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.

 

The Sum of Our Experience: Math Cannot Explain the Results

I have always been fascinated with math. I’ve never been good at it, but I have been fascinated. In fact, in an effort to exercise my mental muscles, I’m thinking about taking up the study of math. I get a little tingly thinking about the possibilities. The ability to look at a set of data and to derive some truth from it is a very inviting challenge.

math

photo credit: Roman Mager/unsplash.com

I’m a little intimidated by the proposed path ahead. I’ve been thinking that I would return to the level of arithmetic and geometry that I mastered in school as my baseline. Upward and onward from there. Yet, a little research has caused me to step back and reconsider. The plateaus I once traveled have dramatically changed. Language is different. Processes are different. I’m coming to realize that the concepts my granddaughter mastered in middle school may be far beyond my ability of comprehension.

Humankind has progressed so far and learned so much, in math and in so many other arenas, how can I ever come to even basic understanding of the world around me? Here’s a list of things that I am woefully under-prepared to fathom:

  • Math — see above
  • Things related to math, like physics and computers — I benefit from the principles of physics and computers, but I don’t really know why
  • Politics — or at least why people support some candidates and platforms over others
  • Sports — since the early 1980s, when I simply didn’t have time to watch games or sports networks, I have been totally incapable of being excited about sports at any level (I’ve tried. Please don’t see this as an invitation to try to enlighten me or make me a fan. Yes, I will sit with friends and watch the Super Bowl or the World Series. But that’s my weak attempt to be seen as normal.)
  • Disease and health-related issues — I grasp the concept of aging, accident, injury, infection, and the changes we should expect over time, but I don’t understand cancer or addiction or unexplained takings of the young
  • The systems at work that track budgets and people and productivity — I’m confused constantly (However, I am blessed by the opportunities for friendship with those who do understand these things.)
  • God — I get the concept of a higher authority, I struggle with concepts of justice and mercy and unending love

You may have gathered that I see myself as one who is cast adrift in a sea of ideas and concepts and experts and problems and opportunities. Cast adrift.

But before you feel sorry for me — or yourself if you share some of these same thoughts and feelings — please consider the great gift I (we) have been given.

Every moment of every day is like an exciting novel that I can lean into expectantly, anticipating the next turn in plot. I recently sat in a meeting where a friend talked about the unique possibilities of reading fiction, where a stream of events are strung together to form a plot line. We have no need to know everything that happens between those events. In truth, the great gift of fiction is seeing the pieces of the story that our imaginations provide.

Our imaginations, our resources for creativity, reside in the gaps between what we know and what we desire to know. The tragedy in our existence comes when we demand to know everything and accept nothing less. For in that quest, we assert ourselves as the know-all-and-end-all — the ultimate authority.

I have come to recognize the people in my life who I view as having true authority are those who live in a constant wash of humility. They share what they have learned and they constantly express their wonder at what they have yet to learn.

As I listen to people talk about a variety of subjects, including those on my list above, I am saddened by those who have ceased to live in that wonder. When we determine that we know all there is to know about anything and refuse to promote further exploration and curiosity, we begin to die.

I hope that I will never be the sum of all my experiences — that there will constantly be an unknown in my equations. I want to be blessed by the opportunity to gaze at the void, to wonder about the stretches of what it represents, and to experience the joy of discovery that God promises us.

And just because I can, I’m going to pick up a textbook in geometry.

Comparatively Speaking, Why Does Your ‘But’ Have to be Bigger Than Mine?

the lesser of two evils is, by definition, still evil

I read an article yesterday about an intellectual, liberal-thinking writer who had published a number of articles in support of Mr. Trump as President. The writer does not support many, if any, of Mr. Trump’s positions. Yet, he was voicing his endorsement for one sole reason: Mr. Trump is refusing to play any of the political games of Washington. Speaking of the contrast, the writer lauds the disruption that Mr. Trump is injecting into practically every moment. Comparatively speaking, past presidential transitions have been calm at the top — the President and the President-Elect are portraits of cooperation and the turbulent waters are at the bottom. This year is marked by turbulence throughout the Reflecting Pool.

Just after reading that article, I was cruising through Facebook and I saw a post from a friend lamenting Mr. Trump’s choice of words for one of his New Year’s Day tweets. His point was, to some extent, about content. Primarily, however, it was about tone and demeanor. As you would expect, a number of readers responded with like feelings. And then, in crept somebody’s ‘but.’

I read, with fascination, as entry after entry sprung to the screen. At one point, the responses gave way to an attack against an individual. As it turned out, the two individuals involved didn’t know each other at all. The root of the conflict? The attacker feared that her ‘but’ was bigger than his.

In order to move forward in the political world — or any any human interaction — we have to stop comparing bad as a justification for our allegiances. Instead, we must seek out good and reward it.

A Place to Start
Conflict is resolved effectively only when the parties involved agree to leave the battlefields and join forces on the construction site. The true path to peace is in building something better, not in demolition.

Don’t you think it’s a little juvenile to be investing so much time in comparing the size of our ‘buts?’ Instead, why don’t we begin identifying leaders and language that point to a better future for all people? For too long, the vast majority have believed that we have been voting for the lesser of two evils. I pray that in 2020, we will be voting for the greater of two goods.

Happy New Your Resolutions

my recommendations for what you can do to make my 2017 better

I’m a big believer that the only significant changes I can make in this world are the things under my control. Thus, the only change I can guarantee is the change I bring to my own life. I have dutifully reflected on this past year and selected a number of areas where I can bring about change . . . with me. Thus, I have new year’s resolutions.

However, during a moment of irritation, I also began working on my list of things that  others could do. Please note, it was during a time of irritation. So this isn’t a path to world peace or anything so noble. These are simply things that would make my life better.

New Your Resolutions

10. Use your turn signals.

I’m doing a lot of big city driving these days. I will go out of my way to make a space for another driver who politely asks to come into my lane by moving his or her hand ever so slightly to activate the turn signal. I’ve noticed that many, many others react the same way.

But a good number of drivers out there ignore this courtesy — and legal requirement. I’ve also noticed that the more expensive the vehicle is the more likely that the signals will not be used. I checked with a friend who sells fine cars. He has assured me that all vehicles, regardless of price, are equipped with turn signals. And I personally checked the window stickers on a number of cars and SUVs — there is no special surtax leveed that would excuse you from signaling.

Please, signal. It’s just one of those forms of communication that makes life better — and safer.

9. Stop using crude and foul language.

I’m fully aware of the First Amendment. I know it’s your right to say things that are vile and distasteful to me. But stop it. Regardless of how much sophistication you believe the f-bomb brings to your cell phone conversation, just know, it doesn’t. What those words say to others, regardless of their context, is that you: (a) are stupid, (b) received your entire training in linguistics watching R movies that target the basest desires and cravings of our society, (c) are rebelling against society and you say these things to show your disrespect, (d) are rebelling against your upbringing,  and/or (e) were brought up in an environment where others were influenced by (a) through (d), above.

The number one excuse for using profanity is that it allows us to communicate our emotional well-being at any given moment.  Let me suggest here that there are other words you could use:

  • I’m angry.
  • I’m frustrated.
  • I’m sad.
  • I’m happy.

That’s just a starter list. Saying those kinds of things allows your listener to understand where you are coming from instantly and is far more likely to lead to bringing their empathy to the surface. Hearing one of those expressions doesn’t cause us to think, “Hmmm, I wonder if he just hit his thumb with a hammer?” We have a pretty good clue about what you are experiencing.

Please, clean up your language.

8. Carry poop bags and use them.

If you walk your dog — and there are millions of you out there who do — pick up those packages, large and small, created on your adventures. Yes, it’s a natural occurrence. But you can’t blame your dog.

Please, pick it up and dispose of it.

7. Recycle.

We all use disposable containers. Many of them are recyclable and some, if not appropriately disposed of, are safety hazards for humans, animals, and plant life. And no, you can’t blame your local municipality if they have no recycling program. They should, but that will be on my mid-year list of “responsible things society should do.”

Please, recycle.

6. Adopt and embrace the Oxford Comma.

Miscommunication abounds. Do your part to contain it by appropriately using the comma — and other forms of punctuation. If I have to read what you’ve written more than once to decipher it, 8 times out of 10 it’s because you didn’t punctuate properly. And if you’re one of my students and I’m grading your paper, I really don’t care that your writing and grammar teacher told you it was okay to drop off commas. If you’re unclear and a comma would have helped, I’m subtracting points on technical writing.

Please, punctuate safely.

5. Don’t make up facts.

For example, in #6 above, I have no idea if punctuation is the culprit in 8 out of 10 written communications errors. It would have helped if I had prefaced it with, “In my opinion . . .” or IMHO (although my personal experience is that my opinions are rarely offered humbly).

Making stuff up to strengthen your position is a pretty good indicator that your position is lacking.

Please, don’t add to all the falsity that is circulating out there.

4. Don’t use the word “actually” unless it is actually necessary.

Sadly, when I find  myself listening to a speech or a sermon or a lecture or I’m eavesdropping on someone at the next table in a restaurant, I often count the number of times the word “actually” is used.

Using “actually” as a seasoning for your conversation is like telling your companions that most of what you say is suspect. It ranks right up there with such phrases like “to be honest” or “if the truth be known.” Those are simply signals that you are a person who might not be delivering credible information. For some of you who use this word with reckless abandon, I am learning that I must wait to hear a morsel of relative and factual information until you introduce it with “actually.”

Please, use the word “actually” sparingly.

3. Accept that you don’t know everything and that you are not always right.

I have personal experience with this one. I don’t know everything and I should not be seen as someone with impeccable judgment. (I know that’s ironic, given the fact I’m posting about the stuff that others should do to improve.) I do accept this. And I balance my impulse to push my beliefs and opinions on others with some temperance. I often wait. Before I speak. Before I act. Before I vote. Before I judge — at least publicly.

Please, wait. (I’ve actually waited a long time before publishing this post. [See what I did there? I reinforced this resolution by violating #4.])

2. Give others the benefit of the doubt — but don’t abandon accountability.

A good number of you immediately began thinking of our current political situation when you read this. I have to admit that it was foremost in my mind when I added it to the list. This is a hard one, especially when it comes to enforcing accountability. How much margin can we give others?

My leading response in my law practice was, “It depends.” And so it is appropriate that it be prominent in this conversation. Some things matter more than others. For you to locate and enforce the line of accountability, you must reflect on your values, on accurate information, and on what is at stake. Don’t let others make this decision for you.

Please, listen for understanding, be curious, and stand up for your values.

1. Finally, once and for all, accept the fact that it’s not just about you.

When you are making decisions or investing your time and resources, pause a few seconds to ask whether you are simply acting out of selfishness and personal ambition. In the book of James, we are told that the root of all conflict in the world is our focus on self above others.

Don’t hear me say that you shouldn’t act wisely and responsibly in regard to your own earthly affairs. In an essay on charity, John Wesley once penned that we should address our finances to take care of ourselves, our families, and, only then, on addressing the needs of others. His prioritization was not based on selfishness, however. His point was that we should be good stewards in regard to our own needs so we don’t become a burden to those around us.

Perhaps our problem has more to do with our perception of what our true needs are.

We are all faced with decisions that will impact our own well-being over others. Sometimes those decisions will bring us a small gain while costing others greatly. Our most appropriate consideration should be that which benefits the most people.

Please, do your best for all.

 

That’s my list for you. And each one of them, from the most silly to the most profound, is on my personal list of new year’s resolutions, too — along with an assortment of alterations to exercise, diet, and general demeanor.

Happy New Year!

Why is negativity so seductive?

In random tweets rolling across my phone this morning came this quote “Distance yourself from negativity and great things will happen.” Those words immediately captured me and my impulse was copy and share that idea repeatedly. After all, it’s a great, wise thought.

Overcoming Negativity

photo credit: Gabriel Pangilinan, unsplash.com

And, it’s true.

Yet, as I thought over it, I started to question why it resounded so strongly with me. Was I in quest of great things? Or did I just covet the distance from negative people, negative talk, and negative reaction?

Granted, there’s nothing bad about wanting either. But I think I would seek the distance above the greatness. Negativity makes me tired. It makes me tired when I roll in it. It makes me tired when you do. I totally understand that negativity is sometimes necessary as part of our decision-making process.

The irony of this line of reasoning is that much of the negativity I see in others is a direct byproduct of my own negative ways. When we hear a criticism — particularly if it rings true with our own experience — we jump on the bandwagon. Negativity begets negativity.

So, when I go back to look at the quote, I feel pulled to like it on the greatness side.

If you and I do great things, negativity doesn’t disappear. But it loses its power.

Be powerful today. Help someone else. Give a compliment. Step to the side and give others the time they need. Be joyful in the work you’ve been given to do. Rejoice in recreation. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Do it on your own and with others.

Experience greatness.