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.

The Pendulum Effect

Over a month ago, I announced my decision to leave Facebook. My decision was based on what I viewed as the debilitating impact it was having on my attitude toward other people. On February 15, 2017, I deactivated my Facebook account. My absence from that space has had a number of positive results for me — more time for other things, less judgmental thoughts about people posting inane political rants or cluelessly posting unsubstantiated information. I have missed the news about families, personal needs, children, and pets. In this few weeks of freedom from the daily Facebook routine, I have experienced a pendulum effect.

The pendulum was a remarkable breakthrough in technology in its day. A pendulum is a weight suspended on a rod or a line. When the weight is moved off center, the force of gravity causes it to move toward center. Because the force of gravity, the force that causes the weight to seek the center, is not strong enough to hold it there, the weight moves past center into the opposite direction. And the process is then repeated in reverse. If you have time on your hands, feel free to watch Mr. Science explain the pendulum effect.

In theory, if the pivot spot, the place where the rod or line is connected, is frictionless and the weight and the rod experience no resistance as they travel, this moving back and forth continues . . . forever. But there are outside forces that diminish the effect. Thus, with no additional assistance or boost, a pendulum set in motion will eventually swing back and forth until the resistance brings the weight to rest in the center.

The pendulum effect I have experienced was not theoretical. In my absence from Facebook, I left my judgmental ways and I experienced an extreme aversion to saying anything about, well, anything. But, then, my previous experience and other influences pulled me back toward center — and then back toward the desire to be excessively judgmental and vocal. I’ve been back and forth on this a number of times.

I’m beginning to feel that constant shifting in my intent fade as the forces of friction and the natural force of gravity — common sense and clarity — pull me to a place of equilibrium. I no longer fixate on a desire to judge others and to express my thoughts in a derisive tone. Yet, I find myself able, in this neutral place, to view what is happening around me and ask those questions that seek truth and understanding.

In other words, without being driven to be right, I am freed to calmly, rationally, and, to a great extent, joyfully explore the world around me. If you are feeling anxiety over events spinning around you, I’d urge you to set your pendulum in motion.

Why I’m Leaving Facebook

a personal note and an invitation

Dear friends, As I announced recently, I am leaving Facebook. In the intervening time, I have heard from many of you and your messages have fallen into a few broad categories:

  1. Don’t go.
  2. Don’t go, but if you do, please let Togo get his own Facebook account.
  3. Please go. But let Togo get his own account.
  4. Buck up. You’re a conflict guy. Deal with it.
  5. Unfollow or unfriend all the people who disrupt your life.
  6. I understand.
  7. Find other channels to keep in touch.

So, just a little more explanation and then my plan.

All in all, people have treated me and my opinions pretty well on Facebook. There are those who disagree and who tell me. There are those who disagree, tell me, and express their continued love for me. There are those who ignore things I post that they disagree with. There are those who ignore everything I post. There are those who listen to me and enter into conversation. So, my Facebook friends are pretty much just like regular friends everywhere. I am blessed.

I’m leaving Facebook to preserve and heal my soul. I am not leaving because of the actions of any of my friends. I am not leaving with the intention of falling silent about what I believe in.

My profession has been peace and reconciliation. I regularly engage people in conversation at times that are very upsetting and disruptive for them and those around them. It can be difficult, but, as I like to say, it’s like having a front row seat to see God at work. The people who come to my table (or I go to theirs) don’t always reconcile, but there’s something healthy about the effort and I believe that God uses that time to lay the groundwork for peace.

Facebook is different when it comes to conflict. The ability for nastiness and utter disregard for others is multiplied on its timelines. And it encourages people to misbehave.

Recently, I became disturbed over the comments being made by one of my friends. He has a very rigid view of the political scene in America and I would see him appear in the comments on numerous posts on my Facebook. We share many common friends. In each and every one, he would make outrageous and sometimes hateful statements. When others would ask him to document his thoughts, he would deflect their requests and make disparaging remarks about their close-mindedness. I was encouraged by those who patiently attempted to draw him into true conversation. I privately wondered what he could be missing. Eventually, I went to his timeline and read a good number of his posts. And there I discovered what I had been missing. In reply to one of his friends, he bragged about how he would spend several hours a day finding posts that didn’t meet his political leanings and then intervene for the sole purpose of disrupting the conversations of others. I’m not sure if he thought this was some sort of sport or entertainment. But I judged him harshly for that.

In fact, I owe him a debt of gratitude. In discovering his secret, I unearthed my own problem with Facebook. And it’s not just Facebook. I grieve over people who refuse to enter into thoughtful discourse and to lay aside their selfish ambition in any venue. But, Facebook is worse than real life because the algorithms push these people into my face. And in this medium, I can’t seem to reach them. So, I judge them.

I’m leaving Facebook because of my need to stop judging people. That’s God’s job and he is really good at it.

Here is my plan going forward:

  1. I will continue to write for my blog, joeycope.com. Despite the advice of blog gurus everywhere, I don’t concentrate on a narrow area of information. I write about all sorts of things. And I have proven the blog gurus to be correct. Such a lack of focus fails to build strong readership. (On a personal note, I appreciate both of my regular readers.) I encourage you to visit joeycope.com regularly. I have a place there for you to sign up to receive my postings by email. And, I rarely post more than once a day — and sometimes I will go weeks without posting. So, sign up there. (If you’re reading this on my blog, the sign-up form is on the right side of the page. If you are averse to filling out the form, email me at copej@acu.edu and I’ll add you to the list. I just need your name and email address.)
  2. I will be on Twitter at @joeycope. That’s where Togo speaks and I have announced new blog posts. For now, I will continue that practice. The only difference is that my Twitter feed will not be showing up on Facebook. I am considering consolidating Togo’s tweets on a regular basis as a blog post. So if you don’t do Twitter, you can sign up for my blog posts to come to your email and Togo will appear on occasion.
  3. I have an Instagram account. I’ve lost the password, but I may resurrect it. Togo likes having his picture taken and we are in negotiation on this.

I will miss the good things about Facebook and I will miss my friends. I understand that I am making our online relationship complicated. I apologize. Thank you for your kindness and consideration. Some of you regularly message me on Facebook. If so, I invite you to email me at copej@acu.edu.

I will leave my Facebook open through February 15, 2017 in hope that friends will see this invitation to connect with me elsewhere.

Thank you, again, for your friendship. May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you. And give you peace.

Grace and peace,

Joey Cope

Abilene, Texas
February 4, 2017

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.

 

Transfer of Power

why climbing on board the train is so hard

I won’t be watching the inauguration today. It’s not that I have no interest in the ceremony or its rich history. I’ve never watched the inauguration. The truth is I don’t enjoy witnessing the transfer of power after a contested battle.

train

In days of old, kings wore special garments to denote their power. Most often, these were ornate robes. And the longer the train of a king’s robe, the greater his power and dominance. When a king would conquer another ruler, he would cut off a portion of the vanquished ruler’s robe and add it to the train of his own.

(Some of you may remember the story from Bible class about David cutting off a corner of King Saul’s robe while the monarch was sleeping. It was a show of defiance and power as David sent a message — “King Saul, your life was in my hands and I spared you. You belong to me.” You might also remember that David later apologized for this act of disrespect.)

Consider the fact that when a king did lengthen his train the addition was made to the end of his robe. He didn’t carry forth the legacy of his conquered opponent up high with respect. Instead, he placed it in direct contact with the ground where its history would soon be covered with dirt and the filth of the streets and the sewers.

I won’t be watching today as Mr. Trump slices off a generous hunk of President Obama’s robe, holds it high over his head, and then pins it to the tail of his train.

Remember that whenever leadership focuses only on power, the fibers of the lengthened train are not just some bit of cloth, but the lives and well-being of people. In a divided society — and we live in one today — the transfer of power is often realized in hurtful and even violent ways against at least some of our fellow citizens.

In the coming days, if I witness Mr. Trump easing graciously into the power of his office, a power that can be benevolent and beneficial, I will be most grateful. I believe that he can do that. After all, at this stage of the process, he no longer needs the antics of his campaign to grasp and faithfully execute matters of the public trust within his understanding of his charge from those who elected him. It is my prayer that he will do that with dignity and grace . . . and a reverent respect for the power he holds and for all people.