Seeing the Other Side

I’ve seen the other side. And I don’t like it.

The problem with the other side is that it is the other side. It’s not my side. It doesn’t fit my view of how things should be. The other side grates against who I am and, tellingly, what I want everyone to be.

That would be fine — if everything on my side was perfect. Of course, it’s not.

But on my side, I can overlook the puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit the picture and I can gloss over the flaws I sometimes notice as simple mistakes and inadvertent blunders.

As I peer across the street from within my glass house . . . as I heft the rock that will shatter my neighbor’s world . . . as I wonder how those around me can be so misguided . . . I find myself believing that most other people have something wrong with them.

In moments like that, I am redeemed only by a glance in the mirror and the stark realization that I, with judgment on my heart and contempt on my lips, am far more disturbing than those whose ideals and behaviors I have come to detest.

For you see, I know that the only person I can absolutely change is me. And the steadfast refusal to move toward something better is a personal and spiritual defeat.

Overwhelmed: The Loss of Life to Numbness

For months . . . years . . . the one word that keeps popping up in my personal journal is “overwhelmed.”

Photo Credit: Julia Freeman-Woolpert (stock.xchng)

The everyday barrage of life events used to be enough to tire us and send us to our beds, eager to escape the rushing torrents. But now those commonplace things are almost like white noise in the background of a screaming world. Some of that shrieking is an intentional tactic of those who want to sell us something or divert us from the truth. On the other hand, many of those cries come from those who have been broadsided by life — hurricanes, cancer, poverty, being rolled over by people of privilege who are blind to the consequences of their indifference to others, disconnection from family, death.

Overwhelmed. Do you feel it sometimes?

As I’ve reviewed those journal pages, the notes surrounding this word are often filled with despair, attempts to fix blame on someone other than myself, a desire to exchange my life experience with someone who takes on each day with grace and energy. In other words, a cry for change and relief.

Psalms 77 is an odd text for someone like me — an unschooled theologian taught only by surface readings of scripture, bullet points from countless sermons, and the constant desire to have all of the answers. I hope you’ll turn to this little missive and read it in its entirety.

But you’re probably busy right now and reading this as you scan through dozens of email. In case you are a little overwhelmed and can’t find your way back, let me give you a summary.

  • I reached out to God.
  • He didn’t answer.
  • I find this unsettling because He told me to call.
  • I lost sleep.
  • I momentarily lost hope.
  • Then I remembered.
  • I remembered when God delivered me.
  • I remembered when God gave me some incredible gifts.
  • I remembered that some of those gifts weren’t for me alone. They were meant to be shared with others on the journey.
  • And I was satisfied with all of that.

When I’m overwhelmed and I’m desperately trying to move the challenges around me into something I can handle, I am always surprised. By the kindness of a stranger. The concern of a friend. A moment of mercy when justice was deserved. Evidence, even in the face of tragedy, that I am loved by a God who has stirred himself to love me and everyone else.

Overwhelmed?

 

Evaluation: asking questions and doing something with the answers

Why "Rut-Living" is Such a Powerful Force

I live in a rut. My view from here is a dirt floor and two dirt walls extending as far as the eye can see. My initial evaluation of my situation makes me tired. I can definitely climb out of this rut and do things differently. Yet that would require asking hard questions, making difficult decisions, and investing time and resources into something less predictable than this rut.

Don’t get me wrong or hear this as a complaint about the rut or some kind of creepy cry for help. I am truly blessed. But in my sixth decade of life on this planet, I still have dreams.

Some of you know that my choice of the word “dreams” has significance. I almost always prefer “vision” over “dreams.” My self-imposed working definition of “vision” is a dream with a clear or emerging path to achieve the dream.

I know dreamers. Wonderful people. Hearing them talk warmly about their dreams is a pleasant experience for all of us within earshot. With some of these folks, you can tell that their dreams will always exist in the land of unicorns and cotton-candy rainbows simply because they will never do anything to achieve them. This does not make them any less wonderful. Although, if the dreamer is someone in your life who is supposed to be leading or making something significant happen, watching dreams die a slow death is truly frustrating.

When you live in a rut, you can have dreams. And unless life has really beat you down, rut-living can be an awesome inspiration for many, many dreams.

For a good part of the almost four years I have been in my sixties, I have made a point of telling people that I am getting old. I do that to some extent because I want to acknowledge the gray and absent hair, the hearing loss, and the embarrassing slide to rut-living contentment I sometimes feel. But my dreams plague me. And, upon further thought, they frustrate me because few of them connect to vision anymore. There are no clear paths ahead for some of these great ideas or zany inspirations.

I often counsel younger individuals to evaluate — to ask questions and then to be honest about the answers that come. Without evaluation, rut-living becomes pretty appealing. Ultimately, it becomes an excuse to stop planning and, in essence, stop engaging in making the world a better place.

So, if you’ve been my next door neighbor in Rut World, won’t you join me in some good old-fashioned evaluation? If you read the news, you know that there is a deep need for people with vision. Let’s be part of that movement.

Thrill Versus Routine

I think of myself as an interesting fellow. And since I am a little on the introverted side and not a champion of exploring the feelings of others, I am capable of living out this personally-held perception with a degree of confidence. I once considered myself adventurous, seeking thrill in doing the unusual or attempting the unlikely. Yet inwardly I long for the comfort of routine and the well-traveled paths.

Brian Wilson & Al Jardine. Austin, May 2017.

Of course, I have moments of revelation when I realize I’m more prone to the routine. I simply want others to see me with their thrill-spectacles on.

For example, I occasionally throw into a conversation that I am a drummer and once played with a touring group — even recorded with them. That, my friends, is pretty thrilling stuff. When pressed, though, I have to admit that the last time I performed was over three decades ago. The more truthful statement is that I was a drummer.

Last weekend, our son, Justin, hosted us at a Brian Wilson concert. The Beach Boys were the foundation of my popular music experience in grade school and junior high. Although only Brian and Al Jardine were on stage from the original group, the evening was a nostalgic and emotion-driven experience. All the words to the songs were on my lips. I could still anticipate each drum and percussion beat. And I remembered the time, prior to puberty, that I could sing the high parts, sans falsetto.

I felt the thrill and the desire to go back to music. But by the end of the concert, I knew that wasn’t a possibility. You see, I had abandoned my routine thirty years ago. The routine of listening to old music and new music, the routine of deconstructing rhythm patterns in my head, the routine of taking sticks in hand and building the new patterns and muscle memory that enable simply striking to be molded into music.

Routines can, of course, be reinstituted. But other routines must be pushed aside. At some point in life, we have to measure the thrill against the cost of routine. To experience the thrill on a regular basis — and to survive — demands routine to be a necessary element.

Too often, we look upon our routine as a burden. When in truth, the regularly pursued actions cannot only lead to a thrilling experience but can, in and of themselves, become a source of exhilaration. Simple things, even mundane things, can bring great pleasure and fulfillment.

And routines sometimes seem like luxuries. Several years ago, I was facing the challenge of rewriting a reference book. Out of the twelve chapters, nine were my responsibility. It was not a matter of updating, but one of reimagining and creating. I made a deal with my editor and publisher, to rewrite three chapters a year for three years. In earlier days, I would have taken a week or two of vacation annually and accomplished the task through binge-writing. Instead, I established a routine of researching and writing an hour a day, five to six days a week. My routine was a blessing as I sat at my computer from 7:30 to 8:30 each morning and the book took form. Not only did I complete that writing assignment, I found time to write other things regularly. The routine of writing was not only a discipline, it was a thrill. By honing my writing and thinking skills, I was able to accomplish my goal.

Writing, like drumming, has fallen out of my routine. It happens sporadically. Like drumming, my skills have diminished. Yet, the thrill remains and inspires because I now recognize that it is born from and lives inside the routine.

Perhaps I’ll write more. And, in private moments, perhaps I’ll drum to old tunes.

Escaping Insanity – The Case for Unequivocated Withdrawal

Until recent years, I haven’t been much of a “cause person.” While I recognized both the advantages and disadvantages of some of my friends’ life passions, I found it much easier to simply rock along in the sweet spot of non-commitment and relative peace. Avoidance — absolute withdrawal — was a safe haven that not only kept me far from strife and harsh words, but it also allowed me the luxury of inaction. Looking back, it also became my source of fuel to channel my attention to less than noble things. Not necessarily bad things, but not the best investment of my relatively short time on this planet.

I now see the need and the potential power of many causes. My life has been blessed with friends and acquaintances who are different from me in gender, race, religion, and lifestyle. As I have set aside time to listen to them and have come to love them deeply, I have become deeply provoked by an underlying thread of their stories. I have come to know my privilege as a white male living in a society that still leans in my direction.

My parents and some godly mentors taught me to work hard. I have tried to do that every day of my adult life — undoubtedly to a fault sometimes. I am not undeserving of what I have from that effort. Yet, I am undeserving of the advantages that have made that so much easier than it has been for others.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment is watching the unhealthy ways that we engage in conflict and disagreement. Oh, that I could throw the first stone in condemning and eradicating the utter nonsense of this behavior and the rancor that escalates in its wake. But I can’t.

Deep within me I feel the anger and the frustration when facing opinions different from mine and actions foreign to what I believe is right and good. In those moments, I begin to see those who differ from me in an alarming way. My inner being tells me they are inferior to me in both mental ability and moral grounding. In doing that, I sin.

One way to address sin is to flee. The Bible tells us that. In my experience, the Word of God doesn’t tell us everything, however. Pieces of our prescriptions from the divine are absent leaving us space to explore and to fill in the gaps with unfathomable opportunities to learn the spirit of our Creator. Pieces are absent, but not missing.

I grieve a bit when I venture into social media and watch people I know attack and vilify others. In the past week, I have seen total strangers with a common friend on Facebook turn on each other. Assumptions, accusations, and character assassinations boil quickly to the surface. Sometimes the violence of unruly protesters pales in comparison with what is said and done in this virtual world.

Yesterday, viewing the reactions around the country from the inauguration, I hovered over the “Deactivate My Account” button. My heart was breaking over the venom and reckless rhetoric. Total avoidance seemed the only answer.

Many of my friends have left social media because of the emotions I felt yesterday. I bless them in that decision. Most of those I know well will not withdraw completely from the deeper conversations. They have simply recognized the discord that the unique and challenging environment of social media presents.

I could make that same decision and it would greatly improve my outlook and, perhaps, even my service to others.

However, if I left social media today, I would lose much. When you place yourself in solitary places constantly, you lose touch with others and, too often, your own capacity for compassion and love. I tend to be an introvert and have no problem spending time alone. In earlier periods of my life, I’ve seen my own compassion and love quotients drained away as a result.

Jesus’ ministry on this earth was tumultuous. And so often, he would withdraw to a quiet place to talk to and listen to God. He would then emerge and face the challenges of his countercultural life with grace, love, and passion for the oppressed.

His example, of course, shows balance. Each of us have a different balance point. I am prayerful in my quest for that divine meeting place carved out by our Maker.

However you choose to interact, whatever conversations you invest in, never hesitate to withdraw to a place from time to time that stokes the fire of your grace, love, and passion.