Author: philcoxchap

A hospital chaplain, counselor, and preacher, I simply show up each day. I grew up in delta farm country, and have migrated to the Ozarks in Missouri. My daily life is filled with people who teach me in their struggles how to survive.

Hiding Behind the Questions

In a spirituality group recently I observed what I have seen many times, and have done myself. In an effort to avoid facing the larger story of God’s relationship to man and the teachings of the Bible, countless questions are asked. The questions were not about basic promises, benefits and God’s desire to have us under his wing, but about whether Adam and Eve had an umbilical cord. Discussion among the group members was not about our deep need to be in control instead of turning it over to God, but ranged from which daytime talk show host was best to where Cain got his wife.

Part if the fault is mine; I am sometimes not as good at keeping the topic in a general area of spirituality as I should be. The concept is real, however, in that we get lost in the weeds, and aren’t able to view the lay of the land. I believe is often intentional, though never admitted. We would rather use the unanswered questions as a reason (excuse) for not facing the hard truths of our inadequacy. The basic broken human condition is hard to accept, but is essential to understanding our need for salvation and guidance. We will always have more questions than answers, so we might as well get used to the fact. The basic temptation that started our mess came from the first couple’s desire to know.

I’m not advocating ignorance for the sake of bliss. We should find out what is knowable, but not allow our lack of knowledge to stand in the way of our path to God. Claiming God must provide answers to all questions means our ignorance is his fault. He will teach us new things as we follow and trust him. Can we be okay with not knowing? We say we want to see the way; we convey truth to be important; we claim to want more light. We have all those in one source: the way, the truth and the light. If we begin there, we operate from a platform of knowing all we need to know. We then can make amazing discoveries along the way.

 

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Just Say No

There are many problems with the current idea of “diversity” as practiced and taught at our nation’s universities and other institutions. While thoughts about diversity are part of a natural movement in history that will happen as humans come to understand each other better, the current insistence on immediate changes in action and (more disturbing) thought result in threats and violence toward those slower to agree with the concept. The irony is that “tolerance” is not at all tolerant and diversity is seen as what advocates consider it to be. There are simply no other definitions allowed. The questions regarding these and many other ideas put forward by the advocates of instant change is: Who decides?

Who decides what is acceptable morally and ethically within the individual and community realm? This is not even to mention the larger view from a national perspective. Who decides what a person who is a male or female by birth is on any given day? We could say it’s that individual’s prerogative to make the decision. We could also say it’s the prerogative of others to regard the original sex to be the legitimate one. I do not intend, even out of politeness, to ask, “What is your name today and which bathroom will you be using?” prior to addressing an individual. This will render us non-functional in daily life. I can’t go from “Eve” to “Steve” that easily. Plus, I will not accept the label “bigot” for not complying with the demands of diversity.

Who decides what type of weapon a person needs? I have opinions about what the average person needs, but I won’t propose to make law on that. Is there someone who claims to be wise or moral or ethical enough to make decisions for all? No doubt some believe themselves to be part of a special group (elected or not) that can make the right choices, and impose them (by force if necessary) on all.

You can demonstrate; I can ignore you. You can sit; I can stand. You can kneel on TV; I can turn it off. I can also do something else with my time and money than contribute to your actions. You can demand; I can walk away. You can huff and puff, but my house will stand. You can ignore history; I can remember it. It won’t go away because we forget. There are many more issues to be added to this list, but these make the point.

I will treat everyone with dignity and respect, by my own definition of those terms. No one will be harmed by my speech or actions. I can be offended too, but I will deal with it. I will not expect others to change to cater to my preferences. If we talk, I will offer my impression, and hope the other person will offer theirs. It need not go further than that.

Without some sort of agreed-to community norm, there will be chaos. We don’t have to contribute to it. We also don’t have to play the games of people who simply desire to confuse those norms as though they are walls that must be torn down. We can simply say “no”.

Just Play the Game

There are some sports that are meant to be for pure entertainment, such as professional wrestling and roller derby. Even participants will agree that it is a show. On the other hand, there are sports that are meant to be competition with winners, and therefore, losers. Winners want to keep on winning and losers want to practice in order to get on the winning side. This is the nature of competition. Spectators once gathered to see who the best competitors were and root for their team. It was exciting and intense at times. College bowls were for the few teams that could qualify.

Things are changing. At the high school level and small college level there is still competition. Also at some major colleges there is still a sense of the game itself and competing to win. The excitement is still there in a team sport that focuses on “we” instead of “me” with a supporting cast. At the major college and professional level, with some exceptions, demonstrations, dances and silliness comes after a good play or touchdown. The adolescent mode kicks in and it resembles an elementary schoolyard more than a competitive game. Even with two of my favorite university teams, one my alma mater, the emphasis during the pre-game hype seems to be on what uniforms the players will wear this week. Maybe we should go back to real grass and leather helmets to find out what these men are made of. Even some college teams with losing seasons can still play in a bowl game, since some company with a product to sell will pay for it.

My interest in professional sports (with the exception of baseball), has decreased with the “show time” approach. As I’ve said before, I believe professional baseball players still respect their sport, making them the exception. I’m for the days of Jim Brown and Dick Butkus. I would love to see Bart Starr and Ray Nitschke on the field, playing on frozen turf. I want to see sod fly under real cleats. I must be a relic indeed. Yes, players got hurt, because it was a rough game. I once thought these sports were an integral part of the American scene, players we all wanted to be. Not anymore. If the current NFL is who we are, count me out.

 

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.

 

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.