The Control Double-Bind

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2016 by jcwill5

1416387828144We moderns want to have final authority in our lives and be our own ultimate authority.

We want to define what’s right and wrong for our selves, have final say-so, and determine our own identity.

We think we are our own expert on everything, and need nobody or nothing else outside our selves.

We long for all control, and love to be in control.

And yet….

We can’t handle the pressure of carrying the weight of the universe.

We can’t make even one other person cooperate with our plans or accept our self-crafted identity.

We can’t even fix ourselves, heal ourselves, or control our selves.

We are mortal, and cannot control time or reverse the clock of aging.

We want to be our own gods or goddesses,  but can’t help but worship every kind of all-consuming substance, cause, relationship, or experience.

It’s a double-bind.

We both love and hate ourselves.

We congratulate and condemn ourselves.

We put relentless pressure upon ourselves to succeed, and yet are desperate for deep rest of body and soul.

We want to be alone and self-sufficient, but are desperately lonely and find our selves all alone in a crowd.

We’re supposed to be happy all the time, but are inwardly tormented by feelings of loss, depression, and inconsolable pain.

We gain applause, yet are troubled by inescapable feelings of inferiority and failure.

We hate the stress, but can’t live without adrenaline.

Crazy Thinking

As individuals and as a society, we are certifiably crazy.

We want to quit indulging our vices, and want to keep right on doing them more and more.

We want to lose weight, and keep right on eating junk food.

We want to be materially content, and keep right on shopping with borrowed money.

In other words, we all have a problem with ambiguity, with wanting opposite things at the very same time.

We resist limits, yet are subject to limitations.

We need governing, but are against the government.

We want more programs, but want somebody else to pay for it.

How did we end up this way?

Nietzsche had it right.

When modern society dethroned God (beginning in its highest intellectual circles in the late 1800’s in Europe, 1920’s in the USA), most people didn’t realize “God was dead” (i.e. discarded and replaced with the Self).

They went on pretending there were eternal values, ultimate meaning to life, and unchanging, absolute standards of right and wrong located outside the self in God.

They didn’t understand that everything was now permissible.

They didn’t realize, if God were eliminated, all the sovereignty, authority, and responsibility of governing the universe would devolve back on each self.

It would be a universe without limits, and a universe with all the pressure, on everyone.

Driving Us Crazy

We would go berserk, grow increasingly frenzied in our using and abusing of everything beautiful and good, and ultimately commit national and social suicide.

Some would play the part of the Superman, who through the sheer “will to power” would dominate all others.

All battles would be battles for control between the super-people, while the rest of us watched.

Most would be self-absorbed peons who would steadily lose their will to do anything at all.

As Huxley foresaw in Brave New World, the vast majority living in the future utopia would be self-absorbed and out-of-it on the state-supplied drug, soma–making them easy to govern.

Is that not us today?

If my thesis is true, the cure for our craziness–this impossible pressure to be opposite things at the same time and utter inability to handle a no limits universe– is blessedly simple.

Restore God–bring back the rightful King of the Universe.

Repent of our failed attempt to dethrone and replace God with our self.

Turn away from our self-identies, and let Him define what we are and aren’t, once more.

Resign from the throne as a failed usurper, and, if we won’t go peaceably, fire ourselves from the job and bar ourselves from the castle.

Recognize that our inability to live life well apart from God suggests that the foundational thesis, there is no God, is itself impossible and ought to be called into question.

Realize that He, not we, is the final authority and that we answer to Him for everything–including how we treat others.

So we can be small again and have clear limits again and know where to go again and what to head away from again.

There is a solution!

Authority and Identity

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture on February 3, 2016 by jcwill5

“Says who?!”

Every person, however educated or uneducated, of whatever social class, in whatever culture, bases his or her life upon at least one authority.

Many Authorities Floating Around

imagesThere are many possibilities:

“The law says!” – the authority of government and law and institutions.

“The experts tell us…the professor says…the studies have said…!” – the authority of experts and of science.

“Our customs and ways say so!” – the authority of tradition.

“Pop culture says!” – the authority of trend-setters, artists, and opinion-makers.

“My experience tells me!” – the authority of personal experience.

“I say so!” – self-authority and personal autonomy.

“God says!” – divine authority.

Filling in the Authority Blank at Church

I had an interesting discussion last night with a group of pastors, and one of them said this:

“My parents’ generation in the church quoted the Bible and were always telling us, “The Bible says…”

For them, the Bible was openly and unashamedly their authority.

For me my generation, we were in church but we always quoted the experts in our sermons and read their books.

They were experts on the family like Jim Dobson.  Experts on finances.  Experts on marriage.

If you weren’t quoting an expert, it didn’t carry any weight.

My kids who grew up under this don’t care one bit about experts.

In fact, they are suspicious of experts and institutions, and aren’t really familiar with the Bible.

So they come up with their own ideas, and they and their peers are their own authorities.

They are self-experts, and look to their peers for guidance.

They’ll even ask terribly personal questions, and pass answers back and forth, on social media.

I am changing the way I’m preaching now.

I am beginning to more openly name the Bible as the authority and more openly say, “Here’s what God says…”

Filling in the Authority Blank at Home

Another pastor chimed in, “I’m changing how I speak to my teens at home.

I don’t tell my daughter she’s beautiful, I now say to her, “I agree with God that you are beautiful.”

I want her to know it’s not just my opinion, but that it’s God’s authoritative opinion of her in His word and I’m therefore in agreement with it and aligned with it.”

Most folks, however, aren’t aware of their life’s final authority, and don’t realize the dictionary from which they’re getting their definitions.

The Authority Test

Try these tests:

When somebody challenges your opinion or disagrees with you, what do you cite to bolster your case, or rely upon to defend yourself?

When sharing your opinion, views, and arguments, what do you use to prove that what you believe is required for them (or for all society) and not just you?

Or, turning the question on its head, which authority are you routinely speaking against, undermining, discrediting, and/or seeking to discount?

The reality is all the authorities above–experience, pop culture, science, tradition, law, self, and God–are in conflict at one level or another.

And all of us encounter these authorities and use these authorities.

But One Authority Trumps All Others

One of them will have to serve as our Supreme Court, the final arbiter of what is right and wrong, what is permitted or forbidden, what is laudable or condemnable.

They can’t all be right, on all issues, all of the time.

They can’t be in agreement, on all the issues, all of the time.

To some degree, they are in conflict with each other, and give us different verdicts on the same issue.

Yet, for each of us, one of them will tell us whose we are, and therefore who we are.

Every world-view, society, and philosophy puts something in the top spot, and requires all else to bow to its authority.

All people have one thing or another as the center of their life, the central organizing principle that informs and gives meaning, the enter of gravity that holds all their views in its orbit.

What’s yours?

And, more importantly, why that one and not another authority?

Who said “that’s who says!” to your “says who?!”, and convinced you to buy into it?


The Complaint Behind the Anger

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2016 by jcwill5

blog_jealousSome people make a profession out of anger.

Others, sadly and unintentionally, let anger become their way of life.

Their buried, frozen anger grows and grow more dominant, more defining, and more ruinous.

They have built a home in the land of anger.

Several characters in the Bible show us how it happens.

It’s Not About the Fish

Jonah, prophet of YHWH sent the the Assyrian capital city, turned and fled the opposite direction.

The possibility of God extending mercy to a godless nation of terrorists, whose armies employed the most shocking, brutal, and vicious methods indiscriminately against the defenseless and the weak, was a non-starter.

We think his story is about being swallowed by a great fish.

But the story is about a prophet who wanted vengeance upon the cruelest people in the Middle East, who had done his own people incalculable harm.

Which is why he therefore refused God’s invitation to go to them and met the fish instead.

Jonah got the message and went off to warn the Assyrians of their richly-deserved and impending judgment.

Surprisingly, these worst of the worst people repented, cried out to God, and turned from their wickedness.

So God spared them.

Mercy is Terribly Unfair

Jonah, predictably, camped outside the city and hoped to see first-hand the outpouring of God’s wrath on them.

And, just as predictably, he was infuriated when they were spared.

God used a shady plant that grew suddenly one night and died the next, giving Jonah shade from desert heat and then taking that shade away.

He tried to get Jonah’s eyes off his self-consumed outrage and onto the plight of something more vulnerable and lower than himself.

Mercy Sees the Collateral Damage

God gently reminded him that Nineveh had 100,000 children and other innocents, along with many animals.

None of them had done anything wrong–why should God not pity them and spare them as soon as the culpable adults repented?

But Jonah, in his anger, couldn’t see them or feel much compassion for them.

“Punish them all–NOW!” was his mantra.

One is left with the feeling that he wasn’t entirely convinced it was worth it.

The New Testament Jonahs

Fast forward to the New Testament, where an entire party of rigorous, religious Jonahs, who we know as Pharisees, objected to Christ’s ministry of extending mercy to the lost but grossly guilty souls.

Christ used the parable of the Prodigal Son to confront them with their buried anger towards God.

In it, the elder son is dutiful, responsible, hard-working, observant, and faithful–like the Pharisees.

And when the scapegrace of a younger brother returns home from wicked misadventures, is welcomed and restored, and given a tremendous and costly party, the older brother can’t stomach it.

All his concealed resentment and hurt comes to the surface, and the older brother refuses to go in or join the party–just like the Pharisees.

He faults his father for extending mercy to an undeserving, rebellious, irresponsible, godless rule-breaker, favoring his brother above him.

The Pain Behind Buried Anger

“You’ve never given me a party!  You’ve never killed a choice animal for me and my friends!”

“I’ve done everything you asked–and you still like him MORE than me!”

In other words, we have an outwardly observant son who is seething with buried anger and who sees himself as not getting what he deserved from the father after all his hard work.

Then his bad boy brother comes home and is lavished.

Even though he never left home or openly flouted the father’s rules, he was distant from his father and his father’s heart of mercy.

And this quiet distancing, this silent comparing, this unspoken judging and this whispered complaining, are the hallmarks of buried anger.

The Complaint Behind the Pain

To locate the source of buried anger, locate the pain of perceived favoritism.

Understand that it’s God’s open favor and blessing and good things and joy for the failures, the non-performers, the faithless screw-ups who lived worse and received better, that causes all our buried complaint to erupt.

“It’s not fair!”

“Why are they blessed, and not me?!”

“Why are they well-liked and well-known, and I’m disliked and ignored?!

“Why am I constantly afflicted–and they have it easy?!”

“Why is the group that wronged me getting off so easy?  And we, the innocents, are still suffering and paying the price?”

But we bury these ugly complaints.  And bury our pain over favoritism.  And thus bury the anger.

There is an alternative to all this.

Leaving the Land of Anger

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2016 by jcwill5

imagesSometimes it takes a long while to realize we’ve been living in the land of anger, especially buried, frozen anger.

Signs for Any to Read

But if you know what to look for, the signs of prolonged residency are there:

  • “Out of the blue” flare-ups of anger
  • Vicarious over-enjoyment of “avenged wrongs and vindication” stories in dramas, stories, and movies
  • Imaginary conversations with the people you blame where you get furious at them and tell them off
  • Disproportionate overreactions to minor irritations
  • A weariness and heaviness in the faces of those closest to you
  • A stoical hiding and non-disclosing silence in those closest to you
  • Overeagerness to take up the causes of third parties and to fight their battles for them
  • A propensity to gossip, slander, and secretly work against people we blame
  • “Passive-aggressive” treatment of authorities where you’re pleasant to their face and vicious behind their back
  • A growing emotional distance between you and God, the joy of intimacy with God, and the warm fellowship of those in fellowship with God
  • A downward progression of “going through the motions” where joys become duties, then resented duties, then rebelled against duties, then doing the opposite and justifying it

The Seductive Slavery of Anger

As stated before, buried anger is a terrible, horrible, cruel, relentless taskmaster–that hides behind a sexy image of ego-allure and ego-stroking.

It is a vicious slave-driver and a ruthless thief of everything good–that poses as your best friend.

It is a corrosive acid that eats away at us and which hollows us out from within–while claiming to defend us and protect us.

Two Miracles Needed

Two cardinal points emerge from the above:

It takes an initial miracle for us to realize we’ve been living in the land of anger, and to realize it’s not a great but a disastrous place to live.

Most people don’t even know they are living there when they are living there.

It takes an ongoing, even greater miracle, to leave the land of anger, buried resentments, frozen rage, and fist-shaking blame-mongering.

Most people enjoy the intoxication of blaming and secret, well nursed anger that gives them a power thrill fantasy.

The High Price of Leaving

The biggest hurdle is it feels so right to be angry, to blame that blameworthy, and to justify our own embittered protest while wearing a false smile of pleasant congeniality.

And giving up our anger involves giving up our right to be angry at whomever we want, for as long as we want, in any way we want.

Leaving the land of anger involves a surrender of control, a giving up of my rights and claims to vengeance, and my role as “chief witness for the prosecution” to keep the memory alive.

We renounce our claims to justice, and hand the matter over to God alone for He alone to settle on His terms, at His timing, in His way–not ours.

Do I want to leave the land of anger?  

How badly do I want to leave it and be rid of the intoxicating tyrant once and for all?

How desperate am I to be free, truly free, of buried anger?

Nobody can answer these questions for us.

We Need an Outside Intervention

Truth be told, there’s only One Person has the power to work that miracle of deliverance and restored joy in the heart of the anger worshipper.

He alone can find us in our self-imposed desert exile, in the wasteland of buried anger, and bring us all the way home.

Only He can loose the stranglehold that anger has over our entire being, and break us out of the jail of blame and accusation.

Only He can overthrow the false identity of being right, of being the professional victim who deserves better and is therefore entitled to blame and gossip and work malice against those we’ve harshly judged.

No Fooling

In a culture that applauds and feeds outrage…

In a society that will never stop inflicting fresh injustices…

In a “rights and needs” system that tells us we deserve to live like pampered gods and goddesses…

In a commercial ocean full of messages that tell us we deserve it all and the customer is always right….

Let no one pretend that leaving the land of anger will be easy!

But it is well worth it.

There is a solution.

Buried Anger

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2016 by jcwill5

imagesWe normally think of anger as a spewing volcano of hostility and rage, burning everything and everyone around it with flaming words and hot violence.

And such open anger can indeed be quite destructive.

The Hidden Kind of Anger

But there is another kind of anger that may well be more dangerous.

Buried anger.  Stuffed anger.  Frozen anger.

It is an anger that turns inward.

It is an anger that is hidden and disguised.

It is an anger that produces apathy, sarcasm, depression, and isolation.

It is a cold anger, frozen in place and icing over our souls.

A Religious Kind of Anger

It is often found in the most religious, the most dedicated, and the most disciplined souls with the highest standards.

It is therefore often found in communities of faith, where the justice and righteousness of God–and violations of it–are therefore the most keenly felt.

The tight facial expression, the robotic countenance, and the tightly wound approach to life are its hallmarks.

So much energy is put into stuffing the real anger that little is left for spontaneity, joy, playfulness, and freely-given love.

There is a mighty dam in place, holding back the rivers of living water and keeping the goodness of Jesus bottled up.

And what does leak out is a joyless punitive religiosity, a grim survival of the fittest and zero-sum competition for the most worthy religious performance.

Instead of brimming over with the winsomeness, mercy, and joyous freedom of Jesus Himself, it is overflowing with the spirit of His worst earthly enemies–the Pharisees.

A Terrible Tyrant

How well I know this terrible reality!

How much tribute have I paid to frozen anger, and how much life’s true treasures have I therefore lost?

Only God knows.

But I can say this:  stuffed anger is one of the worst spiritual jails, one of the cruelest tyrants, we could ever serve.

It is a thief that steals so much good because it wears a mask of devotion.

Each of us has been hurt by life and by people who were supposed to be good to us.

Each of us carries wounds and has suffered injustices in this unjust, fallen world.

These injustices that wound are seldom resolved, or resolved to our satisfaction.

We therefore carry the terrible burden of unresolved injustices and suffered wrongs.

Our Worst Wounds

And, even more sadly, our worst wounds were done by those who were supposed to love us the most.

Family.  Friends.  Fellow members of the body of Christ.

If we had been attacked by only our enemies, we could endure it because evil is just being evil.

But being harmed, betrayed, let down, abused, rejected, abandoned, and even tormented by those on our own team is hard to swallow.

Their cuts go the deepest, and their unkind words get branded on our soul.

What About God?

And God–where is God when all this was going on?

Why did He seemingly play the part of a bystander who didn’t intervene? Or, still worse, wouldn’t intervene?

Such questions highlight the fact that disappointments, injustices, and wrongs in the community of faith not only produce anger at others, they awaken an anger at God as well.

So before we can go outward, we need to go upward.

We will need to stand in the shoes of the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

We will need to leave the land of our buried, dutiful, observant anger.

A place that sees others of less worth being favored and therefore feels cheated and betrayed by the Father.

A territory we already know far too well.

I’m feeling the call to leave (again) the land of my anger, and enter once more the Father’s joyous house.

Will you join me?

Worst Foot Forward

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2016 by jcwill5

Confession“Best Foot Forward” is a homespun proverb that means to lead from your strength in social situations.

It involves a mandate to hide our worst from others, to conceal and cover up our wrongs, and always put a positive spin on things.

It can even mean don’t admit weaknesses up front, or put them out there where everyone can see them, lest they be used against you.

With fellow sinners, that might be a good survival strategy.

But with God, and with our own soul and within our holy community, it’s positively disastrous.

And sadly unnecessary.

Thunderclap from the Past

I was reviewing a serious of lessons on spirituality I authored about fifteen years ago, and came upon a phrase, “dying in the presence of another”.

I had read it in one of Larry Crabb’s books, and it had made a hugely positive impact on my soul.

Yet, in the intervening years when our family was serving in a spiritually toxic, punitive community, I had somehow forgotten the phrase.

It was like a thunderclap from the past, dousing my sleepwalking heart with a sudden cold shower of truth.

Disrobing Our Souls

But what does it mean to die in the presence of another?

To die in another’s presence means we confess to them what we’d confess to God–the worm in our apple, the ugly undercurrent of foul desires, the areas of powerlessness and repeated failure.

It’s a kind of disrobing, a dropping of our deflector shields and our Teflon armor that we used to hide, conceal, and pretend.

It’s making ourselves utterly vulnerable to God in their presence, running the risk of their disapproval and condemning judgments.

It’s therefore almost always avoided, and rarely done.

The Failed Strategy

What we do is to lead with our best desires, and suppress the bad desires lurking within.

“I want to quit X” is is the good desire we say first, with the underground desire “I want to keep on doing X” remaining unvoiced, buried, and therefore able to grow in power.

Then it builds and builds and we eventually yield and relapse.

Then we feel ashamed, and try to whip ourselves into shape so we can say, “I want to quit X” again.

What if we tried the opposite?

What if we voiced the wrong desire to a circle of trusted soul friends, “I want to keep doing X!  And I’m under the thumb of that desire!”

Almost immediately, something inside of us rises up, “But I don’t want to keep doing X!”

The good desire therefore has the last word, but there is no need to suppress the evil desire because we’ve already admitted it.

Now we can get somewhere.

I Want to….but I Don’t

I was once in a prayer meeting with several pastors, and one of them, a part-time football coach with lots of testosterone, prayed, “Lord, I want to look at beautiful women who aren’t my wife!”

All of us inwardly laughed because the truth was every single one of us had a well-developed propensity to lust, and had that desire, too.

But our friend voiced it out loud, in the open, before God and us.

In his honesty we, too, were freed to own and confess our own bad desires instead of hiding them.

He soon prayed, “But I don’t want to look at other women!  Help me!”

And in his honest voicing of a second, even deeper desire for a holy life of devotion to one woman, we too were able to reaffirm our good desire, too.

We all left that particular prayer time strangely energized, having found the good men lurking underneath our unholy desires

This spiritual discipline, of leading with the bad foot forward, of dying in the presence of others, is called “the corporate confession of sin”.

Most Bible-believing churches wove a regular practice of public confession of sin in their corporate gatherings, leading with their bad foot forward.

Honesty before God, rather than appearing right before people, was the deeper value at work.

Speaking Life to the Dying

But to make confession work rightly, especially when another dies in our presence, requires a certain response from us.

It is a response of helping them see the new person they still are in Christ underneath their sin nature’s gushing wickedness.

When someone dies in our presence, disrobing their worst desires, we tell them they are still a saint.

We remind them they are still new creatures in Christ, and still the beloved of God.

We speak presence into their vulnerable hearts, reminding them that neither God, nor we, will ever leave them or forsake them.

We point out that only someone who loved God a great deal would be bothered so much by their own sins.

Life for the Dead

For if we are loved when we admit our worst, then we can be loved by Him anytime….and are.

Confession of sin doesn’t dampen or repulse God’s love, but awakens and warms it

Our unbelieving hearts continuously doubt that a holy God could possibly love actual sinners, or be good to the admittedly wicked, or extend compassion to those who fail Him again and again.

What we don’t therefore need is to put our best foot forward, but our worst.

And, having died in the presence of others, let them speak the grace of God into us in that most vulnerable moment.

Setting us free.

Collective Two-Party Failure

Posted in Humble musings on today's culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2016 by jcwill5

Tonight will be the final State of the Union address for President Obama.

And, like almost every other presidential address of the last 25 years, it’s going to be long-winded, partisan, and highly self-justifying.

And so will the “official response” of the Republicans.

Meanwhile, real problems that defy easy solutions will, again, be given either lip-service or completely ignored.

The Rise of the Angry, Alienated Fringe

In both Europe and in the United States, there has been a rise of outsider, fringe politicians and movements–at the expense of the “mainstream” parties.

Glenn Reynolds has put his finger on something when he calls our leadership class on both sides of the Atlantic “feckless”.

Here’s his take on things:

It comes down to this one overriding issue that transcends both Right and Left:

When push comes to shove, when faced with realities that don’t square with their ideology, can we trust our leaders to make decisions based upon facing these unpleasant realities, or upon furthering a pre-set ideology they insist upon enacting no matter what?

Can we trust them, really trust them, to do what’s not right for their party or ideology, but radically right for our whole nation and for everyone in the long run?

Democratic Follies

For example, during the darkest days of the Recession when Barack Obama was first elected with Democratic super-majorities, I was honestly willing to given them the benefit of the doubt.

But they lost me.

And the reason is they used all that political capital not to fix the economy, but first and foremost to vastly expand the government and it’s role in the medical sphere of life.

And, even in that effort, the goal wasn’t to bring down insurance costs/break the inflationary spiral but to use government money to expand the ranks of those with health insurance.

Their “stimulus plan”, which cost 900 billion dollars, was overwhelmingly about temporary relief payments rather than long-term infrastructure investments.

And that awoke fears of unlimited government spending, and an unlimited government expansion, losing trust and provoking a furious counter-reaction which took them off guard.

Republican Follies

But let me be fair.

George W. Bush and the Republican majorities in Congress used their power to involve us in unnecessary military misadventures overseas while going on a spending binge at home, breaking faith with those who elected them to exercise fiscal restraint.

Elected to safeguard traditional morality, they instead engaged in an endless stream of sexual scandals that not only discredited them, but discredited traditional morality as well.

Their incompetence in running Iraq, and in helping the citizens of New Orleans after Katrina hit, rightfully cost them their party’s majorities.

And spending a fortune to bail out incompetent, under-regulated, “too big to fail” Wall Street firms only added insult to injury.

Blinded Disconnection

What our political class here and in Europe can’t seem to see is how most of us have lost all faith in them.

They keep on enacting the same self-and-party serving policies, using the same empty rhetoric, without realizing the growing contempt they are generating.

I could sum up their mis-leadership as “bumbling, fumbling, stumbling, and mumbling.”

Which fuels polarization.

Which is the perfect breeding ground for increasingly extreme ideologies and revolutionary movements.

Which opens the doors to the likes of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

Increasingly, our Republic looks and feels more and more like the 1920’s Weimar Republic in Germany–hapless, incompetent, out-of-touch, and torn by wider and wider extremes.

I hope I’m wrong.

If I’m correct, we’re one national disaster or another great recession away from anarchy, street battles, and, eventually, an authoritarian strongman of one stripe or another who promises to restore order in exchange for total control.

God help us!  God save us!  God have mercy on us!


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