They too shall pass

A major catastrophe has a way of making the impact of a few lost individuals of little worth. The mass rush to assist those who are genuinely in need far surpasses the confused wandering of a small mob looking to do some damage. Their point seems pointless, as it is. Whether with boats to Texas or bales of hay to Nebraska, people rise to the occasion of construction rather than destruction. Just like those of an aging generation whose lungs now bear the burden of smoking strange stuff, those who cover their faces and incite violence will one day use walkers to get to the bathroom. There’s nothing like some reality to keep perspective.

The thugs are not us. They are them. They put themselves on the other side of decency and respect for others, and thus put themselves on the outside looking in at good things. Hopefully they will see and experience enough good things to learn what they could do if they let go of their self-importance long enough. They claim to care about a cause of some sort, but ruin the claim by creating chaos and rubble. They promote what they claim to hate.

Once their professional agitation jobs are done, they will still be lost and in need of help themselves. Then, maybe someone with a boat will pluck them out of the angry flood that has consumed them. Maybe they will come to their senses and help.

 

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Bad Results From Bad Instincts

Does non-visual action equal inaction? I say no, and there is a reason for it. Non-visual action ideally represents thinking rationally about a problem to come up with an appropriate response. This response could be to change something or the keep something the same. Either way, the thinking itself contributes to a wise conclusion as to direction and later action.

Inaction, on the other hand, is no action and no thought. Both non-action and inaction look the same outwardly, but are very different. When an incident occurs, as they are and have been for thousands of years, some believe immediate action for a long-term solution is the answer. Such remedies are often short-term and serve no purpose for the long-term. It results in a mob mentality that only generates further problems. The response against violence becomes violent, and nothing is accomplished of lasting worth. The new issue (which did not exist before) is who is at fault for the violence.

When a person commits a crime, that individual makes a decision to do so. He could have been influenced by others, but it was he who committed the crime. The consequences of his actions could be widespread, but no more so than those who take advantage of the crime want to take them. This is why all German people were not obliterated for the actions of Hitler and his band of evil-doers. It’s also why Japan was allowed and aided to re-build after the devastating war initiated by its leaders. To do violence to those who believe a particular way but do not hurt people or destroy property is to render the original problem further down the list or priorities. Creating worse problems never solves anything. This is how mobs grow without thought and tragic results come about. To respond to an event within thirty seconds is not required, even if demanded by others, nor is it wise. To say something helpful requires intentional words and actions that lead to better things. The term used when I was young was, “popping off.” We hear much of that, but too little careful responses in an appropriate amount of time. A reflex does not think, and neither do careless, immediate word battles bring sense to senseless action.

 

A Lot Too Much

The current trend toward aggressive, pressurized and even violent reactions to the past election reflects a world view that is at odds with an orderly society and Christian teaching itself. It reminds me of complaints (and sometimes rightly so) of high-pressure attempts to get a person to become a Christian. I attempted to debate people into the ground if necessary to get them to admit I was right and they were wrong. I not only learned that this was the wrong way to pursue spreading the gospel message; it was also never successful.

So, why do some who are dissatisfied with the results of the vote feel compelled to disrupt every notion of order and propriety to change the outcome? At its extreme levels (and it seems it’s becoming much more mainstream) these efforts are no better than the inquisitions that people complain about as if all Christians secretly want to torture non-believers. The talk that comes over the news is about the latest statements made by well-known people who act as if their very existence is at stake by having a government they don’t like. This is true only in their minds. It doesn’t look as though it is getting better.

The ultimate outcome, if some have their way, is public punishment of about half the voting population to teach them never to vote that way again. Those who rejected bullying attempts by overzealous evangelists should also reject such bullying by those who threaten those who voted the other way. In other words, inquisitions are wrong, no matter who initiates them. If religion has become too political (and it has), then politics has become too religious. Being fanatical goes both ways. We should not abide by either. We are better than this.

 

Listening

If you have ever been in the room with someone who has just received devastating news, you know the pressure to speak. We feel we need to “help” the person by explaining why they need to not feel bad. The truth is, they should feel bad. That’s what grief is all about. It doesn’t matter what you say, they will still feel bad. They may be stunned for now, but they will feel bad. The more you tell them not to, the less helpful you will be. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss. Normal and natural; not abnormal and unnatural.

What will help? Turn off your mouth, turn on your ears. Listening to a person in pain is a gift that is free, but hard to give. Our inability to comfort a person is our greatest strength. They are not broken, therefore they cannot be fixed. If you sit long enough, they will eventually speak, and they will need a heart with ears to hear their grief. If the loss is a death, they will tell stories, both about the person they lost, and about themselves. None of those are about you.

How long do you sit there? As long as it takes. Sit until they dismiss you. They will let you know when that is. Stay in the moment. Your phone must become non-existent. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. The world can take care of itself. It did before you were born and will long after you are gone. In that moment, you are effective. You are productive. You are helpful. You are present!

Animals

The best animals are those belonging to someone else. No, I don’t dislike animals, but once they are in your life, they are bad. They keep you tied down, and demand to be fed and loved and cared for. You ask them questions out loud, and put an answer in their mouths when they haven’t said a word. We give them personalities. “He’s stubborn”, or “She’s in a bad mood today.”

Animals are the new humans, and that is far beyond what is meant to be. We have come to the conclusion that humans are too complicated and too hard to deal with. We will just get a pet. After all, they are loyal and love unconditionally. They seem glad to see you no matter what you have been doing while gone. They don’t care if you are sloppy; in fact they may prefer it. If social media is to be believed, pets are a greater source of anger if mistreated than if humans are. An abused animal is the subject of many more posts than that of people. Abusing any living thing is wrong, but isn’t there an order of importance?

Animals can be therapeutic, but so can humans. It’s true, people often talk too much, often doing more harm than good. Humans are complicated, but they offer something animals can’t: the presence of a human being. If a man can’t get a date without carrying a cute puppy, then he is lacking something. If a woman puts her poodle before a man, then all three need help. We have lost too much of human relationships, so we give up on them. I know this won’t likely be popular. Don’t let your dog read this. He may become angry and bite me. If that happens, then at least you and I will have something to talk about.

Why I Love History

History is a great teacher. It gives us a perspective about human advancement and development that we can’t get without studying it. If we take notice, there were time frames for things to develop and advance naturally, meaning by way of discussion, debate and appropriate give-and-take.  The Declaration of Independence was ratified in 1776. The constitution was secure by the ninth state in June of 1788. None of the delegates arrived in Philadelphia with the document in his pocket. The apostle Paul spent 14 years in Arabia after his conversion before he began his ministry. His wasn’t an overnight evangelistic journey.

We have been too geared to fix everything now. We either simply forget or choose to ignore how many times the perfect government or institution has been attempted and failed. We fancy ourselves so much more intelligent and advanced than past generations, so sure we can do it by the end of the week. Human behavior doesn’t work that way. The Affordable Care Act was passed assuming people would automatically sign up for health insurance, but by and large, they didn’t. They didn’t get regular checkups from an established physician like it was assumed. Congress forgot human behavior can’t be forced or changed by a stroke of a pen.

History has a flow that takes us through the human journey step by step. If we can learn again to think long-term, we will approach today’s challenges with a more studied and thoughtful approach. Why do people resist being herded like cattle into doing things they don’t want to do? Is it possible they would rather have shepherds (who lead) instead of cowboys (who drive)? Trust must be developed, not demanded. No one generation has finally “figured it all out” and can invent answers before we even know the questions or the need for answers. I love what history teaches us: that there is truly nothing new under the sun.

Topics Rather Than People

While reading a biography of John Adams, I recently came across a phrase describing an attitude that I believe would do us a lot of good in our daily life. Abigail Adams’ father was a Harvard graduate and a minister. He taught his children how to conduct themselves, including the phrase, “Make topics rather than people the subject” of your speech. That is obviously good advice for preachers’ kids, but for all of us. That one phrase struck me as such a simple and profound concept that it caught my attention.

How much of our political and religious debate either includes or even centers on personal attacks and diminution of another person or people? The volume of such encounters seems to have increased in recent years, but is certainly not new. Newspapers, pamphlets and speeches have always contained personal references to people rather than their ideas or beliefs. Those made fun of personal appearance, ways of walking and speech patterns. Yet in more honorable times, the content of the speech took precedence over any distractions about a person. Not so lately.

I have quoted others who I believed had valid ideas and observances only to have an attack on the person quoted as the first reply. The value of the quote (either to agree or disagree) was never mentioned, but only the person making the original statement. This left the point unanswered, and seemed to be an inability to respond to its validity. This is unfortunately all too common, and is even a strategy (if unconsciously) of those who are willing to engage in debate. In the process, the back-and-forth breaks down and no longer a legitimate discussion of differences based on topics but a series of derogatory claims designed to harm the personal reputation of a person or people.

I need the “Make topics rather than people” concept as a reminder. It is not too late to elevate a healthy discussion to a respectable level. I will fight the urge to make things personal, and recognize a good point when I hear or read it, even if I disagree with most or all the rest of a person’s beliefs.

Honor to Whom It is Due

One thing we need to recognize and never let go of, is honor. Sometimes we overuse the word “hero”, maybe because we need them so much, to the point we call anyone who does anything out of an ordinary day a hero. This tends to inflate the term to the point that it is not really special anymore. It is important for us to realize how grateful we should be to those who have done extraordinary things on behalf of other people to truly rise to the rank of hero.

People who do good and valuable things each day to help individuals should be regarded with honor for those things. Not necessarily a parade, but a certain respect for the glue they provide in holding together families, churches and communities. In fact, most of them would be uncomfortable with parades because they were raised and bred to help. They know their forebears have handed down to them a cause larger than themselves. They are wired to be of value, simply because that is what we do. The parts of the whole need glue to hold it together, and they are more than willing to do that task.

I see those individuals everywhere who stick through thick and thin. They are people you will not notice until they are absent. Something is amiss and someone else must step in or things will go wrong. They do not expect anything, but there is something we can do for them and for us all, show them honor. By doing so, we remain faithful to them and their like who provide the continuity for us to pass down good and permanent things to our children and their children.

 

Keeping it Simple

It’s not hard. We make it so. We tend to complicate things we want to avoid. My sister used to say she didn’t know how to run the vacuum cleaner. Yet, she could figure out how to get around the tallest girls and make all-state in basketball as a high school sophomore.

I probably did the same thing in algebra class. I was enamored by the girl across the aisle, so algebra was too hard to contemplate. The chairs were situated so I had to look right past her to see the teacher. I hardly ever saw the teacher. I heard him a few times, saying something about “x and y”. I got by, with her and with algebra, but I didn’t get an A in either.

Why, then, do we avoid things that are permanent? We make those permanent things a matter of “interpretation” or “philosophical viewpoint” to be debated and then left on the dining room table to be picked up when we have nothing else to do. The permanent things: love, truth, beauty, heaven, hell and eternity are things essential for us to consider both now and for the future. They are not complicated. Facing them is not torture, but ultimate liberation. Each can deliver us from the delirium of “here” to the divine of “there”. That’s worth spending our time on.

The New Way

If you want to be considered part of the cool, elite, smart and progressive circles in our society, you might give some consideration to what you will leave behind.

First, you will abandon tried and true methods that gradually change because of need for improvement in outcomes. To change these overnight is to lose the structure that gave us the platform and place to stand both politically and morally. So, you will be constantly experimenting with “new” ideas (which have been tried and failed many times) and resolve that someone has a better idea. You will believe you know who that someone is, and you will be aligned with their thinking, regardless of success or failure.

Second, you will abandon the very things that brought you into the world and sustain you in your “right” to push the envelope. The envelope should be pushed, but not destroyed. You will ignore history and fail to learn from it. You will now be certain your group has a better ideology; a better system and an overtly “benevolent” country that treats everyone alike, even if they want to destroy us. You will feel better about yourself by advocating that there are no winners and losers, despite the fact that real life doesn’t reflect that. You will forget that your mother had enough morals and unselfish maturity to carry you to term and deliver you so you can aspire to be smarter than others. You will likely regard those who look at history and use it to determine the way into the future as small, petty and outdated.

Third, you will learn new applications of words such as “hater” or “extremist” for those who disagree, and you will jump at the chance to add these labels to those who hold on to tradition in any form. You will also seek to silence those who agree with freedom of speech if they do not follow your intelligent worldview. You will abandon the ability to hold rational debates and ignore the natural and theological fact that humans are prone to seek power and fail when they get it.

There could be more points to this subject, but you get the idea. To heck with wisdom from our ancestors! To heck with the old white men who disagreed, argued and sought to find a form of government that would serve the people, and not the other way around! To heck with everything prior to the last century when the cool, smart and progressive leaders really began to transform our nation into a global community! So, you can race ahead of the traditionalists who are a drag on society and lead the way toward big brother who knows everything.