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.

Being There

We often overlook things because they are simple. We tend to look for the complicated approach to solving the problems of life. Some problems are more complicated than others, but it’s easy to miss the best response when we are fixed on “fixing” them.

Take grief, for example. Grief is not a problem of the head, but of the heart. When grieving a loss, intellectual comments, though oftentimes accurate, are not helpful. “Get over it,” does not help a person to get over it. The intellect is unable to account for the emotional tangle inside a person who is grieving. So, we try to reason a person into getting better, instead of acknowledging their grief and simply leaving it there.

Another example is the affect a traumatic event has on a person. If a professional, they expect to respond to tragedies and deal with severe injuries. Yet, this does not make them immune to the effects of those incidents on their mental and emotional well-being. “I’m fine,” they will say. Maybe they are. But, sometimes they’re not. They may walk around filled with fear, exhaustion and grief that they didn’t do more at the scene. They are trained and geared to rescue, but not everyone can be rescued. In addition, the may be afraid to admit their weakness for fear of being seen as incapable of doing the job.

A third example might be a person who is very sick. They are facing serious health issues, and may be in the process of weighing the benefits and burdens of a particular plan of care. Do they want to undergo heavy treatments with heavy side-effects to buy them more time, or do they want to be comfortable without aggressive treatments so they can have a better quality of life? Hard decisions indeed!

There is a common thread through these that one doesn’t have to be a genius or a scholar to be able to do. The common act is to be there. No solutions, no fixes, no judgment or analysis. While facing these hard life-altering times, any of us can provide a set of ears to hear the story. We can offer a silent sounding-board for a person to say out loud what they fear. All we have to do is be willing to be present. It’s not complicated, but neither is it easy. We just need enough empathy and courage to stick in there with someone who is sorting out the big things.

 

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Different

In the battles that are politics and even daily life, we need to change just a few words to change the atmosphere of the discussion. We read lots of words, so much that I can’t keep track of the convoluted collection of words that are supposed to convey something. I find myself asking, “What is being said here?” Often I just give up and move on without trying to figure it out. I also conclude I haven’t missed anything. My life has not been impacted at all.

Could we simply say we are different? We see things differently across a wide spectrum of things, from politics to what to have for dinner. Often, when we realize that we see things differently, we can then pursue how differently and why. Amazingly, we can then have what used to be called a conversation! It could even escalate to a debate, but about he subject, not about the worth of the other person.

What if I allow that you are sincerely convinced of something I just can’t see? Am I good and you bad? Does that make me wise you and you unwise? If I carry that to its logical conclusion, I may say things about you that are entirely untrue. I may conclude you aren’t even interested in any other point of view. Sometimes that may be the case, but I also must admit that works both ways. Years ago, I began to see a pattern with a man who could be frustrating because of his initial approach to nearly any subject. I realized that if I could wait for his third sentence, he made a lot of sense! I learned to wait for it to get to the point where we could even agree, but it usually only began with that third sentence.

We will be different. We can be, because we can’t control completely how we are wired. We can, however change views based on the recognition that our differences can to a matter of information, and not character.

We’re Already Doing It

We are doing it, every day. We may not be doing it enough, but certainly not too much. If we look, we can see it on a consistent basis. Loving, helping, talking and doing. We can easily accomplish things in this world, if we simply do what has been bred into us from our good parents, grandparents, etc. They were solid people who taught us one way or another that people help other people. This is not newsworthy, as the “news people” see it. Who cares about that? People benefit from our presence, even if we or they cannot explain it. It’s just done.

Four men carried a paralytic to Jesus for healing. The house was packed and the door was blocked. They carried him up onto the roof, and made a hole there large enough to let him down into the room where Jesus was. Jesus commended their faith, and forgave the paralytic of his sins. Since that wasn’t visible and incurred the questioning of his authority to forgive sins, he then told the man to pick up his mat and walk. He did! If the crowd didn’t pay any attention to let him in, they certainly did to let him out. He came in one way, and left another. Jesus had power over sickness and sin after all.

The four men who carried him in had done their job. They are mentioned no more. Even if they did it just to get relief from their heavy load, they did much more than that. Can we be mat carriers for another? We can carry others to Jesus in prayer for a spiritual touch. I believe many are already doing that, and the results could be more than we imagine. That’s okay. Those who carry mats will carry more when needed. All this will overcome everything. We are already doing it. No one can stop us.

Let’s Not Lose Each Other

Let’s not lose each other. There are enough things in the world that separate us. Death, divorce, moving, job loss, financial loss, loss of faith and trust, sickness and a host of other things that cause us to cease to be involved or even related to each other. Conversations are no longer that, and are instead heated exchanges that are designed to demean and hurt. Most of those are a result of inner hurt and fear of the future.

Most of what we worry about never happens. We anticipate the worst, and forget about what is best in our lives. We focus on differences and forget about similarities. We concentrate on disagreements while forgetting agreements. Sometimes even gathering around a grave doesn’t stop us from arguing for even a little while. Somehow we are afraid something will be taken from us, and we feel those around us might do the taking. So we react before there is anything about which to react.

There is still family. There are still faith families. There are those deep friendships and love that brings us assurance that we are not alone. These remain, if we let them.

Let’s not lose each other.

 

Remembering

Humans have always been a forgetful race. God reminded his people centuries ago to erect memorials so they could tell their children what a certain place meant. It was usually to remember something God had done for them in that location. It has always been that way. As if we would forget a global flood, God gave us a rainbow to remind us of his promise not to destroy the world by water again. Some are trying to convince us it didn’t happen in the first place. We know better.

Things are worth remembering. Some are pleasant; others are painful. Monuments do mean something. Whether a statue or a gravestone, we need reminders. What we remember plays a big role in who we are. What we determine is important enough to remember helps us to rehearse the value of that person, place or thing. The fact that we still have a place to live as we do is because of those who remain under the colonial soil, the southern delta, the union and confederate battlegrounds, in Flanders fields, in the Pacific and European battle grounds, the hills of Korea, the jungles of southeast Asia and the rocky terrain of Iraq and Afghanistan. We have retrieved some, but not others. Either way, they are gone. As long as we are here, and have enough ways to pass on our memorials, they will always be remembered. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. It’s the honorable thing to do.

Not Smart Enough

There seems to be some correlation between two concepts that it has taken me a long time to notice. I have had conversations with progressives and atheists, and they have both confirmed one thing: I’m not as intelligent as they are.

The progressives I know have a problem with those of us who are too ignorant to understand that a centralized, elitist-populated government can make better decisions for us than we can. They don’t believe we are bad people, just ignorant and outdated. We have not progressed to the point that we realize we need help, and they are the ones who can help us.

Likewise, the atheists pity us who believe we can’t be perfected on our own, and must trust in God to do that for us. We haven’t yet come to the conclusion that we all will become ideal humans, especially if we would stop interfering with the progress being made by science and programs resulting from that science.

Forgive my limitations, but history brings all this to light. Human behavior has not changed. Though the tools have been updated, we are still destroying each other in one way or another. Nations still attack, families still fight and individuals still harm and kill one another. Our government was formed with those things in mind, and rather than be an impediment to progress, it was designed with human imperfections in mind. The founders understood our weaknesses, both because of history and because took years and many debates before our government was even agreed upon by those states who purported to unify. Power still corrupts, and people are still people.

I just wish I could be smart and informed enough to see otherwise, but I just can’t. I trust God to show me everything I need to know, and my ignorance of everything else won’t matter.

 

As Real As It Gets

It happens all the time, and especially today. Those who attempt to trivialize the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus use what little influence they have to convince us it isn’t true. It couldn’t be, they say. It’s just “opium for the masses”, they say. It’s us trying to make ourselves feel better, they say. I wonder, who are they trying to convince?

Yet, they are unsuccessful. The more they try to undermine faith, the more they strengthen it. It’s true, the church has been weak, and we have been weak, but Christ has not been weak, and the grave is still empty. History will not go away. As John Adams affirmed about another subject, “Facts are stubborn things.” In this case, history has not repeated itself, as far as the resurrection. It will one day, regarding Jesus’ followers. Hope is not killed so easily; we need it to survive this life and death.

As we hope and pray the doubters will believe, we set our hearts on the permanent things. Things that will not change, will not evolve, will not “progress” are the things of God. He is never surprised. The grave had no chance that day.

Evil, or Not?

It seems those who call for controls of various kinds, lately that of guns, avoid the thing that must be addressed. The thing is sin and humanity’s propensity for it. The reasoning is objects must be the cause, not the person, or the evil influence it has over the person. When we fail to call the problem the problem, we will fight for the wrong thing. We constantly hear “fix it”, when the thing itself can’t be fixed, except by recognition of the God who created humans and the way to him. If we fail to distinguish right from wrong, then what’s wrong with killing someone? If there is right, there must be a standard and origin of right. If that standard is taken out of the picture, then we look in all directions for someone to blame.

Demanding to regulate “things” does not alter human behavior, except to cause some of them to find a route around the regulation. As the saying goes, “Laws are made to be broken.” It’s hard to say someone is at fault, so we pick out a thing that must be at fault. The reason why objects are blamed is because people can be regulated only so much. The fallacy in requiring everyone to purchase healthcare coverage failed to take into account that many people simply don’t want to purchase healthcare coverage. On paper, it may have seemed to be a relatively easy “fix” for a perceived problem, but the problem is not fixed by regulation. It is never fixed as long as humans are involved. The greatest problem-solvers can’t solve problems that are not brought to them, especially if no one recognizes there is a problem. Probably the most dangerous thing on the earth is the free will of human beings. If they would be honest, the regulators would do just that, take away our free will.

Only when we are willing to admit that the problem is human avoidance of responsibility do we even come close to asking a question that can be answered. The late Billy Graham did more to recognize and offer a perfect solution for imperfect people than all the scientists and social reformers put together. Even then, not all will accept that solution, and that proves the point. If an action is wrong, such as killing people, then we must call it that. Sin is missing the mark of perfection that is God. Turning to him is the solution to the problem of rampant evil. No object can do that.

A Message in the Argument

We are in the midst of verbal combat, with words like “slam”, “boom” and “eviscerate” being common themes in the barrage of insulting debates. The one-liners used to silence others are applauded as effective replies to other insults. If you can “slam” the opponent in five words or less, you win. Conversations are no longer necessary under these rules. Hit quick, hard and with more bold derogation to come out ahead.

All this criticality has led to a big mess. The question is how do we withdraw from the method without giving up our message? I believe we should slow down, listen and then talk, in that order. When we keep our statements concise and clear, they tend to carry more weight. This should be done in a conversational tone. The moment we digress to personalities and away from ideas, we head directly to the arena where combat is conducted. This does no good for our views or for our dignity. In fact, we lose any foothold we may have had in the minds of those we are trying to persuade. Let them run out of content. Let them make it personal. Let them descend into shouting. Step out of the way and let them run off the debating cliff. Leaving their last shouting words hanging in the air tells more about them than about us.

We will still be who we are afterward than we were before. No one has the power to take away who we are. Throwing our pearls to swine will only bury them in the mud. If we use our pearls wisely, we can regain some sensibility in the long run. We might even gain some new friends in the process, people with whom we can disagree but still go to lunch.

 

Real News

Real news is local.

It’s understandable that a major event with many people affected, and requiring a large response is news. That’s news we can and maybe should be aware of, especially if we can help. However, what if there are no such things happening on a given day? Tons of money and 24 hours in a day must be filled with something. Then, news is created by giving urgent attention to people and events that few outside a ten-foot radius really care about. I just read a headline saying a politician was seen with a woman who said something about another woman. I can’t even track the meaning of the headline much less what the real story might be (I didn’t read the story). I can’t help but suspect someone with a deadline on a “non-news” day had to come up with something.

It’s hard for us to even imagine finding out about major events two weeks later in a newspaper. How did those late-learners manage to carry on with their lives not knowing those things? I think they probably did their daily business as usual. What passes for news today would not get 10 seconds of their time. They would not have looked up from their plow or desk. Life would not change in the least.

It’s only important when something happens to someone close by, and we can help. I do want to keep up in a general way with current events on a large scale. But an opinion from someone who has no real knowledge of it in the first place is simply extra debris thrown in the way of useable information, and is a waste of my time. Our two most important resources are time and energy, and it’s important to use both wisely. I was stuck in the snow a few years ago with my small pick-up truck, and it wasn’t someone’s opinion that got me out. It was the kindness of someone who could pull me out that accomplished something. My real news was getting unstuck and the gratitude to someone who helped.

Real news is local.