealism is no match for the expectations of her chosen faith. Extracting “self” from “service” results in an unacceptable amount of personal suffering. The real-life Sister Luke, Marie-Louise Habets, goes on with her life as a nurse. Habets continued to serve God and humanity, using her original personality “vessel” as a touchstone. Her compass needle was pulled off its original course. But the service she provided was just as significant.

Rejecting who we fundamentally are by becoming fully selfless, is not always the best way to achieve God’s will.

God does not require us to suffer personally to serve others. Sometimes it happens that way. But it is not required to sublimate our sense of being one of God’s creatures to accomplish the betterment of others.

©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved