Thursday, December 1, 2016

American Ideals and JUGHEADS: Domestic Tranquility

I’m both an idealist and a literalist, at least in terms of my views of the origins of our Universe and our Nation. The two sources that best inform my views are the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. I love both documents, although I admit that both can be difficult to interpret and/or understand. But when in doubt, I believe that the Framers of the Constitution and the 40 or so human authors of the Bible largely wrote for the Common Man to understand and apply their wisdom for human flourishing. We stray from such timeless wisdom at our peril; peace is at stake, both personally and nationally.

This column wraps up my 2016 series on how our country’s ideals are reflected in this company. At the risk of sounding predictable or cliche, the topic this month (planned about 11 months ago) seems uncanny in its timing: domestic tranquility. A parallel phrase could be “peace on Earth,” but for the purpose of focus, I’ll just comment on peace in America and in JUGHEADS, LLC.

Our Founders wrote in the Preamble their aim to “insure domestic Tranquility,” meaning that the central government has the right to intervene to protect its citizens against riots, localized tyrants, wars between the states, etc. Of course, it’s still ideal to solve our societal woes on a local level as often as possible (e.g., via the city police and county judges rather than the National Guard and Supreme Court), but the Framers wrote that the federal level may enter state and local crises when absolutely necessary.

My simple parallel to JH this month is that I’m careful to not hastily assert my authority to break up small squabbles among the Jugheads, including annoying disruptions that may affect our subculture any given day. One strategy is to encourage the kids to self-monitor their own behavior (aka positive peer pressure); another is for student leaders to use their own styles of keeping the peace on a more grass roots level then me having to step in. For more on this topic, see my column on “Liberty” (

Far before election protests & recounts (even in 2000), and before the recent trend trying to redefine “freedom of religion” to the rights-strangling and unconstitutional “freedom of worship,” I’ve tried to run JH (our microcosm of America) with peace as the goal through my Christian worldview, even if I personally disagree with any given issue, attitude, or action among our constituents. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18, ESV).

I’ll end this series crediting the deepest and dearest of our American ideals, and therefore our JH ideals, to the “Holy infant so tender and mild” who entered the world in the form of a helpless baby in order to begin ushering in the ultimate form of domestic tranquility: Heavenly peace. May the God of peace bless your families this Advent season and in 2017.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

American Ideals and JUGHEADS: General Welfare

The socioeconomic term “welfare” is largely associated with President LBJ’s Great Society of the ‘60’s. However, I’ll use the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution to flesh out this 9th American ideal as it relates to JUGHEADS, LLC.

The first definition of “welfare” in is: “the good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization; well-being.” When I read “promote the general welfare” in the Preamble, I see something quite different than what our welfare state has become today. While I do believe it’s virtuous to have a societal safety net, I don’t believe our Founders ever intended that 49% of Americans would receive regular government entitlements, and certainly not in perpetuity. Corporate welfare is also extreme.

Note the word “promote” in the Preamble; it doesn’t say “provide.” (The latter applies “for the common defence.”) I believe two of the biggest deterrents to the promotion of the general (and individual) welfare in our society are excessive gov’t regulations and our trading freedom for security. Because of this trend toward a nanny state, the U.S. tax code is often crippling and punitive. In his first inaugural address on 1/20/81, President Ronald Reagan said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Taken alongside the Preamble, government should, for the most part, get out of the way of people pursuing their own welfare rather than make people dependent on the welfare state.

I’ll tie this in to how I run JH. Any student leader or adult staff will tell you that my directorial style tries to minimize micro-management (and “laws”) and maximize freedom (“ownership”) for each Jughead and representative leader. Yes, I set the vision and tone for the overall company (such as this column), but much of that tone was set during the first 10 years of our existence (1994-2004). The general welfare that I promote, along with Wendy’s innovative help and the plurality of our staff, gives the kids a setting and a structure for their own progress—guided, but not dictated, by the leaders.

Just like America was founded with the hope of achieving both national and personal independence (e.g., faith, family, finances) rather than being subject to a central government’s tyranny, JH parallels that by prioritizing freedom over edicts. Our company structure promotes the good of the kids rather than more power to the leaders. Even if our own U.S. federal government continues its alarming rate of growth we’ve seen over the past 30+ years, my aim is to continue to run JH as a “small government” that promotes good rather than necessarily guarantees success. (E.g., we don’t dole out standards and character; with intentional mentorship, we effectively “get out of the way” for the kids to achieve such goals.) That’s where true youth development occurs, and I believe that’s what our Founders intended for We the People.

Monday, October 17, 2016

American Ideals and JUGHEADS: Mercy

“Life isn’t fair.” That phrase is often used by authority figures toward youth who complain of an injustice. However, such an axiom can be equally applied to the concept of a person experiencing a form of mercy--the topic in this year-long series on American ideals as they relate to JUGHEADS, LLC.

Well-known radio personality Dave Ramsey holds a daily talk show focusing on personal finances. Each time a caller asks the cliche phrase, “How are ya, Dave?,” his reply is both witty and profound: “Better than I deserve.” He speaks from both personal experience, having bounced back from financial devastation as a younger man, but also from proper theology, understanding that most if not all of God’s blessings on him (and us) are actually undeserved--i.e., forms of mercy.

Despite my Type-A personality, Minnesota-German-Norwegian work ethic, and conviction to not be a burden on my government, family, or friends, I fully agree with Mr. Ramsey’s take on life. We can (and should) strive daily to be our best, get ahead, be responsible, and all the other things that seem proper and good. But when we realize that every breath is a gift from God to live and work and love and grow and develop from infancy to old age (if we’re granted a “long life”), our perspective changes. Life becomes more precious. We become more humble. And loving others is a joy rather than an inconvenience.

I’m preaching to myself here. The older I get, the more impatient I feel in some ways. Set in my ways, I expect traffic, health, money, and relationships to come more easily due to experience, and frankly, a presumption of deservedness. However, when I remember the concept of mercy (manifest on a macro-level but more precious and arguably most effective when offered on a personal level), I’m humbled. I can strive to “do justice” as it says in Micah 6:8, but I aim for the even more profound command in the same verse: “to love mercy” (NKJV). James 2:12-13 puts it this way: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (ESV).  James, along with the Apostle Peter, goes on to quote Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Grace equals mercy, often defined as “unmerited (undeserved) favor.”

So, while I really do enjoy mentoring youth toward hard work and earned rewards (treats, pins, standards, club levels, etc.), to love kids when they don’t deserve it is an even more God-honoring call. Mercy is a virtue and ideal to which America itself is indebted through our rebellious founding and past/present sins. Despite my love of our country, I deem “God have mercy on America” to be a deeper prayer than “God bless America” (but I still pray for both!). Nonetheless, our nation remains a beacon for the world of showing mercy to the weak. And knowing how much mercy is shown to me by God on a daily and even moment-by-moment basis, I try to show mercy to the Jugheads, fostering in them a love of that divine virtue, lest it be forgotten in all of our clamor for getting what we supposedly deserve.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

American Ideals and JUGHEADS: Justice

This 2016 column series celebrates how the founding principles of our American heritage are reflected in JUGHEADS. It’s a particularly contentious national election season; as we kick off another school year, Paul’s Platform will describe how this founder is adherent to many of the views of our Founding Fathers.

“Justice” is an ideal that is synonymous with the U.S.A. Among the very first stated goals in the Preamble is to “establish Justice,” and The Pledge of Allegiance climaxes with that great phrase, “...with liberty and justice for all.” The Bible, widely read and respected by our Founding Fathers (Christians and deists alike), mentions “justice” some 135 times! Micah 6:8 lists “to do justice” as a basic requirement of goodness, and Jesus cites justice among “the weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23, ESV).

So what is justice, and how does it relate to JH? A biblical synonym is righteousness; from a legal perspective, it’s lawfulness; and from a kid’s perspective, it’s most commonly thought of as fairness. When a child complains, “That’s not fair,” he or she is really pointing out an injustice (whether real or imagined).

Justice is a principle and a truth that is an excellent guide in life. Strive to do what is right (or righteous), and one will generally be rewarded. Hard work pays off. Obey laws and one need not fear the authorities (Romans 13:1-7). And ideally, our government will protect its citizens from injustices, whether from petty criminals or tyrants (both foreign and domestic). If government can’t prevent injustice, it is designed to “bring to justice” violators of our rights.

Perhaps the best examples of justice in our daily life and traditions among the Jughead members are our technical standards and Code of Conduct. If a Jughead achieves 10 dominant hand throws with three balls, a promised juggling pin is awarded (courtesy of the EYJA). If the Advanced standards are achieved, permission is granted to join that club. A child paying for an extra snack, camp, or festival enjoys the privilege of that additional product or service. Win a contest or help a peer, and one may be justly commended for a job well done. Disrespect isn’t tolerated.

Earning rewards for good behavior is to be expected in a just system. I believe it’s very good for people all ages to diligently “do justice,” both on one’s own behalf and on behalf of others (including our nation). Justice is getting what one deserves; mercy is getting what one does not deserve. That miraculous American ideal will be covered next month.

Friday, May 27, 2016

American Ideals and JUGHEADS: Under God

Considering that my understanding of our country’s founding is interpreted through my Christian worldview, it’s no surprise that this heading would be one of my 10 ideals highlighted in this 2016 series. Like our nation, I believe that JH is “under God,” and here’s a glimpse into these parallel ideals, starting with two of my favorite quotes from our founding fathers:

John Adams, 2nd President of the United States:  “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” 

Gouverneur Morris, the widely-credited author of the Preamble (and large sections of the U.S. Constitution):  “[F]or avoiding the extremes of despotism or anarchy . . . the only ground of hope must be on the morals of the people. I believe that religion is the only solid base of morals and that morals are the only possible support of free governments.  [T]herefore education should teach the precepts of religion and the duties of man towards God.”

As for the phrase “Under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance, that wasn’t incorporated until a Joint Resolution of Congress in 1954 (on Flag Day), but it was largely inspired by a quote in President Lincoln’s Gettsyburg Address: “...the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom.”

This American ideal, while non-sectarian and admittedly controversial in its origins and scope, is one of my personally most precious aspects of our country. It corroborates with our First Amendment and religious freedom, and it acknowledges a power higher than our nation itself as a “super-power.”

As for JH, I daily acknowledge God’s sovereignty over myself, my marriage, and my company. I give Him glory for authoring, sustaining, and making “more perfect” this mini-government of the Jugheads, (proportionately) by the Jugheads, and for the Jugheads, and I’ll continue to lead here for as long as He wills.

Thank you all for a great year, and may God bless JH as a principled place within the ordained and established Constitution-led United States of America!

Monday, April 25, 2016

American Ideals and JUGHEADS: The Balance of Power

2015-16 Student Leadership Team

The Universe is hierarchical; that’s both factual and faith-based. Any authority is either benevolent or dictatorial. It’s possible to have a benevolent dictatorship, but not on this side of Heaven.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton, 1887). Although written a century after our Founding Fathers framed the U.S. Constitution, I believe this principle guided our country’s establishment of our three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. Otherwise known as checks and balances, our American ideal is that we remain a representative republic. We’re not a true democracy with mob rule; rather, we elect our leaders who then appoint cabinets, administrations, Supreme Court justices, and other ways to exercise the will of “We the People.”

Here at JH, our “three branches of government” could also be described as executive (Paul & Wendy), legislative (the SLT & adult staff), and judicial (parents). Of course, this analogy breaks down in that our “judiciary” funds our company, and the “executive” approves expenditures. (Gov’t legislatures control the purse.)

Having said that, consider the “legislative” SLT.  I appoint 16 members to serve through volunteering, assisting, and Officers’ Meetings, truly enriching how we balance JH policies, traditions, and decisions. This tuition-based, entrepreneurial endeavor would dry up quickly if I (the director) didn’t have a way to formally tap into and empower a representation of our members. At the same time, the company would become chaotic if every decision had to be run through a committee, let alone the entire company population. Get counsel and make informed decisions.

As for the judiciary, I’ve had wise parents over these 22 years who have given me timely advice and “judgments,” both solicited and unsolicited. Taken together, this balance of power sharpens my wits and strengthens my resolve to lead well and develop youth wholly. And almost daily, I remember that I will ultimately answer to a Judge to Whom I will give an account for how I’ve stewarded this company. That’s a sober reality for any earthly power with any level of authority.

Monday, March 7, 2016

American Ideals and JUGHEADS: The Pursuit of Happiness

This third named right in the Declaration of Independence is built on liberty. Pursuing happiness, in its myriad forms, cannot be accomplished without the freedom to do so. And true happiness combines individual and common good, both as U.S. citizens and as Jugheads.

As with liberty, true happiness needs a moral compass. Founding Father Samuel Adams wrote in 1778, “Religion and good morals are the only solid foundation of public liberty and happiness.” Even if one were to dismiss his claim of religion as a prime ingredient to happiness, good morals can scarcely be argued away as a key to: earning trust with others; developing a good reputation; and leaving a track record of all-around blessings meted through loving behavior. This solid foundation bears fruit in the form of happiness.

A lesser-known fact about “the pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration is that Thomas Jefferson based it on 17th century philosopher John Locke, who wrote about “life, liberty and property.” Not only is this a fascinating (and elsewhere confirmed) endorsement of private property rights (including intangible “property” such as intellect and human dignity), but it fittingly flies in the face of the arch-nemesis of American ideals: Communism. The first plank of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (1848) is “Abolition of private property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.” Whether the right to own a home or land or a business, property was affirmed by America’s founders as a tool for freedom-fueled pursuits.

As the American ideal of pursuing happiness applies to JH, kids are free to pursue their forms of happiness on a daily basis. Even on busy rehearsal days, each child still gets a say over snack choice, friend interactions, free-time juggling, and deeper investment through Showcase routines, emcee opportunities, and elective elements to our group routines. Our camps offer the widest potential of choice, with kids immersing in both skills and relationships without the pressure of homework, choreography, or running to and fro as much as usual.

Finally, I’ve always compared the patriotic phrase “the land of opportunity” as parallel to pursuing happiness. Both America and JH offer many opportunities for improvement, advancement, and fulfillment, but neither the government nor my staff & I are (or should be) intended to either hinder success or excessively aid in the realization of such opportunities. In our microcosm of America, when a child learns to juggle, he or she really owns the skill--no one juggles for them. Provide an opportunity, and the wise person seizes it--even through much trial & error. Happiness is then realized, shared by the influencers, and multiplied among those looking on.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

American Ideals and JUGHEADS: Liberty

Introduction. I love our country, its founding principles, and the unalienable rights it offers its citizens (via our Creator). I doubt if JH in its current form (including our unique founding) could even exist in another country, and I’ve consciously celebrated American ideals in many aspects of how this “American-made” company is run.

Part 2: Liberty. Most definitions of “liberty” contain the word “freedom” as a common synonym. It’s one of the most hope-filled words of human existence! Our own Liberty Bell (A.D. 1751) has a quote from Leviticus 25:10 engraved on it: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” The original quote was Jehovah God speaking to the nation of Israel through Moses, and it’s a poignant example that our American founding fathers’ concept of liberty had roots far deeper and higher than mere temporal wisdom or cultural opinion.

Hand-in-hand with true liberty/freedom is personal responsibility. Liberty is not primarily a license for flippant autonomy and selfish ambition; it’s ultimately self-control to choose for oneself the best courses in life rather than have them dictated by a ruler. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” Regarding self-government, JFK said it “requires qualities of self-denial and restraint,” and famed journalist Paul Harvey said it “won’t work without self-discipline.” And one of the most iconic quotes in American history points to the precious nature of liberty as not mere freedom of choice, but rather freedom from tyrannical oppression: “Give me liberty or give me death!” (Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775)

Here in the 21st century, I run JH by maximizing freedom and minimizing rules. Yes, we have daily meetings, warm-ups & standards; a Code of Conduct for traveling; and high expectations placed on the membership by our adult leaders and the SLT, but there remains a remarkable percentage of time at club & camp where kids have a lot of say over how they invest their time. 

Part of this strategy comes from my career background in childcare, where I often saw the same core kids five days a week year-round, so we could “afford” to have long periods of time where productivity took a backseat to relationships and simply hanging out. (Even in those years, I routinely had 4th-6th graders who learned seven balls and five clubs long before I had any official standards!) Part of it comes from the knowledge that motivation to improve (or create a routine or initiate a conversation) has to come from within a member rather than constantly dictated by the leaders.
On the negative side, the more freedom one has (as a citizen and as a Jughead), the more possibility of wasting the freedom or even using it for licentiousness in whatever forms. On the positive side, maximum freedom means a person can truly explore the limits of personal possibilities with minimal (if any) constraints—except perhaps limited time.

Many parents have expressed to me that juggling skills are low on the list of priorities of why they support their kids as Jugheads. It’s the personal character taught through the juggling, performing and relationships that is a prized element of involvement. So I remain patient with kids who hardly achieve records but every few weeks, but who feel safe, accepted, loved, and challenged to pursue excellence at their own pace and in their own timing. That’s liberty, and it’s one more reason our mosaic of membership is a microcosm of the diversity and melting pot that is the United States of America.

Monday, January 11, 2016

American Ideals and JUGHEADS: Overview/Life

Introduction. I’ve never served in the military, held political office, or otherwise proven to be a super-patriot, but I’m a common man who loves our country nonetheless. The very existence of this one-of-a-kind entrepreneurial endeavor called JUGHEADS, LLC is a testament to several American ideals that I hold dear. That was why I chose red & blue as our JH colors in 1999, and it’s why I’m dedicating 2016 to a 10-part column series celebrating American ideals as reflected in this youth juggling company.

Part 1: Overview/Life. At a recent Monday Rec. meeting, I covered four main topics: the Vikings, the MONDO Festival, our JJ18 routine, and introducing our newest member. As I wrapped up, I asked the club, “Which of my announcements was the most important?” Two astute middle schoolers replied it was the one regarding our new member. I agreed, saying that if it weren’t for the people that make up our club rosters, we’d have no company!

Expanding on this trivial example of a profound lesson, life was so important to our founding fathers that it headed up the list of selected rights in The Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Life is first and foremost among our country’s ideals­—paired with its source, our Creator.

In many countries throughout history, and indeed today, life is cheap at best and expendable at worst. Billions of God’s image-bearers are consigned to unjust socioeconomic status ranging from serfdom to caste systems to aristocracy to slavery, with little or no hope of advancement in (or escape from) one’s societal standing. More on the ideal of Happiness (Opportunities) in March; for now, I assert that despite our country’s sins (past and present), we remain the best example of a nation that dignifies individual human lives regardless of power, position, or pedigree.

Irrespective of one’s political views on immigration, I believe that the nature of America’s founding, largely informed by Judeo-Christian values, makes ours a country to which people flee. We’re a beacon of hope for the “tired...poor...huddled masses yearning to be free” as inscribed on Lady Liberty. And while I strongly favor the vetting process and other steps preventing illegal and nefarious immigration, it’s awesome that the U.S. continues to be life-empowering for many millions. (More on Liberty in February.)

Our system of justice, at its best, is set up to protect the weak. Again, we have flaws, but considering world history and the dark places of the world, one need not reflect long to realize that the tired, poor, disabled, young, old, weak, and oppressed are (or should be) protected in America. (More on Justice in October.)

Like America, JH went from a set of upstart clubs (“colonies”) to an independent company (“nation”) as it developed from 1994-2005. I founded JH with the worldview that every child is created in God’s image and is inherently valuable regardless of age, ability, or so-called “quality of life.” America is one nation with 50 states and 322 million citizens; JH is one company with six clubs and 120 members. My sister’s church in Duluth has a motto: “Love God. Love people. Period.” That’s a celebration of life, and that’s what we try to do every day at JH—thanks in large part to the rights that have been championed in America since 1776.