Archives For Culture

Much ink has been spilled about the injustices, the inequities, seen all around us everyday. Kids go to bed hungry while parents shoot up dope. Or worse, kids wind up dead. There isn’t day goes by without a report of road rage; somebody cut someone else off, and then someone gets beat, shot, or run over. We regulate, legislate, send folks to anger management classes, hold sensitivity training at work, and try to watch our words. We’re simultaneously anxious, uptight, fried, yet we somehow don’t want to offend…

We sublimate, self-medicate, and stuff our feelings. Is it any wonder, with the the amounts of both intrinsic, and extrinsic, repression that there are slips in the space/time continuum? That there are blow ups? We are selfish by nature, out to get our own, looking out for number one (as the saying goes). We’re indignant when someone tramples upon our (perceived) rights, yet have no trouble trampling another’s rights, boundaries, space, to get what’s ours.

It’s reductio ad absursum. Yet we are blind to it. And no matter how enlightened, how modern, we become there are no programs, classes, sweat lodges, pilgrimages, substances, or really anything which can effect a change in what we call human nature. The heart simply cannot be changed by anything existing within the same broken, reprobate system in which it itself dwells. This calls for outside intervention.

No cleanses, juice fasts, or high colonics will ever rid us of the foolishness bound up in our hearts. A wise teacher once said it is not that which enters a man which defiles him, but rather that which comes out of him.

Out of his heart.

Many, many there are who seek enlightenment upon their own terms. But few there are who find new life.

The kids are not all right.

That’s why God sent His Son, Jesus. He may not be the immediate answer to every ill in this vale of tears, but He certainly is the ultimate one.

Seek Him while He may be found.

Guns are not the problem.
 
 Porn is not the problem.
 
 Booze is not the problem.
 
 Drugs are not the problem.
 
 Gay marriage is not the problem.
 
 No, my friends, something–someone–else is the problem:
 
 Humanity.
 
 We are the problem. Guns, porn, booze, drugs, gay marriage, slavery, sex trafficking are all just symptoms of a deeper issue:
 
 Sin.
 
 It’s not for no reason that Bible calls the human heart “desperately wicked.” Just turn on the evening news, or check your news feed, for word of the latest tragedy. We can legislate and legislate and legislate until we’re blue in the face, and still not affect any real change. Because if one thing is true, it’s this: while we can force displays of compliance, we can’t mandate any change of the human heart. Those that want to will still find the means to gun others down. Those that want to will still look at porn. The same with drugs, alcohol, and all other depravities known to man.
 
 Sin will always find a way.
 
 Historically, prohibition wasn’t all that long ago. And we all know how well that turned out. The same with the so-called war on drugs… Fallen humanity cannot, will not, change. It’s our nature to destroy ourselves and one another. Every evil perpetrated is an extrinsic manifestation of an irrefutable intrinsic reality:
 
 “The heart is evil and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” Yet we, in our hubris, think we can just treat symptoms and be done. All the while Cain kills Abel time and time again, because evil cannot be legislated away. “Man was born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”
 
 Despite more and more evidence linking smoking to cancer, and tighter and tighter legislation, people don’t care and haven’t stopped smoking. Cigarettes don’t smoke themselves, Internet porn doesn’t make a person look. Guns, like any other tools, don’t operate without human intervention. Are we to outlaw cars because accidents happen? Because there’s such a thing as road rage? Ridiculous. (May as well outlaw air travel while we’re at it. Because planes crash, or can be used as weapons of mass destruction). It’s not the cars that are the problem; rather, it’s the idiots behind the wheel. What makes us so selfish that we think where we’ve got to go is so much more important than everyone else on the road?
 
 The problem lies in the fact that in the supposedly rational West, within its prevalent humanistic worldview, there is no such thing as sin. This is why we’re always shocked by stories of violence, tragedy, depravity. Because in the rational West we believe are better than that, should know better than that.
 
 The sad truth is that we’re not, and we don’t.
 
 Just ask the Carpenter from Galilee, Whom we hung upon a tree for doing exactly nothing wrong. The fact is unless we–all of us–let His story take hold of us things will only continue to get worse and worse. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can affect the change that we’re looking to Washington for.
 
 We should know better by now…
 
 Oh, wait.
 
 
 

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that, by-and-large, people no longer know how to disagree. One need looked no further than the evening news (or favorite website). We like to think that we’re evolved, enlightened beings, but experience (life) teaches us that human beings just aren’t all that rational. If we were, whether on the right, left, or in the center. Whether cis, trans, pan, or what have you, we would all of us stop trying to make over the world in our own image. Tis a fruitless effort. Nevertheless, we continue. We see something we don’t like, that we don’t agree with, which does not affirm our worldview, and we freak right the heck out. 
This is not the exclusive province of Christians, expecting a secular company in a fully pluralistic society to get with the Christmas spirit by making cups we approve of. No, there are others who simply deny reality and demand that XYZ be implemented for them (fill in the blank). The needs of the noisy, vitriolic one clearly outweigh established social precedent, decorum, and the needs of the many.
YOU. MUST. AFFIRM. ME.
This is nothing other than confirmation bias. I’m right because I’m right, and you better get in line. Or I’ll protest your bigoted, sorry a** back to the stone ages where you clearly belong. You unenlightened, pre-cambrian haploid. Reality is what I say it is. Your view is invalid, and mine is better.
The foregoing is, of course, not the exclusive province of the liberal elite. Everybody does it at one time or another. In such a climate polite, civil, discourse goes right out the window with the baby and the bath water. We, by-and-large, don’t know how to listen anymore because we’re too entangled on our entitlements. 
How fruitless is it for Christians to seek affirmation from Starbuck’s, like we’re somehow entitled to it? You, large coffee company, must support me. On the other hand, how ridiculous is that the queer community boycotts, and indeed fires volley after volley of vitriol, at a chicken chain started by Southern Baptists? Must corporations truly affirm every life choice, lifestyle, and belief system under the sun? I submit that that is not their job. Beliefs are reflected by the actions of the individuals who claim to espouse those beliefs.
It is not culture’s, or the world’s, job to coddle us, and make us feel safe, welcome, warm, and wanted. No, that is entirely the province of those with whom we are in relationship. We can’t demand anything of the world, for it owes us each exactly nothing. Ex nihilo. That’s a zero with its rim knocked off.
The sooner we, whether left, right, center, or whatever, recognize that the sooner we’ll actually be able to make a difference in the world. In fact, Jesus said it best:
“My kingdom is not of this world.” Which means, for everyone, the best course of action is (as Jesus) is to accept this sinful world as it, not as we would have to be. Because it will never be that. It will never be what anyone of us wants it to be. For good or I’ll, it will be what it is. And not a one of us can, via cogent discourse, make a single hair white or black. Or change someone’s mind.
They have to do that for themselves.

Part of the Problem

randomlychad  —  September 15, 2015 — 1 Comment


(Zoom in to see the evangelist on the left, and the homeless man on his knees on the right).

You’ve heard the old saw: “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” This I think is true. I have a problem. Like a substantial majority of folks, I’m fairly glued to my phone, have binge watched Netflix until all hours, and generally fritter away precious time on Twitter and/or Facebook. I find myself to be highly distractable and unfocused. Beyond that, it’s far easier to glide through life as a spectator, rather than as a participant. Case in point: while my wife was out of town, my son and I took three movies. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but it didn’t even dawn on me that perhaps we should at least attempt to visit her aged grandmother at her nursing home until late in the week (we didn’t make it). Oh, we made time to workout, eat out, video game.

But the week by-and-large was fairly self-absorbed. I even made time to hit the bookstore, buying more books than I’ll read in a month.

But compassion, other-awareness? Rather lacking. My life is so busy with work, working out, obligations, that in my downtimes I don’t think about much beyond me. It’s become an ingrained way of life.

A rut I don’t know how to break out of.

Nowhere was this more true than when I observed a street preacher doing his thing, proclaiming the judgment of God upon a sinful society, right across the street from a homeless man begging his daily bread. What I, and everyone else crossing the street, didn’t see was the street preacher put down his sign (“Back the Bible, or back to the jungle”), and go over to help the homeless man. I noticed that not one person, nary a single soul, took a tract from him. Yet what did I do other than observe? I took the time to take a picture, return to my office, get lunch…

When it dawned on me that I hadn’t done anything for, or been Jesus to, the homeless man, upon finally returning I saw he was being loaded into an ambulance. This was a lesson to me. We can have all the right words, speak the Gospel truth, but if that truth isn’t backed up with corresponding actions it makes our witness of bull effect.

There are similar needs around me everyday, and yet it gets harder and harder to lift up my eyes to see, and to open my heart to care.

I wonder: do you find yourself in the same place today?

Make no mistake: the world is watching. Are we part of the problem, or part of the solution?

  As a teen, I read continously as a means of escaping what I then saw as a quotidian, banal, meaningless, dysfunctional existence. All white plastered stucco on the outside, and while not wanting for food and shelter, my upbringing was nevertheless starved of affection, notice, approval. As a latch key kid, there were really no boundaries, and thus no real sense of security. And without security, there was no feeling, no bedrock, of love to fall back upon. 

So I read to feel something, anything. To know I wasn’t alone. To know that, as bad as I perceived things to be, some folks had it worse. Oftentimes, these folks were the characters at the heart of a Stephen King story. One of my favorites was Pet Sematary. I read that book through three times (something I didn’t normally do) in rapid succession. Due, I think, in part to its sheer visceral appeal, but perhaps unconsciously also to its parallel to my own (limited) life experience up to that time. Consider:

1) The Creeds move was supposed to make their lives better, bring them closer as a family. Likewise, my dad’s promotion, transfer, and my family’s subsequent move west was supposed to do the same. In neither case did that prove to be true. Both families ended up falling apart.

2) In both life, and art, there was a father haunted by demons he couldn’t shake; both, while the specifics are of course different, succumbed to their unholy siren song.

3) While my cat was named Cornelius, and not Church, I lost him in a neighborhood accident. Whether animal, or a vehicle, got him I don’t recall.

4) Much like Judson Crandall in the story, we had a kindly older neighbor named Johnny. Like Louis in the book, my dad spent many a night drinking with him.

These are but a few of the ways in which life imitated art. Though as I said I wasn’t likely tuned into at the time, being an isolated, largely self-involved teen. I just share this as a means of explaining the book’s hold on, and power over, me. It appealed in ways I couldn’t then even begin to understand. Much in the way I couldn’t understand why my dad grew more and more distant. More and more closed off; until he just wasn’t there anymore at all. Like Louis Creed, he had his secrets, and those secrets destroyed a family.

Family is what I wish to write of today. As a husband and father myself, I’ve seen the devastating effects of my own secret sins wreak havoc on my family. Things, as they do in Pet Sematary, have a way of finding is out. And there is usually hell to pay. Oftentimes in art, as in life, warnings are given; yet we stubbornly, steadfastly choose to trudge right past them into our own (metaphorical) burying grounds. We believe somehow, as Louis Creed does, that it will be different for us–that we’ll, if not totally unscathed, escape the brunt of the consequences. That is basic human nature.

It is this power of temptation to work upon the mind, and heart, its wiles which lies at the heart of the Pet Sematary.

You see after reading it three times, I did not again revisit the Pet Sematary until just recently. Perhaps as a married man and father, knowing the general content of the tale, I was afraid to? This is likely. Perhaps it was because I knew that tales have a way of growing with us as we grow older? Yes, this, too.

So with trepidation and not a little dread, I reread the book. My worst suspicions were confirmed. Rather than diminish, the power of the book had grown. For what man among us, and despite the dire warnings, if he called himself a loving father, would not be tempted to do exactly as Louis Creed does? That is the insidious appeal and power which King has placed at the heart of Pet Sematary. Louis Creed is everyman who, when faced with a devastating loss, turns to the only way he can see out of it. It’s his fault, and by God (or other means) he’s going to fix it.

Only never works out that way, does it? Despite trying over and over again, we never can quite manage to squeeze some good out of something bad.

That, my friends, is the power of temptation, and the sway under which all of us on this side of the grave live.

God help us all, darling.