It isn’t Magic

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2014 by jcwill5

The longer I journey with God on planet Earth, the less I believe in magic.

In fact, I will go so far as to say magic, far more than skepticism, is the enemy of all true faith.

Magic requires no effort.  Magic just happens if I wait long enough.

Magic is a form of pretending.  

It’s where it all works out in spite of reality and contrary to reality.

Our own choices aren’t important in a magical world.  There are never bad consequences for any choices.

So there is never any need to change, to repent, to learn the hard way, to suffer, to be patient, or to grow up.

It’s like a bad sitcom where the characters make the same stupid choices week after week, are none the worse for wear, and come back in the next episode to do it all over again while we watch.

Magical Quests

We look for magical experiences at magical places through magical leaders who perform magical shows to make magical things happen while we, the passive many, watch, applaud, pay, and praise them after the show.

Some of us are looking for political magic–the right party with the right programs with the right leader will make everything all better right away.

More spending, less taxes, and no deficits.

Some of us are looking for entertainment magic–the right network or label with the right programs with the right artist will make everything all better, right away.

More watching, less activity, and no obesity.

Other are looking for religious magic–the right church with the right programs with the right leader will make everything all better right away.

More services, less commitment and sacrifices, and no cross.

Some of us are looking for relationship magic–the right partner with the right body with the right personality will make everything all better right away.

More taking, less commitment and giving, and no ring.

Yeah, right!

One of the most painful steps towards growing up emotionally is giving up the magic.

It’s where we stop denying there’s a problem, and give up on denial.

It’s where we admit we’re wrong, out of control, can’t wish our problems away, and can no longer pretend we can manage it all.

It’s where we take full responsibility for ourselves, and hand back to all others the responsibility for their own self as well.

It’s where we come under God, get small and lowly, and hand ultimate, final responsibility back to Him.

It’s extremely painful.

Which is why most people relapse back into magical thinking.

It is hard to be relentlessly, ruthlessly honest with ourselves, with God, and with other people.

It is hard to look reality square in the face and not flinch and say, “That’s me!”

It’s hard to admit, “I will never be able to fix, save, rescue, or make all better anyone–even myself!”

It’s hard to give up the role of hero, messiah, and handyman.

But it is absolutely necessary if we’re going to seek and find the Truth.

America is full of magical politics, magical churches, magical shows, and magical coupling.

It doesn’t do us a bit of good because magic changes nothing.  Nothing!

Tired of pretending?  Exhausted from fixing?  Worn out by being indispensable?  Fed up with denial?

Let go of the magic.   Face reality.  Humble yourself.  Repent.  Return to God.  Take responsibility.

With His help, start taking the actions that, deep down, you’ve known you’ve needed to take all along.

Then you’ll actually get somewhere in life!

Over or Under

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2014 by jcwill5

In my long personal journey, and in my many interactions with many kinds of people, I believe almost every issue bedeviling our society boils down to a single, unspoken, underlying issue.

Is God, or is the individual, supreme?  

Is God, or is my self, in the position of ultimate control?

Do I unconsciously see myself as occupying the heights, looking out at all of life from a position of being over it?

Am I above all religions, moralities, philosophies, and perspectives, picking and choosing from among them to fit “ME”?

In other words, am I (or something I personally value) the standard?   Am I my sole and highest authority?

Or do I report to Another who is Ultimate Judge of all individuals in the end?

Am I the measure of all things?  Am I the center?  Am I the greatest?

Or is the Being we call God the Most High?  Does He possess all authority and every right to judge me, hold me accountable, and measure me according to His ways, His commands, and His rules?

Do I report to Him and live to fulfill His will?  Or does He report to me and exists to fulfill my will?

Am I self-created, or God created?

Over or under?

I believe our modern, high-tech society is permeated, immersed, and completely reinforces the “sovereign self” view of life.

It is setting the terms for all our societal moral debates.   It is undermining all institutions, sacred books, and all sources of authority beyond the SELF.

And I believe our very technologies and intelligent devices, all brought to us by the Internet, reinforce the unspoken view that we are the center of it all.

I scan the news, viewing all the events of the world in an instant, from a position of having all the arrows of information pointing to me.

This gives us the illusion of having all control and possessing real-time, everywhere-at-once, omnipresence.

I search all the images of the word, have at my fingertips all the articles and websites of the world on every subject–giving me the illusion of omniscience and, of course, all control.

We are each emperors and empresses of our virtual world, controlling what others see about us and projecting a vastly inflated picture of ego achievement and elevation.

Then we hit the real world and fall flat on our faces.

So it is a kind of pampered, overprotected narcissism run amok, where our own personal opinion on everything is the Final Word on all matters.

The problem is all the above is laughable.

We are that pathetic huckster behind the curtain, and not the booming, fiery projection of the Wizard of Oz.

We can’t even control our mouth, let alone our attitudes, let alone our secret self-destructive tendencies, can we?

And we certainly can’t control life’s events, let alone the doings of other people, can we?

We are all in need of a good ego deflation and a deep demotion into lowliness and vulnerability.

We are not in control, not in charge, don’t define ourselves or anything or anyone else, and are not above it all picking and choosing as a superior.

The truth is we are inferiors, little people, and, yes, even unrepentant selfish sinners who continuously provoke God to His face, defy His truth, mock His ways, etc.

We make lousy, pathetic, incompetent gods and goddesses.  

If we won’t resign, we ought to be fired at once and removed from the Throne.

We need a good come down so we might come to our senses and escape the cruelest, most boring imprisonment of them all:  slavery to self.

We are in desperate need of losing the illusions of control and those delusions of grandeur that torment us, and make everyone else around us miserable.

Our grandiosity will be the death of us.   Hubris is always followed by nemesis.

It comes down to this:   we have been living life, making decisions, and responding to the Most High from a totally false, completely undeserved position of aboveness.

It would be hilarious if this state of affairs wasn’t so tragic and utterly destructive to so much that is good.

Is it not a coincidence that the Twelve Steps begin with:   My life has become unmanageable and I powerless over…

Control therefore is not our friend, it is our enemy.

It is what drives all addictions, all idolatry, and all straight paths to Hell.  It is not to be coddled but eradicated.

Most people who call themselves Christians are actually practicing syncretism–a shell of Christianity surrounding a core of sovereign individualism (self-worship, the self controls and defines everything).

If we don’t teach our children and our churches to distinguish between these two diametrically opposed perspectives, and choose to be under God instead of over Him, we doom them to a spiritual death.

And, most frightening of all, we don’t see what’s happening or understand why it’s happening.

But this, my friends, is the great Apostasy of our times.  It is the acid that corrodes everything sacred and good.

It is what we need to be revived from.

My Old Quarrel With School Bureaucracies

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2014 by jcwill5

Why do I loath bureaucracies so much?

I’m normally an even-keeled, positive person.

But when I run into “one-size-fits-all” rules, policies, procedures that block, demean, don’t fit, and serve no purpose, I am quick to get hot under the collar and take it personally.

It bothers me more than it should.  

Case in point….

My son is registering this afternoon for this coming year in high school, and somehow they scheduled him to have no English and no Social study classes during his junior year.

Which makes so much sense. (yes, I’m being sarcastic!)

We had them all figured out with the counselor last June and turned in all the right paperwork on time.

And here is the result.

Which is why it’s probably a good thing his mother, rather than I, went with him.

I would be furious and probably start an argument that wouldn’t do me or my faith any credit.

My wife’s bugaboo is medical bureaucracies.   Mine are school bureaucracies.

I don’t mind calling doctors offices and insurance companies, have patience on the phone, and usually get a great result.

But when it involves my kids and the school applies a policy that is counterproductive and even downright nonsensical, I’m ready to fire off a tough-worded letter to them and get into this fight club mode.

So now I’m going to do what I have counseled other people to do:  I’m going to ask the Holy Spirit to pinpoint where this came from and connect the dots.

I’m going to tell my school bureaucracy part of my story.

The goal is insight, and a freedom from the tyranny of reactions by using reactions to expose the “issue behind the issue.”

I’m laughing as I write this because I know exactly where all this is coming from:  my bad experiences with elementary school, and with Jr. High school offices and administrators.

I began kindergarten as a kid who loved learning, and I left 6th grade with a very bad attitude towards school.

For one thing, as a bright kid with a touch of Aspberger’s, all the so-called socialization pressures at school were a torture.

The drive to conformity and get everyone to achieve a certain academic level, to fit into the proscribed box by a certain time, didn’t work well for me.

I pretty much learned all that school was designed to teach me by the end of 4th grade.  And rotted for two years in mediocrity and meaningless repetition of the same information.

Then the worst evil of my life happened during the summer before 7th grade.

It was an incident that struck at the core of my being, that wounded my manhood and left me in emotional agony, deeply humiliated, and terribly insecure.

We didn’t talk about being molested or stranger abduction publicly back in those days.

Jewelry Class??!!

So here I am, midway through 7th grade, and the school scheduled me to take a Jewelry class of all things.

I appealed to the principle and told him I didn’t want to take it and wanted something different.   He didn’t listen and told me, “Too bad–it’s what you’re going to take.”

So I did something I have never done before or since:  I purposely failed a class.

And I did it to protect my sense of manhood, already injured and fragile.

I felt profoundly demeaned, not heard, and abused all over again by an impersonal system run by uncaring, controlling adults who loved their system more than they loved kids.

People who didn’t bother to take the time to ask, “Why is this so important to you?  What’s all this about?”

The iron entered my soul and I learned the wrong lesson:  school bureaucracies are the enemy!  One-sized-fits-all systems are not equalizers but the very height of injustice! Curse them!

Which meant that anytime anything similar affects one of my kids in their dealings with school I am tempted to fight this battle all over again and win no matter what.

But what I really need is to bring this ancient wound to Christ, openly name it for what it is, and ask for a dose of love from the Ultimately Abused Person who died on the Cross for me.

And then, as a beloved child, to forgive these old injustices from a position of riches and bring closure to them once and for all.

So that’s what I’m going to do right now.

The Big C and the Biggest C

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2014 by jcwill5

Cancer.

Next to death, it’s probably the most dreaded word in the English language.

So we use big latin words like “malignancy” or put an -oma on the end of a latin/medical term.  Or we use euphemisms like “the big C” to disguise its ugliness.

Every one of my immediate family members has had cancer.  

So I’ve seen up close and personally what cancer can do.

My mom is a 24 year survivor of colon cancer.

She endured two major abdominal surgeries, a tough round of radiation, and the lingering effects of losing half her colon.

Cancer greatly changed her everyday life and, at times, severely limits her ability to travel and be in social situations.

My sister has had two malignant melanomas caught early and removed.   A great outcome, but it’s still disturbing to watch someone younger than you face a potentially mortal threat.

My dad had three different kind of cancers in the twelve years before he died.

Lymphoma was his greatest and longest battle, with three outbreaks and three rounds of treatment.  He was so miserable in the depths of chemo that he made the rest of us miserable.

I don’t know if it was dementia, stubbornness, or just being overwhelmed that made him ignore a malignant melanoma for two years.

Whatever the reason, I saw first-hand what metastasized malignant melanoma can do to a person.

It caused great suffering when it spread to his bones, spread horribly fast to his internal organs, and took his life with a speed that still shocks me.

Now I have skin cancer.

It’s weird to say, “I have cancer.”

Even though it’s basal cell carcinoma, was caught early, won’t spread, and is most easily treated and cured.

Even though, on the grand scale of things, this is a pretty minor procedure, it carries a lot of freight.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t like to say, think about, or face the fact that I have cancer.

It’s probably because I’ve seen so much, and have so many vivid and disturbing pictures of cancer’s grim impact, running around in my mind.

I don’t want what happened to my parents to happen to me.

Their fate makes me want to run, hide, skip town, etc.

It’s flight, not fight, that’s my reaction.

I want to be in denial but I can’t deny the fact that I have cancer, come from a family with more than it’s share of cancer, and have more than a normal-sized storehouse of bad memories related to cancer.

“No, not me!”  “This can’t be happening!”   “I don’t want to go there!”

But, weirdly, denial is often what seals the fate of people and is the death of people.

Denial keeps people from seeing their dermatologists, from getting a colonoscopy earlier in life, from eating more fiber and less bad stuff, etc.

It subverts preventive habits, early detection, and wise choices.

It’s pretending it can’t happen to us and will never happen to us–so we can defy the normal rules of health and eat and live however we please.

It’s pretending we are above it all, and pretending we can handle it all.

It’s a way of holding onto the illusion of control when we actually have no control and cannot perfectly protect ourselves from threats like cancer.

It’s a way of managing the pain of what has already hurt us or those we love, an alternative to admitting we are overwhelmed and powerless.

The alternative is facing reality.

The alternative is getting help, giving up control over who and what helps us, and giving up control over the answer.

Admitting I need help and submitting to the cure is an act of surrender, an act of entrusting myself to the care of another, an act that says I am inadequate, tiny, fragile, and supremely vulnerable.

It deflates the ego, and demotes us from the fantasy that we are our own god.

It brings us face-to-face with the one and only true God, and it presses us into His loving arms.

The fact is, for all of our pretenses to adulthood and competency, we are like little children who need to be held close and reassured that we are loved and will be cared for no matter what.

So I have a far bigger C than the so-called big C.

I have a Christ, a Messiah who saved me and who saves me and who will always save me.

And my bout with the big C is a pathway to be embraced by the biggest C of them all.

I am in, and have never left, His arms.

So my choice to either be a squirmy toddler wanting to break free, or a contented one who surrenders and rests deeply.

And that’s the only choice that really matters.

Robin Williams, Depression, and Us

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2014 by jcwill5

It saddened me, as it did you, to hear about Robin Williams’ suicide yesterday.

He had been afflicted by major depression for many years, had been in therapy and tried various medications, and never found relief or release.

We are baffled by the fact that someone so funny could be so tormented.

And we are troubled by the fact that someone so open about his problems, and wealthy enough to afford the best treatment, still ended up prematurely dead by his own hand.

And that troubles us.   As it should.

What is major depression?   Why is it so difficult to treat?  Can anything help if Robin Williams couldn’t be helped?

These questions confront us with a sense of helplessness in the face of a devouring monster.

Here we are, awash in affluence and happy diversions, equally awash in depression.

It remains a stubborn mystery.

Depression is a personal issue for me.

On my mom’s side, there is some family history of depression and my great-grandfather committed suicide to escape a toxic mix of alcoholism and depression when my mom’s dad was thirteen.

The horrible ripples of that terrible event are still cascading down through the generations.

I struggled with seasonal depression growing up, and suffered a particularly difficult bout with depression as an adult a decade ago.

So I speak with an inside perspective, purchased at great cost, from a heart of compassion.

So here we go.

The engine of depression is sheer, raw, searing emotional pain that never lifts and which always clouds the best things and weighs down everything.

Easy things become hard, hard things become difficult, and difficult things become impossible.

So one shuts down emotionally, grows inactive physically, grows distant from God spiritually, and does less and less.

Self-talk reflects the despair and the darkness, isolating protects against the pain of social interactions, and life grounds to a standstill.

Thankfully, for most of us the episode ends, leaving as mysteriously as it came.

Our journey to the dark side of the moon is comparatively brief.

But for those with the clinical condition called major depression, this darkness goes on for years and years with no relief and no response to treatment.

For the many, circumstances play a large part and the brain chemistry factor can be helped with carefully supervised medications and good therapy.

But there is a stubborn minority whose depression isn’t circumstance-based, whose brain chemistry cannot be restored, and who never get better no matter what is done.

I suspect Robin Williams was one such person.

It may shock the reader to understand that neither science nor psychology can solve everything, that the human person remains mysteriously and frustratingly beyond our reach, and that we therefore cannot control outcomes for all people.

On the other hand, for most sufferers, there are things that can help.

It is what Parker J. Palmer found during his long bout of depression.

In his words, “Depression is the friend who pushes us down so we can live life close to the ground.”

Americans are taught grandiosity, are told “anyone, even you, could become the President of the United States!”

The mandate to succeed, to live a high-altitude life, to sour above the ordinary and to be someone great, is actually a toxic lie that torments so many “ordinary” people.

And this sense of wretchedness and failure, internalized within, is…depressing!

And when our reality collides with this mandate, we fall from precipitous heights and hit the ground hard.

Grandiosity, living life in the stratosphere, is contrasted with the humble life of smallness and contentment with littleness.

In other words, much “garden variety” depression is the downside of grandiosity, when our ego dreams collapse and our ego balloon bursts.

And the issue at the root of these collapses is this:  will someone, anyone, really love us as a small, lowly person who has little to boast about?

Can we and will we be truly loved at the bottom of our lives?

Or do we have to be grand and higher and better and bigger and greater in order to be loved, especially when our families and our society only notice us when we achieve celebrity?

Do we have to achieve more and more to be noticed, to be on anyone’s radar, to obtain cheers and hold back jeers?

Social media, where people can manage and puff up their social image so they get noticed (or hired), only amplify this comparing, grandiosity, and collapse into depression pattern.

So we come back to the salient question:    Is there anyone out there truly great enough to stoop down and love us at the bottom of our lives?

Is there anyone supremely good who holds close failures unable to perform, who will not let them go, who allows ego dreams to be shattered so real, redemptive love can be most deeply received?

Robin Williams is us.  

His death highlights the limitations of the medical/psychological magic we put our faith in, and pinpoints the question haunting all of us.

Our secret mission, our most urgent quest is both hidden from our eyes, and yet right in front of us, disguised as depression:

Can we and will we be truly loved at the bottom of our lives?

Moral Fatigue

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2014 by jcwill5

There is a quiet shift that’s happened in our country.

It affects both the domestic situation and our international relations, to the detriment of both.

It is moral fatigue.

Moral fatigue is when people, societies, or nations who would normally care, stand up for truth and justice, and say and do something effective to counteract the march of evil no longer have much will to resist.

Ironically, I believe it is the downside of hyper-activism and bombardment of causes in our social media age.

In the previous generation, bombarded by televised images of famines, natural disasters, starving kids on television, they struggled with compassion fatigue and ended up tuning out all appeals for aid.

Too many vivid images of suffering numbed us all to suffering and caused a withdrawal of caring, donating, etc.

Now we have insta-causes and insta-outrage, multipled and staring us in the face through social media.

Instead of the cause of the year, it’s the cause of the moment, soon forgotten and displaced by the next cause of the moment.

We lurch from crisis to crisis, each calling for our urgent action, each advocated by someone in our circle of friends, and each receiving a few seconds of our attention.

Then we do nothing.

Or perhaps we re-tweet or re-post something graphic, and practice “virtual activism” through our virtual relationships in a virtual world where nothing really happens.

Our national leaders reflect and practice this–waiting until a firestorm of protest spreads on Facebook or Twitter and then doing a short-term “something” designed to show the virtual world they are listening.

When we are bombarded, we bombard our leaders, who bombard the trouble spot.

But the problem is all this bombardment is it has only amplified our tendency to tune it all out.

We’ve stopped caring about almost everything, are beyond moral outrage, and tired of moral causes to our very core.

Oh, sure, we’ll rant and rage a little in the virtual world.

But in the real world we”ll do nothing about anything.

Every cause is amped up and designed to spread outrage and generate a reaction.

Leaving us unable to distinguish between the truly urgent and the actually insignificant.

America used to have moral authority, used to exercise moral leadership, and used to lend our aid to American values all over the world.

Not perfectly.   Sometimes tragically misguided.   At times, quite ineptly.

Now we have withdrawn and abdicated leadership from any and all moral causes.

All the above is now coming into play when a truly horrific thing is happening in Iraq.

Entire communities are being forced from their homes, driven into the mountains, and left there to starve.

Entire communities are having their houses of worship desecrated, their books burned, their symbols removed.

Entire communities are being told to convert, pay an impossibly high “extortion” fee, or die.   So they flee.

And those who stay behind have witnessed the beheading of CHILDREN!

Our response:   shrugging shoulders, and tardy “limited” air strikes.

Now we do as little possible, as late in the game as possible, as long after the fact as possible, and only when virtual outrage grows to the point that it forces our hand.

Then we go back to moral slumber and ignore it all again.

Here we are, the mightiest superpower the planet has ever known, and we are ignored, disregarded, and, worst of all, held in profound contempt by both friends and enemies alike.

So ISIS surges, commits increasing and heinous acts of horror, while we’re twiddling our thumbs in majestic impotence.

The reason is we are a morally fatigued and morally bankrupt society that no longer really cares about anything, except virtually and momentarily when it bothers us personally.

So friends can no longer count on us and enemies can freely disregard us in the real world.

And nobody, no one in leadership in either party, seems to understand this sea-change.

We now live in a world where a complete moral vacuum exists, and where the worst and most evil elements on earth are rushing in to fill it.

There is nobody, absolutely nobody, exercising moral leadership and moral courage in the world today

Nobody, inside or outside our government, possesses true moral courage or rises above naked self-interest.

We have become, rightfully so, the contempt of the world.

And our world, sadly, is becoming an increasingly dangerous, malevolent place with every passing hour.

God help us!

Remembering

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2014 by jcwill5

Aurelius Augustine, in his Confessions, spoke about the power of memory to help us in the present.

And this thought is certainly biblical.

It explains why Jesus enacted a ritual meal and twice told His followers, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

It explains why the ancient Israelites, after the Exodus, were told to celebrate the Passover each year and to retell the story of God’s rescue anytime a child asked, “Why do we do this?”

It explains why, when confronting a church that was doing all the right actions for all the wrong reasons, “Remember from where you have fallen, repent, and return and do the things you did at first.”

Memory.  Remembering.  Recalling.  In Remembrance.  Reminding.  Being reminded.

All these verbs are necessary because of the terrible black hole of forgetting.

We not only forget inconsequential things, we forget critical things we ought never to forget.

Memories fade.

They grow dim with time and images fade.

Which is why the dementia of old age is such a terrible fate!

To lose one’s capacity to remember is to lose touch with life itself and, in the end, share nothing at all with those around us.

Until we are reminded!

This past weekend I attended my father’s memorial service.

Time and time again, a particular picture or a recounted story caused vivid memories to come flooding back.

I kept saying, “I had forgotten that!  That’s right, now I remember it!””

The sharing of memories at the service, the pictures on display, and the stories told, painted a striking portrait of my dad.

Yet, in the Snapchat age of images that fade after 15 seconds, our society has no memory at all.

6 weeks is ancient history to a lot of people.   They live like they have no memories, so they live degraded and degrading lives.

It is almost as if there is a mass conspiracy to erase all cultural, societal, and family memories.

It is almost as if there is a design to destroy our very capacity to remember.

But memory is still greater!

Corporate memory, group remembering, and family story-telling are powerful antidotes against lost memories, against losing ourselves and forgetting who we are and whose we are.

As we recount shared events, as we remember what we’ve all been through together, we regain touch with parts of ourselves that had faded with our memories.

Remembering truths we once held dear, convictions we once upheld with passion, and good passions that once animated us, we are ennobled.

No, more than that.   We are restored.

There is a law of decay and decline at work in the best of souls.

We tend to become corrupted with time and compromised and fallen.

Memories counteract that slouch.  

Especially corporate remembering and retelling.

So never be afraid or ashamed to remember.   Or to tell the same story again.

It is in repeated stories, in often-shared memories, that we keep ourselves in once piece and anchor ourselves to the Truth.

So was there a time when your soul burned brightly with love for Christ?   When you would do anything for Him and would tell anyone about Him?

Was there a time when you were close to God and an intimate friend of His?

Remember!

Call up someone from that time and ask them to tell you how it was back then.  Then tell someone else in your present circle about it–repeat the story.

It will do your soul great good.   And it will do everyone around you even greater good.

Remember!

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