Are We There Yet?

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2014 by jcwill5

My friend has two precocious, talkative daughters.

And, while he was driving our group of travelers to the airport, they asked a question that every child in back seat asks their parent:

“Are we there yet?”

My friend, ever the patient father, answered literally, “No, we have about 40 miles to go.”

Two minutes later, “Are we there yet?”

“No we’re not.  Now we have 38 miles to go.”

All of us adults in the front of the car laughed.

We all had to answer that question from our own kids.

And we all remember asking our parents that same question on long car rides.

Earlier in the trip we overhead the girls engaging in imagination play, and spinning up an entire fantasy world involving dolls and stuffed animals.

And we remarked that we wished we still had their creativity and imaginative powers.

But the downside of unbridled imagination is its inability to handle unrelieved tedium.

From the hyper-imaginative perspective of a child, the repetitive nature of a car trip is a torture.

Time passes slowly as the lines on the road pass by over and over and over again without an end.

“Are we there yet?”

Unrelieved tension.   Unrelieved monotony.   Unrelieved heartache.   Unchanged, bad situations.  Unhealed bodily pain.  Unresolved relational conflicts.

Ugh!

Is there any one of us that doesn’t find the journey of life, at times, insufferably long and painful.

So we, too, ask our Father in heaven, “Are we there  yet?”

When will this end?   How long must I put up with this?  Why don’t You do something?

Silence.

I’m tired.  I’m hungry.  Can’t we stop?   Can’t we go to someplace fun instead?

The car of life keeps going.

“No, we’re not there yet.   There’s quite a bit of journey left.   Stay in your seats and find something positive to do.”

Are small kids don’t find that answer particularly comforting or satisfying.

Neither do we.

Are we there yet?

What we’re talking about, of course, is patience.

The quality we hate to develop.   The quality we desperately need.

Patience is a giving up of control over the clock.

It is living by and living under somebody else’s timetable.

It is the ability to calmly, contentedly waiting for the Other to set the pace, and to go as slow or as fast as He rather than we want to go.

The word in the Bible for it is “long-suffering”.    Or, better, a long, unmet, passionate desire.

We want something very  badly, very passionately.   And wait a long time with this unmet desire.

Not getting the relief we want deeps our ability to endure longer and more deeply.

It takes greater and worse things to knock us off our stride, distract us from our task, or take us out of commission.

We can delay gratification for longer and longer periods, suffer greater afflictions, and therefore achieve more and more difficult objectives.

That’s why the by-produce of patience is resilience, perseverance, and grit in the face of harder, longer, more difficult adversities.

It’s the difference between green troops who get spooked and run at the first sight of trouble, and battle-toughened veterans who are impossible to dislodge from their positions.

And the hardest, most worthwhile, most strategic assignments go to such troops.

The question, “Are we there yet?” is a tell-tale sign of immaturity, a signal that we’ve got some growing up to do.

Patience is a quality our modern society does everything in its power to make unnecessary.

So we develop people with shorter attention spans, who are increasingly distracted and antsy in the face of smaller and smaller obstacles.

And who therefore are overthrown by lesser and lesser adversities.   And who react more strongly to smaller slights, minor irritations, and petty annoyances.

The escalate smaller and smaller molehills into bigger and bigger mountains–creating havoc in all areas of life.

They need and crave more and more protection from tinier issues, reaching a state of “learned helplessness”.

And the co-dependents who rush in to save them and protect them are actually creating monsters the rest of us have to live with.

So God, being the perfect Father, allows us to suffer and wait and grow up so we can gain the character needed to do the most important jobs for His kingdom.

It’s not cruelty, but love, that allows patience to grow and fosters a higher and higher pain tolerance.

No, we’re not there yet.

But we’re on our way and the process is the destination!

Happiness Drought

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2014 by jcwill5

One of the signs of a spiritual drought in our land is a drought of joy, happiness, contentment, and satisfaction.

We are four times wealthier than our great-grandparents, and one-third as happy as our poorer, longer and harder-working, more highly role-defined ancestors were.

And this fact suggests a disturbing truth:  more stuff, more money, and more leisure time doesn’t automatically make us happier.

In fact, it may be doing the opposite.

And there’s another disturbing truth:  less structure, less definition, less clear expectations, less clear roles, and a foggy idea of right and wrong may not have brought about a liberation, but a form of self-enslavement that’s making us miserable.

Seeking to throw off all moral boundaries, constraints, and limits has actually led us to a dead-end.

If boredom is the self stuffed with the self, then we are stuffed to overflowing and all the hand-held devices in the world can’t fill all the time and space within.

We are more addicted to more things at earlier ages and reach a deeper severity sooner in life.   And we are more disconnected from real time, real life, actual people in face-to-face interactions–even in our own homes.

While certain hyper-creative types might be flourishing in such a society, the vast majority of us seem to be dying on a vine.

Structure, limitations, down time, silence, being under God are the ingredients of a far more joyous life.

To know we aren’t God, are small but still loved, have limits that are good for us, do our jobs with diligence and excellence, and be grateful for what we’ve received are the foundations of joy.

To carry the weight of the universe, to lash out in narcissism, to have no bounds against the chaos, to agitate for more and bigger and better stuff is a one-way ticket to misery, depression, disconnection, sterility, and aridity.

It is the cul-de-sac of our times.

It’s OK to be small.   It’s OK to be lowly.   It’s OK to be limited.   It’s positively good to resign from self-deity and abandon pretenses to control.

In fact, to allow God to love us as small, broken, limited, hurting sinners who need oceans of help is the door to everlasting joy.

We don’t need to brag and posture on Facebook, our star in our own YouTube videos, or tweet incessantly before followers to be loved.

We don’t need to be great and grand and bloated and inflated.

In fact, all such things cloud the issue, cover up the miserable inferiority and loneliness, and delay the day of reckoning.

Sooner or later, our bloated miserable world will collapse.    Our ego empire will fall.    Our grandiosity will deflate.

Then what?

Try to puff it up again?  Or, in faith, see our shattered world as a false creation and face reality?

We could admit to ourselves, God, and one other person that our lives have become unmanageable and that we are out of control.

We could admit we aren’t the puffed up fraud-image of ourselves, and admit we are powerless and cannot fix, heal, rescue, or save ourselves.

Then we could resign from controlling the universe because we can’t even control ourselves.

We could come to believe there is a loving God, far above and outside of ourselves, who could restore us to sanity, who loves broken people and who meets them at the bottom of their lives.

We could end the rebellion and come home to Him.

We could entrust ourselves to Him, exchange all of sin’s multitudinous ruin for all of Christ’s righteousness and life, and encounter Him as He ministers His healing, redeeming love to us.

Then we could live life as His close friend, devote ourselves to loving others for His sake,  and join Him on the greatest adventure of them all.

That’s where the joy is!

It’s been hiding in plain sight.

Soul Drought

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2014 by jcwill5

I grew up in California and have may friends and family members who live there.

They speak with growing concern about the severe drought that grips the state, and, when your father-in-law grows oranges, it touches us personally.

But there is another kind of drought over the land.

It is a drought of the spirit.   A season of dryness and inner aridity that is producing a mass falling away from God.

We’re going through the motions, working harder and enjoying it less, and finding ourselves far from the fountain of living water.

Part of it is the spiritual season we’re in.

It’s been over 100 years since a heaven-sent, sustained outpouring of the Spirit.   None of us alive now can remember what it was like then, when a mass turning to God and experience of new life happened.

Such things still happen and are happening in the Third World.

And perhaps that is part of the answer–when flooded by material prosperity there’s a corresponding drying up of spirit.

We sense our needs less, can more readily indulge in various and readily available distractions, and grow fat and sassy.

As the writer of Proverbs puts it, “Give me not…riches, lest I be full and say, “Who is the Lord?”

We lose touch with our frailty, warehouse the elderly and the dying away in special institutions, and amuse ourselves with multitudinous distractions.

And these distractions are another part of the reason we’ve dried up within.

We protect ourselves from as much pain, unresolved tension, and immovable difficulty as we can.

We hide in our bubbles and live in virtual worlds–growing more sedentary and disengaged with the real world with every day.

We grow numb and fall spiritually asleep–“He has poured out a spirit of slumber and deep sleep over the land.”

Ironically, it is desperation and unmet need that faithfully drive us to God, who loves us in wilderness.

A life without wilderness and desperation is a life without burning bushes, without encounters with God.

And without encounters with God, we dry up and lose touch with Him.

We resort to self-managing, self-indulging, and self-collapsing back in on ourselves.

In such a place maladies like depression, addiction, and boredom multiply.

The things we use to solve our problem only make it worse, and we head for a crisis.

We think it’s our body that’s the problem, when it’s a dry spirit that’s completely disconnected and far from God.

So we grow more frenzied and compulsively give ourselves over to increasingly empty pleasures.

Our very capacity for enjoyment fades, the pleasures grow empty, and we grow hollowed out inside–but we don’t see it.

Our spiritual eyes are blinded, our ears are deafened, and our hearts are hardened.

For a fortunate few, awareness dawns.

Hitting bottom, we begin to look out and away from our miserable, collapsing self.    We realize our pleasures are empty and our real need is spiritual.

We begin to cry out in the desert of our own making and begin to long for deliverance.

And God is there, has always been there, waiting for us to come to our senses and return home to Him.

He beckons those far away and invites the lost to return.

He gives a warm welcome and embraces us as sons and not as dirty refugees.

And in His fresh embrace a fountain begins to bubble up within our soul.

We realize our true longing has been to be loved by Him, and our true calling is to share the overflow of His restoring love with others.

These streams in the desert turn it into a lush, spacious garden–vast enough to burn off every false desire and to satisfy every true one.

The drought is over!

 

Jimmy Carter Redux

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

I grew up during the 1970’s.

It was the era of high inflation, gas lines, and deep recessions.  It was also the Cold War era.

After the travails of Vietnam, the pendulum in our politics and in our government had swung to the opposite extreme of interventionism:  which was disengagement and passivity.

It was a short walk from the anti-war marches to the discotheques.

We let events drive us, and we were perceived as weak, rudderless, and able to be disregarded without consequences by aggressive foreign governments.

So the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with impunity, and the Iranian militants stormed our embassy in Tehran and held our diplomatic staff hostages for over a year–both violating international norms of behavior and showing profound contempt for the United States.

It was the era of Jimmy Carter.

Jimmy Carter was and is a nice man.   He is a man of principles and deeply committed to peace.

He tended to over-rely upon speeches and appeals to good intentions, and preferred to see the best in everyone.

It served him well in negotiating with the Israelis and Egyptians to secure the Camp David accords.    It did not serve him well in confronting the cold, hard, calculating Russians or Ayatollahs.

All were admirable personal qualities, yet all were disastrous when confronting organized evils.

I remember when he gave a speech about inflation and started the W.I.N campaign–Whip Inflation Now!

My high school peers and I thought it was both ridiculous and funny-sounding.

And it did nothing to quell inflation.

Jimmy Carter, rightly or wrongly, came to be seen as ineffectual and incompetent.    He was held up for scorn and had a penchant for micro-managing and half-measures.

When he tried to send in a commando team to rescue the embassy hostages in Iran, he was on the phone in direct contact with the rescue team, overriding decisions and withholding go-ahead authority the people on the ground.

And when several helicopters crashed into each other, bad luck and micromanaging combined to create a fiasco.  The operation was aborted and our entire covert structure was exposed for no gain at all.

The key failure of Jimmy Carter was the belief that he could talk his way out of any problems and that good intentions were enough to secure the good-will of anyone in the world.

And the resulting perception that he was all talk and no action.

In his heart of hearts, we suspected he didn’t really believe there was such a thing as real, palpable evil and no such thing as a bad person.

Sound familiar?

I have the sinking feeling we are in the same situation now as then.

We have a President who over-relies upon words and good intentions, and who doesn’t really believe in actual evil.

Just as Jimmy Carter substituted a quest for human rights for a sound foreign policy, Barack Obama has substituted gay rights for a sound foreign policy–it’s the one issue where he is proactive and it’s largely irrelevant to most of what’s happening on the planet.

He also would much rather concentrate on the home front, and allow events overseas to transpire largely without our interference.

His foreign policy is reactive and minimalist, and our friends and enemies pretty much disregard us in their counsels and calculations.

He resorts to half-measures and temporizing, and withholds action when small measures might have large impacts.

Then, after the full-blown crisis happens, all we are left with are bad options which require major intervention to solve.

Iraq, Syria, the Ukraine, Afghanistan, China, Iran–in all these cases the worst elements have acted with impunity on his watch.

In all these cases, sanctions, diplomatic meetings, and hand-wringing were a substitute for early action.  About the worst the bad guys could expect from our leader was a series of condescending lectures over many months.

So, in all these cases, evils are now entrenched and a thousand times more difficult to dislodge than they were at the beginning.

Americans will tolerate a lot of things, but they don’t tolerate a bumbling do-gooder as their chief executive.

What we need, and fast, is a proactive, drive-the-events kind of foreign policy that has an overarching, master goal that not only serves America’s best interests, but the world’s best interests as well.

What we are so sorely lacking is moral authority.

It’s like we don’t stand for anything anymore–except gay rights.

America is seen, rightly or wrongly, as no different morally from the evil forces it is confronting.

If there is an indictment to make against both our political parties, it is they have abandoned all moral absolutes for an ends-justifies-the-means approach to life and the rest of the world.

Raw self-interest in the moment, rather than overarching values that don’t change from administration to administration, is what marks us.

So we undulate between huge passivity and outbursts of raw, amoral power.

God help us!

The River Still Runs Through It

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2014 by jcwill5

Today is free Slurpee day at 7-11.

But it’s significant to me for a far greater reason: today would have been my dad’s 85th birthday.

So, in his memory, I started off the day by watching the classic fly-fishing, father-son movie, A River Runs Through It.

Two sons, the older a sensible, soon-to-be college professor who narrates our story as an old man looking back, the younger a risk-taking journalist who raises hell and dies young and fly-fishes brilliantly.

Because my dad and I went on many Boy Scout campouts together and shared a deep love of the outdoors, the scenes that got me choked up were the ones where the boys and their dad still went fishing after they reached adulthood.

The river was where the father-son bond had morphed into a man-to-man bond.   Where they shared fellowship in the fraternity of men.  Where their father was proud of them in spite of themselves.

The river is therefore the metaphor of both danger and triumph, of tragedy and resolution, in their family’s journey.

The river is a metaphor for life itself.

At the end of the movie, and at the end of his life, the older son is fishing all alone and remembering, remembering, remembering.

His father and brother were gone.   His wife of many years had passed away.

His own sons didn’t fish with him and didn’t understand why he ran the risks to keep on fly-fishing in a strong current of a deep river.

Yet it illustrates how there is another society we are initiated into, a fellowship of those who have lost those they love.

And in older age the losses accelerate until we eventually we are in a society of one.

The river is a metaphor for something bigger than the solitude and the silence of old age.

The movie also raises the age-old question of how we love someone when they are self-destructive.

When we don’t understand them or where who we are isn’t the kind of help they most need.

So it is natural that I think of those timeless words, “A certain man had two sons….”

And both the father in the movie and the father of the Prodigal son did something unusual in today’s world:  they let their sons go.

My dad did that with me.    He didn’t try to hold onto me as if I were a perpetual child.

And both the father in the movie and the father of the Prodigal missed their sons, looked in the distance in the sure knowledge they would eventually return, and received them gladly in the low moments of their lives.

That’s how we love the difficult to love:  letting go, waiting hopefully, kindly receiving them back on the other side of hitting bottom, and celebrating their return by lavishing them with undeserved affection.

The river is a metaphor for coming to terms with sorrow and finding redemption.

Strangely, I am finding this day to not be the difficult day I thought it would be.

My son and I went on a very long bike ride after the movie.    We climbed steep hills and coasted down the other side of them.

And we even took a small detour to pick up our free Slurpees and enjoyed sipping them together in the shade.

I find myself enjoying him in new and different ways now that he is becoming a young man.

He, too, is joining the fraternity of men and I’m very much looking forward to making some more memories with him.

It reminds me that the choice to go on living on the other side of loss, to have new adventures, to invest in those still around, is how God created us to live.

Rapids on the River of Grief

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , on July 7, 2014 by jcwill5

It’s been six weeks since my dad passed away.

And since I last wrote about the subject, my mood has improved and the heaviness has largely lifted.

I’m happy to discover that what others said was true of their grieving experience was true for me as well.

I know it’s not the end of the journey, but I’m happy to make it past a rough state.

My family and I went whitewater rafting on the Snake River in Wyoming about a week ago.

The river wasn’t one long rapid, nor was it a rapid-free zone of calm drifting.

Instead, it was a series of rapids interspersed with calm stretches.

There were places you had to hang on for your life and paddle hard with the oars.

And there were places where the oars could go up, where you could relax and look around to enjoy the scenery.

I suspect grief will be just like that.

But it is also true that not every set of rapids are the same.

We found that some rapids are little more than glorified ripples, while others are terrifying, 6 ft. tall monsters.

Some rapids last many hundred yards.   Some are boiling cauldrons of whitewater that are soon over.   Others are easier on one side of the river and much harder on the other side.

As a novice, I could only see a little bit ahead and had to take them as they came.

And, again, I am finding grief to be just like that as well.

Then there’s the eddies. 

There were times when our boat drifted into an eddy on the other side of the rapids.

You could get stuck there while the water goes around in a circular fashion away from the main current.

Sometimes our guide steered us into the eddy to wait for the boats behind us to catch up.  And sometimes we were positioned rightly and floated into them.

Either way, it took paddling and effort to get out of the eddy and head down the river again.

I see a lot of people in an eddy while grieving–stuck in the same spot, finding it comfortable, trying to keep everything frozen and exactly the same.

I’ve know people who spend years and years in a grief eddy until it became a way of life.

There bodies may be alive, but, for all practical purposes, they’ve died to everyone and everyone else and withdrawn from life completely.

It is a terrible tragedy.

And if anyone or anything disturbs their bubble, they get ferociously angry and all the years of accumulated, frozen sorrow erupt violently like a sleeping volcano.

Which is why God gives us the paddle.    It’s paddle of daily choices to go on living and to step outside of protesting self-pity in order to love and help others.

The people I most respect in their grieving are those who use their paddles to get through the rapids and get out of eddies.

I’m trying to be one of them.

Which is why I wrote these blogs.

So thank you, dear readers, for indulging me!

The Nature of Freedom

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2014 by jcwill5

It is highly appropriate, on this July 4th, to reflect upon the nature of freedom.

Sometimes it helps to start with the opposite idea, tyranny, and speak of what freedom isn’t.

Tyranny is arbitrary, despotic rule over a person or populace.

It might be imposed upon an unwilling person or nation, as in a communist dictatorship through armed force and a police state.

Or it might be popular, where multitudes clamor for a dictator to save them from some internal or external danger.

The key factor all tyrannies have in common is the over-concentration of power in the hands of one or few, who then misuse and abuse such power to enslave all others with or without their permission.

In this sense, freedom is the liberty to think one’s own thoughts, to write and speak one’s own mind, to go wherever one wants, to associate with whomever one wishes–without impediment, resistance, or persecution of those in power.

So they separated the governing powers in various branches and expected the executive, legislative, and judicial branches to check and balance each other.

And they formed a representative republic, not a democracy, under the Constitution.

But our founding fathers also recognized not only the tyranny of the governing few, but a tyranny of the many.

They called it the tyranny of the majority.

And what they were protecting was the right of dissent in matters of conscience, opinion, thought, and activity, where the majority trampled upon the liberties of the minority.

For a government or a majority of citizens to use power to compel a minority to conform or to require individuals to violate their conscience was a violation of this principle.

Which is why we have an electoral college, and why we have a senate with filibusters and long terms of office and many other tools to slow down the process.

Our Founding Fathers knew that despotism and mob rule went hand-in-hand.

So they built slowness, frustration, and inefficiency into their system–allowing for the passions of the mob to cool and checking the success of reactions and counter-reactions.

The right to dissent and not be coerced by a majority is why also wide liberties were granted to religious groups, why wide liberties were given to the press, and why wide latitude was given to protest.

But there is another, even greater tyranny then that of  the few or the many.

It is the tyranny inside of us.

There is a tyrant inside of us that holds us completely in its sway, that drives us endlessly as a slave-driver, that never gives us rest, and is never satisfied.

We take this tyrant wherever we go, and it uses every trick and stratagem imaginable to fool us into gratifying its every whim.

In a paradox, when we indulge ourselves and gratify our every desire, we lose more and more control to whatever we practice repeatedly.

The harder we try to control our lives, the more out-of-control they become.

A lot of people are deceived into thinking freedom is nothing more and nothing less than to indulge myself in whatever I want as often as I want.

But that’s not freedom, it’s slavery.  Just ask any addict.

And behind every addiction is an out-of-control, control-obsessed self that cannot stop and cannot admit it cannot stop.

We have this grandiose, inflated, bloated ego–king me, his or her majesty, the baby.  And we are in its clutches.

Freedom is not merely the freedom to do.

The greatest liberty is a freedom to be.

It is the freedom to be something more and better and higher than an abject slave of our selves.

That’s why we all need an inner liberation.

As long as the “taker/wanter” is in charge, we are able to be bribed or threatened into compliance because someone can give us what we crave or take it away from us.

Only when we are liberated within, only when an outside, far greater and supremely good power intervenes from the outside to dethrone the self, will we be truly free.

When a government or a majority cannot punish us or reward us into compliance, it has lost all power.

Only when a new, inner principle of life, even a new self, is born within us, can there be a hope of emancipation from self and protection against external tyrannies.

Our Founding Fathers understood this reality as well.

Only when there was a check on the inner tyrant, and a counter-balancing and greater force within us, would we be a free people.

Then we would also be a good people, and would indulge in good desires and refuse evil desires without the need for multitudes of restrictive laws, vast bureaucracies to administer them, and a tyranny in place to compel compliance.

This is the nature of freedom.  And this is what it means to be truly free!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 572 other followers