Thanksgiving, Black Friday, & The Christmas Creep

Happy Holidays citizens of The Manoverse!! Alas, today I come not to praise our most wonderful time of the year, but to express a bit of frustration.

 

Yesterday we celebrated that most American of holidays…Thanksgiving. We’ll look at the holiday itself a little closer this time next year because I am currently reading a delightful book about its history, but I just ran out of time to finish it before the big day itself came & went. However, for now let me just say that I feel bad for Thanksgiving. It really has begun to get lost in the shuffle the past decade or so. We don’t appreciate Thanksgiving on its own merits anymore. Instead we look at it merely as the kickoff to the Christmas season. If Christmas is the Super Bowl then Thanksgiving is the pre-game show to which people don’t bother giving their full attention. There was a time, believe it or not, in colonial America that Thanksgiving was the main event and Christmas wasn’t even commemorated. Thanksgiving was a celebration that lasted for several days in reverence to God and the blessings that He had seen fit to bestow. Somehow we’ve gone from that deeply spiritual sense of appreciation to treating Thanksgiving like a Nascar pit stop where we take just a few minutes out of our busy schedule to stuff our faces with turkey, stuffing, & pie and maybe watch a football game before rushing to the mall for some retail therapy. All we care about is that we have a paid day off from the job we hate and get a free pass on our diet for the day. Those things aren’t necessarily bad (because really…who doesn’t enjoy a day off & a big hunk o’ pie??), but they should be secondary benefits, not the main focus of our gratitude.

 

Things have gotten progressively crazier over the past decade with the growth of a phenomenon called Black Friday. The term itself was coined back in the 60’s or 70’s, and interestingly was originally an environmentalist wacko reference. It alluded to the increased traffic that clogs up the streets (and pollutes the air) on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Eventually it evolved to mean the day when retailers go “in the black”, i.e. when their year becomes profitable. Black Friday has long been lauded as the busiest shopping day of the year, but I have my doubts as to whether or not that is always the case. Logic dictates that “the busiest shopping day of the year” would be a moving target, changing annually based on a plethora of circumstances. At any rate, when I was a kid, if memory serves me correctly, there were always the occasional “midnight madness” sales, but the whole thing wasn’t this huge nationwide event. In the past several years the idea has blown up and taken on a life of its own. At first stores would open up at 5 or 6 in the morning. Then it became 3am. Eventually it became the norm for most places to begin the insanity at midnight. And now, in 2012, establishments like Target & K-Mart actually opened up on the evening of Thanksgiving. So Black Friday actually began on Thursday. I grew up in an era when blue laws were still in effect. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that malls and other outlets began opening up on Sunday, so it is hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of anything other than essential services like hospitals & police departments being open for business on a major holiday.

 

Society has been lamenting the commercialization of Christmas for decades. It is even referenced by a character in the classic 1947 holiday film Miracle on 34th Street. And it just keeps getting more appalling every year. Thanksgiving and Christmas used to be their own distinguishable holidays. Then they became connected when the former began being marketed as the official kickoff of the latter. All the sudden instead of two distinct days on the calendar we had an entire, month long holiday season. Personally I’ve never had a huge issue with that because, as I have written here abundantly I love everything about the holidays. I love the lights. I love the movies. I love the food. I love the music. I believe it is alright to enjoy the peripheral accoutrements associated with Christmas as long as we always maintain our focus on the true reason for the season, which is of course the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. However, I am a bit disturbed at the direction things have taken in recent years.

 

First of all I am not at all convinced that there is much of a focus on The Lord anymore. Did you know that in the early days of our nation folks used to spend nearly the entire Thanksgiving Day in church?? Of course this isn’t just a holiday problem…it’s a year round issue. It has become quite popular to hate God in America these days. We’ve pushed Him out of nearly every facet of public life and really don’t heed His words much in our personal lives. That is a much bigger topic than I want to go into at the moment, but suffice to say that the whole purpose of Thanksgiving & Christmas is quickly becoming entirely lost in our modern society.

 

Secondly, as much as I love all the ancillary trappings of the holiday season I do think there should be limits. Things have progressed (or regressed, depending on one’s perspective) to the point that stores begin selling Christmas related items, radio stations start playing carols, television airs holiday films, and people decorate their homes as early as October. We definitely gloss over Thanksgiving, and oftentimes begin “celebrating” Christmas even before Halloween!! I do NOT like walking into WalMart or any other retailer and seeing a Christmas tree in October. #22 of my 35 Undeniable Truths of Life is that “It’s always about the money. Always.”, and there is no denying that the Christmas Creep is driven by greed. Look, I get it. I understand that there is very little profit to be made from Thanksgiving outside of turkey & the other various foodstuffs involved and that Christmas has become a huge cottage industry that can make or break the bottom line for a lot of businesses. But I also feel like there are other forces at work.

 

I believe that we are a very unhappy, unfulfilled, unsatisfied society. Political correctness & hatred of God have become inescapably pervasive. One has to be careful about words spoken and actions taken because everyone is so easily offended. The economy is bad and jobs are scarce or inadequate. We try many things to fill the void…alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, mindless entertainment. So when Christmas rolls around we have developed a habit of jumping the gun. We decorate the house a few weeks sooner, look forward to shopping for our loved ones, and don’t seem to mind the music & movies being played in October. Christmas makes us happy, and we are desperately seeking happiness. I suppose that’s not such a bad thing, but I still think we should tread lightly. It’s human to want what we cannot have. What the Christmas industry has done (and I can’t honestly blame them) is give us what we want. They understand that Rudolph, twinkle lights, wrapping paper, and Bing Crosby put a smile on our face. Christmas is a drug and Best Buy, WalMart, Sears, and all the rest are dealers. The problem with getting high is the inevitable low, which in the case of Christmas Creep is the backlash and desensitization to the magical wonder that is Christmas.

 

It is ironic that this is the time of year when one frequently hears the old maxim that “good things come in small packages”, yet we have taken what was once a couple of very lovely days on the calendar and made them into a stretch of time that lasts more than a quarter of our year. I do not leave the comfort of The Bachelor Palace on Black Friday for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that a day that involves a sea of humanity isn’t comfortable for a guy who has grown increasingly exasperated by human beings. To paraphrase Popeye’s pal Wimpy, I’ll gladly pay extra next week for an item that you got today for an awesome discount. I sincerely enjoyed my Thanksgiving, and do my best to appreciate the blessings that God has given me. I had a great meal and enjoyed a lovely day with family. I will embrace the Christmas season with my usual verve & childlike delight. But above all else I will continue to give thanks to God, who gave his only begotten Son so that I could have the opportunity to enjoy eternal life. There is nothing wrong with giving (and receiving) gifts, company parties, hoping Ralphie doesn’t shoot his eye out, or roasting chestnuts on an open fire. I just don’t want to wake up one day and end up doing those things in the summer.

 

 

 

A Pirates Fan Looks At 40

 

When one has a forum like this one feels obligated to comment on certain events and topics du jour. I mean really…why else would one have a blog, right?? And so I am duty-bound to pontificate on the milestone that is my 40th birthday.

 

I am not sure when or why turning 40 became this mythical landmark of epic proportions since it wasn’t all that long ago that 40 was old because people died quite young of a plethora of maladies, while these days more & more people live into their 90’s so 40 isn’t always “middle age”.  However, when one considers a couple of things I guess it kind of makes sense. First of all, even though it isn’t unusual for people to live into their 90’s the average American lifespan is still only 78 years, making 40 actually a bit past middle age (which is depressing). Secondly, and on a more esoteric level, by the time most folks are 40 the pathway of their life is pretty much set in stone. They are married or divorced or maybe even in their 2nd or 3rd marriage. They have children and possibly grandchildren. They are living where they are going to live because if they were going to relocate they likely would have done it long ago. Their careers…if they have what one can even consider a career…is on solid ground, whether that means an onward & upward trajectory or stuck perpetually in neutral. Their financial status is what it is going to be, whether that means they are secure or are likely to be continually poor. All this doesn’t mean that one’s life cannot significantly improve or change after 40, it just means that for the vast majority of people it is what it is, and the question becomes whether or not a person can accept and be happy with that or will choose to be unendingly dissatisfied and unhealthily miserable.

 

Personally I have waffled between those two choices for years but have finally begun to lean toward the former. I spent way too much time in my 20’s & 30’s beating myself up for poor choices both professional & personal. Would I like to have a wife & kids?? A high paying, satisfying, well-respected job?? A big fancy house and an awesome car?? Enough money to buy anything or go anywhere I want?? Sure…who wouldn’t?? However, when I look at things from a more positive perspective I can embrace how blessed I have truly been. I have a great family that I know I can count on. I have a roof over my head, food on the table, and enough money to go out to dinner, see a movie, or keep Amazon.com in business. There are lots of folks who aren’t that fortunate. When I was 33 years old I spent 6 months in a “skilled” nursing facility and had the opportunity to see what true misery is like. My Dad would always comment that if there is a sadder place on Earth than a nursing home he couldn’t imagine what it might be. He also used to say to me that the difference between me and most everyone else in that horrible place was that eventually I would get to go home. That experience changed me forever, mostly in a positive way. I am much more appreciative of what I have now. I don’t believe anyone who says that they have no regrets. We all make mistakes and we’d all change a few things if we could go back in time. But Back to the Future was only a movie, and so we must move forward, hopefully making better choices and learning from past mistakes. Each day…each moment…is a gift from God, and we should enjoy & embrace it.

 

I can think of no better way to mark this historic occasion than to revisit my bucket list. “You have a bucket list??” Yes…yes I do. About 5 years ago my friend Slack (who needs to get his head out of his tookas and start writing again by the way) did a list he called 45 Things to Do Before I’m 45. At the time he was approaching 40, and I have no idea how he ended up doing on his list (I’m an awful friend). I decided to do my own list (written from the confines of a hospital bed) which was first published on the old MySpace blog and then re-released here a few years ago. Well, as Bon Jovi might say, I’m halfway there, so I suppose now is a good time to re-evaluate and see where I stand. Unfortunately the results aren’t as good as I’d prefer.

 

 

 

Stuff I’ve Done

8. Get a dog

23. Eliminate credit card debt

36. Volunteer at a literacy organization

I have had my beautiful pug Rocco for 4 years now and he is the light of my life. Seriously…for anyone without kids I would highly recommend getting a dog. I also began volunteering for the local Literacy Volunteers organization about 4 years ago and now serve on their board of directors. I don’t really do much tutoring for a variety of reasons, but I am more than comfortable with my level of involvement. Five years ago I had significant (atleast for me) credit card debt for no real good reason, but have now got everything paid off.

 

 

Stuff I Am Unlikely To Do

1. Get married

2. Buy a house

3. Spread my seed

9. Rebuild my nest egg

12. Attend the Super Bowl

24. Atleast pass thru all 50 states (9 down, 41 to go)

I have finally come to accept the fact that I am unlikely to ever get married or have children. I am not rich & successful nor buff & sexy enough to satisfy the expectations of your average 21st century American woman. And since I doubt if there will ever be a wife or kids I see no need to invest in a house. Houses are for families, not single men. Due to my own poor choices and the fact that West Virginia’s economy went in the tank decades before the rest of America caught up it is unlikely that I will ever have a good enough job to have much of a nest egg, but I do trust that God will always make provision for my daily bread. I know people with lots of money who are still completely miserable, so to be honest it’s really not all that important to me to have a boatload of cash. This lack of resources combined with some other factors has convinced me that it is doubtful that I’ll ever see all 50 states. Ever since an auto accident about 15 years ago I don’t even enjoy driving down the street, let alone traveling the country in a car. Plus, I honestly believe that an adventure like driving across the country is something a person needs to do while they are young and have no responsibilities. A guy I used to work with did it right after he graduated from college, and I have always thought that was profoundly smart of him. Once a person gets a job or a family traipsing about like some kind of vagabond just isn’t an option. And even though I LOVE football and always watch the Super Bowl on TV I realize now that the chances of me ever attending in person are slim. The logistics just aren’t favorable. The vast majority of tickets are bought by corporate entities, and the small amount that are released to the public cost thousands of dollars, and that’s not even taking into consideration the cost of flights, hotels, food, etc. No thank you. I’ll just hang out here in The Bachelor Palace and watch it on my hi-def flat screen.

 

 

Stuff I’ve Lost Interest In

7. Continue my education (masters degree? law school? film school?)

38. Learn about home brewing beer

I long ago began to question the value of my bachelor’s degree, which hasn’t really helped me all that much in the job market, so why would I waste time & money to go back into academia?? Looking back I think the 4 years I spent in college may have been more wisely used traveling, maturing, and figuring out what I wanted do with my life. Instead it was spent drinking way too much and attending classes that never really prepared me for anything. And speaking of drinking, I haven’t had a beer in years. It’s just not my thing anymore. I’m more of a bottled water or skim milk kind of guy. The whole home brewing idea sounded way cool several years ago, but now I can think of a ton of things I’d rather spend my time doing.

 

 

Stuff I Think I Can Get Done

4. Become more well versed in The Bible

5. Complete & submit for sale my movie screenplay

6. Lose about 50-75 lbs.

10. Go to Vegas…11. Fly in an airplane…15. See the ocean…18. Take a cruise…21. Visit NY City…26. Go to the real 221B Baker St. in London…29. Be in Boston down by the Charles River watching the Boston Pops on July 4th…31. Spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square…32. Attend the Indianapolis 500…34. Visit Italy…37. Attend The Kentucky Derby…39. Go to Mardi Gras…40. Attend an NCAA basketball Final Four…42. Go to The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA…43. Attend a major college bowl game (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton)… 45. See the Grand Canyon

13. Read the entire Shakespeare canon

14. Take a ride in a hot air balloon

16. Learn about astronomy

17. Write a novel

19. Get a job that I enjoy and can stay at for the biggest part of the next 30 years

20. Study photography

22. Learn about and begin the practice of fasting

25. Buy a suit specially tailored for me

27. Ride a train

28. Eat caviar

30. Try out for Jeopardy!

33. Become a decent chess player

35. Become a sufficient, competent, maybe even semi-talented culinary craftsman

41. Learn sign language

44. Work for a political campaign

A few of these things are in progress, and a few are kind of open ended. What does becoming well-versed in The Bible even mean?? I know I need to read & study more, but does there ever come a time when one can say “I’m done. I got it. I know it all.”?? I do feel like I am a better Christian than  I was 5 years ago, but again, I doubt if I’ll ever get to the point where I have it all figured out. I am in the midst of a weight loss effort, having lost over 22 lbs. since July 2012. But since I started on that journey about 60 lbs. bigger than when I originally wrote this list doesn’t that mean I have to lose over 100 lbs. to fulfill the original goal?? Math makes my head hurt. Anyway, I am working on it and doing okay. I have the entire Shakespeare canon here in my library at The Bachelor Palace, and I have formulated a plan to complete this goal and share my thoughts at The Manofesto. Expect that in 2013. The travel stuff is kind of complicated but I still hope to do it all eventually. I had plans of finally seeing the ocean this past summer, but circumstances changed. I sincerely hope to do it next summer though. Vegas & Italy are still dream destinations, with Vegas being something I could conceivably do right now if I could ever talk anyone into going with me. Of course if/when I make it to either place I’d be doing so in an airplane, and I happen to know a couple of places in Vegas that serve caviar so that’d knock out a few more goals. It is very likely that the Vegas trip would include a visit to The Grand Canyon as well. The Jimmy Stewart Museum is only a few hours from me, just north of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately my driving phobia has prevented me from making the trip, but I’ll make it someday. NY City, Mardi Gras, London (where one would find 221B Baker St.), and Boston (for the July 4th celebration) are destinations dependent upon convincing others to go with me as well, simply because I don’t think going alone would be as much fun not to mention rather unsafe, and since I don’t have a lot of friends with ample time, money, or similar interests it is kind of a tough sell, but I haven’t given up. Attending an NCAA Final Four, the Indy 500, the Kentucky Derby, or a major bowl game may seem analogous to The Super Bowl, but I think they are slightly more…accessible, which is why I haven’t given up on those ideas quite yet. I honestly haven’t worked on my movie screenplay or novel in a long long time, but that is just a lack of discipline on my part. I still have ideas floating around in my head…I just need to put the time & effort into developing them. I have been pondering the fasting idea for awhile now, and it would obviously dovetail quite nicely with my weight loss (although that is NOT the reason one should fast). I actually attended a balloon festival with my friend The Owl in Columbus, OH this past summer (which is where I ended up vacationing instead of the beach), but the rides were cost prohibitive and I need to do a little more preparation & research about accessibility, although I have done enough to know it is definitely possible. There was a brief window of opportunity to take a sign language class a couple of years ago but I failed to jump on it. I keep my eyes open for other chances though. It’s definitely doable. I almost had myself convinced to get involved in this year’s political campaigns, both on a local & national level, but to be perfectly frank I got lazy. Shame on me. I guess I haven’t found a candidate that I truly believe in enough to spend my limited time & energy. But hey, the opportunity is there every couple of years, right?? I can’t honestly say I am much of a cook. I watch a lot of the Food Network, but just don’t have the inclination, the space, or the resources to actually get into doing it myself. Or maybe I am just being lazy again. I think I have figured out that the only job I could get that would truly make me satisfied down deep in my core is being a writer. So the question I have to ask myself is this…does writing The Manofesto fulfill the requirement?? On a practical level the answer is no simply because I am not getting paid to do this and I still have to go out into the workforce and endure the daily grind in order to pay the bills. But in another sense I am happy to have this outlet and feel that it has become a very important part of my life.

 

I kind of feel like I had my mid-life crisis in my mid-20’s and am very thankful for that. My life hasn’t turned out the way I might have hoped for when I was 19 years old, but how many people can honestly say all their dreams have come true?? I accept full responsibility for everything I have screwed up, and give all the glory to God for how well things have turned out despite me constantly getting in the way. I can’t call myself content or satisfied, and I consider that a good thing because it keeps me alert and forces me to be aware of opportunities to improve. But I can honestly call myself happy and thankful for my many blessings.

 

 

 

 

My New Identity in Christ

I’m going to break a few of my own rules today. First of all, I usually do not repost the plethora of little pictures with cute sayings or quotes that everybody puts on Facebook these days. Sometimes I’ll look at them and chuckle or agree with the insight espoused, sometimes I’ll devote a few seconds to mocking & derision in my own mind, and sometimes I’ll just plain outright ignore it in search of an original thought…but rarely do I share with the masses. I suppose it is my nod to non-conformity. However, sometimes I do come across something rather good that I feel needs to be spread to others and therefore happily do my part. Secondly, I am a big proponent of not doing all the heavy lifting myself. If you want to know what a particular Bible verse actually says I feel that it is important that you actually pick up a Bible and read it versus me spoon-feeding you the information. However, in this case not only have I done the work for you I have actually expanded upon the original verses given so as to provide context. The emphasis in bold is strictly mine. And finally, I have avoided, as much as possible, the ol’ cut & paste routine here at The Manofesto. The things I write are generally my own thoughts & opinions, with minimal research done just so I don’t come across as a complete idiot who has no idea what I am talking about. But in this case I feel as if this is something worth sharing here. Enjoy & God bless.

 

 

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.     Ephesians 1:3-14

 

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.    Ephesians  2:4-10

 

We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit. For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;  that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;  giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.              Colossians  1:3-15

 

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.   1 Peter  2:18-25

 

Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.     Romans  5:1-5

 

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.     Romans  8:1

 

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.          Romans  8:31-39

 

The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.   Titus  2:11-15

 

Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.    1 Corinthians  15:50-58

 

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters”, says the Lord Almighty.      2 Corinthians  6:14-18

 

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. Galatians  2:20-21

 

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.    Galatians  3:13-14

 

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.   John  3:16-20

 

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?   1 John  5:2-5

 

Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.       Revelation  1:5-6

No God, No Peace – Know God, Know Peace

When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.  –        Proverbs 16:7    

 

 

 

We last looked at The Fruits of the Spirit nearly one year ago and The Sermon on the Mount just short of two years ago. I have no valid excuses for these long stretches of writing easier, less provocative, more “casual” pieces while being so inattentive to two very important studies. However, today’s adventure in blogging will attempt, in some small way, to make up for lost time by combining The Sermon & The Fruits, as they intersect on a very important subject…peace.

 

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “peace is its own reward”, but what exactly is peace?? It is typically defined in a variety of closely related ways: freedom from war, harmony, agreement, calm, tranquility, serenity, quiet, undisturbed state of mind, absence of mental conflict, contentment, acceptance, and the absence of anxiety. However, to understand the Biblical meaning of peace we must first look at three other words.

 

The Greek word most often translated as peace is eirene, which means “joining what had previously been separated or disturbed.” It is frequently used to signify “setting at one, quietness, and rest.” It doesn’t just mean the absence of conflict but takes into account everything that makes for a man’s highest good. Thus, eirene also indicates inner satisfaction, contentment, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ & content with its earthly lot, and the serenity that derives from living a full life.

 

The Hebrew word charash means “to hold one’s peace”, quiet, silent, rest, and a few different nuances depending upon the context.

 

The final word we need to know about is shalom, one of the most significant theological terms in Scripture and therefore not at all unfamiliar to most Christians & Jews. Shalom has a wide semantic range stressing various shades of its basic meaning…totality or completeness…that include fulfillment, completion, maturity, soundness, community, harmony, tranquility, security, well-being, welfare, friendship, agreement, safety, rest, favor, fulfillment, and wholeness. Much like eirene, it implies that which makes for man’s highest good.

 

So we can see that, Biblically speaking, peace is much more than the absence of war. In its fullest sense, it expresses our hope of reconciliation and redemption that can only be found thru the blood of Jesus Christ. Peace cannot be achieved with drugs, sex, money, fame, power, food, possessions, or any of the other numerous ways in which we distract ourselves. None of those things work, and the evidence is abundant: divorce, substance abuse, ulcers & heart attacks, crime, and suicide. Romans 14:17 specifies that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 8:6 warns that “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

 

President Ronald Reagan long ago opined that “a people free to choose will always choose peace.”, but is that really true?? Of course Reagan was using the word peace in the limited context of “absence of war”, and in that regard he was probably right. But using the Biblical interpretation of peace I have my doubts as to whether most people would purposely and enthusiastically choose it. We live in a society that mindlessly runs “the rat race”, eagerly “climbs the corporate ladder”, anxiously anticipates the latest ultra-violent movie or TV show, bashes God at every opportunity, actively promotes conflict in all aspects of life, glorifies deviant lifestyles that go directly against the will of God, and profits off the misery that results from all of this worldly strife by mass producing drugs that claim to cure all that ails us. Philippians 4:6-7 instructs us to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”, yet we all know people who are so mired in anxiety, misery, unhappiness, depression, and fear that they’ve forgotten how to be happy. Matthew 6:31-34 says  “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Ancient Greek storyteller Aesop once said that “a crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety”. Judging by the ample waistlines of the masses and the robust business for Xanax, Cymbalta, and Prozac I’d say we’re doing things all wrong.

 

The Biblical concept of peace is total and profound. Peace is much more than having a restful state of mind…it is our access point to the power of God. Without peace we are unable to implement our spiritual gifts and successfully do the work of God. It touches upon our relationship with God, with our inner self, with other believers, and with the world at large. We sustain peace with God by believing & trusting Him. We preserve peace with our fellow man by eliminating strife, discord, conflict, & dissension. We achieve peace with ourselves by refusing to live in guilt or condemnation and recognizing that God is greater than all of our sins. If a person is of a pure spirit, then peace tends to follow because a pure-hearted person is at peace within himself and is not self-centeredly seeking to impose their will on others. Self-righteousness leads to conflict. Conflict forces a fight-or-flight response. Peace is a dynamic experience of harmony that promotes total well-being. Peace is not passive, but rather is the product of God’s active involvement in our lives. Hebrews 12:14 tells us to “pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord”. 1 Peter 3:10-12 says “He who would love life and see good days let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good. Let him seek peace and pursue it, for the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their prayers. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Romans 14:19 advises us to “pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” Peace is something to be sought after and pursued. Peace is NOT pacifism. Peacemakers confront issues thru the prism of God, while pacifists choose to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that evil does not exist. Peace is not the absence of conflict but the ability to handle it effectively.

 

Our first priority should be to find peace with God. C. S. Lewis definitively states that “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” Those who delight in God’s law are blessed, but sinners experience misery & unhappiness, conflict & chaos, tragedy & heartache. The Bible connects peace with trust, meaning that when we trust God, His nature, and His plan we can attain true peace. It is when we try to figure things out on our own that we run into difficulties. 2 Corinthians 13:11 admonishes us to “Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” Perfect in this context means “perfection in knowledge, grace, and holiness”. Of good comfort means “to encourage, advise, and pray for others”. So in order to obtain peace, we have to seek after God, grow in our faith, do for others, and live in harmony with others.

 

The Beatitudes tell us that “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” You may recall that “blessed” simply means “happy”. Therefore peacemakers will be happy. Notice it does not say having peace will make us happy…we must be peacemakers. Again, peace is an active, dynamic byproduct of a relationship with God. My Dad used to tell me that “winners make it happen, losers let it happen”. Too many Christians sit back and wait for God to do all the heavy lifting. It isn’t that God can’t do…well…anything & everything. He can. But remember…Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. It doesn’t say God will do everything…it says I can do all things through Christ. In other words, we have to put in some effort…the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears…and Jesus will provide the strength necessary for the task. My mother used to become incredulous about parents who would do their children’s homework for them. How were the kids supposed to learn anything?? She always told my sister & I that she would gladly help us but she would not do it for us. I believe that God wants us to meet Him halfway. We all know that one sided relationships don’t usually last. It requires a partnership of two people. God won’t just hand us peace on a silver platter…we must put forth the effort and build a relationship with Him.

 

Of course the question we humans tend to ultimately ask is “What’s in it for me??” We want to know that if we actually have to get up off the couch we will get something out of the deal. And you know what…God delivers. Only He doesn’t give us material things. Instead He provides wisdom, comfort, love, and yes…peace. We are promised the peace that surpasses all understanding (which in our humanness we, of course, try to understand).  James 3:17-18 says that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy…the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” In the 1996 classic film Jerry Maguire the titular sports agent tells his wife “You complete me”. That’s what God does for us thru our relationship with the Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 13:11 says to “become complete, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace”, promising that “the God of love and peace will be with you.”

 

Jesus reassured His disciples before his…departure…that  “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Thank you Jesus for that awesome gift…if we would just take the time and make the effort to enjoy it.

 

 

My Neighbor’s Ass

In the 1998 rom-com You’ve Got Mail (#46 on my Favorite Movies list) Meg Ryan’s character laments “I live a small life. Well, valuable but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it or because I haven’t been brave?”

 

I must admit that I often have a similar inner dialogue, except I am not quite so convinced that my life has been all that valuable thus far. I beat myself up about not being as professionally successful as I thought I’d be once upon a time. I feel isolated and contemplate my lack of friends, dearth of communal interaction, and complete absence of any semblance of a love life. I wonder where it all went so wrong and ponder decades of mistakes, misfortune, wrong turns, and bad decisions. And I convince myself that I am the only person in the world who has these thoughts because e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e else is happier, more successful, and completely content with their wonderful lives.

 

Social media does one no favors with this struggle. A person can log onto Facebook on a daily basis and see family members, fellow church members, or old chums from school & work proudly displaying photos of or understandably boasting about their wonderful spouse, fun & entertaining city, beautiful children, awesome job, expensive home, cool new car, and amazing vacation. I often see others going to concerts, having cookouts with friends & family, and painting the town red every weekend, all while I sit at home by myself reading a book, watching TV, and chillin’ with my dog.

 

But then I see other things. I read an obituary of a lovely 20-something whose life was cut short by something the paper politely does not mention. I see that the divorce rate is 50%…give or take…and personally know far too many people who have gone through the ordeal. I observe a multitude of homeless, illiterate people wandering the streets of my hometown. I know of those who have committed or atleast attempted suicide. I see the negative effects of joblessness & economic woes. I hear about people’s battles with serious illness.

 

It is in these moments of clarity that I understand that my life ain’t half bad.

 

Why then, do I (and others) oftentimes feel such regret?? Why does seeing what others have spark an unhealthy fusion of animosity & sadness?? As usual, my friend The Owl pointed me in the right direction for the answer.

 

The Bible has literally dozens of verses that speak of a particular word. That word is “covet”. The dictionary defines it as being “inordinately, eagerly, or wrongly desirous of wealth and possessions or excessively and culpably desirous of the possessions of another.” In a nutshell, we want what we can’t (or aren’t supposed to) have. We become convinced that what we do have…our life, our stuff…isn’t good enough. We have a perfectly fine roof over our heads, but we want something bigger & fancier or in a better neighborhood. We like our job but keep our eyes & ears open for something more prestigious or with higher pay. We love our spouse but don’t hesitate to dump them for or cheat on them with someone hotter, thinner, or richer. It seems that many are never truly happy or satisfied and nothing they attain or achieve is ever good enough.

 

At this point I feel compelled to make two disclaimers. First of all, I am absolutely sure that we all fight this battle; it’s just that there are varying degrees of covetousness and some are more successful in overcoming the obstacle than others. Jeremiah 6:13 tells us that “from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is given to covetousness, and from the prophet even to the priest,everyone deals falsely.” Even the most content among us has likely been envious of others at some point in their life. So if you are reading this and thinking “My humble Potentate of Profundity has lost his mind. I’ve never felt what he is describing.” then either you are a very blessed individual or you are lying to yourself. Call me cynical, but my money is on the latter. Secondly, no one is saying that folks are wrong for buying a fancy new car, jumping ship to a better job, or taking a fantabulous trip to an exotic locale. The point is that others are wrong for secretly cursing those folks under their breath and wishing they could have the car, the job, & the trip.

 

Covetousness is such a big deal to God that He includes it in His Ten Commandments. Specifically, the tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17 states ““You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” So covetousness is right up there alongside murder, theft, lying, and adultery in the pantheon of things we are not supposed to do. Colossians 3:5 instructs us to “put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”  Mark 7:21-23 says that “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t give a rat’s petoot about my neighbor’s ox or donkey, if I even know anyone that owns such animals. However, I darn sure notice other guys’ pretty girlfriends, wish I’d been to cool places like Vegas & Italy like a lot of folks I know, and wonder occasionally why I wasn’t smart enough to move to the beach like half of my graduating class. The problem is that The Bible tells me I may as well be out robbing banks, killing people, and sleeping around because I am still wallowing in sin when I covet. What is the punishment for these evil thoughts?? Ephesians 5:5 tells us that “no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” 2nd Peter 2:12-15 warns us about false teachers that will come along and “speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime.” These false teachers and the things they put forth “are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray.” The question that one must ask of themselves is “Is my soul unstable??”.

 

I don’t like to dive into these kinds of topics without being able to offer a solution, and what I have found is that the answer is always pretty much the same. You aren’t going to find what you seek in a pop psychology book or on an infomercial. Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Ruth, and Dr. Laura aren’t going to assist you any more than Dr. Dre, Dr. Seuss, Dr. J, or Doctor No. These sources might provide some answers, but they won’t deliver t-h-e answer. There is only one foundation that will bring stability to the soul, allowing a person to withstand the false teachings so abundant in our world. The psalmist, in Psalm 119:36, prays to God “incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness.” Receive your instruction from God instead of a talk show or the inane ramblings of some empty-headed, soulless pseudo celebrity and you should be on solid ground. Hebrews 13:5 implores us to “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Luke 12:15 says to “take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” I think it is okay to identify good people, look up to them, and attempt to emulate their finest qualities. But if you want to know what kind of person you should be just refer to Paul’s advice to Timothy in Timothy 3:2-4, in which he says that we should “be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach;  not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous;  one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence.” Paul didn’t seem concerned with keeping up with the Jones…or the Kardashians…so maybe we shouldn’t either.

 

 

The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – The New Hope

Please check out Part 1 & Part 2 or else you will be thoroughly confused. Thanks!!

I had said for several months, as church friends would interact with me online or I’d see them at family events and they would say they missed me & encourage me to come back, that I was bothered by the fact that the one person who I should be hearing from was the one person I hadn’t…the minister. He himself had taught our youth about the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) about 15 years ago at a lock-in when I was assisting with that particular ministry. The story had always struck a chord with me, and this past year I had felt kind of like a lost coin. The only difference was it seemed like no one was really looking for me, atleast not in the earnest, diligent way the woman in the parable searches for her drachma. Does this reflect poorly on my own insecurities and self-esteem?? Probably. But it was bigger than me. I feel like it is a microcosm of how the church as a whole operates in 21st century America. The machine keeps humming along and no one really notices when people go missing. There’s a scene in my favorite action flick Die Hard when one of the federal agents given the task of dealing with the crisis at hand says “I figure we take out the terrorists and lose 20-25% of the hostages tops”, with his partner replying “I can live with that”. That’s the church these days. The end justifies the means. It all seems a tad bit cool & detached. A lesson learned in The Godfather  – ”it’s not personal, it’s just business”. Maybe it’s just me, but when the line between the church & the mafia becomes blurred it is disturbing.

 

At any rate, my minister & I had a polite, pleasant conversation on that lazy Saturday. He needed me to sign some papers because I am still on the Board of Trustees and they are getting a loan for some upkeep on the church. Of course…business…The Machine…money. It never stops. He asked me to come back and I expressed some of my concerns. We didn’t dive in too deep, and really there was no need to. I’m not angry and I don’t hate anyone. The people in that congregation have been a part of my life for the vast majority of my existence. My Mom worshiped there, as did my grandmother and several aunts, uncles, & cousins. Its home and I’ve missed it. The fact is that the flaws within the church will be there whether I am or not. My mistake was in expecting the church to be accountable for things for which I need to take responsibility. I am responsible for feeding my body, so why should I assign others the task of feeding me spiritually?? Yes I know that that SHOULD be the first priority of the church, but when they fall short I can either throw a hissy fit about it or get busy doing it myself. I have spent the past year doing the former but now realize I need to do the latter. I have also made the mistake of getting too caught up in the busy work of the church at the expense of my own spiritual well-being. Again, that stuff will exist whether or not I am present. I am the one who allowed it to drag me down.

 

I spent the next few weeks in considerable ponderation of the situation. My ego felt as if returning would be admitting defeat and letting “them” win…a tacit admission that I had been wrong. After all, it isn’t like things were suddenly going to be markedly different. On the other hand, I realize…have always known…that no one in this little drama is really to blame. I don’t think there are people in my little country church or in any other church that set out to go down the wrong path. While I am smart (and cynical) enough to know that bad people with malevolent intentions certainly exist, I choose to believe that the vast majority of folks just do the best they can and try to make the wisest decisions possible. Mostly though, I finally really understand the difference between religion & faith, between being a churchgoer & having a relationship with Jesus Christ. I had always been under the impression that I comprehended that concept, but I guess one is never too old to keep on learning.

 

So now I am back. The sambatical is over. I am rested & renewed. I have returned to the weekly routine of Sunday school, worship, Bible study, committee meetings, and fundraisers. All those things have their merit and meet a need. I have always known that their place on the proverbial totem pole should be fairly low, but I now recognize that they do indeed have a place, atleast in my life. I am fully aware that selling hot dogs or building a picnic shelter or spending as much time drinking coffee & eating cookies as discussing scripture on Wednesday evening won’t get me or anyone else into Heaven. I know that going to church can only provide an outline and that it is up to me to pray, study, and build a relationship with Christ in order to write the full story. My expectations of myself have grown exponentially as I have lowered my expectations of others. All of us are human. We make mistakes. My pride & resentment have not represented me well, but they were things I needed to work through to grow. There is a reason for everything. This past year has been yet another time period I would probably change if given the opportunity, but then again maybe not. I still believe it is possible…maybe even advantageous…to experience Christ, to worship Him, to spread His good news, and to be a shining example of His teaching without chains. A church is still simply a building…land…stuff…money…business. It is easy to get caught up in the work, the responsibility, the politics…the humanity. It is easy to become insulated and not “make disciples of all the nations”. These are weaknesses which rob the modern church of its power & authority. However, I have made the decision to separate religion and faith, as I should have already been doing anyway. And I have decided that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Frustration with the business of the church need not rob me of my “blessed assurance”, and dedication to a more genuine relationship with The Lord does not preclude church attendance. The two should ideally intersect more often than not, but when they don’t then I need to assess the circumstances and react appropriately & rationally. The truth is that I have missed my friends. I’ve missed my family. I’ve missed those opportunities to gather together and attempt to do something good for the community or even just have some good old fashioned fellowship. None of that stuff has anything to do with my salvation or loving Jesus Christ, but I have come to appreciate their place in my life. Your mileage may vary & my conclusions may not jive with yours, and that’s okay. We all do what we gotta do, right?? Or maybe…just maybe…you recognize kernels of similarity between my story & yours. If so I hope my experience provides some insight, a pleasant read, and some fodder for your own ponderation.

 

The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – Part Deux

If you have not done so, please read Part 1 of this trilogy. Otherwise the rest of it won’t make a lick of sense.

 

Eventually the time came that I was able to get back out & about. I have never lead the most adventurous existence, and the church had been a huge part of my social life for years, so it was with some trepidation that I returned. I did my best to put the acrimony behind me, but if I am being honest I am not sure I ever did. Armed with that subliminal resentment I began to notice the superficial pretense. I had finally taken off my rose colored glasses and saw the church for what it was…a very human creation that I was pretty sure no longer resembled God’s original intent. Little snubs & slights began to gnaw at me. I actually did get angry and skipped a couple of Sundays here & there, always pondering the possibility of finding a new church. But I always came back. I refer to it as Battered Parishioner Syndrome.

 

Then, three years after my triumphant return, the events of last spring unfolded. Again, the details are unimportant, but suffice to say that things didn’t happen overnight. The straw that broke the camel’s back was actually quite silly & petty on my end, but it came at the conclusion of a string of events that built up like a slow filling helium balloon. Even then when I quietly stormed out that last Sunday I knew I’d probably get over it and go back in a week or two. But things began to happen. I got very sick and was unable to attend for a couple of Sundays. When no one called to see if I was okay that old resentment began to rear its ugly head. A meeting that I had every intention of attending went on without me because I was unexpectedly asked to work a Saturday morning shift.  I expressed my displeasure to a few fellow congregants in regards to the aforementioned camel breaking straw, and I was told “You’ll be back. You always come back.” And that was when my pride kicked in and I decided that I was going to prove them wrong and not go back. And I didn’t.

 

At first I seriously pondered finding a new church. That probably would have been the wise decision. Like my friend The Owl I could have visited churches and atleast given them a chance until they gave me a reason to discard them. But I didn’t. I began to realize that the cause of my inner turmoil was bigger than the particular things that had happened in my church. I slowly came to understand that I had lost my zeal for the whole of organized religion. Its hollowness. Its hypocrisy. Its focus on money. Its resistance to try anything new. Its reliance on habit passed off as tradition. Its lack of meaningful influence. Its determination to fit into the world’s paradigms when The Bible clearly says that we are to be “in the world but not of the world” (or something to that effect) and “a peculiar people”. I decided…as I have to a large extent in relation to life in general…to withdraw. When something frustrates, upsets, aggravates, and saddens you the prudent course of action is…sometimes…to just shun it altogether.

 

And then a few weeks ago…on a lazy Saturday when The Bachelor Palace was a complete mess, I was not dressed for company (let your imagination run wild), and I was having a day where I was keenly aware of my own emptiness, isolation, and ennui…there was a knock at my door.

 

The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – Part 1

Nearly one year ago, right after Easter, I exited the church in which I grew up and had attended regularly since I was a child. I had not returned until today.

The cause of my initial exit is trivial, important only to me. There were valid issues, but some problems can just as easily be blamed on my own neuroses, stubborn pride, and failure to deal with disagreements effectively. However, the bigger reasons for my nearly yearlong sambatical, as well as my abrupt decision to return to the fold, are worth delving into because I have more than a sneaking suspicion that there are numerous disenfranchised Christians who, like me, have felt a growing chasm between what they are seeking versus what organized religion in 21st century America currently offers.

My friend The Owl, who is much more devout and genuinely devoted to living a Christ-like life than most folks I know (including your humble Potentate of Profundity), says that the church has become too worldly. He hasn’t found a “home church” in a long time, even though, to his credit, he still occasionally gives it the ol’ college try. He has most certainly spent more time in close proximity to pews & steeples than I have in the past year. However, his devotion, strong faith, and heartfelt determination to, as my Dad would say, “live life closer to the foot of the cross” despite not having close ties to a church has been influential in my own thought process. After all, a church is just a building, right??

Ah yes…a building. There’s a building. There’s land. There are bills to pay, things to buy, and stuff to maintain & repair. These things make money necessary. Fundraising becomes an obligatory evil (atleast in smaller churches). Committees are formed. Disagreements are either argued about or fester quietly for years. Folks jockey for position. Egos are bruised, feelings are hurt. All the sudden instead of focusing on Christ and His teachings, we spend a half hour on Sunday morning with Him…theoretically…at the center and the rest of the time running the business that the church has become. Even worship service is bogged down by meaningless ritual, incongruous nods to secular pop culture, screaming children lacking manners & discipline, and squirmy, visibly disinterested adults who are merely fulfilling an obligation but clearly have no sincerity of purpose. I honestly believe that most adults are more attentive when they shell out $8 at the local cineplex for some profanity laced, overtly sexual, ultra violent CGI crapfest than they are in church. And many are undoubtedly more passionate about a host of other pursuits…golf, fishing, watching the game or the race…than they are in worshiping God and spreading the good news of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

Sadly, I have been right in the thick of the hypocrisy. I’ve been that disengaged, disinterested, distracted person just going through the motions and only giving my bare minimum (or less) focus to The Lord. I’ve been the person who attends all the committee meetings and helps out with all the fundraisers but has merely a cordial (at best) relationship with Jesus Christ. I’ve been the person who attended church on Sunday but sinned freely and capaciously the other 6 days of the week. But at some point something either broke or awakened inside of me and I decided that I didn’t want to be that person anymore. This discontent with my Christian walk culminated with me walking away from the church.

It really all began nearly 6 years ago during what I call My Unfortunate Incarceration. I’ll spare those not “in the know” the details and just give the Cliff’s Notes version of my sad tale. In April 2006 I landed in the hospital with an ulcer on my tailbone. 6 weeks in the hospital were followed by 6 months in a “skilled” nursing facility. That was followed by an entire year homebound until, at last, I had the surgery that probably should have been done right off the bat. Another month in a hospital, a second shorter stint in a “skilled” nursing facility, then a few more months at home finally ended with me resuming normal activities after having, in essence, lost 2 years of my life in my early 30’s. I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I must admit that given the chance I’d skip over or significantly alter that time period in a heartbeat.

Looking back it was during those long dismal months that…atleast subconsciously…the yearning for a closer bond with The Lord blossomed yet I began to grow apart from the church. After all, besides my Dad, sister, and an aging, perverted, hard headed, yet genuinely kind & decent cousin all I had was Him. Regretfully though, instead of embracing the opportunity to cultivate that relationship I chose to wallow in a newfound bitterness caused by being “out of the loop”, “out of sight, out of mind”, and left in solitude by people who I am sure were blissfully unaware they were doing anything wrong. These were the days before Facebook allowed us all to stay in constant contact with hundreds of people across the globe on a daily basis. My Dad & sister would run into people who’d say “Tell Sam we’re thinking about him & praying for him”. I didn’t buy it. I just wanted them to take 10 minutes and give me a call. I was lonely, bored, and probably depressed, yet few people outside of my immediate family seemed to give a damn. When I was in the hospital recovering from surgery my friend Greg & his wife Jenn…who live in Texas…came to visit. Sure they were in town for his father’s wedding (or maybe it was his brother’s), but that visit meant the world to me. It was aggravating that friends that lived thousands of miles away found the time to make contact in my hour of need but others who lived much much closer…many of them “church family”…did not.

Under A Blood Red Sky Nothing Changes On New Year’s Day

On the night of December 31, 2010 I sat at The Bachelor Palace alone…except for Rocco….gently weeping and asking God to send me somebody to relieve the loneliness & lift the gloom. I’ve never told anyone that, and I’m not sure why I have decided to be so revelatory now. Maybe I have finally realized I have nothing at all to lose. It is certainly not to elicit any level of sympathy, but more to illustrate a point.

One year later I did not reach quite the same level of despair, although it was tempting since God had not yet answered my plea. I’ve set aside the emotion and become more contemplative, not only of my situation, but also about the world at large and this thing we call a “new” year.

I have grown to detest New Year’s Eve. There are two kinds of people to whom the event is targeted. The first type is the party animal. We all know these individuals. Some of us have been these individuals. They will happily use any excuse to “go out” and “party”, usually consuming copious amounts of alcohol in the process. Please understand that I am not being critical. Like I said, once upon a time I fit into this category like a glove. Sometimes I wish that I was still a party animal because life would be a lot more fun and much less solitary. The lifestyle of the party animal is also perfect for New Year’s Eve because their charismatic aura usually means they have lots of friends so their phone rings off the hook with invitations to all manner of social gatherings. The second target audience of New Year’s Eve are couples. Whether they are still trying to hang with the 20-somethings at the bar or have evolved into attending a fun little get together with friends complete with finger food and board games, it’s all about being with the one you love…or loving the one you’re with (Where are Crosby, Stills, & Nash when we need them??). And then of course those couples eventually have children so even if they stay in they’re usually doing something fun.

Unfortunately for me I am Choice C…none of the above. I’m single, have no children, don’t really drink or “party”, and even though I feel like I’m a nice person my phone n-e-v-e-r rings and I am never invited to or included in anything. I’m the person that will someday die alone in my apartment and no one will notice for several days until the stench becomes overwhelming. I am invisible and disconnected from society, which to some degree is probably my own fault but is largely a mystery…atleast it is to me. To be honest this relative anonymity doesn’t really bother me most of the time. But on New Year’s Eve it is gut wrenching. I’m not sure why kissing someone at midnight is a tradition…I just know that it is depressing not to have anyone to kiss.

Now once we get past that whole New Year’s Eve thing I’m okay, but I still find the concept of a new year intriguing. After all, January 1st is just some arbitrary day that was decided upon a couple thousand years ago by the Romans. January is named for Janus, the Roman god of gates, doors, and beginnings, of beginnings & endings and transitions. Janus supposedly had two faces…one looking forward and one looking back. Mythology is undoubtedly fascinating, and this story in particular is kind of cool. But let’s be honest…there is usually not one bit of difference between 11:59pm on December 31st and 12:01am on January 1st. There isn’t some bolt of lightning that shoots down from the heavens erasing all our worries, mistakes, & illnesses and magically making our lives perfect. But we do tend to gravitate toward that notion, imagining that magical bolt of cleansing lightning to be real.

Human beings love the idea of redemption. We embrace the thought of starting over with a clean slate. Folks happily latch onto the thought that the next 365 days are going to be better, happier, healthier, and more prosperous than the previous 12 months. Lots of people make resolutions, deciding with dogged determination that now is when they are going to lose weight, quit smoking, learn a new skill, or change some other aspect of their life. They weren’t interested in making such transformations in April, August, or November…but now all the sudden their going to turn over a new leaf because the calendar says January. We eat foods like pork, cabbage, or black-eyed peas (the food, not the horrible “music” group) because we’ve been told they’ll bring us luck, success, and affluence. I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve been eating that stuff every New Year’s Day my entire life and I’m still poor.

Is there anything wrong with the idea of New Year’s and a new beginning?? Not at all. Just because Jesus was almost certainly born nowhere close to December 25 and that date was simply co-opted by the early church to squash the pagan celebration of Saturnalia doesn’t mean that Christmas is bad. On the contrary…celebrating the birth of Christ is a wonderful idea. Similarly, making January 1st a day of renewal & restoration…a kind of rebirth of our lives…isn’t a bad idea at all. But much like Christmas I think maybe we kind of mistreat New Year’s nowadays. The aforementioned resolutions are too often shallow, vain, meaningless, and broken before the calendar turns to February. We love to talk about changing & improving our lives, but we aren’t really very committed to following through. We embrace the hope a new year brings, but abandon that hope as soon as things start to go to hell in a handbasket just like last year.

Maybe a better idea is to treat every single day as a gift from God and an opportunity to be a better person than we were yesterday. Sammy Hagar sings a song called Give to Live that I absolutely love. In the song The Red Rocker gives the following advice: “If you want love you’ve got to give a little. If you want faith just believe a little. If you want peace turn your cheek a little. If you know what you want just go on out and get it. Don’t give up…don’t give up…don’t give up”. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been tempted to give up many times, especially on lonesome days like New Year’s Eve when feeling forgotten, overlooked, and taken for granted. But then I remember that every day is New Year’s Day in some way. Oh sure we are going to have bad days. We are going to fail, screw up, not feel well, and come face to face with the abyss. But, as Tom Hanks says in Cast Away (#40 on my Favorite Movies list), we’ve “got to keep breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise and who knows what the tide could bring”. And hey…maybe I’ll have a date next New Year’s Eve!!

Doing Whatever It Takes To Go Above & Beyond While Giving 110% And Leaving It All Out On The Field

I did my best

But I guess my best wasn’t good enough

I gave my all

But I think my all may have been too much

‘Cause Lord knows we’re not getting anywhere

–          James ingram, Just Once

 

 

I used to work for a company that tried to sell the employees on the idea of having a “Whatever It Takes Attitude”. That sounds great on the surface, but when one applies some critical thinking skills and digs a little deeper it is actually indicative of a rather sinister scheme that has infiltrated not only the corporate culture but all areas of society.

 

One of the many Dadisms that my father has taught me over the years is something along the lines of “They name streets after people like him/her/them…One Way”. And that is exactly what is wrong with platitudes like the “Whatever It Takes Attitude.” It’s a one way street. You are expected to go above & beyond, go the extra mile, and do more than what is typically required. Doing just what you are supposed to do is seen as lazy and putting forth minimal effort. Doing more isn’t appreciated…it is expected. But on the flip side, even after you’ve put forth extra effort, been readily available even when you didn’t have to be, and twisted your life in knots to help others the minute you make a mistake they turn on you like a viper. One…way…street.

 

We always hear athletes and other famous types talking about giving 110%. But my question is this: When did giving 100% cease to be sufficient?? Why is my best never good enough??

 

I am well aware that ultra-successful, driven, prosperous people like politicians, billionaire businessmen, doctors, lawyers, etc. are, more often than not, overachievers that embody the very ideal that I am railing against. And you know what…God bless them. I have the utmost respect for those individuals. However, let’s be honest…most of us are not them. The majority of folks…if they are fortunate enough to have a job in the current Obameconomy…are just doing the best they can to put food on the table, pay the bills, and maybe have a few luxuries like satellite TV, the occasional steak dinner, and a summer vacation to the nearest family friendly amusement park. We are more than willing to put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, but we do have lives and are not defined by our careers. We don’t mind being somewhat flexible and taking one for the team sometimes, but it becomes a bit much when we are expected…not asked but expected…to sacrifice ourselves at the altar of whoever it is that is using us like a cheap street walker and assuming we should just shut up, bend over, and put a smile on our face. It is certainly not too much to expect maximum effort…the aforementioned 100%. But the new standard of 110% seems just a bit presumptuous and is most definitely aggravating, especially when one realizes that there is no reciprocation, that those asking so much of us are rather unwilling to cut any slack or accommodate in likewise fashion.

 

I am not nor never have been married, but maybe all this is why the divorce rate is so high. How much pressure would it be to live with…to be married to…someone who has such high expectations on a daily basis?? If one person is giving 100% but for the other that is never good enough then the numbers are never going to add up and there would be constant upheaval.

 

I wonder if this is why society has become so…anti-social?? Facebook, Xbox, and iTunes don’t expect 110%. They don’t have any expectations at all.

 

Pets are also awesome because they aren’t going to complain about you not going the extra mile. As long as you feed & water your dog and give him some love & attention he’ll think you’re the greatest thing since Kibbles met Bits.

 

The sad thing is that so many buy into all this BS because of a lifetime of watching too much unrealistic TV and having various people in our lives convince us that what we have to offer doesn’t measure up. We whine & complain about The Rat Race on a daily basis but we get up each & every day and fall right in lockstep because we don’t want to be left behind. We let people bully us, push us around, and generally make life miserable, and for what?? The book of Ecclesiastes asks the question “What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?” and tells us that “all is vanity”. The narrator of the story then answers his own query: “I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor and this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled, and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.”

 

To be clear, I am not condemning the concept of hard work & dedication. I am fully behind that notion. What I am critical of is what seems to be a constantly raising bar that is unreachable by definition. Somehow we have gotten to a point where we don’t even dangle carrots or offer challenges that can be met before putting forth the next goal to be achieved. We just beat people down on a daily basis and expect them to be happy about it. The powers-that-be use & abuse their charges simply because they can. Is it slavery?? Of course not. Most people get something out of whatever it is they are doing. They are compensated by an employer or fed (theoretically) spiritually by the church or have some sort of status, prestige, cachet, etc. attached to whatever extracurricular activity with which they may be involved. But the assumptions, mistreatment, and being taking advantage of are all still there. And sometimes a paycheck that barely covers expenses or a pat on the back for helping out with the community hot dog sale don’t make up for the constant look of disappointment and snide words of derision people spew because one did not live up to their unreasonably excessive expectations.

 

So y’all go ahead and give 110%, go the extra mile, and do “whatever it takes” to make other people…people who will screw you over in a heartbeat…happy. As for your humble Potentate of Profundity, I will continue to just do the best that I can knowing that is all it takes to make the man in the mirror happy and that is all that really matters. 100% is good enough for me, I believe it’s just dandy in the eyes of God, and it thrills my dog. The rest is just vanity.