A Story of Faith

I read an interesting story this morning from a book titled, When God Winks on Love: Let the Power of Coincidence Lead You to Love,” (2004) by SQuire Rushnell (and, yes, the “Q” is capitalized in his name), a popular speaker and New York Times bestselling author who coined the term Godwink,” now in mainstream usage.

The story is found in a chapter titled, “Meant To Be,” with a subtitle of “Jeannette & Meyer: A Story of Faith,” on pp. 177-185. Here is that story:

In the following story, Jennette and Meyer had to endure more than ever should be expected of two human beings living in a civilized society. Yet, as I suspect you will agree, they were intended for each other.

“Oh, Meyer, I do love you,” whispered eighteen-year-old Jennette on her wedding day.

Her love for Meyer was growing everyday. He was older, stronger, and made her feel safe. he was a kind man who loved talking about having children and a family. And, she admired how he had helped so many others, smuggling them across borders, escaping death.

Jennette and Meyer said their marriage vows in Budapest, Hungary, a safe haven–they thought–from the atrocities that were happening to other Jewish citizens in their native Poland and other countries occupied by the Nazis.

It was 1943.

While still in Poland, Jennette was narrowly sent, on several occasions, to Auschwitz, a notorious concentration camp where over two million people perished. But each time, the buses filled up, and by coincidental timing, she was left behind.

Jennette then fled to Hungary where she met and fell in love with Meyer Ehrlich.

Only weeks after their marriage, Jennette was able to tell her husband the joyful news that she had felt the stirrings of a baby inside her body. Anxious to father a child, Meyer was thrilled.

But Hungary was not safe.

The Germans ominously moved into the country and assumed control without firing a single shot. Again, Jewish people were being rounded up and taken away.

Several months into her pregnancy, Jennette and Meyer were dining one night in a restaurant. Hungarian police marched in and ordered identification from various customers. Jennette’s heart stopped as they demanded to look at Meyer’s papers.

“He may be an underground terrorist,” said on officer.

“Take them in,” commanded another.

At the police station, it was determined that Meyer would be sent to Munich to be put on “trial”–which everyone knew was only for show–and that his fate almost certainly meant that he would be sent to another horrid concentration camp, Dachau, where most prisoners were put to death.

Noticing that Jennette was pregnant, the police ordered her to remain behind for “questioning.” Jennette was terrified. Yet, from the moment she saw her husband being jostled away by authorities, she never doubted that he would survive.

She prayed. And she had faith.

Meyer had told her about his earlier survival, before they had met, from his incarceration in Auschwitz, and subsequently at another labor camp; how he and a group of others had been shot in their escape, and how he was able to get away despite a bullet wound to the neck.

He would survive, she believed.

Jennette saw an opportunity to sneak away from the jail.

She ran.

In Budapest she was able to make contact with someone who said they could help her get to Romania. Now, at nearly full-term pregnancy, she was smuggled across the border with a small group of others. In Romania they felt great relief when they saw a Jewish name on a house.

They knocked.

“Quickly–come in,” said the owner, looking in both directions.

Leading them inside, he said, “Make yourself comfortable. Take a bath and have something to eat. I must go out. I will be back with more food.”

Within the hour police burst through the door and arrested them. To protect himself, the owner had betrayed them.

Jennette was taken to a camp.

Again, she saw a way to escape.

Again, she ran.

She encountered a lady taxi driver who offered to take her to the docks.

“Someone will help you,” she was assured. “They will take you secretly aboard a livestock ship to Constanta.”

The ship would take her to the Romanian seaport through mine fields in the Black Sea.

As the ship sliced through dark waters, Jennette could see the shattered remains and debris from an earlier ship that had detonated a mine, spilling its passengers into the cold depths of the Black Sea.

She began to feel labor pains.

Ill-equipped to assist in the birth of a baby, the captain sent out a coded signal. Another boat came alongside, and took Jennette ashore in Turkey. There, because she was Jewish, she was made to sign papers that when the baby was born it would not be identified as a Turkish citizen. At a nursing home, she gave birth to a boy. His name was Charles.

Told she could remain in Turkey for only one month without a visa, Jennette made her way back to Israel. She took training and became a nurse.

A few months later her hopes soared when a small box came in the mail. But when she opened it, her dreams plummeted. Inside were Meyer’s personal effects…and ashes.

“He is dead,” said a friend of Jennette’s. “No one escapes Dachau.”

“No. He is a survivor,” said Jennette, with conviction, while choking back tears, “I do not believe those are his ashes. I believe he is still alive.”

Nearly two years passed.

Another man who had once been with Jennette in one of the small groups smuggled to safety had also found his way to Israel. He name was Bernard Teichtal. Long attracted to her, Bernard now professed that he had fallen in love with her.

“Will you marry me, Jennette?” asked Bernard.

She declined.

Later, Bernard repeated his request.

Jennette’s friends were insistent.

“Jennette, your intuition is wrong. Meyer is gone. You are being foolish. Bernard is a good man. He loves you. Marry him.”

Reluctantly, she said she’d consider it.

Jennette suggested that Bernard find an apartment, and used other excuses to delay a decision. Deep in her heart she believed–she hoped–that it was her friends who were wrong, not her. For, every time she looking into the eyes of her twenty-two-month-old baby, she could see the face of her husband.

When her friends became relentless, Jennette finally accepted Barnard’s proposal and set a date for the wedding.

Four weeks before the ceremony, Jennette was waiting at the bus stop on her way to work. She noticed a Red Cross flyer that was posted there. Written in Hebrew, it said the Allies had freed the prisoners of Dachau and listed notices of people who had been separated from their loved ones.

Jennette’s mouth dropped as she read: “Meyer Ehrlich, Munich, looking for his wife.”

She fainted.

People at the bus stop rushed to her aide: “Poor thing. She hasn’t had breakfast–look how thin she is,” they said.

Jennette came to.

She looked at the poster again.

She fainted again.

It was almost beyond belief–her faith that her husband Meyer was still alive was rewarded!

“I am so happy!” she said.

Jennette quickly contacted her fiancé Bernard and told him that she was sorry, but the wedding had to be called off. She told her friends that she had to find a way to get to Munich.

She packed her bags, bundled up baby Charles, and made her way to Paris. There she was told that there was one train that could take her to Munich. She bought tickets.

But the train failed to stop in Munich. There was no way to get off. Like it or not, Jennette was bound for Vienna.

Options raced through her mind. She had endured so much. To be so close to her beloved husband, and not to succeed in reaching him, simply wasn’t an option.

She was determined.

When the train slowed to a stop ten miles outside of Munich to take on water, Jennette seized her opportunity. Tightly holding her baby, she slipped unnoticed from the train, leaving all her belongings behind.

For several hours she dodged oncoming trains, and stumbled on rocks and railroad ties.

“Momma,” said little Charlie, “I would like to have a piece of bread.”

“Just a little further, my baby, and you will have all the bread you want.”

Darkness was falling as Jennette and little Charlie made it into Munich. Someone directed her to the home of Meyer’s brother, only to receive another disappointment: Meyer–in his search for her–had gone to Paris.

His brother immediately sent Meyer a telegram.

In a matter of days, her prayers came to pass. Jennette, her baby, and Meyer were back in each other’s arms. And that is where they remained for many happy years to come.

Jennette and Meyer moved to America, had two more children–a brother and sister for Charles.

Still speaking with a slight accent, Jennette says, “I love this country. Every day I say a prayer to God to say thank you.”

In 1990, twenty years after relocating to America, Meyer died.

Seven years later Jennette saw Bernard Teichtal, the man she left at the altar. It was a brief conversation. He was dying of cancer.

“I always loved you,” Bernard told her. “I never married. And, because I was with you during your pregnancy, I always thought of Charlie as my own child.”

It was a bittersweet closing to another chapter in Jennette’s life. But, more heartfelt then most, she can attest to the power of Godwinks that arise from a deep and and determined faith.

Jennette never doubted that she and Meyer were bashert–intended for each other. (Bashert is a Yiddish word that means “destiny”. It is often used in the context of one’s divinely predestined spouse or soulmate. It can also be used to express the seeming destiny of an auspicious or important event, friendship, or happening. In modern usage, Jewish singles will say that they are looking for their bashert, meaning they are looking for that person who will complement them perfectly, and whom they will complement perfectly. Quote source here.) (Story quote source: “When God Winks on Love,” pp. 177-185.)

In Matthew 17:20, Jesus told his disciples, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” That is the kind of faith Jennette had in the story above. And it is the kind of faith we can have, too, if we will only believe and not doubt or give up.

So what exactly is “mustard seed” faith? GotQuestions.org gives us the answer:

Faith is so vital to the Christian life that Scripture tells us that, without it, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Yet faith is such a powerful gift from God (Ephesians 2:8–9) Christ told His disciples that, with just a tiny measure of it, the size of a mustard seed, they could move mountains. So, what does it mean to have “mustard seed faith”?

We see the reference to “mustard seed faith” twice in Scripture. First, in Matthew 17:14–20, we see Christ’s disciples unable to exorcise a demon from a young boy, even though Jesus had previously given them the authority to do this very thing (Matthew 10:1). When they inquired of Jesus why they were not able to drive the demon out, the Master replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there’ and it will move; Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:14–20). Next, in Luke 17:6, Jesus tells His disciples, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” By using the uncommonly small mustard seed as an example, Jesus is speaking figuratively about the incalculable power of God when unleashed in the lives of those with true faith.

We know that this statement about moving mountains and uprooting trees by faith is not to be taken literally. The key to understanding the passages is the nature of faith, which is a gift from God. The power of faith reflects the omnipotent nature of the God who bestows faith on His own. The mustard seed is one of the tiniest seeds found in the Middle East, so the conclusion is that the amount of faith needed to do great things is very small indeed. Just as in the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31–32), Jesus uses rhetorical hyperbole to make the point that little is much when it comes from God. The mustard seed in the parable grows to be a huge tree, representing the tiny beginnings of Christianity when just a few disciples began to preach and teach the gospel. Eventually, the kingdom grew to huge proportions, encompassing the entire world and spreading over centuries.

So, too, does the tiniest bit of faith, when it is true faith from God, grow to immense proportions in the lives of believers and spreading out to influence all they come into contact with. One has only to read histories of the great men of the faith, such as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, to know that superhuman feats were performed by those whose faith was, at one time, only the size of a mustard seed. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with these two reminders: First, from Hebrews 11:6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. And second, from the words of Jesus found in Matthew 21:21-22, Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree (see vv. 18-20), but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe…

You will receive . . .

Whatever you ask for . . .

In prayer . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

And Life Goes On

This past week I read an interesting article on longevity in a bi-monthly email publication titled, Nehemiah Notes,” by Blaine Smith,  an ordained Presbyterian minister who retired a decade ago as Director of Nehemiah Ministries, Inc., which ceased operation shortly after he retired. He is also the author of several books as well as his bi-monthly online publication mentioned above.

The article I read is titled, Moving Ahead After the Letdown: Finding the Heart to Make New Beginnings, and here is an excerpt from that article:

One of the most helpful insights we gain from studies of longevity is the importance of resilience. Centenarians, and others with exceptional life spans, are often those who are best able to accept loss and make new beginnings. Not that they don’t feel the pain of major disappointments and grieve them profoundly. Still, the point comes when they are able to put the past behind them and move on. And they are remarkably adept at making fresh starts, even at unlikely points in life.

Jeanne Calment was a stunning example of this resilience. By the time she died in 1997 at 122, this Frenchwoman held the title of being the world’s oldest living person with a documented birth date–a record still unbroken. Yet Calment suffered many misfortunes during her extraordinary lifetime. Pleurisy claimed her only child at 36, her husband died from eating tainted cherries at 72, and her only grandchild perished in a car accident at 36. After each crisis, though, she was able to regain her hope and “turn the page.”

At 110 she gave up independent living and moved to a nursing home, where she continued to make new friends and adjust well to her new lifestyle. She never lost her positive outlook, even in her final years–or her sense of humor. On her 120th birthday a reporter asked what sort of future she envisioned. “A very brief one,” Calment replied.

Genetics and lifestyle obviously played a role in Calment’s unusual longevity. Yet her outlook on life was a critical factor as well.

During our own lifetime, we each experience a multitude of disappointments and setbacks. They range from minor aggravations (a friend forgets a lunch date, your favorite restaurant closes) to major unwelcome turns of fate (the breakup of a cherished relationship, the death of a loved one). The experience of loss is universal–none of us escapes it. Yet the way we respond to it varies greatly among us, and radically affects our quality of life.

Some people never fully recuperate from a major loss. They feel its pain for years or decades, and carry continual sorrow over the relationship that didn’t work, the loved one who died unexpectedly, the dream that never succeeded. They had banked their hopes so strongly on this one area that life no longer has meaning without it. Grief for them becomes chronic.

At the other extreme are those with an uncanny ability to bounce back from disappointment. They may feel the pain of a loss acutely at first. But in time they always conclude that life still has important new horizons for them. They aren’t afraid to chance a new relationship or risk a new dream, and often succeed in forming deeply meaningful new attachments to people and goals. Over time their life even becomes richer because of their loss, for it deepens them in important ways.

The example of such people is so encouraging, for it helps us see that it’s possible to start over when life has knocked us flat, and inspires us to try. We should reflect on the experience of these people often, for their optimism is contagious….

Some people are natural optimists. Their ability to see the bright side of a dark situation and reset their sights after disappointment is mystifying to the rest of us, who are flattened by the same misfortune. Most of us have to work at being optimistic. We have to take decisive steps to break the spell of moods that can hold us captive for long periods. The challenge is greatest when we experience a serious loss. It can cast a dark shadow over our life from that point on, and forever color our perception of God’s possibilities for us.

In reality, we are much more capable of rebounding from major setbacks than we normally imagine. And we have much greater control over the healing process than we typically think. (Quote source here.)

In an article on the subject of grief published on January 6, 2016, titled, The Stages of Grief and How to Cope,” by Amy Jacobs, a freelance writer, on LifeWay.com, she writes:

Daddy died on Dec. 4th, and I haven’t been home since.

I’ve been hiding out three hours from his house, hoping that I could gain the courage to eventually drive home. It’s been four months. I don’t stare blankly at the wall as much as I did in the beginning.

I can now focus on assignments as I write. But every once in awhile, when I think I’m doing alright, grief sneaks up and reminds me that I’m not where I think I am—that loss isn’t OK, and neither am I.

What Is This Feeling? What Is Grief?

Even though I was there when he died, my dad’s death isn’t entirely real to me. I was with him for two weeks prior to his passing and helped care for him on weekends during the 10 months he battled cancer. But today, sitting in my cozy Nashville, Tenn., living room, the only pieces of evidence I have of his death are the legal documents I received in the mail and the nagging urge I have to call home.

Every now and then reality bounces through my head, and I’m stunned by the truth that my father died. It’s not just that I haven’t seen him in a while—it’s that he’s gone. When these moments come, I have to pick myself up and grieve again.

You may have never experienced the death of a parent, but that doesn’t mean you’ve never felt this kind of grief. Grief isn’t just related to death. Grief is an emotional and physical reaction to any traumatic or stressful loss: divorce of parents, loss of friendships, break ups, academic failures, injuries and illnesses, to name a few.

Regardless of the trauma, reactions to jarring circumstances are similar.

The 5 Stages of Grief

Psychiatrist and author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined five stages of grief in her groundbreaking book, “On Death and Dying.” But just like me, Kübler-Ross must have known that grief is tricky because these stages have no set order.

In fact, one may or may not experience all the stages, but everyone who grieves will most likely experience at least two. Here‘s a brief description of the five stages:

    1. Denial: This is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept the situation at hand. It’s a defense mechanism and is perfectly natural.
    2. Anger: People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves and/or with others, especially those close to them.
    3. Bargaining: When you face a loss you can’t imagine bearing, you might become more willing to do anything to negotiate another way. But bargaining isn’t just for matters of life and death. Right before a break up, somebody usually says, “Can we still be friends?”
    4. Depression: When reality sets in, depression is soon to follow. Routine tasks become drudgery and emotions are exaggerated. Apathy, lethargy and sorrow are common feelings associated with depression.
    5. Acceptance: This has everything to do with learning to deal with the situation at hand. It’s most evidenced as individuals move forward and embrace life on it’s new terms. Although the grief stages may occur in any order, acceptance usually marks the end of the grieving process.

When You Feel Alone in a Crowd

In “The Little Prince,” Antoine de Sainte Exupéry wrote, “It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”

He nailed it—grief is personal and private.

After my father’s death, I found myself in a room full of people I love, yet I was thinking, I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t be here anymore. I don’t want to be near these people. I need to be alone.

The people you love most in this world will want to help you grieve, but they might not know how. The best thing you can do is communicate what you need—this is appropriate and helpful. Don’t hesitate to say something like, “I need you to be here with me, but I don’t need advice or clichés. Just be here.”

Such a statement might actually relieve some of the tension and awkwardness that often accompanies condolences.

The Physical Toll of Grief

When you’re grieving, your emotions are jacked up—that’s obvious and expected. But are you dizzy, fatigued or short of breath?

Grief is such a big deal that it impacts you behaviorally, physically and psychologically. When it comes to behavior, you may find that you care a bit less about hygiene and organization, but you may care much more about waiting in lines or finding a parking spot—it’s common for irritability to be at an all-time high.

Physically, you may experience aches and pains, headaches, nausea or even hives. Psychologically, the expressions of grief may vary from feeling sad to feeling guilty. Your dreams might change, your concept of time might be loose and it’s quite common for everything to seem surreal.

For a season, you may not be able to absorb much of anything. I felt as if I swallowed the sea. I had so many emotions to work through—lots of feelings clanging around in my heart and mind‚ and I couldn’t put anything on top of it.

I had no emotional room to process. I couldn’t watch movies or TV. I couldn’t focus to read and I didn’t have the energy to think. Instead, I stared at the wall. In fact, I felt good about staring at the wall.

What the Bible Says About Grief

Today, the world says hard things are to be passed over as quickly as possible and should be avoided at all cost. But the Bible encourages us otherwise. The promises are these: Grief brings wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:4); God is near (Psalm 46:1; 147:3); and comfort can be found (Matthew 5:4; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Here’s what I know for sure: Grief will show you what you’re made of, and it will show you what God’s made of—stuff that doesn’t change, leave or die. Grief has the potential to transform your life for the better. In her book “Blessings,” Mary Craig writes:

“The value of suffering does not lie in the pain of it, …but in what the sufferer makes of it…. It is in sorrow that we discover the things which really matter; in sorrow that we discover ourselves.”

Today, I’m beginning to see the gifts that grief has given me. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I’m now more transparent. I’ve come to like myself more when I’m broken than when I’m put together—turns out I’m truer and kinder this way.

I’ve learned to live with contradictions. I’m both terribly sorry and grateful about the same experience. Awful has become awfully good. Living my faith in the midst of layers of grief and a season of heartbreak has been the most challenging experience of my life with God and I can say that grief is good and is a gift, continually driving me to God who brings peace and binds up my broken heart. That makes grief and all of his friends easier to live with.

How to Help a Friend Who’s Grieving

    1. Acknowledge the situation and express concern.
    2. Offer practical help—run errands, buy groceries, do the laundry.
    3. Practice the ministry of presence. Just be there. That’s all you can do.
    4. Understand that grieving is a long process. Just because your friend looks fine, doesn’t mean he or she is fine. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on June 6, 2018, titled, Bible Verses for Overcoming Grief,” compiled and edited by the BibleStudyTools.com staff, they write:

Nothing in life can prepare us for the death of a loved one. Whether death results from a sudden accident or a sustained illness, it always catches us off-guard. Death is so deeply personal and stunningly final, nothing can emotionally prepare us for its arrival. With every death, there is a loss. And with every loss, there will be grief.

Grief doesn’t come and go in an orderly, confined time frame. Just when we think the pangs of anguish have stolen their last breath, another wave sweeps in and we are forced to revisit the memories, the pain, the fear. Sometimes we try to resist the demands of grieving. We long to avoid this fierce, yet holy pilgrimage. We fight against the currents, terrified of being overwhelmed, of being discovered, of becoming lost in our brokenness.

Culture tells us to move past this process quickly. Take a few days, weeks perhaps, to grieve, but don’t stay there too long. Grieving can make those around us uncomfortable. Friends sometimes don’t know what to do with our pain. Loved ones struggle to find adequate words to comfort our aching wounds.

Yet grief, as painful a season as it is, is a necessary part of our healing. To run from grief is to run from the very thing that can quell the pain of our loss. English poet and hymnodist, William Cowper, described grief itself as medicine. Grief cleanses the anguish from our souls and sets us back up on the path of life so we can dance. Grieving is the process God uses to bring us to a place of wholeness. Grieving is His great gift to us. It is a necessary part of our journey and healing.

Grieving can be the most difficult time trying to balance the feelings of pain and loss while going forward with your everyday life. Give yourself space and time, be honest with your emotions, don’t grieve alone, and don’t lose hope. With this collection of Bible verses, we can turn to God’s word for ease and comfort as we look to overcoming grief: Revelation 21:4; Psalm 34:18; Psalm 147:3; Matthew 5:1-3; Psalm 73:26. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on June 23, 2015,  titled, 4 Things You Need to Know About ‘Moving On’ from Grief,” by Emily Long, LPC, on GoodTherapy.com, she writes:

The phrase “moving on” is common in the grief and loss world, but it isn’t very well understood or, frankly, all that helpful.

What does it mean? What does moving on look like? How does one actually do it?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer to those questions.

However, there are things it can be helpful to know about “moving on” after the death of a loved one, divorce, or other painful life event.

1. You are not responsible for how others feel about your grief process

Typically, it feels like what those around us mean by “moving on” is for us to stop hurting, stop talking about it, stop remembering, stop crying, and just stop grieving. They talk about wishing we would stop dwelling on the hurt and encourage us to just let go and accept what happened.

The truth is, what they actually want is for us to stop making them uncomfortable about our pain. Let’s face it—being with someone who is in pain and grieving isn’t the easiest of experiences. It’s difficult to watch someone we love hurting so deeply.

But other people’s discomfort with your grief is their business, not yours. You are not responsible for making them feel more comfortable.

2. Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting

I suspect that the primary difficulty many of us have with the phrase “moving on” is that it often feels as if we’re being told to forget our loved one or the relationship we once had.

That’s not what moving on means. Moving on is more about learning to live what I call a both/and life rather than an either/or life. It’s not about grieving or forgetting, happy or sad, black or white. It’s shades of gray.

It’s about learning to live a full and happy life even as you miss and long for what you have lost. It’s about remembering and honoring the one you loved while also embracing the beauty and fullness of the life you still get to live. It’s about the brilliance of your love and the shadow of your loss coexisting in this complex and expansive experience we call living.

3. Moving on doesn’t mean the end of grief, either

Moving on from grief doesn’t mean a static end. It doesn’t mean suddenly we’re done grieving and will never hurt again. Moving on is more about moving forward than being done.

Grief and loss are complex, multifaceted, and multilayered. Loss and our experience of grief are integrated into our lives, not things we get rid of. Grief changes and morphs over time. We get stronger as we carry it, the edges of it round and dull, and with time it begins to take up less space in our lives. It doesn’t simply disappear. Grief can (and will) continue to remind us of our loss throughout our lifetimes, in different ways and at different times.

We move forward with life, embracing the fullness of it, even as our loss becomes part of who we now are.

4. Ultimately, you get to define “Moving On” for yourself

People will have all kinds of advice and well-meaning intentions about how you should move on, when you should do it, and what it should look like. They, however, cannot determine that for you.

There are no timelines or rules to the grieving process. You will move through it at your unique pace and not one minute faster. The process of grieving is unique to each of us. No amount of pressure from others can make us move through our process any faster, not in any kind of healthy way.

Only you can know when you are ready to move forward after your loss. Only you can decide what it means to let go or accept the loss you experienced. Only you can truly decide what it means to move on and move forward.

Whatever that looks like for you, it is perfect and right. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with a verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount taken from The Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:4

Blessed . . .

Are those who mourn . . .

For they will be comforted . . . .

NOTE: I had a reason for writing this blog post, and you can read it on a blog post I published three days later on my other blog titled, A Eulogy for Dad.”

YouTube Video: “Talladega” by Eric Church (“Talladega” video makes a visual out of a song that is about a lot more than racing. The clip spans one man’s entire lifetime while he lays in a hospital bed, reminiscing before his death–longer explanation available at this link):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Age of Outrage

It’s all over social media, on TV and in movies, and in other media outlets, too. It’s on our streets and in our homes, and let’s not even talk about the political arena. It even infest our communications with each other on a regular basis.

Outrage…. It’s seems to be everywhere today. Has it become the “new” normal?

I remember back in 1990-91 when I was a graduate student at a state university that the hot topic of the day was incivility as it seemed to be taking over our society. Fast forward almost thirty years now and what we called “incivility” back then is nothing compared to the outrage of today.

In the opening to a blog post published on January 15, 2019, titled, Addicted to Outrage: A Theory On How We Got Here,” by Brian Dainsberg, Lead Pastor of Alliance Bible Church, he states:

We are addicted to outrage! There are days when I feel like I’m living in a foreign land. I scan the comments’ section or social media feed of a news outlet (yes, even this blog) and I’m jerked awake stunned over the intensity of rage that can result from the slightest provocation. How did we become such an angry culture? (Quote source here.)

Indeed, how did we become such an angry culture? Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., author, speaker, researcher, pastor, church planter, Christian missiologist, and Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, has written a book on the subject titled, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World is at It’s Worst (2018). He opens his book in the Introduction titled, “Welcome to the Age of Outrage,” with the following story (pp. xi-xiv):

“You’re a liar.”

“No, you are.”

Billy is a jerk. Billy and I grew up on the same street in Levittown, New York, and I remember this thought flying through my head just before he and I got into another one of our countless fights. I’ve edited out the expletives–it was New York, after all–but every fight always ended the same: with each of us yelling at the other and storming off. We were friends because we were neighbors, but mostly we fought. As kids, that’s how most arguments go. Yelling. Fighting. Insults. Running away.

Eventually I lost touch with Billy. If I saw him today, we might still fight, but I imagine there would be fewer expletives and tears. After all, we’ve both grown up. But when I look around at the way our world deals with conflict today, I realize culture has not.

Suddenly the go-to move of politicians and journalists has become “You’re a liar,” following by the rejoinder “No, you are.” We’re bombarded with this level of discourse every day.

And it’s filtered down (or maybe filtered up) throughout the culture. Facebook is a cesspool of conspiracy theories, straw-man arguments, and schoolyard bullying. We have reached the point where the comment sections of major newspapers are a greater testament to the depravity of man than all the theology of the Reformers put together. Many publishers have removed comments from below their online articles so the vitriol will end.

These arguments have a cumulative effect, with each successive interaction ratcheting up the outrage. Even those rare instances of well-intentioned and reasonable discussion eventually fall victim to misunderstanding and offense. In these cases, I often remember Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches one.” In other words, people eventually start comparing others to Hitler. And just like that, we are off to the races of anger, insults, and division. 

Lest we get on our high horses about all those bad, angry people out there, we need to recognize that outrage often comes from Christians [at this point Stetzer mentions the 2015 Starbucks Red Cup controversy as an example]…. Stetzer goes on to state the following.

These kinds of controversies are so frustrating! This is a foolish fight on a nonsensical issue. When outraged Christians feed media outlets with stories that make Christians look foolish, that hurts the gospel. It adds to the perception that Christians are rage-addicted snowflakes and, more important, distracts Christians from their mission. That’s what fake controversies and unwarranted anger do…. [so] don’t get outraged at things that don’t matter.

Yet outrage can just as easily be directed towards Christians by a hostile world intent on shaming and attacking rather then engaging . [At this point, Stetzer gives an example involving a publication that occurred in early 2018 which shows that this publication clearly had a bias against five Christian organizations, and the publication] made no attempts at dialogue, gave no empathy or consideration as to why these [Christian] views are important or nuanced–just blanket insults aimed at provoking division.

Outrage has no time for dialogue, and it won’t be distracted by nuance or even truth….

This is a book about outrage. It’s an acknowledgement that our world, or at least our part of it, seems awash in anger, division, and hostility. Outrage is all around, so we have to decide how to walk through this. (Quote source: “Christians in the Age of Outrage,” Introduction, pp. xi-xiv.) 

In an article titled, How Can We Stay Civil in the Age of Outrage? Here are Three Ideas,”  by Sheridan Voysey, writer, speaker and broadcaster on faith and spirituality, and the author of seven books, he writes:

In 2016 I found myself in the United States at the time of the Presidential election. Heading to Nashville airport one morning, my taxi driver told me he was thinking of voting for Donald Trump and asked me what I thought. An hour of lively but friendly debate followed. As we pulled into the airport he said sadly, “I wish we could keep driving, because I can’t have conversations like this with my fellow Americans anymore. We’re so busy shouting at each other we’ve stopped listening to one another.”

His words ring true far beyond the United States. In this moment of political polarization and escalating aggression, how can we maintain a civility that keeps us talking despite our differences? I shared three ideas on this with Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought segment recently, and have expanded them below.

Cultivating a Culture of Civility

When my taxi driver friend uttered his lament, I empathized. In previous months we’d seen the Brexit referendum bring its own measure of division to the UK, creating rifts even within families. A few months later I watched friends become enemies during Australia’s intense debate about marriage. Political antagonism is growing in Europe and other regions. Some have called this culturally polarized time the ‘age of outrage’. In taking a stand for our chosen cause, we’re losing civility in the process.

How can we stay neighborly in times of disagreement? After pondering that Nashville conversation, here are some commitments I want to make to pursue civility:

Treat Others With Respect, Not Contempt

First, I want to treat others with respect, not contempt. That means no name calling or insulting those I disagree with, no trying to silence them with derogatory labels or demonizing them in any way. It means:

    • Refusing to share ridiculing memes about them on social media (like Trump Baby or Sadiq Khan Baby). While there’s a place for satire, it’s best done from ‘within’ a group rather than directed at those ‘without’.
    • Checking our ideologies. Left unchecked, our political leanings can assign heroes and villains to news stories before time (notice how some on the Right ridiculed Christine Blasey Ford during the US Supreme Court saga before she’d told her story, while some on the Left judged Brett Kavanaugh guilty before he’d had a chance to defend himself). When we find ourselves quickly declaring someone a villain, it could be our conservatism, liberalism, feminism or other ideology speaking rather than facts. That doesn’t respect anyone.
    • Refusing to label others as ‘fascist’, ‘racist’, ‘Marxist’, ‘liberal’ or whatever other label works to silence their message before it’s heard.
    • Keeping any critiques of public leaders to verified behavior, not rumor.

Treat Other Viewpoints Fairly, Not Maliciously

I also want to treat other viewpoints fairly, not maliciously. That means taking time to understand them, refusing to spread half-truths about them, and acknowledging their merits, even if they don’t in total convince me. It means:

Disagree Thoughtfully, Not Defensively

And I want to disagree thoughtfully, not defensively. Some words, actions and policies should be opposed – and opposed firmly. But when passion runs hot, rashness can follow. I want to speak from a clear head. That means:

    • Staying out of the Twitter wars. As I’ve mentioned before, social media works ‘best’ when it is emotionally charged. Angry posts get more reaction, retweets and shares, but don’t necessarily foster greater clarity or civility. I don’t want to get dragged into the dysfunctional aspects of that system.
    • Stating our positions with confidence and humility, keeping open the possibility we could be wrong.

My model for all this is Jesus, who could be found having dinner with his opponents and whose nickname ‘a friend of sinners’ suggests he hung around people who broke his own moral rules. Jesus remained neighborly to those he disagreed with.

We’re in a time of important change. Stands need to be taken. But when history looks back may it also be said that we took a stand for civility too. (Quote source here.)

In a final article published on July 10, 2018, titled, Outrage is America’s Deepest Core Value. It Shouldn’t Be,” by Dylan Gallimore, writer, raconteur, creative director and content strategist | τετέλεσται, he states:

A debate is raging in America today over what role, if any, incivility should have in American culture, politics, and public life.

Many offer the argument that incivility and outrage should reign; that those on the wrong side of certain issues should be subjected to public shaming, harassment, and humiliation.

This debate is trivial, however, as the larger issue has already been decided: Americans have spent the last few years, both consciously and subconsciously, fixing moral outrage at the very center of society.

Incivility is merely an outgrowth of outrage culture, and today, outrage culture dominates everything.

As human beings go about defining and expressing our values, our values have a funny way of, in turn, defining us. C. S. Lewis put it this way: “we are what we believe we are.” If observing how a culture behaves enables us to discern and interpret its values, it is inescapable that, in recent years, moral outrage has stealthily but authoritatively emerged as America’s newest and most central core value.

As this phenomenon has become more and more apparent, commentators have taken their fair share of stabs at defining it. They labeled 2017the year that launched our addiction to outrage,” and asked,When did outrage become the national pastime?” Psychologists have increasingly warned ofthe dangerous pleasures of outrage,” and asked,Is our political outrage addictive?” While these are all significant and meaningful questions, they ignore a key detail: Outrage hasn’t just become an American hobby or addiction — it has become a value, as the dictionary defines the word: a principle, a standard of behavior, a judgment of what is important in life.

The point here isn’t a political one; this is an essay about American culture. If outrage, as a value, is now entrenched at the center of the American heart — and there’s a good case to be made that it is — it’s because we have put it there.

Given the pride of place we have given moral outrage, it only makes sense to explore the concept with more depth.

On its face, moral outrage appears to reflectan underlying concern with justice,” and it often does. Sending a harshly worded tweet, calling out perceived racism — these are behaviors suggestive of a strong sense of morality and an unwillingness to put up with injustice.

Yet psychologists have observed that threats to one’s moral self-image, unpleasant feelings of guilt, and a desire to restore a positive view of oneself also play roles in motivating outrage. Additionally, outrage is a social emotion; it compels individuals to express their outrage publicly in search of validation and solidarity. Which means that while outrage remains a response to perceived injustice, it can also be a self-serving emotional defense mechanism deployed to alleviate guilt, “buffer threats to one’s moral identity” and portray oneself as avery good personin the eyes of one’s peers.

Art Markman, a cognitive scientist at the University of Texas-Austin, explained it this way:

Outrage is an emotion that has three components. First, it has negative affect. That is, it is a bad feeling. Second, it has high arousal. That is, it is a strong and powerful emotion. Third, it occurs when people experience a violation of a moral boundary.

Posting politically charged content to Facebook, chastising family members who harbor differing political opinions, participating in large-scale protests— on some occasions, these expressions of moral outrage do far more to signal tribal solidarity than to actually accomplish meaningful change. And although participants can be well-intentioned and deeply motivated, the channeling of their commitment toward these ends is having an adverse effect on our national psyche.

Because of the social, reactionary, and defensive qualities of outrage as an emotion, our fealty to it as a value drives tribalism and many of the other “isms” of our time. When faced with a person or idea one perceives as threatening or different, a way to recover a sense of safety, a way to alleviate the discomfort, is by expressing moral outrage alongside those in agreement. Outrage is addictive, and functions to propel individuals toward each other in search of solidarity and validation. Thus, any group of individuals who share a common outrage target are highly susceptible to constructing echo chambers and value system — what we have called “bubbles” — dedicated to protecting the very things that the objects of outrage would seek to defile.

Today, bubbles have taken over mass media in the form of Twitter, Facebook, and cable news; our latent desires to constantly feel aligned with those moral voices with whom we agree dictates how we consume information. Anyone who looks will find an outlet for outrage, the ever-present incentive to indulge in it; they’ll find that the real product of cable news isn’t coverage of the day’s issues that aims to accurately capture what really took place, but a narrative that exports outrage as a means of harnessing political action and, most importantly, high ratings.

Chamath Palihapitiya, one of Facebook’s earliest hires, now considers social media websitesshort-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that…are destroying how society works.” The dominant attraction of posting politically or culturally charged content to social media isn’t the opportunity to engage in a healthy and meaningful conversation with others; it’s the chance that someone will engage with it and validate or challenge the poster’s outrage. That’s what drives clicks and likes and stimulates our brains’ pleasure centers. More and more, the real point of social media debates isn’t to hash out the issues, but to provide a platform for the psychologically rewarding expression of outrage, to “trigger” one’s opponents, to “troll” one’s rivals in order to embarrass them before a watching public, and to signal one’s intensity and commitment to the cause. Our technologies are facilitating these things.

This is a serious problem, since those who embrace and revel in outrage culture eventually develop a dependence toward its emotional benefits.

A few months ago, a white high-school-age girl in Salt Lake City wore a Chinese-themed dress to her prom, and subsequently incurred the wrath of thousands of Twitter users who chided her for the sin of “cultural appropriation.”

Did she violate anyone’s rights? Did she denigrate the culture she was “appropriating”? This is how outrage culture disarms one’s critical faculties — there is only room for anger; there is no room for careful or nuanced reflection on our cultural practices. At no point in the rush to condemn or defend the allegedly harmful appropriation did any of the loud voices stop to differentiate between culture-positive appropriations and culture-negative ones. In other words, was this action inherently injurious to the culture being “appropriated”? And, if so, what does criticizing the young woman on Twitter actually do about it?

Outrage culture left no room for these questions — it only left room to designate her worthy of public humiliation and the unbridled scorn of thousands of strangers.

This is, of course, absurd. Even if you happen to feel ill at ease over instances in which a member of a dominant economic or racial class avails herself of the customs and traditions of less-privileged cultures, we can agree that the moral outrage hurled at Keziah Daum on social media was wildly out of proportion to what her “crime” merited.

The reason for this disproportionate response? Because this type of moral outrage is reactionary, defensive, and socially instrumental; it is not generated in order to right any meaningful wrong, but either to solidify the status of the disapprovers within their in-groups, or to satisfy their sense of moral injury.

Twitter user Jeremy Lam identified a moment to express his moral outrage, have it validated by others, and enjoy the dopamine spike that accompanied the entire spectacle, all while contributing to the upkeep of outrage culture. He famously tweeted at Daum,My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress,” and with that, the cultural outrage ritual was complete. His tweet went viral, as was likely his wish (if not his expectation), and thousands of others joined him in expressing their outrage and signaling their supposedly high and nuanced moral standards to one another. Obviously, 177,000 Twitter users can’t be wrong. The outrage has the backing of the social-media-dwelling masses.

That this example of outrage culture centers on two basically anonymous, random individuals is precisely why it’s instructive. Keziah Daum and Jeremy Lam are not celebrities or public figures. They don’t have audiences to entertain or votes to chase. The only incentive for random individuals to chime in and express their outrage, in this and in countless other cases, is to secure the benefits of the outrage itself.

The Daum-Lam exchange and countless others like it also reveal how outrage culture has warped the ways Americans speak to and think of one another: increasingly, we treat each other less as individual human beings and more as symbolic representations of political concepts, useful only as cultural objects worthy of praise or fury. For some, the inherent dignity, humanity, and individualism of their fellow citizens have been reduced to a trivial afterthought at best.

Not a word here is an attempt to downplay the importance of morality or the vitality of a deeply-felt emotion such as outrage. Moral outrage does have a crucial role to play in a healthy society, as some things are genuinely morally outrageous and demand that we approach them with a sense of ethical revulsion.

Without the value of moral outrage — for which Martin Luther King, Jr. had tremendous appreciation and respect — the civil rights movement likely would have failed, or at least languished. Without a strong and clear moral vision, the courage to express it, and the willingness to die for it, slavery may have persisted in America for far longer than it did. Without a healthy sense of what’s morally agreeable and what’s morally reprehensible, progress of any kind is likely impossible.

So the point here isn’t that we ought to embrace moral relativism, indifference, or lethargy, but to challenge the position that moral outrage should take its place as a core value in American society.

By elevating outrage to such a high position, we have all but guaranteed that, eventually, a purely performative — and permanent — reactionary outrage will pervade society. That is what Twitter has become. It’s what will be on tonight, and tomorrow, and the next day, on cable news networks during prime time hours.

The saying that we’re seeing a lot of recently, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” equates being informed with an obligation to be outraged, turning an emotion into a moral imperative. The dangers that face a culture that lives by this rule cannot be understated; equating being engaged with an obligation to be outraged is an easy way to guarantee a permanent culture war and a miserable future, as — perhaps unsurprisingly — the emotional costs of living in a furious society are high. After all, anger has been shown to negatively impact health, and it would be unsurprising if outrage culture turns out to be similarly impacting America’s rising suicide rates, its opioid crisis, and its epidemic of depression.

To combat outrage culture, columnist David Von Drehle encourages readers to “switch away from the televised outrage orgies that masquerade as news. Resist the urge to get worked up about stupid stuff that knuckleheads say. Spend more time among reasonable people doing healthy things.” Writer Trent Eady argues for more humility, for treating people as individuals and not as political symbols or representatives of their perceived identity groups, for being diplomatic and strategic in pursuit of the change one wishes to make. Recently at the Munk Debates in Toronto, Stephen Fry evoked the spirit of Bertrand Russell, and urged Western civilization “not to be too earnest, too pompous, too serious [or]…too certain” and to “let doubt prevail.”

Any combination of these suggestions would do well to begin the process of dethroning the value of moral outrage. But, like with any epidemic, the first step must be widespread awareness. The more Americans grasp that their moral sensibilities are being manipulated by a set of mutually-intensifying and degrading processes, the more our culture will begin to shake itself from our numbness and our permanent state of anger.

Our national discussion is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, and right now, it’s poisoned with fury. We are telling each other a needlessly outrageous story in an effort to maintain a dysfunctional and harmful core value. If we are to live in harmony with one another and pursue a peaceful future, that has to change. After all, we are what we believe we are. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with these words found in James 1:19 (NLT)–Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be…

Quick to listen . . .

Slow to speak . . .

And slow to get angry . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here