It’s been a while since I have written a blog post on our pop culture. And it’s due. Our past has much to say about our future. Most of the time we don’t listen (history has a remarkable way, or rather an unremarkable way, of repeating itself). However, it does make for some great songs, such as Bob Dylan’s 1964 song titled, “The Times They Are A-Changin.’” It’s been 51 years now since that song was composed and made famous. For those of us who remember it (and I was a kid back then), it doesn’t seem possible that it’s been that long ago. And the times? Well, they certainly have changed since then.
This blog post would be hopelessly long if I tried to detail all of the events that have shaped America since the 1960’s, and I’ve written about some of those events in previous blog posts. The main point in all of it is that change is a constant, whether we like it or not, or even take the time to realize it is going on right before our eyes on a daily basis.
One of the blessings of long term unemployment has been that it has allowed me to take a break from the lifestyle of the working world with all of its demands and schedules and look beyond the obvious. Like an onion, it has been peeling itself, layer by layer, to reveal something I never would have noticed had I found another job shortly after I lost that one in Houston over six years ago and, hence, gotten right back into the rat race. Sometimes I wonder if that is good or bad, but nevertheless, it is what it is. It happened, and I have learned. And I have found that in the learning that some of it was making itself known at the very beginning level as far back as fifteen years ago, but working and being distracted by all that life in America affords to us didn’t make it obvious until that life was taken away from me in the form of long term unemployment.
I have a good friend who has often said, “Once you see truth, you can’t unsee it.” And he’s right. He’s probably one of the smartest people I have ever known, but I don’t think I’d want to be on his bad side. Not that he is particularly bad. Well, come to think of it, we are all bad (although our pop-psychology starting back 40-50 years ago would have us gagging all over ourselves as to how great we are once we get past all that “low self-esteem” stuff). I used to read a lot of that pop-psychology stuff back in my 20’s and 30’s (it was the rage back then and now it’s deeply embedded in our culture), but over the years I got sick to death of hearing folks talk about their “low self-esteem.” It seemed as if there was so much “low self esteem” out there that it could keep counselors and psychologists employed for a lifetime (and it has, too). Now that I’m a lot older I know the truth. So let me put it another way. . . . We are all quite capable of evil at varying degrees. And yes, that includes all of us. And it has nothing to do with low self esteem. But it does have to do with self.
Jesus never, ever talked about low self esteem. Not once . . . . So that should tell us something about it. He didn’t say, “Follow me and I will cure your low self esteem.” Not that it can’t be cured by following Jesus. It can. But as long as we keep life focused on ourselves and what we do or do not have (whether in self esteem or anything else) we miss the boat by a mile. Following Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with what we want or a focus on ourselves. It’s about what He wants and why He came and died and rose again, and it wasn’t so we can tiptoe through the tulips and have a better life in the here and now. It’s not about the “outward trappings of life” at all. It’s about the internal, not the external. And it’s amazing how once we can learn to put our own “wants” aside and focus on Him, how life can change. Truly amazing . . . .
The outward trappings of life, especially here in America, tend to trap every single one of us. We all want “the American Dream,” and people from all over the world come to America with the hope of acquiring a piece of it for themselves, but that “American Dream” has been significantly eroding in the past several decades, and especially since the burst of the housing bubble that lead to the worst Wall Street crash in history in September 2008. And it is not available to everybody and there are plenty of folks out there struggling to make ends meet as evidence to that very clear fact. Maybe the rich among us have acquired that dream (and hence some of them write books and conduct seminars to tell the rest of us how we can do it, too, thus making themselves richer and us poorer by buying into it), but the rest of us? Not so much . . . .
Luck, connections, the right parents, the right degrees–there are a thousand things out of our control that fall into the laps of some folks and make it possible for them. Of course, there are also plenty of “hard work” success stories out there, too. However, most of us will never acquire what the “One Percenters” (a member of the top one percent of a population by wealth, ability, etc.) have no matter how hard we work at it. And buying their books, for the most part, will help keep them in the one percent and keep us in the ninety-nine percent.
I believe the same challenges exist in our ultra modern, tech-savvy culture with all of its 24/7 excesses and access that existed in the culture in Jesus’ day. Read 1 and 2 Corinthians if you don’t think there was a culture back then that rivaled us today (see summary on 1 Corinthians at this link and on 2 Corinthians at this link). Sure, they didn’t have our technological wonders, but human nature hasn’t changed. Greed is ever present wherever we find humans. So is lust and seeking after power, fame, fortune, yada yada yada.
I have never been particularly materialistic, and by that I mean that I have never had dreams of living in a big, fancy house with an assortment of cool cars to drive, or living the life of millionaires or now that we have a bunch of them–billionaires. However, the pull to want to be thought well of by others and carve out my own niche in the world was still there. And when I first got that job in Houston I thought it was the beginning of seeing that dream come to fruition. There’s a lot out there in our churches today that tells us to go after our “dreams.” Now I don’t think there is anything wrong with having dreams, but too much of the time the dreams are centered around us and what we want, and we convince ourselves that it is what God wants for us, too. It’s not that our dreams can’t have a basis in reality, but the reality might not look like anything we hoped it might look like. Our dreams need to be given back to God and left there instead of us taking the lead and asking God for His blessing. If we can learn to do that, He does what He wants with it and with us, and that might not look like anything that we define as “success” in America.
I have always had a creative bent since I was a very young child, and I have loved writing for as long as I can remember; however, in my younger years, that bent was more in the field of art. In fact, I have a bachelor’s degree in art and design, and I loved the whole creative process. But as time moved on I found that I preferred writing as a creative outlet to art work (although I still love art), and I hoped to be inspired even further along these lines when I found myself attending Joel Osteen’s church, Lakewood Church, in Houston, after I started that ill-fated job in Houston that ended seven months later. I wanted to create a small business on the side and I had already picked a name for it using my last name (you’ll understand why as soon as I write it). I was inspired by Joel’s sermons and thought it would be fun to try to start a small business using my writing skills, and I was going to call it “Devine Detours.” I was hoping it would develop into helping people who might be interested in looking at life in a different and more creative way. Unfortunately, due to the job I had when I was there and then lost it, I was not able to do much with it, so the dream essentially died when the job died, and I forgot about it.
I spent the better part of the first two plus years of unemployment in a full-time job search–the magnitude of which I never in my wildest imagination ever thought I’d have to go through in my lifetime. And it wasn’t until I interviewed for a job as an Associate Registrar at a small “for-profit” college in Largo, Florida, in September 2011 (September 29, 2011, to be precise, which was exactly three years to the day that I started that ill-fated job in Houston in 2008) that I realized this massive job search was going nowhere, and at that point I knew there had to be something bigger going on. A year earlier, in July 2010, because of my frustration with the job search after over a year at that time of being unemployed, I began this blog as a creative outlet to express what it was like to go through this experience of long-term unemployment. That first few months of writing on it was as frustrating as my job search, so I deleted everything I had written at that point in time in April 2011 and forgot about the blog.
It wasn’t until July 2011 that I fired my blog back up and it just took on a life of it’s own. I can’t explain why that happened, but everything just seemed to start coming together as I kept (or rather was compelled to keep) writing those blog posts. And, here it is, four years later, and I am writing my 384th blog post right now. My dream of writing all of these years has come true, but not in a way that I ever would have expected. Like many writers out there, I was hoping to at least get published (and it’s heady stuff to dream of being a “New York Times” best selling author). Instead, I started a blog five years ago without any thought as to what it might eventually grow into. I just wrote them one blog post at a time when I felt compelled to write them.
I guess what I am trying to say is that God gives us the talents He wants us to have, but then He wants us to use them in His way, and not just our own way. That is not to say there is anything wrong with being famous or a “New York Times” best selling author–after all, God uses everyone who is willing to be used in every walk of life from the lowest positions to the highest. However, the key is in doing it His way, and leaving it up to Him as to what that way looks like. And I didn’t find it until I lost that job in Houston over six years ago and discovered just how much that I really did have to depend on God for everything that I had and for everything that I needed according to Him and His will and not according to mine.
As I look back on these years since I lost that job in Houston, I have to laugh in that it was me who ended up taking a “Devine Detour,” the type of which I certainly never planned for. Yet, without a doubt I now know that this was God’s will for me. It certainly doesn’t look like the “American Dream,” but I’ve never really been looking for that dream in particular. I’ve been looking to find God at work in our American culture, a culture that so often is so full of stuff that we can easily miss some of the most important stuff He would have us to know and to do.
To say that God is full of surprises is an understatement of major proportions. . . .
In John 3:5-8 Jesus answered a question put to him by a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who asked Jesus how someone can be born again who is old. And Jesus answered with the following statement:
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Our flesh sees everything our culture has to offer and wants so much of it, but the Spirit sees beyond our culture–beyond ANY culture–to see what God wants. And often, it doesn’t look like anything we may have perceived or conceived for it to look like.
As Isaiah 55:8-9 states:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
We often look for the obvious, and God looks way beyond it. His mission statement is clearly stated in 2 Peter 3:8-9:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
This life is not about acquiring “the Good Life” or the “American Dream.” It’s about God not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. And if we are too busy chasing after the “American Dream,” we are going to miss it. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, and Spirit give birth to spirit.” Only the Spirit can give us hearts to see from His perspective, and to follow His will and not our own . . . .
Don’t miss it by chasing after the wrong things . . .
As “the times they are a-changin’”. . . .
YouTube Video: “The Times They Are A-Changin’” sung by Phil Collins: