Over the River and Through the Woods

Metaphorically speaking, this summer I’ve been traveling over the river and through the woodstrying to get over the hump of being bored with trying to come up with ideas for blog posts. I’ve been publishing blog posts for over 11 years now, and while I get into a slump occasionally, this slump (call it writer’s block) that I’ve been in lately has been over two months long. While I have still been publishing blog posts during this time, it seems like it’s been a real effort akin to swimming in molasses to come up with anything interesting to publish.

This morning I got an email from WordPress regarding someone who had “liked” my last blog post on this blog titled, And So It Goes,” published on July 26, 2021. It was from a blogger on WordPress, and in the email there were a few links to blog posts on their blog, so I clicked on the first link, and that blog post, published on July 12, 2021, is titled, Blog for Passion, Not for Accolades–The Secret to Longevity in Blogging.” It made me smile as I read it…

I’ve never published blog posts for the accolades as mentioned in that article linked above. My main blog has over 80,500 hits on it right now since I started it over a decade ago; however, that is not a lot of hits over that length of time. My second blog that I started in April 2018 has 6,500 hits on it right now, which isn’t a lot, either. So while I don’t think I’ll be getting any awards for marketing skills or traffic numbers, maybe I’ll get an award for longevity. I don’t make any money off of either of the two blogs. It’s mainly a hobby.

I’ve been blogging for this long as it has been a creative outlet for me after losing a job 12+ years ago that I never expected would lead to long term unemployment. As I stated on my blog’s main page:

I started this blog in July 2010 as a way to journal my experiences with long term unemployment as I lost my job at the peak of a recession that occurred back then in April 2009, and I was never able to secure another job in my professional field after a solid six-year search for it. I guess you could say I’m officially retired at this point in time (although I’d still rather be employed).

It actually started as sort of a diary/journal on my journey through long term unemployment, and eventually it has turned into something more, and that is how this blog came to exist.

On that blog post I mentioned in the second paragraph above published on July 12, 2021, titled, Blog for Passion, Not for Accolades–The Secret to Longevity in Blogging,” by G. T. Ihagh, a contributor on Motivation and Environment, he writes:

Eventually, it will happen: after a period of doing something you love, you’ll lose interest and even forget why you started doing it in the first place. Whether it’s a calling, a career, or a relationship, you’ll start to lose passion and feel trapped.

Generally speaking, when you are doing anything for passion, at some point, you will likely experience a loss of interest; surprisingly, almost every person does: musicians experience this; sportspeople experience this; entrepreneurs experience this; bloggers and writers do too.

It happens to the most gifted people: along the journey of their calling, they lose steam and start to harbor thoughts of breaking up with their passions. Even if they achieve success, they eventually get to a point where their success no longer matters much.

Why? Because the reason they followed their passions in the first place, was no longer able to continue motivating them. Along the way, many bloggers dreamed of quitting, and actually stopped blogging, checked out, and moved on.

Although you might have started blogging for passion and not accolades, you might have lost motivation along the way because you didn’t get enough accolades or even traffic; regardless of what happened or will happen, if you don’t give in and quit, you can be able to develop enough strength to continue blogging for passion—not for accolades—and end up getting more than you ever dreamed of.

Blogging for passion will determine the course of your blogging or online publishing work and longevity which will help to establish your online legacy—the end product of your passion!

Blogging for passion is what differentiates someone who creates something meaningful and memorable, from someone who just gives up because they weren’t able to get enough or any accolades.

If you continue blogging for passion, you will always find out that there are better blog posts you are yet to create. If you stop blogging for accolades which can lose steam, and continue blogging for passion which can keep or maintain steam, you’ll surprisingly find out that there are better blog posts you are yet to create…. (Quote source and his complete article are available here.)

So, I’ve decided to stop beating myself up because I feel like I’ve had a rather unproductive summer so far when it comes to blogging. After all, as the blogger mentioned above, “there are better blog posts you are yet to create.”

I do have a variety of interests, but I try to keep this blog limited to subjects regarding Christianity, which in and of itself is a huge subject. And the Bible is still the best selling book of all times. According to TheBibleAnswer.org regarding the number of Bibles sold each year, the article states:

The Bible is by far the world’s best-selling book of all time. No other book, fact or fiction, even comes close. Most estimates place the number of Bibles printed each year at over 100 million. 20 million Bibles are sold each year in the United States alone. Based on this number of 100 million Bibles printed per year, the following statistics show a breakdown for the number of Bibles that are sold or given away for different time frames.

    • 273,972 a day
    • 11,415 an hour
    • 190 a minute
    • 3 a second

Even With Bible Apps, Millions Of Bibles Are Still Sold Each Year

It is estimated that between 1815 and 1975 there was 2.5 billion copies of the Bible printed. A more recent estimate places the total number of Bibles in print at over 6 billion. These are absolutely staggering numbers.

An obvious trend that has no doubt affected the sales of printed Bibles is the ability to download the Bible on our devices. Bible apps have and are being downloaded by the millions. YouVersion’s Bible App alone had been downloaded over 400 million times by the end of 2019.

Even so, based on the number of Bibles that have been sold in the past, and are still being sold every year, there is obviously still something to be said about owning and having a printed Bible in your hand.

Bibles Sold In 2020

Many online bookstores reported record sales of Bibles for the year 2020. The surge in sales is attributed to people being closed up in their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19 has caused many to turn to the Bible for hope in these trying times.

The trend toward downloading Bible apps continued in 2020 as well. A couple of interesting statistics handpicked from 2020.

  • Searches on the YouVersion Bible App totaled over 600 million. 
  • Fittingly so, (Isaiah 41:10) with it’s encouragement of “do not fear” was the most searched and read verse on the YouVersion App in 2020.

On a side note, in addition to being the most sold book, the Bible has long been claimed to be the most shoplifted book as well. Go figure. (Quote source here.)

Within Christianity, there is an extensive list of topics on a wide range of issues and subjects (see this list at Gospel Coalition). But even at that, from time to time, writer’s block can set in, and part of it could be caused by what’s going on in the broader culture today.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic started back in March 2020 that has literally rocked the entire world, and it is still very much ongoing with the “variants” like Delta continuing to spring up (and yes, I did get my two Pfizer Covid vaccine shots on May 20th and June 10th), a number of changes have been occurring throughout our society. Sometimes I think about writing on some of those changes, but then I realize I want to keep what I publish simple and without conflict, and I’ve never been into picking sides in fights where nobody is listening and nothing is resolved.

So the issue for me this past couple of months has been trying to find topics to write on that won’t ruffle feathers, but sometimes in a climate like we are experiencing in today’s culture, almost any topic has the potential to ruffle somebody’s feathers. And that perhaps is some of what it behind my writer’s block right now.

Out of curiosity, I just now Googled “what to write when you don’t know what to write about,” and one of the links that showed up from that search is an article published on June 5, 2018, titled, What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write About,” by Alice Vuong. She writes:

Write about your struggles

You may not feel very inspiring but people are often inspired by you just showing up and it’s even more powerful when they know you’re struggling to be there. Be there and tell your story.

Write about your experiences

We’ve gone through tragedies, heart break, had accomplishments, created a life.

Write about what gets you through the hard times

It can be hard to write about inspiration when you don’t feel particularly inspirational yourself but if we look at our past work, you’ll find a wealth of information and ideas from your own experiences family, books, blogs, quotes, songs, your own work, habits you’ve incorporated in your life, movies and even random thoughts — the world is full of wonders that have provided us with brilliant ideas in the past and will again. (Quote source and the rest of her article are available here.)

Ms. Vuong has a host of great ideas for writing that you can find on her website, AliceVuong.com.

Another link I found on that search was to an article published on July 6, 2020, titled, What Should I Write About? A Simple Way to Answer That Question,” by Dave Ursillo, a writing coach and leadership coach. About 2/3rd’s of the way down in his article he hits on a topic that sounds like one of my own issues with trying to find something to write about right now. He asks the question, “What have I been avoiding lately?” In answer to that question, he writes:

Avoidance will show you the way

Asking yourself “What have I been avoiding lately?” is a simple question, and it’s a fast method for pinpointing a writing topic that’s near to the experience you’re living in the moment.

Better yet, the question produces a personal, meaningful inquiry that may help you better understand what you’re resisting and why you’re resisting it.

Whether you’re resisting a book topic, a blog post, submitting an essay to a contest, or avoiding something un-writing-related altogether, you can use your writing as a process for better understanding.

Here are two simple scripts you can use to tap into what you’ve been avoiding lately:

  • “If I’m being really honest with myself, what I’ve been avoiding lately has been ________. I’ve probably been avoiding it ever since ________.”
  • “Where is my avoidance coming from? My go-to excuse for not doing it has been __________. But maybe I’m actually resisting it because ________.”

Something powerful begins to happen when we write through the very questions, topics and struggles that inspire more self-knowledge.

First and foremost, we answer the question, “What should I write about?”

Better yet, when we use our writing to confront the topic of “what we’ve been avoiding lately,” our writing becomes a tool even more meaningful than for just telling stories.

When we write about topics that explore the journey of life as we live it, we get to know ourselves better and better.

Writing becomes an aid for our own healing, self-actualization and pursuit of happiness. (Quote source and his complete article are available here.)

Mr. Ursillo also has a host of ideas from his years of experience that you can find on his website, DaveUrsillo.com.

I do think avoidance has something to do with my writer’s block. However, perhaps right now I should start enjoying my time spent this summer traveling (metaphorically) “over the river and through the woods” and enjoying the scenery along the way. And perhaps when the crisp fall weather arrives my muse will come out of hiding. And while I’m waiting, perhaps some contemplation is in order–which brings me to a verse in a psalm that I will end this post with which is found in Psalm 46:10:  He [God] says…

Be still, and know that I am God . . .

I will be exalted among the nations . . .

I will be exalted in the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

And So It Goes

Last week (specifically July 20th), I celebrated the 11th anniversary of the day back in 2010 when I created this blog. It had it’s heyday as far as the number of posts published each month back in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. And even though I am not as prolific as I was in those earlier years, I still publish at least two blog posts a month on this main blog, Sara’s Musings.” Plus, on April 11, 2018, I created a second blog titled, Reflections.”

There are now close to 700 blog posts published on Sara’s Musing,” and add in another 100+ blog posts on my second blog, Reflections,” that’s close to 800 blog posts total published to date. That is probably the equivalent of 4, 5 or maybe more dissertations. I mention that because I was a dissertation short of obtaining a doctoral degree (an Ed.D.) in Adult Education from a private university in Florida back in the 1990’s. However, I doubt that my blog posts would go towards receiving credit for completion of a dissertation, but I have cited thousands of authors, professionals, and scholars, and I’ve published posts on a wide variety of topics under the umbrella of a Christian worldview.

Recently, I’ve read articles on how Christianity has taken a hit in America and that it is no longer in the majority. Articles, such as this article published on March 29, 2021, titled, “Church membership in the U.S. has fallen below the majority for the first time in nearly a century,” by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, who runs The Washington Post’s religion vertical, states some of these statistics. She writes:

The proportion of Americans who consider themselves members of a church, synagogue or mosque has dropped below 50 percent, according to a poll from Gallup released Monday. It is the first time that has happened since Gallup first asked the question in 1937, when church membership was 73 percent.

In recent years, research data has shown a seismic shift in the U.S. population away from religious institutions and toward general disaffiliation, a trend that analysts say could have major implications for politics, business and how Americans group themselves. In 2020, 47 percent of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. The polling firm also found that the number of people who said religion was very important to them has fallen to 48 percent, a new low point in the polling since 2000.

For some Americans, religious membership is seen as a relic of an older generation, said Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and a pastor in the American Baptist Church. Gallup’s data finds that church membership is strongly correlated with age: 66 percent of American adults born before 1946 belong to a church, compared with 58 percent of baby boomers, 50 percent of Generation X and 36 percent of millennials.

Burge said many Christians still attend church but do not consider membership to be important, especially those who attend nondenominational churches. But no matter how researchers measure people’s faith—such as attendance, giving, self-identification—Americans’ attachment to institutional religion is on the decline.

Burge, who recently published a book about disaffiliating Americans calledThe Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going,” predicts that in the next 30 years, the United States will not have one dominant religion…. (Quote source and article here.)

And in an article published on July 8, 2021, in the Economist.com titled, Nothing in particulars are America’s fastest growing religious group” subtitled, “They believe in God, do not go to church, and are largely detached from politics,” (author’s name not mentioned), the article states:

In April 1966 Time magazine stirred outrage in America when it published a cover story asking “Is God Dead?”, more than 80 years after Nietzsche had declared Him to be so. Today American religion looks less exceptional. According to a recent survey by Gallup, a pollster, for the first time a majority of Americans do not belong to a church. “We are officially living in a pagan nation,” rued the editor of one Catholic magazine. Pollsters attribute the slump in church membership to the rise of the “nones” or religiously unaffiliated, who now represent a third of the population. Yet it is a subgroup of the nones, those who believe in “nothing in particular”, that is redrawing America’s religious landscape.

Though usually lumped in with atheists and agnostics under the religiously unaffiliated category, nothing-in-particulars are a distinct religious group. They are twice as numerous as atheists and agnostics—nearly one in four Americans are nothing-in-particulars—and are growing faster than any religious group. As the cryptic name suggests, their defining characteristic is an aversion to being defined.

“They do not want to be pinned down,” says Ryan Burge, a social scientist and author of “The Nones”. In some ways they are remarkably average: unlike atheists and agnostics, who are predominantly younger men, they are more likely to be middle-aged, and are just as likely to be women as men. The majority of nothing-in-particulars believe in God, and a third of them attend church sporadically. Yet they reject allegiance to any religious group and are skeptical of institutional authorities. Wariness towards the Covid-19 vaccine is an example of this tendency.

Mr. Burge says nothing-in-particulars are alienated from society in more ways than just religious affiliation. They have the lowest educational attainment of any big religious group—only one in five have a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification. Nearly 60% make less than $50,000 a year. When it comes to politics they lean neither right, like most white evangelicals, nor left, like atheists or black Protestants. (Only a third of them voted for Donald Trump according to Mr. Burge’s analysis of the Cooperative Election Study.) They rarely take part in political activities, such as attending a protest, donating money to a campaign or even putting up a sign in the yard. “Apathy is the big word that comes to mind,” says Mr. Burge.

Whereas Christianity has dwindled in America, nothing-in-particulars are growing at a breathtaking pace. Since 2008, when social scientists first began tracking them, their ranks have swelled by 60%. Mr. Burge reckons there are two reasons for their rise. First, as America’s religious makeup changes, it is becoming more acceptable not to identify as a Christian. It could be that their emergence is less about people leaving organized religion than revealing they were never really part of it. Nothing-in-particulars are largely drawn from that segment of Americans who have become disaffected as they have seen their economic prospects sink with recessions and the loss of well-paid blue-collar jobs. “They are just left out of society, sort of drifting in space,” Mr. Burge says. (Quote source here.)

So what do we make of it all? In an article published on January 11, 2018, published in The Atlantic, titled What It Means To Be Spiritual But Not Religious,” subtitled, “One in five Americans reject organized religion, but maintain some kind of faith,” by Caroline Kitchener, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, she writes:

A growing contingent of Americans—particularly young Americans—identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Masthead member Joy wanted to understand why. On our call with Emma Green, The Atlantic’s religion writer, Joy asked, “What are they looking for?” Because the term “spiritual” can be interpreted in so many different ways, it’s a tough question to answer. I talked to people who have spent a lot of time mulling it over, and came away with some important context for the major shift happening in American faith.

Americans Who Want Faith, Not a Church

Kern Beare, a Masthead member from Mountain View, California, believes in God and studies the teachings of Jesus. But does he identify with a particular religion? “Never,” he told me. The structure and rigidity of a church, Beare believes, is antithetical to everything Jesus represents. Instead of attending services, he meditates every morning.

Americans are leaving organized religion in droves: they disagree with their churches on political issues; they feel restricted by dogma; they’re deserting formal organizations of all kinds. Instead of atheism, however, they’re moving toward an identity captured by the term “spirituality.” Approximately sixty-four million Americans—one in five—identify as “spiritual but not religious,” or SBNR. They, like Beare, reject organized religion but maintain a belief in something larger than themselves. That “something” can range from Jesus to art, music, and poetry. There is often yoga involved.

“The word ‘church’ means you need to put on uncomfortable shoes, sit up straight, and listen to boring, old-fashioned hymns,” said Matthew Hedstrom, a professor of religion at the University of Virginia. “Spirituality is seen as a larger, freer arena to explore big questions.”  

Because over 92 percent of religiously-affiliated Americans currently identify as Christian, most “spiritual-but-not-religious” people come from that tradition. The term SBNR took off in the early 2000s, when online dating first became popular. “You had to identify by religion, you had to check a box,” Hedstrom told me. “‘Spiritual-but-not-religious’ became a nice category that said, ‘I’m not some kind of cold-hearted atheist, but I’m not some kind of moralizing, prudish person, either. I’m nice, friendly, and spiritual—but not religious.’”

Religion—often entirely determined by your parents—can be central to how others see you, and how you see yourself. Imagine, Hedstrom proffered, if from the time you were born, your parents told you that you were an Italian-Catholic, living in the Italian-Catholic neighborhood in Philadelphia. “You wouldn’t wake up every morning wondering, who am I, and what should I believe?” That would have already been decided. Young people today, Emma said on our call, “are selecting the kinds of communities that fit their values,” rather than adhering to their parent’s choices.

“Spiritual is also a term that people like to use,” said Kenneth Pargament, a professor who studies the psychology of religion at Bowling Green State University. “It has all of these positive connotations of having a life with meaning, a life with some sacredness to it—you have some depth to who you are as a human being.” As a spiritual person, you’re not blindly accepting a faith passed down from your parents, but you’re also not completely rejecting the possibility of a higher power. Because the term “spiritual,” encompasses so much, it can sometimes be adopted by people most would consider atheists. While the stigma around atheism is generally less intense than it used to be, in certain communities, Hedstrom told me, “to say you’re an atheist is still to say you hate puppies.” It’s a taboo that can understandably put atheists, many of whom see their views as warm and open-minded, on the defensive. “Spiritual” doesn’t come with that kind of baggage.

For people who have struggled with faith, embracing the word “spiritual” might also leave a crucial door open. Masthead member Hugh calls himself “spiritual,” but sees the designation as more of a hope or a wish than a true faith. “I hope there is more to this wonderful world than random chemistry… Nonetheless, I do see all of that as an illusion…That does not stop me from seeking something as close to what I wish for as I am able to find.” In his class, “Spirituality in America,” Hedstrom tells his students that the “spiritual-but-not-religious” designation is about “seeking,” rather than “dwelling:” searching for something you believe in, rather than accepting something that, while comfortable and familiar, doesn’t feel quite right. In the process of traveling around, reading books, and experimenting with new rituals, he says, “you can find your identity out there.” (Quote source here.)

The “spiritual but not religious” designation has been around for a while, and it’s not actually a new phenomenon but it has a much larger audience now. While that title wasn’t around when I was a kid growing up in a non-denominational church that hired mostly Baptist pastors, as I was growing up and going through my teen years, there were others around my age who, other then when they were in church, definitely went their own way without letting their parents know. And they grew into adults who were unaffiliated with organized religion (at that point, they might have attended church maybe twice a year on Easter and at Christmas). I imagine there are a lot of Baby Boomers(born between 1946 and 1964–my generation) who are like that who may, or may not, have gone back to the church in their later years since many are either in, or soon to enter, their retirement years. Age can have a mellowing effect.

Each person has to wrestle with coming to terms regarding what they believe spiritually, and there are plenty of forces out there in the world begging for our attention. My beliefs were determined at a very young age, and even though some of the rules and regulations got old at church, my core belief in God and Jesus Christ has remained intact throughout my lifetime. Indeed, they have kept me going throughout these past dozen plus years since I lost my job and I never found another one. That is devastating to someone like me who is single and self supporting with little money to go on, and at the time I lost that job I still had ten years before normal retirement age when I should have been working if I could have found someone who would hire me. There is no way I could have navigated through these years on my own power as I was clueless as the doors kept slamming shut in my face when I tried to find employment, and then when I tried to find affordable senior housing during this time while being placed on waiting lists that never ended. In fact, as I have been going through these past dozen years day-by-day, I realized in a way unlike at any other time in my life just how real they are and how my life has been guided because of my faith in them.

So I know Who I believe in and why I believe, but I don’t ever force my beliefs on others. Everyone has to make their own choices and decisions. And nobody can do that for us.

I’ll end this post with the words from Proverbs 3:5-6Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him…

And He . . .

Shall direct . . .

Your paths . . . .

YouTube Video: “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Matt Redman:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Primum Non Nocere

Primum Non Nocere is Latin for “First, do no harm.” It is a phrase used in the medical field as part of the Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians:

As an important step in becoming a doctor, medical students must take the Hippocratic Oath. And one of the promises within that oath is “first, do no harm” (or “primum non nocere,” the Latin translation from the original Greek.) (Quote source here.)

Of course, those of us who aren’t physicians aren’t required to take an oath that we “first, do no harm” to others. In our relationships with others, whether family members or coworkers or friends including the myriad of people (even strangers in our midst) that we come into contact with on a daily basis, it is hopeful that our intent is to do no harm to them. However, that isn’t always true.

Fractured relationships, whether personal or in business, political rivalries, divorce, and even such things as greed and jealousy get in the way and keep lawyers very busy making a living off of the harm we do to others. And often, it is intentional harm that we do to others or that we are the recipient of from others.

In an article published on December 21, 2017, in Psychology Today titled, Why Do We Harm Each Other?” by Dale M. Kushner, MFA, author and investigator of the intersection between creativity, healing, and spirituality, she writes:

Not long ago, while doing research for my second novel, I interviewed a man who’d grown up in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. Beirut, once called the Paris of the Middle East, had been a city known for its beauty and cultural sophistication where Maronite Christians, Druze, Sunni and Shia Muslims lived peaceably side by side. By 1958, however, sectarian politics had set neighbor against neighbor and engendered hatred between the groups. As my interviewee remembered, “The dear friend you played with as a boy might now knock on your door and shoot your mother in the face.”

How do we make sense of this? How could former friends and neighbors suddenly commit egregious acts of violence? Reading the oral histories of war victims suggests a pattern: under certain conditions, especially during times of state upheaval or governmental collapse, ordinary people can be persuaded to commit atrocities or to enable others to commit them. The outer chaos of change and disruption fosters confusion that undermines our sense of trust and confidence and can deeply affect our inner lives. Empathy is the ability to feel another’s suffering, but during times of stress, when our circuits for handling negative emotions get exhausted, we grow numb to the fear mounting within us. Self-preservation becomes our focus and our instincts drive us to align with the powerful, the winning side.

We don’t have to look to war zones to see evidence of this. To a lesser degree, it’s enacted on the playground, in classrooms, in corporations and in government. Although it may be comforting to think of a crazed gunman, a revolutionary, or cult leader as the sole perpetrator of evil, “good citizens” everywhere, even in our own country, have been responsible for or complicit in reprehensible crimes in the form of slavery, sex trafficking, child labor and inhumane labor conditions.

Closer to home, who hasn’t indulged in or colluded with the more minor indecencies of taunting, bullying, hazing, name-calling or ostracism? Telling an ethnic-slurring joke may seem harmless; yet if we have been the brunt of such a joke, we feel its poisonous barb. To think of someone as a category–a gook, a geek, a Pole, a retard—is to ignore that person’s individuality and make them into a “thing.” It is easier to hate a “thing” than a creature that resembles ourselves.

Neither hatred nor anger completely explains how intelligent, rational people do the unthinkable. In their testimony, Eichmann and other Nazi officials responsible for the death of millions prided themselves on having a fondness for individual Jews. To them, their lack of hatred exonerated them from their horrendous deeds and proved they were superior to the crass killers who enjoyed murdering others. In the minds of these courteous and civilized killers, they were only doing their jobs (mass extermination), and doing them well, another source of pride.

How do cruelty and meanness become normalized? As philosopher Elizabeth Minnich, one-time assistant to Hannah Arendt, writes inThe Evil of Banality: On the Life and Death Importance of Thinking,” “We know that we humans can shift our minds into making sense of and accepting things that, before we became insiders of utterly distorted systems, we would have found impossible to imagine ourselves approving of, let alone doing.”

Many people in the U.S. are surprised by the rank bitterness, anger and hatred circulating in the zeitgeist. We may even be surprised by our own vitriol. Our neighbor voted for the other guy (or gal), and we wonder “How could he?” We feel our differences are irreconcilable. Our friend is no longer our friend, she is Other.

Imagine this: The Powerful declare that people with red hair are to be guarded against. Warnings are issued. At first, no one thinks much about the warnings or laughs them off. How can a group as diverse as red-haireds be lumped together as dangerous? But then the warnings increase, suspicion takes root, and rumors abound. Fear infects people’s thought processes. As the fear increases, red-haireds go from being shunned, to being taunted, to being hunted and killed. Some of the greatest sci-fi movies of the fifties,The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and the adaptation of George Orwell’s books,1984andAnimal Farm(the 1954 American animation was funded by the CIA), aptly symbolize our fear of “aliens,” the national paranoia of communism at that time, and the surreality of living under absolute power. Orwell’s books, in particular, depict how the accretion of propaganda can numb our brains and change our hearts and minds. Lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II wrote his own version of this phenomenon for the musical “South Pacific.”

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

In the preliminary stages of propaganda, people’s perceptions of the “Other” change. Maybe that red-haired banker is embezzling my cash. Should I trust my kids with the red-haired babysitter? Once perceptions change feelings about a person change. The Powerful proclaim red-haireds are cockroaches. Soon they begin to look like cockroaches. We notice they don’t walk, they scurry. They stink like garbage; they disgust us. The vilification of another leads to his objectification. We know from history that if we dehumanize a person, it’s easier to take violent action against her. If our neighbor is now a bug, sub-human, we are free to remove her from our society. Squash the cockroach!

In his excellent chapter “The Fascist State of Mind” in the book,Being a Character: Psychoanalysis and Self Experience,” psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas lists the mental mechanisms we use to dispassionately de-personalize the Other. The list includes distortion or slander of the other’s point of view; denigration or belittling of the other; caricature, or the cartooning of the other individual; character assassination; change of name as in labeling, and name-calling.

Bollas wonders why we often seem to love our monsters, those “most gifted practitioners” who have achieved “places of prominence by viciously attacking others.” “Indeed,” Bollas writes, “they [the monsters] also seem to be objects of endearment to those who otherwise would be horrified by such behavior.” One way Bollas understands this phenomenon is that we may try to recover from the trauma this individual has perpetrated in our world “by reminding ourselves how, in so many other ways, this person is not only sane but likable.”

What we do know is that when propaganda and the distortion of truth rule, we have stopped paying attention to reality and have ceded moral reflection and self-awareness to an authority outside the Self. As social beings engaged until death with our connection to others, we are called to live a thinking and feeling life. When we dissociate from the depths of our self-knowledge and abdicate the cultivation of our hearts and minds, we make room for the shadowy “Bluebeards” to dominate our world.

Watch the 1954 animated adaptation of George Orwell’sAnimal Farm.” (Quote source here.)

An added note regarding the article above, the following quote is taken from a brief description of the book mentioned above by Elizabeth Minnich, Ph.D., titled,The Evil of Banality: On the Life and Death Importance of Thinking,” on Amazon.com:

How is it possible to murder a million people one by one? Hatred, fear, madness of one or many people cannot explain it. No one can be so possessed for the months, even years, required for genocides, slavery, deadly economic exploitation, sexual trafficking of children. InThe Evil of Banality,” Elizabeth Minnich argues for a tragic yet hopeful explanation. “Extensive evil,” her term for systematic horrific harm-doing, is actually carried out, not by psychopaths, but by people like your quiet next door neighbor, your ambitious colleagues. There simply are not enough moral monsters for extensive evil, nor enough saints for extensive good. In periods of extensive evil, people little different from you and me do its work for no more than a better job, a raise, the house of the family who “disappeared” last week. So how can there be hope? The seeds of such evils are right there in our ordinary lives. They are neither mysterious nor demonic. If we avoid romanticizing and so protecting ourselves from responsibility for the worst and the best of which humans are capable, we can prepare to say no to extensive evil—to act accurately, together, and above all in time, before great harm-doing has become the daily work of ‘normal’ people. (Quote source here.)

Now let’s look at the Biblical definition of good versus evil. The following is taken from Got Questions.org:

Among the most universal beliefs across all humanity is the concept of “good versus evil.” Every culture in every era has held to some version of this struggle. The definitions of the terms good and evil vary wildly, as do opinions on how they interact. Still, belief in some difference between that which is “good” and that which is “evil” pervades all of mankind. When all options and ideas are compared, only the Bible provides a perspective on good and evil that is fully coherent and fully livable (Psalm 25:6–15).

According to the Bible, “good versus evil” is not a matter of opinion. Nor is it an evenly matched struggle between two beings or forces. Scripture does not indicate that the boundaries of good and evil change. Nor does it claim the conflict between them will last forever. Of special importance is that the Bible does not suggest some people are good, while other people are evil.

Rather, the Bible teaches that good and evil are defined in reference to a perfect and unchanging God. Every person must grapple individually with the presence and temptations of evil. Scripture notes that all evil, without exception, will ultimately be punished and defeated. And it tells us there is an ultimate standard of goodness to which we should aspire—a standard grounded in a person, rather than a theory.

Good and Evil Are Objectively Distinct

According to the Bible, there is a real difference between good and evil. Some worldviews claim all moral distinctions are based purely on preference. Atheism, for instance, allows no objective basis for defining anything as “good” or “evil.” In a godless universe, there are only things a person prefers and things a person does not prefer. This is a key reason why philosophies embracing atheism always tend toward violence and tyranny: there is no sense of higher authority and no reason to moderate the whims of those in power.

The idea that defining good and evil depends on preferences or situations is commonly called moral relativism. Scripture rejects this idea as false. The Bible defines some things as “good” and other things as “evil” (Isaiah 5:20Romans 12:9). This dichotomy is reflected in the consistent use of themes such as light versus darkness (Isaiah 9:2Matthew 4:16John 1:5Ephesians 5:8). The ultimate fate of all people depends on whether they are aligned with a good God or opposed to Him (1 Corinthians 6:9–11Revelation 21:8).

Discerning between good and evil is possible only in reference to a single, unchanging standard: the perfect nature of God. God is not subject to morality, since He is the source and benchmark for it. Nor is morality subject to change, since God’s perfect nature is eternal and unchanging. Counters such as Euthyphro’s dilemma fail, since they do not distinguish between an eternal, unchanging God and the fickle deities of ancient Greek religion.

Good and Evil Are Not Balanced

A frequent component of fiction and fantasy is the idea that good and evil are equally balanced, evenly matched forces. According to this view, neither is ultimately in control. Either may eventually win. This is the concept of dualism, which suggests a perpetual balance between the forces of good and evil. In some cases, dualism implies that opposing beings, such as God and Satan, are deadlocked in a struggle for control and power.

Some worldviews teach that all good and evil will eventually be balanced. This is related to Eastern ideas such as karma, which implies that good and evil are inherently imbalanced but will one day be evened out.

Scripture rejects dualism as false. The Bible indicates that God is absolutely supreme and in no danger whatsoever of being defeated (Job 42:2Psalm 89:8Galatians 6:7). What Satan does, he is “allowed” to do, but he cannot act to overpower God (Job 1:12Revelation 9:120:7). Biblically, evil is destined only for defeat and destruction. Not one single act of evil will escape judgment; every sin will either be paid for by Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21) or by those who reject Christ (John 3:36) as they experience an eternity in hell (Revelation 20:11–15).

Good and Evil Are Not External

Evidence that humanity holds to a basic concept of good versus evil is obvious (Romans 1:18–20). This explains why moral reasoning—separating “what is” from “what ought to be”—is a universal facet of humanity. Of course, that does not mean all people hold the same views on good and evil. We are not examining morality from the outside, as neutral observers; all moral discussions by definition involve the person(s) who discuss them, as well.

A unique aspect of the Bible’s teaching on good and evil is that all people, without exception, are subject to sin and evil (Romans 3:103:23). The biblical concept of a sin nature means that the line between good and evil cannot be drawn between people. Rather, it is drawn within every person. This fact of human nature is critical to understand (Matthew 15:19–20). As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously said, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

In simpler language, C.S. Lewis noted, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you” (see Matthew 6:14–15).

One truth found in the gospel is that all people, without exception, are sinners in need of a Savior. Biblical Christianity does not see good versus evil as a battle to be fought on earth (John 18:36), an issue to resolve by revenge or retribution (Romans 12:20–21), or a philosophical position to be considered. The Bible says every person is created for a good purpose (Genesis 1:27Galatians 3:28) but suffers from an evil heart (Romans 7:15–25), which can only be remedied by faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Redemption is available to anyone (Matthew 7:7–8Revelation 22:15), regardless of his past or the depth of his sin (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).

Good versus Evil Requires “Right Judgment”

Another key aspect of the Bible’s teaching on “good versus evil” is that no person is infallible, even on spiritual matters. Those who are guided by the Holy Spirit are better equipped to judge spiritual matters (1 Corinthians 2:14), and they ought to do so. Scripture is clear that all people are subject to sin, and it is just as clear that all people are subject to correction (Hebrews 12:5–11), learning (2 Timothy 2:15), and limitations (1 Samuel 16:7).

In Matthew 7 Jesus gives an extensive explanation of how to properly discern between good and evil: to “judge” in the correct way; that is, to use “right judgment” (John 7:24). The Bible commends examination (Acts 17:11), commands putting things to the test (1 John 4:1), and promotes accountability (1 Peter 3:15) and a commitment to truth (Galatians 1:8–9).

Scripture does not imply that “good versus evil” is a simplistic, binary concept. Since only God is ultimately perfect, the Bible allows for a “good versus better” spectrum. God called His initial creation “good” (Genesis 1:24), then after more creating called it “very good” (Genesis 1:28). Some of the good things God has given us have more than one use, and not all uses are automatically good or evil (1 Timothy 4:4). The biblical understanding of good versus evil does not imply that all things are either perfectly holy or wholly satanic. Rather, there can be good and bad aspects of many of the freedoms God gives us (1 Corinthians 6:12). Likewise, while all sin leads to separation from God, Scripture does speak of some sins as being more heinous than others.

The Bible acknowledges that not every moment in human experience will come with a clear, black-and-white moral answer. Scripture focuses only on the most important points we need to know, not every imaginable scenario (John 21:25). This means even the most sincere, Bible-believing, born-again Christians might disagree on an ethical question (1 Corinthians 10:23–33). The Bible’s answer—when the issue is not covered overtly in God’s Word (1 Corinthians 5:6)—is for tolerance and patience (Titus 3:9). We’re given a conscience for a reason (Romans 14:23).

Truth is objective; for any given opinion or interpretation, someone is right, and someone is wrong. But human beings lack the moral perfection of God; this is reflected in the Bible’s teaching on good versus evil and our role in applying good judgment.

Scripture encourages believers not to apply terms like good, evil, sin, and so forth to issues where there is room for doubt (Romans 14:1–12). Contrary to what some think, the Bible admits that human beings might not always be correct in our moral judgments. We are not to avoid all judgment (John 7:24), but the Bible teaches us to carefully consider when and how we judge (Ephesians 5:10).

Good versus Evil Demands a Response

The Bible’s teaching on good versus evil leads to a challenging conclusion: that every person is obligated to make a fundamental choice between the two. That choice is entirely determined by our response to God, who is both the definition of good and our Creator. Moment by moment, that means either following His will or rebelling and choosing to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). Eternally, this means we either choose to accept Him and His salvation (John 3:1614:6) or align ourselves against Him (John 3:36). While we may be imperfect and fallible, we cannot be neutral in our approach to good versus evil. Our hearts are either seeking the goodness of God (Matthew 7:7–8Romans 2:4) or the selfishness of evil (1 Peter 3:10–12). (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with Paul’s words from Romans 12:17-18: Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible…

As far as it depends on you . . .

Live at peace . . .

With everyone . . . .

YouTube Video: “Do No Harm” by Sarah Hart:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

He Lives

Easter Sunday (also known as Resurrection Sunday) is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which is the key event upon which the Christian faith is based. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity would not exist.

In an article published on February 28, 2021, titled What’s the Big Deal?” by at Cornerstone Community Church, he writes:

Why is the history of Easter such a big deal to Christians? Even if Jesus did get raised from the dead, so what? How does that have any impact on us two thousand years later? How could the apostle Paul write,And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied,” (1 Cor. 15: 17, 19)? To answer these questions, we can look to the history of Easter.

Jesus was not just some random Jewish moral teacher who showed up out of nowhere, said radical things, died, and then came back to life. He existed in a rather unique cultural context. Throughout their history, the Israelites experienced cycles of oppression and redemption. They endured vicious periods of exile and enslavement where they could not meet with God’s presence in the temple. In these times, the people cried out to God that He might save them from their exile so that they could be with Him again. God rescued them from their physical oppression, but they eventually were conquered again. In His infinite lovingkindness, God came up with a plan to allow all people, not just the Israelites, to dwell with Him, the source of all life, forever.

For hundreds of years, God sent prophets to the people of Israel to tell them that He was sending a savior to them who would permanently free them from their endless cycle of oppression and redemption. This promise sat in the background of Jewish culture for centuries upon centuries. Every Jewish man, woman, and child longed for the day God would save them permanently. Fast forward to about 30 A.D., when Jesus began His ministry. The Jewish people were engaged in a bitter conflict with the Roman Empire. Rome, being the world’s greatest super power at the time, was winning that conflict. When Jesus started performing miracles and speaking of God, people began asking Him if He was the promised Messiah. When He responded, “I who speak to you am He,” (John 4:26), the Jewish people understandably assumed He was going to save them from the Roman Empire and reign as their king.

Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God finally arriving on earth. This kingdom would be one of peace and unity, where people of all nations could become one multicultural family, united with God on a restored earth, with Jesus as our king. All of the talk about a new king threatened the existing political and religious structures of the day, and the Jewish leaders set out to have Jesus put to death. They got the Roman governor on board with this plan, and had Jesus unjustly executed through false testimonies and illegitimate legal processes.

With their leader dead, Jesus’ disciples were crushed. How could God’s chosen Messiah, sent to rescue them from the Romans (so they thought), be executed? Had God lied to them? May it never be! God’s plan for salvation went beyond rescuing His people from an oppressive regime (though throughout the Old Testament, He has a lot to say about how He will punish the oppressor). The Kingdom of God does not operate according to the ways of the world. God’s kingdom is one of peace, one that does not advance through conquest. How then would He deliver on His promise of everlasting salvation?

The answer came on the morning of the third day after Jesus’ resurrection: God, through Jesus, is remaking all of creation! Jesus is the first fruits of this new creation (1 Cor. 15:20), a sign for us of what is both happening now and still yet to come. Instead of the temporary salvation offered by political rescue, God invites us to become a part of His heavenly kingdom, where we have the promise of bodily resurrection and eternal peace with God and with each other. This is why the history of Easter Sunday is so important to Christians: it is the day we celebrate the single most important event in human history. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then the things He said about God’s kingdom coming to earth and inviting us to become a part of the new creation are all true.

Since then, spreading the news that Jesus is alive is the primary task of the church. Missionaries traveled far and wide throughout the world to share the fact that Jesus is alive and explain how God’s kingdom is open to all people. In order to spread this news more effectively, missionaries would communicate the history of Easter to people using their own cultural symbols. We can still see some of the artifacts of these cultural adaptations in the eggs and bunnies we see around Easter time. The message of Jesus’ resurrection is just as relevant today as it was in 33 A.D. The recreation work of God is still happening and the invitation to join God’s kingdom is still open to any who will take it today. (Quote source here.)

This past week among the many articles published on the topic of Holy Week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, I also ran across several articles noting the decline of religion in America today. Bill O’Reilly‘s “Message of the Day,” for today (April 3, 2021), titled, A Decline in Religion,” sums up what the other articles noted:

I have taken notice of the decline in religion occurring in the USA. A new survey says just 48% of Americans actually participate in an organized religion–that is the lowest number ever recorded in this country.

Now, there are a number of reasons why. Number one, secular values are heavily promoted in the entertainment and news industries. In fact, often traditional religious Americans are openly mocked. We all see it. And that filters down particularly to younger people whose lifestyle and belief systems are not fully formed.

Number two, more and more people do not want to be held accountable for their behavior. Religion does that–the concept of sin. There’s always an excuse for wrongdoing, a rationalization.

And third, it’s all about me these days, is it not? Nothing higher. Whatever is good for me is good in general. Well, that’s not what theology says. Theology says on the Judeo-Christian front, you got to look out for your neighbor. You got to treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s not all about you. (Quote source here.)

I’d like to add a fourth reason to that list which is found in 2 Timothy 3:5. It has to do with those who show an outward display of religion or godliness but there is no real power behind it, which could actually fall under the second and/or third reasons in Bill O’Reilly’s list.

GotQuestions.org answers the question,“What does it mean to have a form of godliness but deny its power in 2 Timothy 3:5?” as follows:

In 2 Timothy 3, the apostle Paul describes the nature of people in the last days. In his description, he warns of people who are characterized as “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (verse 5). Paul then issues this command: “Have nothing to do with such people.”

Paul often uses contrast to emphasize an attribute he wishes to highlight. In 2 Timothy 3:1–4, he gives Timothy a long list of sinful behaviors and attitudes that are contrary to God’s will. In verse 5 he tells Timothy to avoid those who state they are Christians with their mouths—they have a “form” of godliness—but who act as unbelievers—they deny the power of godliness.

Those who have a form of godliness are those who make an outward display of religion. They present themselves as godly, but it is all for show. There is no power behind their religion, as evidenced in the fact that their lives are unchanged. They speak of God and live in sin, and they are fine with that arrangement. As commentator Charles Ellicott wrote, “These, by claiming the title of Christians, wearing before men the uniform of Christ, but by their lives dishonoring His name, did the gravest injury to the holy Christian cause” (Ellicott’s Bible Commentary for English Readers, entry for 2 Timothy 3:5).

These false Christians are destructive. Paul warns that they will “creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts” and that they are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6–7, NKJV). He compares them to the wicked magicians who opposed Moses and warns that their folly and corrupt minds will be revealed to all eventually (verses 8–9).

The power of God, which should accompany the form of godliness, is shown through the Holy Spirit and results in the transformation of our lives. The Holy Spirit indwells the believer (1 Corinthians 6:19) and enables him to bear certain fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). These are the attributes of a true Christian, as opposed to Paul’s list of sins in 2 Timothy 3:1–4.

Paul’s exhortation to Timothy falls in line with James’ explanation how to identify a true faith (James 2:14–26). True faith will be evidenced by good works, which will occur naturally. If a person says he is a Christian but shows no evidence in his life by bearing the fruit of the Spirit, we have to make a judgment about him and avoid that person. He may have a form of godliness, but he is denying God’s power by not letting himself be controlled by the Spirit. In fact, if his faith is not genuine, he cannot be controlled by God’s power, because the Holy Spirit does not dwell in him.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The natural person may have a form of godliness, but he denies God’s power in the way he lives. Only faith in Jesus Christ can bring justification and the transformation he so desperately needs (Colossians 1:21–22Romans 5:1–2). (Quote source here.)

Second Timothy 3:2-5 lists the type of people to watch out for:

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

We would be hard pressed, if we are honest, to not find something in that list that includes us starting right off with “lovers of themselves.” How about “proud” or “boastful” or “without love”? How about “unforgiving” or “slanderous” (gossip is a big one) or “treacherous”? There is no point in going through the entire list. The picture is pretty clear.

So what does a genuine seeker of God look like?

In an article titled, A Seeking Heart,” by Dave Butts, chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee and the co-founder and president of Harvest Prayer Ministries, he writes:

What are you looking for in life? Be careful what you look for. The Bible tells us that those who seek will find. But you might be seeking wrong things. If you are looking to be rich, you may well end up rich, but also tremendously unhappy and burdened down by the things of this world. You may be looking for fame, for recognition of your accomplishments. In the process of finding that recognition on earth, you may well lose the praise of heaven.

Many have just quit seeking. Living lives of quiet desperation, they simply hope to avoid disaster or pain. Sometimes even Christians can find themselves in the rut of everyday life, with the only thing they are looking for being heaven some day. The pressures of life have stifled desire of any significance, and life is just something to be endured.

Did you know that God never intended for us to live this way? God is actually looking for the discontented. He is looking for seekers, those whose desires are always going beyond the confines of daily life. In 2 Chronicles 16:9 the Word says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” The same concept is expressed in Psalm 14:2, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.” I don’t know about you, but I want to be found by the God who is looking for seekers.

What does it mean to be a seeker after God? Does it have any real meaning for us? After all, if we are Christians, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. The Lord has promised to be with us always, even until the end of the age. So, is it necessary for a Christian to be a seeker after God?

I believe that King David gives us a wonderful understanding of what it means for a man of God, experiencing the presence of God, to still be a seeker after God. In Psalm 27:4 we read this passionate prayer of a man after God’s own heart: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” If we try to analyze this verse in spatial, literal terms, we find ourselves confused. If David were in God’s temple, gazing upon His face, why would he still be seeking Him?

That’s because seeking God is much more than having one experience and calling it “finding God.” It is much more than believing a certain set of doctrines. It is even much more than having a good prayer life. God is too big to be confined to any one person’s experience or belief system. Seeking God is an attitude, a way of life, a journey that is never complete in this life.

The vastness of God makes the task of seeking Him the journey of a lifetime. Let me give a totally inadequate illustration, but one that may be helpful nonetheless. I always enjoy visiting the Smithsonian Institute when I go to Washington D.C. As you might know, the Smithsonian is made up of dozens of buildings, each housing a particular aspect of man’s knowledge or achievement. So you could go to the Air and Space Museum or the American History Museum or the Portrait Gallery and still say of each, “I went to the Smithsonian.” What would be totally inaccurate would be to go to one of those museums and return home saying: “I have experienced the Smithsonian in its entirety.”

God, of course, dwarfs the Smithsonian, but we sometimes feel like or say, “I know God. I have experienced God. Others need to seek Him, but I have found Him.” That’s like going to one building of the Smithsonian and thinking you have experienced all that the Smithsonian is.

David didn’t fall into that trap. His desire was to spend all of his days in the presence of God, gazing upon His beauty. Yet he also realized with humility, that he would still need to have that seeking heart for the rest of his life.

I believe that to live this life, we must start with prayer. Ask God to give you a seeking heart. Repent of any spiritual lukewarmness or self-satisfaction. All that we have comes from God, even a heart that seeks God. But we must ask Him. We do not just become seekers because we are naturally good and spiritual. We are not! We must ask and receive that gift from God.

Seeking also requires effort. When we have asked and received of the Lord a seeking heart, there will be required of us an earnestness and effort that emerges from the longing for intimacy with God, that God Himself has placed within our hearts.

The path to God is always Jesus. He is the way! There is no other path to God. Seeking God successfully only happens along the pathway that is Jesus. It is in intimacy with the Lord and walking daily in His ways that we find ourselves with a seeking heart that pleases God and draws His eyes and favor upon us.

Here is the good news! Jesus said that all who seek will find. God is not hiding. He longs to be found and known. But His very character and vastness demand a life of seeking. No matter how long we have known Him and walked with Him on this planet, we will still find ourselves learning and experiencing new aspects of who He is. “Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage” (Psalms 84:5). (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words given by an angel to the women who came to Jesus’ tomb after he was buried (found in Matthew 28:5-6): The angel said to the women–Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified…

He is not here . . .

He has risen . . .

Just as he said . . . .

YouTube Video: “Easter Song” sung by the Worship Team at Northland Church:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Back to the Future

“The expression, ‘back to the future,’ refers to the time when one has to stop (over) thinking about the things they could, or could not, have done in the past so that what happened wouldn’t have happened. Do not dwell on the past! The past has been written with ink… the future in pencil! Worries about what cannot be changed is unnecessary; focus on what you can control and try not to make the same mistakes again.” (Quote source here.)

Unfortunately… Enter “cancel culture”… the crowd that will never let you forget your mistakes (past or present) or opinions they don’t agree with even if you do want to move on with your life. And if they cancel you, any future you are trying to “write in pencil,” they can erase.

Who knows what the world will look like in the future with the prominent rise of  the cancel culturecrowd in the summer of 2020 (although they’ve been around long before then). It’s certainly the opposite of the Summer of Lovewhich was a social phenomenon that occurred during the summer of 1967.

In an article published on February 16, 2021, in the Washington Times titled, Top 10 Recent Examples of Cancel Culture,” by Kelly Sadler, Commentary Editor and a columnist for the Washington Times, she writes:

“Mr. Bean” actor Rowan Atkinson compared cancel culture to a “medieval mob looking for someone to burn.” 

Indeed.

No one is immune to woke politics. It doesn’t matter how long ago a person made their irredeemably “offensive” comments, or how passionate their apologies are—the social media mob takes no prisoners. 

We’re in a sad place as a society when somebody’s firing and/or cancellation is celebrated more than their life’s work. And yet, here we are.

Below is a list of the top 10 cancellations, all that have occurred within the last year. Many on this list are notable names, people who will find other work and/or have the position and power to stand up to the woke crowd.

It’s the names not represented who are the true victims—like those who have had their college acceptances rejected because of a social media post they made in high school–who were canceled before they ever could get started. They are not famous, and their names are not known. 

Not surprisingly, cancel culture cuts one way. If you say something too conservative and mildly offensive, the woke hall monitors on social media will find you. And if you’re famous, all the better, as Hollywood and corporate America seems to have embraced this new form of blacklisting…. (Quote source here, see article at this link for the list of the top 10 cancellations.)

In an article published on August 6, 2020, titled, How cancel culture became one of the buzziest and most controversial ideas on the internet,” by Rachel E. Greenspan, a reporter on the Digital Culture desk at Insider.com, she writes:

In a congressional antitrust hearing on July 29, 2020, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio had a specific question for Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“Mr. Cook,” Jordan said, “is the ‘cancel culture’ mob dangerous?”

“Cancel culture,” which President Donald Trump last month called “the very definition of totalitarianism,” describes the phenomenon of frequent public pile-ons criticizing a person, business, movement, or idea.

The phrase—a surprisingly recent creation—has become ubiquitous in pop culture and reached the highest halls of power, used to describe “cancellations” large and small.

On one end of the spectrum are people like Bill CosbyHarvey Weinstein, and R. Kelly who were canceled by the public before their sex-crimes trials. On the other end are everyday people like David Shor, who faced criticism on Twitter after he tweeted a study from an academic journal questioning the political consequences of violent and peaceful protests. Shor, who tweeted the link during the George Floyd protests, was fired, though the company has said it wasn’t over the tweet.

Despite the seemingly positive intentions of many cancellations—to “demand greater accountability from public figures,” as Merriam-Webster’s evaluation of the phrase notes—people tend to call out cancel culture itself as a negative movement, suggesting that the consequences of cancellation are too harsh in minor instances or represent rushed judgment in complicated situations….

…Former President Barack Obama criticized the trend in an interview about youth activism at an Obama Foundation summit in October, though he didn’t use the phrase. “That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change,” he said. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.” (Quote source and complete article at this link.)

In an article published on September 30, 2020, titled, The good, the bad, and the dirty: Analyzing cancel culture and it’s effects,” by Sara Tidwell and Jack Falinski at StateNews.com, they write:

From the Salem Witch Trials to the Red Scare, public figures and everyday people have been on the lookout for people who stood against their morals and values.

These acts of public shaming have always been present. Now, this new-age form of public shaming takes on a new name: cancel culture.

Cancel culture is the act of withdrawing support for public figures or companies after they’ve done or said something objectionable or offensive.

Popularly performed online amongst Generation Z and Millennials, the hidden truth behind cancel culture is that it’s always been around.

Even though the term itself was created not so long ago, public shaming has been found sprinkled throughout world history and entertainment in more cases than one.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, for example, framed one of the most famous novels ever around culture. InThe Scarlet Letter,” Hester Prynn, the main character of the story, was literally paraded around town with a scarlet “A” signed on her breast for having committed adultery.

Cancel culture has always been present in history and entertainment; it just hasn’t always been called cancel culture. 

So how did it get its name?

Twitter can take some of the credit, according to Merriam-Webster.

When the #MeToo movement first started, survivors demanded justice by ousting their perpetrators by sharing their names into the public sphere. It’s now used to justify more than just sexual assault. The list includes addressing those who’ve been racially, homophobically or just generally insensitive to the greater society.

To be cancelled means being shunned from the same society that deems you to be insensitive. During the time of leprosy, lepers were cast out into secluded areas with other lepers to prevent the spread of the contagious and deadly disease. Similarly, those who’ve been cancelled today are socially cast out into their own stigmatized bubble of guilt and shame. 

Cancel culture ruins careers. It ruins people’s images. And, for those who’ve already been cancelled, it’s something they’re finding very hard to climb out of. But didn’t they get themselves there? Weren’t they cancelled for reason?

Some people you may know who have been canceled

There’s always a problem with putting an ordinary person, even a hero, up on a pedestal. Once you’re on top, should something happen that society doesn’t abide by, it’s a long fall to the ground.

And karma knows everything. It doesn’t care who you are.

“The King of YouTube,” also known as Shane Dawson, was canceled when videos of him making racist, pedophilia and bestiality-type jokes and again when people came back to his videos before he belittled other online creators like James Charles for money resurfaced. However, his cancellation never stuck because his fans would keep returning to his series.

Award-winning author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowlingwas canceled for tweeting that she supported Maya Forstater, a researcher with a history of making transphobic comments and spreading harmful rhetoric about the “T” community in LGBTQ.

Television host and comedian, Ellen DeGeneres, was canceled for being mean–allegations range from bad fan encounters, firing someone for looking her in the eye and playing favorites with where she extended a helping hand, down to executive producers of her show being racist and committing sexual misconduct.

While the list extends for miles, those are just three of the biggest canceled names in modern media. The severity of the reason people are cancelled varies among the crowd.

2020 has shone light on a lot of dark, overlooked areas and helped the world see where our deepest faults lie.

Students weigh in

International relations junior Jen Nardone said she first heard about cancel culture last year when James Charles was in the process of getting canceled. 

“It was kind of just scary to see his followers drop so fast based on somebody’s story which could have absolutely been falsified,” she said.

But when she heard about Shane Dawson, a celebrity she admired, getting canceled, she said it felt different than just seeing any other celebrity get canceled. 

“As a fan, it was a whole different thing because you watch someone you love get so much hate,” she said. “(Being) canceled is so aggressive.” 

Nardone said she thinks it’s tough to support someone who is being canceled because it leaves you, the fan, in limbo of whether to support that person. 

“When you support somebody and then you’re just told you’re not allowed to support them anymore it’s like you’re kind of in a box, and you have to just listen to what everybody wants to do,” she said.It’s hard.” 

Cancel culture, according to Nardone, can go too far and do more damage than repair. She said once you’re canceled, it becomes really hard to make a genuine apology, and even if you do people still might not believe you.

“We should just acknowledge that people make mistakes,” she said. “I think cancel culture is just really toxic, but people also need to be held accountable.” 

For Teron Kinnard, an MSU junior studying anthropology, he said accountability is exactly what makes cancel culture beneficial. 

“I don’t necessarily think it’s a negative thing, unless people get canceled who don’t need it,” he said. “I think it’s a way of holding people accountable to some degree when people usually get away with things.”

Kinnard said he thinks because the entertainment industry socially elevates celebrities to statuses that can create conceited egos, cancel culture is a good way to bring them back down to earth. 

“I feel like a lot of times with big celebrity names, they can get away with some things that most people can’t get away with,” he said. “Cancel culture and social media, those things are really up to the public to decide whether or not they still have their platform.” 

While there is always some risk in making accusations, Kinnard said cancel culture turns us, the public, into the judge. We, therefore, must investigate on our end to make informed decisions. 

“That’s always a danger when someone is falsely accused, but I think when it comes down to it, you just have to do your own research,” he said. (Quote source here.)

And in one last article published on September 13, 2020, in Forbes.com titled, Cancel Culture is Only Getting Worse,” by Evan Gerstmann, professor and senior contributor on Forbes, he writes:

There is no single accepted definition of cancel culture, but at its worst, it is about unaccountable groups successfully applying pressure to punish someone for perceived wrong opinions. The victim ends up losing their job or is significantly harmed in some way well beyond the discomfort of merely being disagreed with. Someone like J.K. Rowling isn’t really a victim of cancel culture—she’s too rich to be punished in any meaningful way and she doesn’t have the kind of job that one can be fired from.

Powerful voices on the institutional left claim that there is no such thing as cancel culture. For example, the New York Times columnist Charles Blow, tweets: “Once more THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CANCEL CULTURE. There is free speech. You can say and do as pls, and others can choose never to deal this [sic] you, your company or your products EVER again. The rich and powerful are just upset that the masses can now organize their dissent.”

This argument confuses dissent with punishment. The victims of cancel culture are generally not powerful people. They are often vulnerable people who suffer devastating harm. A previous post discussed an African American school security guard who was fired for using the N-word in the course of telling a student not to direct that word at him. (Thankfully, he was eventually re-hired after a national furor erupted.) The same post discussed a teacher who was fired for inadvertently failing to address a student by his self-identified gender pronoun. The security guard and the teacher each have four children to support and lost their health insurance as well as their income when they were fired. They are hardly examples of the rich and powerful.

But at least one can say the security guard actually used the n-word and the teacher actually did have a religious objection to recognizing transgender identities. But as people, especially in educational settings, have grown more intimidated, it has been harder for the cancel culture warriors to find such people. So instead of finding someone who actually used the n-word, they expand the definition of cancel-worthy language. A professor at the University of Southern California was placed on leave for using a Chinese word that some people think sounds like the n-word even though it is simply the Chinese word for “that.” The professor is a member of USC US-China Institute, and was teaching a communications course and was using the word to illustrate how different languages use different words to fill in pauses. 

The situation has deteriorated to the point that one no longer needs to say anything to be targeted by cancel culture. At Skidmore College in New York State, a professor is being boycotted for merely attending a pro-police “Back the Blue” rally. He didn’t participate in any way, he didn’t speak or shout slogans, or carry a sign. He says he just wanted to hear what the demonstrators had to say. But an email circulated at the college saying, “Tonight, I and other Skidmore students witnessed Profs. David Peterson and Andrea Peterson at an anti-Black Lives Matter protest. We demand the immediate dismissal of both Skidmore staff members for engaging in hateful conduct that threatens Black Skidmore students.” (It turned out that Andrea Peterson doesn’t work at the college.)

The professor found a notice on his classroom door saying “STOP. By entering this class you are crossing a campus-wide picket line and breaking the boycott against Professor David Peterson. This is not a safe environment for marginalized students . . . By continuing to take this course you are enabling bigoted behavior on this campus.” 

According to Professor Peterson, as a result of the boycott, he has no remaining students in one class and only a very small number of students in his other two classes. He also says the university is investigating him for possible bias.

This extravagant expansion of cancel-worthy behavior is not limited to academia and it is not limited to anything a person has said or done anytime this century. A top executive at Boeing recently lost his job because of an article he wrote in 1987, opposing allowing women to serve as fighter pilots. The executive apologized for the article, writing: “My article was a 29-year-old Cold War navy pilot’s misguided contribution to a debate that was live at the time. The dialogue that followed its publication 33 years ago quickly opened my eyes, indelibly changed my mind, and shaped the principles of fairness, inclusion, respect and diversity that have guided my professional life since.” That was not enough to save his job.

In no way is contemporary cancel culture about free speech or debate. Nor is it any longer primarily about social justice. The power to get someone fired must be a thrilling feeling. It also strengthens group bonds and can raise one’s social standing in certain groups. It is not hard to understand why many people would be willing to look further and further afield to find targets: an innocently uttered Chinese word for “that,” mere attendance at a rally to hear a point of view, or a 33-year-old article that the author has renounced and apologized for.

What is harder to understand is why the truly powerful, those with the power to suspend and investigate professors and to fire people, are allowing this? Perhaps they fear becoming targets themselves. Whatever the reason, there is no denying that cancel culture exists and is getting worse. (Quote source here.)

The articles above have been a rather sobering read. But not even the cancel culture crowd knows what the future holds. I’ve never understood a mindset that is capable of destroying the lives of others for the sheer sport of doing it, although there is no doubt that an agenda is attached at some level. However, in the end, we all die sooner or later. I’ll end it with the opening phrases of a soliloquy from  Shakepeare’s play, “Hamlet” (source here):

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished…

To die, to sleep . . .

To sleep, perchance to Dream . . .

Aye, there’s the rub . . . .

YouTube Video: “Back in Time” by Huey Lewis and the News:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Hills and Valleys

A couple of weeks ago I read a devotion at Crosswalk.com that was originally published on September 22, 2017, titled, 3 New Ways to Think about Psalm 23,” by Sarah Garrett, educator and founder of the Transformed4More Ministries, that she runs with her identical twin sister. I bookmarked that devotion as I wanted to go back and study it later as Psalm 23 is not only a universally loved and recognized psalm in the Bible, but one of my favorites that I use when I’m praying. Here is what she wrote:

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .”

Sound familiar?

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable chapters in the entire Bible. We learn it in Sunday school, see it in funeral programs, and notice it on church décor. Even those who do not attend church have likely heard this psalm before.

When verses and chapters become familiar, we tend to not pay close attention to them. When we see it in our Bibles, it can be tempting to think, Oh, I know what this says already. Why read it again?

Here’s why—because the Bible is a living document. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The Bible never changes, but it always changes something in us when we read it. The Word of God always has something new to teach us, even if it’s from a familiar passage.

Recently, I was reading through Psalms and scanned over chapter 23. I almost skipped it, but decided to read it again. As I did, the familiarity faded, and I felt as though I was reading it with new eyes. Has that ever happened to you? As I read, three questions came to mind. They challenged me. I’m passing them along in the hopes they will challenge you, too.

Question 1: Am I allowing God to lead me?

God is always in control of what is happening, but we also have free will. That means we can choose to let God lead our lives. When we don’t, it’s the same as choosing to be led by our selfish desires. The opening of Psalm 23 beautifully shows what we can gain from surrendering and allowing God to lead our lives.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (vv. 1–3).

As I read this again, I realized that if God is our Shepherd, that means we give Him control of our life. When we do, look at what there is to gain!

  • God will meet our needs.
  • He will give us peace.
  • He will restore us.
  • He will lead us down a path of righteousness and not destruction.

If your world seems chaotic or unfulfilling, ask yourself, “Am I allowing God to lead me?”

Question 2: Am I camping in the valley?

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (v. 4).

I heard a pastor say that this verse clearly states that the “valleys” of life are to be walked through, but some people tend to put up a tent and camp there. Convicting, huh?

Sometimes we get bogged down in our circumstances and just decide that’s the way it will always be. We figuratively pitch our tent in the valley. This tends to rob us of the joy that can come from our relationship with God.

During the valleys of life, you must remember the last two lines of this verse, that God is with you and will comfort you as you walk. Don’t choose to camp out and wallow in your misery. Put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out.

If you are going through a season of sin, discouragement, or despair in your life right now, ask yourself, “Am I walking or camping?”

Question 3: Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?

Let’s keep thinking about valleys for a moment. Sometimes in the valleys of life, we take on a “woe is me” attitude and completely ignore all of the blessings that God has given us.

Let’s circle back to Psalm 23.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (vv. 5–6).

This means that if you could put your blessings in a cup, they would run over the top. Goodness and mercy will be following you everywhere, and you will spend eternity with God. That’s the ultimate blessing!

Ask yourself, “Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?” If you feel like you have, even if you are not going through a hard time, stop and make an actual list of all the ways that God has been faithful to you. You can start in the comment section below. Even on your worst day, you will see God’s blessings overflowing in your life if you look for them.

As an added bonus, you will feel your spirit lift as you write. You literally cannot dwell on bad thoughts and the blessings of God at the same time. Seriously. Try it! (Quote source here.)

One thing I’ve discovered about life is that it, at various times, is not anything like I thought it might be as it has unfolded, and this became very clear to me in the past dozen years. I needed to take some time to think about Question #2 above as during these past dozen years I felt like I had taken up residence “in the valley,” and I had no idea how to move beyond it as it almost seemed like I was trapped there by unseen forces beyond my control that were not willing to yield no matter how hard I tried to open the doors, whether I was trying to find another job for many years after I lost my last job a dozen years ago, or trying to find affordable housing to rent on a very low income for years, too, that never materialized.

As the author states in part of the answer to Question #2 above:

Sometimes we get bogged down in our circumstances and just decide that’s the way it will always be. We figuratively pitch our tent in the valley. This tends to rob us of the joy that can come from our relationship with God.

During the valleys of life, you must remember the last two lines of this verse, that God is with you and will comfort you as you walk. Don’t choose to camp out and wallow in your misery. Put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out.  (Quote source here.)

While there is no doubt that at times over these past dozen years I’ve gotten “bogged down” in my circumstances, in no way did I ever want to “pitch my tent in the valley” and stay there. And I am absolutely not the “wallowing” type. Also, I found myself getting frustrated when so much of what I read from “Christian” sources always seemed to put the onus back on us (me, in this case) to change as if I had any kind of control over the circumstances I found myself in (I could control my attitude, but not the circumstances). Every day over these past dozen years I’ve “put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out,” as stated above. And he has walked with me through each and every day, but it is nothing like what I thought it might turn out to be like when this situation first started a dozen years ago that turned my life upside down from life as I knew it before that happened.

During this time, and specifically the last six plus years when I was forced to live in hotel rooms as the only housing option I could find, I was practically begging God at various times to get me out from under hotel room living (for one thing, it’s expensive and it’s a very transient way to live especially with other guests coming and going all the time). During those six years I had applied for a low income senior apartment at a variety of senior apartment complexes in two different states where I lived, and I was put on waiting lists that I never heard back from time and again. I didn’t know anyone who had come close to having the same issues I had when it came to trying to find a low income senior apartment. In fact, I had a friend who got right into an apartment in a very large low income senior apartment complex the first time she went there looking for an apartment, and I had inquired about renting an apartment there three separate times over a several-year period, and I was told all three times that I would have to wait at least a year or longer for an apartment to become available. However, they never called me back, nor did they return my calls when I called to inquire where I stood on their waiting list.

As I mentioned above, I am not a “wallower”; I’m a “doer.” But I felt like no matter what I tried to do, I kept running up against walls that were a mile high, a mile wide, and a mile deep. I spent six years starting from the first day after I lost that job a dozen years ago looking for another job that never materialized; and that job search overlapped into the first year of the six-year hotel living saga that started in 2014 at the same time I was forced to take Social Security at the age of 62 just to have any income again. I was not wallowing in self-pity; but I was very angry and very, very frustrated, although I never let it show.

I can vouch for all the “doers” out there who are not inclined to “wallow” during the valley times they find themselves in as they go through life. It is frustrating when nothing you try to do ever works out (and I have been covering all of it in prayer for years now, too). But in the midst of all of my frustration and anger, I believe with every fabric of my being that God is sovereign; that God is still in control; and that my faith is still very much intact.

Six months ago my six-year hotel room living saga finally ended. I published a blog post regarding it on my second blog titled, A New Beginning,” so I won’t repeat that information in this post. While the “valley” of hotel room living has ended, there are still other “valleys” as well as hills on the landscape that have to do with the changing forces going on in our society today, and those affect all of us at some point and in some way (the Covid-19 pandemic that started over a year ago is just one example).

In a devotion published on September 19, 2020, on InTouch Ministries titled, The Believer’s Valley Experiences” by Dr. Charles Stanley, Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist Church and founder of InTouch Ministries, he writes:

Have you ever had heartache so deep or hardship so difficult that it’s almost impossible to stand? Like a giant wave crashing on the shore, some trials threaten to overwhelm us.

We all experience valleys in life. They might be of our own making—for instance, when we choose to disobey God and our fellowship with Him grows cold. Or perhaps other people cause our suffering, in situations such as job termination, marital infidelity, or betrayal by a friend. And sometimes our heavenly Father Himself leads us into the valley. Although He could steer us around suffering, He chooses not to because He has a specific purpose in mind.

Psalm 23 uses four words to describe these valley experiences: shadow, death, fear, and evil. These terms evoke images of oppressive circumstances, grievous affliction, and deep discomfort, and there is no way to hurry through them. That’s because both the depth and length of the trial are determined by the Lord.

Thankfully, God promises to be with us and to use every valley—even those of our own making—for our benefit (Rom. 8:28). It is our job to walk steadily, attuned to His presence and trusting in His promises. (Quote source here.)

The title of this blog post, Hills and Valleys,” actually comes from a song I heard this past week on YouTube (see YouTube video below). I’ve spent most of this blog post focusing on the valleys, so I will end it with a focus on the hills from Psalm 121:

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,

Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out…

And your coming in . . .

From this time forth . . .

And even forevermore . . . .

YouTube Video: “Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2021

On Wednesday, March 17, 2021, we will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Since I’ve never looked up the history on this holiday, I thought I would now since there is Irish blood in my family line (our last name is an Irish surname), and to see what it is all about besides the wearing of green and drinking of green beer (although I’ve never acquired a taste for beer).

The Old Farmer’s Almanac provides the following information on St. Patrick’s Day:

Although the holiday [St. Patrick’s Day] originally started as a Christian feast day celebrating the life of St. Patrick and the spreading of Christianity to Ireland, today, it is a day of revelry and a celebration of all things Irish. Don’t forget to wear green!

St. Patrick’s Day is officially observed on March 17 each year, though celebrations may not be limited to this date. The significance of March 17 is that it’s said to be the date of St. Patrick’s death in the late 5th century (circa A.D. 493).

Who was St. Patrick?

Saint Patrick is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. He is credited with successfully spreading Christianity throughout Ireland—hence the Christian celebration of his life and name.

Was there really a St. Patrick?

Definitely. However, there are many legends about him that mix with the truth. Did he play a large role in spreading Christianity to Ireland? Yes, absolutely. Did he really drive all the snakes out of Ireland? Probably not, since snakes weren’t native to Ireland to begin with!

In any case, St. Patrick’s impact was significant enough to warrant our modern-day celebrations. Here’s a bit about St. Patrick himself.

A young St. Patrick finds God

The man who would eventually become St. Patrick was born in Britain (part of the Roman Empire at the time) as Maewyn Succat in the late 4th century. His family was Christian, but it’s said that Maewyn himself was an atheist throughout his childhood.

That would change at age 16 (around A.D. 400), when Maewyn was kidnapped from his home on the west coast of Britain by Irish pirates, who proceeded to carry him off to Ireland and force him to work as a shepherd herding sheep. After six years, he escaped his captors, walking nearly 200 miles through the Irish landscape and convincing a ship to carry him with them back to Britain. This harrowing experience certainly had an effect on Maewyn, who was convinced it was the Lord who protected him and delivered him safely home.

St. Patrick Spreads the Gospel

Upon returning home, Maewyn received his call (in a dream) to preach the Gospel—in Ireland, of all places! He spent the next 15 or so years in a monastery in Britain, preparing for his missionary work. When he became a priest, his name was changed to Patricius, and he returned to the land of his captors to begin his teachings.

Although some Christians already lived in Ireland at the time, the country was largely pagan, so spreading a foreign religion was not an easy task. Patricius traveled from village to village to share the teachings of the Lord, and was successful enough to eventually found many churches there.

Why is the shamrock associated with St. Patrick’s Day?

We wear a shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day because, legend says, St. Patrick used its three leaves to explain the Holy Trinity in his teachings. (The Trinity is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit as three divine persons who are one divine being [God].) The truth of the St. Patrick legend, however, is in question, as there is no direct record that the saint actually used the shamrock as a teaching tool.

Note: The symbol of St. Patrick is a three-leaf shamrock, not a four-leaf clover. However, long before the shamrock became associated with St. Patrick’s Day, the four-leaf clover was regarded by ancient Celts as a charm against evil spirits. In the early 1900s, O. H. Benson, an Iowa school superintendent, came up with the idea of using a clover as the emblem for a newly founded agricultural club for children in his area. In 1911, the four-leaf clover was chosen as the emblem for the national club program, later named 4-H. (Quote source here.)

With this background on St. Patrick’s Day, one might wonder how it became associated with partying and drinking green beer. Well, the answer is found in this article published on March 2, 2020, titled, How Did St. Patrick’s Day Become a Drinking Holiday?” by Bobbi Dempsey, freelance writer, editor and content specialist. She writes:

The holiday somehow transitioned from a religious feast to a day where we drink green beer.

Today, St. Patrick’s Day has become synonymous with drinking and having a good time. But the occasion wasn’t always associated with overindulgence. Those who think St. Patrick’s Day is just about wearing green and enjoying parties and parades might be surprised to learn about the holiday’s origins. Find out 21 things you never knew about St. Patrick’s Day.

History of St. Patrick

St. Patrick is one of the most well-known saints because his special day has become such a cause for celebration, but most people don’t actually know a lot about him. One shocking tidbit: even though he’s so strongly associated with Irish culture and symbolism, he wasn’t actually born in Ireland. In fact, he was born in Roman Britain in the late fourth or early fifth century. (Britain was part of the Roman Empire back then!) As a boy, he was taken to Ireland as a slave.

Because it was so long ago, some of the details of his life are a bit fuzzy and the story varies depending on the source. But according to many versions, he eventually escaped but would return to Ireland years later and become a priest, and then a bishop.

He was largely credited for bringing Christianity to Ireland and helping to convert many of the country’s residents to the religion.

A man of many myths

For some reason, St. Patrick became a magnet for mythology and creative tales over the years. He was credited with everything from driving the snakes out of Ireland to starting an Easter bonfire that could never be extinguished and still burns somewhere in Ireland to this day. Of course, along the way he also somehow became linked to shamrocks, the color green, and a host of other symbols and traditions we now associate with St. Patrick’s Day.

By today’s standards, he doesn’t even meet the criteria of sainthood, since he was never actually canonized by a pope. (That process didn’t even start until a few centuries after his death.) So some sticklers for details will claim that he’s not an “official” saint. While they may technically be right, he’s still the patron saint of Ireland and beloved by his adopted country. These St. Patrick’s Day “facts” are actually false.

How St. Patrick’s Day started

The first observation of St. Patrick’s Day is said to have occurred in the 9th or 10th century. It is observed on March 17 because that was believed to be the date of St. Patrick’s death. It was initially celebrated with reverence and a sort of solemn quiet, and seen more as a religious holiday. Eventually, it became a day that was celebrated with a feast. A few centuries ago, the shift toward more of a fun-filled celebration began to happen. St. Patrick’s Day fell towards the middle of Lent, but Catholics were given a one-day reprieve from the usual fasting and discipline of the season and were allowed to indulge in a wide range of food and drink, including alcohol.

The parties and parades begin

The tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with the revelry of parties and parades is widely believed to have developed in full force not in Ireland, but in the United States. Irish immigrants were eager to honor their culture and celebrate their national pride. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States was held in Boston in 1737, and New York City started a parade of its own 25 years later. See how the world celebrates St. Patrick’s Day today.

Essentially, drinking on St. Patrick’s Day was the result of two combining forces: the day of reprieve from Lenten fasting and the indulgence of partying and celebration. Today, it has become a part of secular culture and a popular tradition, one often celebrated with green beer or Irish whiskey. Find out which is correct: St. Patty’s Day vs. St. Paddy’s Day. (Quote source here.)

I hope this brief history of St. Patrick’s Day has been informative. Here are three Irish blessings to go with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day posted at this link:

However you decide to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to end this post with all of the verses from the Irish blessing titled, May the Road Rise to Meet You,” posted at this link:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
May God be with you and bless you:
May you see your children’s children.
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings.
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home
And may the hand of a friend always be near.
May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you…

And may true . . .

Be the hearts . . .

That love you . . . .

YouTube Video: “May the Road Rise to Meet You” by Celtic Thunder:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photos #3, #4, #5 credit here

The “L” Word

After one full year of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s time to tackle the “L” word…as in loneliness. If ever anything has hit our society and the world that has caused so much loneliness and isolation, it is Covid-19; however, in actuality, it just added to the already existing universal epidemic of loneliness that has existed long before the pandemic arrived.

In an article published on May 19, 2020, on Time.com titled, COVID-19 Is Making America’s Loneliness Epidemic Even Worse,” by Jamie Ducharme, TIME staff writer covering health, she opens her article with the following:

Driving around her Kearney, Missouri neighborhood is both respite and torture for Kathie Hodgson. She likes seeing other people out and about; it reminds her what life was like before COVID-19. But Hodgson, a 41-year-old teacher who lives alone after a recent divorce, says seeing happy families playing in their yards or walking their dogs can also send her plunging deep into a spiral of loneliness.

“You know, as much as I have valued my independence in the past year, it’s finally hitting me that I would like to curl up on the couch with somebody at night,” Hodgson says.

The irony, Hodgson says, is she was thrilled to live alone before the coronavirus pandemic hit, enjoying her “me time” and the newfound ability to date and see friends whenever she wanted—not long ago, she lived with her kids (who recently grew up and moved out) and a partner (who she recently divorced). But now that she’s confined to her apartment almost 24 hours a day, she is feeling the emptiness of her home acutely.

“Some days I smile and feel okay,” Hodgson says. “And other days I curl up in a ball and wonder if this goes on too much longer, will I be able to take it mentally? Can I last sanely living alone for months—a year?”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, public-health experts were concerned about an epidemic of loneliness in the U.S. The coronavirus has exacerbated that problem, with most face-to-face socializing for people still under lockdown orders indefinitely limited to members of their own households. For the 35.7 million Americans who live alone, that means no meaningful social contact at all, potentially for months on end.

Experts are rightly concerned about the mental health ramifications of this widespread isolation, especially since there’s no agreed-upon tipping point at which acute loneliness transitions into a chronic problem with long-term consequences. A group of doctors from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School warned in an April 22 commentary published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that physical distancing and stress caused by the pandemic, combined with rising firearm sales, could worsen the suicide crisis the U.S. has already been weathering for more than a decade.

On the other hand, some mental health advocates are optimistic that COVID-19 will finally give loneliness the mainstream recognition it deserves—possibly paving the way for a more socially connected future.

For such a common experience, loneliness is surprisingly slippery to define clinically. Loneliness is not included in the DSM-5, the official diagnostic manual for mental health disorders, but it goes hand-in-hand with many conditions that are. It’s often lumped together with social isolation, but the two concepts are different. Social isolation is an objective indicator of how much contact somebody has with other people, whereas loneliness is “the subjective feeling of isolation,” says Dr. Carla Perissinotto, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco who studies loneliness. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely, nor does being around people mean you’re not, Perissonotto says. Loneliness is a feeling only the person experiencing it can truly identify. (Quote source and the rest of the article is located at this link.)

As noted in the article above, Social isolation is an objective indicator of how much contact somebody has with other people, whereas loneliness is the subjective feeling of isolation…. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely, nor does being around people mean you’re not…. Loneliness is a feeling only the person experiencing it can truly identify.” This distinction is important.

To show just how pervasive loneliness is in America, here are some pre-pandemic statics from a survey conducted in 2019 taken from the above article from CIGNA surveys on loneliness in America (source here):

Share of Americans who reported being lonely in 2019 (pre-pandemic):

Generation:
Gen Z (18-22): 79%
Millennials (23-38): 71%
Gen X (38-51): 65%
Boomers (52-71): 50%
Silent/Greatest (72+): 38%

Income:
Under $25k: 77%
$25,000 to $49,999: 64%
$50,000 to $74,999: 59%
$75,000 to $99,999: 55%
$100k or more: 53%

Living Status:
Living alone: 69%
Living w/one other: 51%
Living with 2+ others: 65%

Gender:
Female: 58%
Male: 63%

Now that I am single and sixty, I spend more time alone than I used to when I was married. However, I spend less time being lonely. I was always lonely in my marriage, not as a mother but as a wife.  I was almost never alone but was always lonely.

Here are 10 subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the two and a few suggestions on how to turn loneliness around.

1. You can be happy while you are alone. The same can’t be said for being lonely.

2. Sitting in a football stadium full of people, you can be lonely. It is not a question of numbers, but of emotions. If you are watching the football game at home by yourself, well you get it, you are just alone.

3. Some things are preferable when you are alone like reading. You might prefer to read when alone. It is great to nap while you are alone. On the other hand, if you are feeling lonely, a Saturday date-night movie by yourself might not be the best time to venture out.  

4. Sometimes being lonely might make you try something new to get over the loneliness. You might join a group or class that will allow you to learn a new skill or improve on an old hobby. The sheer making the arrangements can go a long way in helping with loneliness. And, you will meet new people and maybe form some new friendships. It feels great to take control in improving your situation, and the worst thing that can happen is that you still feel lonely. What have you got to lose? You can still be alone anytime.

5. Laughter is great for loneliness and also for when you are alone. It is hard to feel lonely when you are laughing, try it. And, it is wonderful to be alone when you want to laugh out loud.

6. On special occasions, to avoid loneliness, nothing replaces planning. If you know you are going to be lonely for Christmas, plan ahead. Do everything you can to make it better before it comes up. Let’s face it, nothing makes up for not being with loved ones, or not having loved ones around on family holidays but you can work on it. Last year I planned a movie with a friend for Christmas morning because neither of us had any plans until later in the day and it kept me from feeling so blue on the first Christmas morning in my life when I wouldn’t be with my children. I was alone when I woke up but had plans that kept me from being lonely.

7. If you want to watch a big game but it feels so lonely to do it by yourself at home, go to a nearby restaurant or bar and watch for a while. Much of the fun is just being around other people to cheer on your team. It might take care of your loneliness. But, if you want to watch alone, no shame in that either.

8.  Speaking of bars and restaurants, if you want to have a drink when you are alone, well that’s up to you. If you want to have a drink when you are lonely…don’t do it. It is nothing but a slippery slope that will just make you feel worse.

9. I hate to put this in, but cleaning makes me feel less lonely. I think because I start thinking about how great my place will look when someone comes to see it. How much all of this organization will make me happy when I finish. And, of course, I must do it while I am alone.

10. Being lonely makes me tired, in a sad sort of way. Draggy. I find that exercise helps, as much as I hate to admit it. If I exercise and I am tired, I deserve to be.  Being alone does not make me tired.

Of course, much of this is tongue-in-cheek, but it’s rooted in my experiences over my 60 years. I have to trick myself a lot in order not to feel lonely. I hope I won’t always have to do that. I don’t treat loneliness lightly, though. If you feel lonely, but you feel that it will pass or diminish over time, then that seems like a healthy attitude to me. However, if you are living under a dark cloud that never seems to go away, that probably needs help from the outside, whatever that looks like to you. (Quote source here.)

This brings us to a topic associated with being alone but not lonely, and that is solitude. In an article published in Psychology Today titled, What is Solitude?” by Hara Estroff Marano, Editor at Large of Psychology Today, she writes:

Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness.

As the world spins faster and faster—or maybe it just seems that way when an email can travel around the world in fractions of a second—we mortals need a variety of ways to cope with the resulting pressures. We need to maintain some semblance of balance and some sense that we are steering the ship of our life.

Otherwise we feel overloaded, overreact to minor annoyances and feel like we can never catch up. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best ways is by seeking, and enjoying, solitude.

That said, there is an important distinction to be established right off the bat. There is a world of difference between solitude and loneliness, though the two terms are often used interchangeably.

From the outside, solitude and loneliness look a lot alike. Both are characterized by solitariness. But all resemblance ends at the surface.

Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. One feels that something is missing. It is possible to be with people and still feel lonely—perhaps the most bitter form of loneliness.

Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself. Solitude is desirable, a state of being alone where you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company.

Solitude is a time that can be used for reflection, inner searching or growth or enjoyment of some kind. Deep reading requires solitude, so does experiencing the beauty of nature. Thinking and creativity usually do too.

Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and whatever it brings that is satisfying and from which we draw sustenance. It is something we cultivate. Solitude is refreshing; an opportunity to renew ourselves. In other words, it replenishes us.

Loneliness is harsh, punishment, a deficiency state, a state of discontent marked by a sense of estrangement, an awareness of excess aloneness.

Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others.

We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount of solitude we need. Some solitude is essential; It gives us time to explore and know ourselves. It is the necessary counterpoint to intimacy, what allows us to have a self worthy of sharing. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. It allows us to get (back) into the position of driving our own lives, rather than having them run by schedules and demands from without.

Solitude restores body and mind. Loneliness depletes them. (Quote source here.)

And here is one last article that reminds us that loneliness is a universal human emotion. This article is titled, Jesus Was Lonely, Too,” published on Beliefnet.com, and it is a excerpt from the book, A Touch of His Presence, by Dr. Charles Stanley,  Founder of InTouch Ministries and Pastor Emeritus (51 years) at First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Loneliness is one of the most crushing human emotions. The feelings of abandonment and isolation create an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair. People in the throes of a heightened state of loneliness often fall prey to temptations or behaviors that are extremely atypical. It is a dangerous place to be. Jesus knows what it is like to be lonely. As the perfect Son of God, he certainly was unlike all the other children in Nazareth. And we all know that when a person is different from the crowd, they usually spend time by themselves. Shortly after he began his public ministry, many of the disciples left him when his teachings became too difficult to grasp. At the time of his greatest sorrow, the handful that remained scattered, leaving him utterly alone.

As our sympathetic High Priest who “had to be made like his brothers in every way” (Hebrews 2:17) and who “shared in [our] humanity” (Hebrews 2:14), Jesus is intimately acquainted with the devastating effect of loneliness. He is also able to come to our aid with help and hope that can lift us out of the deepest pit.

Jesus hears our heart cry. The faintest whisper of a heart that feels alone and abandoned comes before the heart of a loving Father who will go to any lengths to comfort his children. In fact, he has already gone to the extreme in offering himself on the cross and since he did not spare his only son, he will freely give us the help we need (Romans 8:32). When Hagar and her son were dying in the desert after being cast out by Sarah, God heard her feeble voice and nurtured them. When Elijah sat alone after his power encounter with the prophets of Baal, he sat down and collapsed, wondering if he was the only one left in Israel who still called on God. The Lord encouraged him with the news of many others, though he knew none of them.

Throughout the Scriptures when men and women of faith faced great challenges, God reminded them of his powerful presence, saying to them, “I am with you.” They were afraid, anxious, doubtful, and bewildered, but the awareness of God’s presence became their strength to deal with formidable odds. Lonely leaders were instilled with courage, lonely prophets with boldness, lonely apostles with hope.

Remember, God is with us. The God who is able. The God who is kind. The God who is gentle. The God who knows all our needs. The God who is faithful. The God who works all things together for good. The God who loves us with an everlasting love.

God has already turned to you through the indwelling presence of his Spirit. His face shines upon you. Turn to him and find the solace and help you need. It may come through a Scripture promise. It may come through a prayer. It may come through his still voice when you are quiet on your bed. But it will come, because he has come into your life forever.

“Jesus, you do know what loneliness is like. You understand when I come to you with my feelings and do not condemn me. Thank you for allowing me to express my inner pain to you. You are always there for me and you will never cast me out. I run into your arms.” (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words found in Deuteronomy 31:8 (NIV)–The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you….

Do not be afraid . . .

[And] do not be . . . 

Discouraged . . . .

YouTube Video: “Never Alone” by Teri Kelly:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Time for Mercy

I’ve been reading John Grisham‘s latest novel, A Time for Mercy,” this past week in the midst of an unusually frigid winter storm named Uri that rarely ever hits this part of the USA. We’ve had rolling blackouts, freezing water pipes and single digit temperatures along with snow and ice which has kept me indoors for a week until it finally warmed up enough yesterday to go out and buy some groceries. I haven’t experienced this type of winter weather since I left the Midwest back in the early 1990’s, and I never expected to experience it where I currently live which is less than an hour’s drive from the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately, the worst of it has now passed through our area and the current temperature outside as I am writing this blog post is 57 degrees.

As I was reading Grisham’s novel with a battery powered reading light during the first power outage this past Monday, I kept thinking about the topic of mercy. I published a blog post a few months ago on August 7, 2020, titled Agents of Mercy,” after the tumultuous summer of rioting we encountered here in America in the midst of the Covid pandemic that is still ongoing, and which was followed by a very contentious and divisive presidential election that didn’t seem to end but lingered on long after election day was over in early November.

In our world today it seems that mercy is in very short supply. Whether it’s the presidential election or racial injustice or the current cancel culture movement or even a personal wrong done to us by others, we seek out justice that too often centers on revenge.

In an article published on February 6, 2014, in Psychology Today titled, Don’t Confuse Revenge With Justice: Five Key Differences,” by Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., he clearly shows the distinctions between justice and revenge:

The terms “revenge” and “justice” often get muddled. And that’s hardly surprising. In the course of history, the two have been frequently used interchangeably. You may even be familiar with the phrase “just revenge.” Still, as meanings alter and evolve over time, the connotations of these two words have increasingly diverged. It’s now uncommon to see them used synonymously. And doubtless, revenge has borne the brunt of the various semantic changes that have transpired.

Yet certain overlaps between—and ambiguities within—the two terms do exist. Before delineating the chief distinctions that can usefully be made to separate them, let me at least hint at what some of these inconsistencies might be.

It would be convenient to advance the claim that justice is fair and revenge is not. But as the words “just revenge” suggest, revenge—depending on its underlying conditions, motivations, and execution—might be either just or unjust, fair or (frankly) outrageously out of proportion to the wrong originally done. There seems to be equivocality tightly woven into the term that’s less perceptible in the related concept of justice. All the same, the well-known phrase “miscarriage of justice” warns us to be careful about distinguishing between concepts that, finally, must be understood as both relative and subjective.

Although I believe that the differences between revenge and justice enumerated below generally hold true, I’d emphasize that they are generalizations, so you’ll probably be able to think of some exceptions. There are instances when revenge can legitimately be understood as a type of justice, and justice a kind of revenge. Moreover, as discrete as I’ve tried to make each of the five categories below, a certain amount of resemblance and repetition has been unavoidable. That is, my “dividing lines” may at times seem a bit arbitrary. 

1. Revenge is predominantly emotional; justice primarily rational. Revenge is mostly about “acting out” (typically through violence) markedly negative emotions. At its worst, it expresses a hot, overwhelming desire for bloodshed. As perverse as it may seem, there’s actual pleasure experienced in causing others to suffer for the hurt they’ve caused the avenger, or self-perceived victim (cf. the less personal Schadenfreude).

Justice—as logically, legally, and ethically defined—isn’t really about “getting even” or experiencing a spiteful joy in retaliation. Instead, it’s about righting a wrong that most members of society (as opposed to simply the alleged victim) would agree is morally culpable. And the presumably unbiased (i.e., unemotional) moral rightness of such justice is based on cultural or community standards of fairness and equity. Whereas revenge has a certain selfish quality to it, “cool” justice is selfless in that it relies on non-self-interested, established law.

2. Revenge is, by nature, personal; justice is impersonal, impartial, and both a social and legal phenomenon. The driving impetus behind revenge is to get even, to carry out a private vendetta, or to achieve what, subjectively, might be described as a personal justice. If successful, the party perceiving itself as gravely injured experiences considerable gratification: their retaliatory goal has been achieved—the other side vanquished, or brought to its knees. Just or not, the avenger feels justified. Their quest for revenge has “re-empowered” them and, from their biased viewpoint, it’s something they’re fully entitled to.

On the other hand, social justice is impersonal. It revolves around moral correction in situations where certain ethical and culturally vital principles have been violated. When justice is successfully meted out, the particular retribution benefits or protects both the individual and society—which can operate effectively only when certain acceptable behavioral guidelines are followed.

3. Revenge is an act of vindictiveness; justice, of vindication. The intense effort to avenge oneself or others can easily become corrupting, morally reducing the avenger’s status to that of the perpetrator. Two wrongs do not make a right and (ethically speaking) never can. Degrading another only ends up further degrading oneself. Even if a kind of justice might be served through an act of revenge, it could still be argued that there’s nothing particularly admirable or evolved in retaliating against a wrong by committing a “like” wrong. Or to behave vengefully is, at best, to take the low road to justice.

In opposition, justice is grounded in assumptions, conventions, and doctrines having to do with honor, fairness, and virtue. Its purpose really isn’t vindictive. That is, bloodthirstiness has no part—or should have no part—in precepts of justice, at least not in the way the term is presently employed. It’s based on established law, and its proceedings are designed to dispense to individuals precisely what is deserved: nothing more, and nothing less.

4. Revenge is about cycles; justice is about closure. Revenge has a way of relentlessly repeating itself (as in interminable feuds, such as the Hatfields and McCoys)—and ever more maliciously. Revenge typically begets more revenge. Whether it’s an individual or an entire nation, it takes place within a closed system that seems able to feed on itself indefinitely. Unlike tic-tac-toe, tit for tat is a game without end. One side gets satisfaction, then the other is driven to get its satisfaction, and then, theoretically, ad infinitum. There can be no resolution, no compromise. Each faction (say, Israel and Palestine) has its own agenda, its own sense of right and wrong. And the righteous rigidity of each side usually demands that some trusted outsider intervene if matters are ever to be settled.

Justice, in contrast, is designed (by individuals or officials generally not linked to the two opposing camps) to offer a resolution far more likely to eventuate in closure—especially if, in fact, it is just (equitable). And when justice is done so is the conflict that led up to it. Beyond that, punishments for wrongdoing carry an agreed-upon authority lacking in personal vengeful acts, which are calculated solely to “get back” at the assumed perpetrator. Technically speaking, so-called “vigilante justice” isn’t really justice, or social justice, at all—though at times it may appear to be. Taking matters into one’s own hands may sometimes seem justified, but it hardly meets the more rigorous criteria for consensual, or community, justice.

5. Revenge is about retaliation; justice is about restoring balance. The motive of revenge has mostly to do with expressing rage, hatred, or spite. It’s a protest or payback, and its foremost intent is to harm. In and of itself, it’s not primarily about justice but about victims’ affirming their inborn (but non-legal) right to retaliate against some wrong done to them.

And because it’s so impassioned, it’s typically disproportionate to the original injury—meaning that it usually can’t be viewed as just. The punishment may fit the crime, but it’s often an exaggerated response to another’s perceived offense.

On the contrary, justice is concerned with dispassionately restoring balance by bringing about equality—or better, equity. It centers on proportion as it equates to fairness. Not driven by emotion, restorative justice—meted out by a court of law—seeks to be as objective and evenhanded as possible. It’s not, as is so much of revenge, about doing the other side “one better” but about equitably—or properly—punishing wrongdoing. In fact, the ancient “law of the ‘talion’” (an ethical standard originating in Babylonian law and present as well in the Bible and early Roman law) focuses on what is commonly known (but, hopefully, only metaphorically!) as the “eye for an eye” conception of justice. In brief, the kind or magnitude of justice meted out is contrived to “correspond” as exactly as possible to the gravity of the original injury. (Quote source here.)

In a devotion published on November 25, 2017, titled, Don’t Confuse Mercy and Justice,” on DJamesKennedy.org (author’s name not mentioned), the devotion states the following:

This world does not operate on grace; it operates on the basis of merit, on the basis of justice. Quid pro quo, this for that; you do this, you get that. That is the way the entire world operates—on the basis of justice or equity.

Early in my ministry, I went to preach in a jail, and a man snapped at me that all he demanded was justice. I said if he got justice, the floor would open up and send him to hell.

What we need is mercy, not justice.

Consider the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the famous couple accused of being Soviet spies who gave away our atomic secrets. They were convicted of espionage by the jury and were sentenced to death. Their lawyers said to Judge Kaufman, “Your honor, all my clients ask for is justice.”

Judge Kaufman replied, “What your clients have asked for, this court has given them. What you really mean, is what they want is mercy, and that, this court is not empowered to give.”

But that is precisely what our God—the Judge of all of the earth—is able to do: grant us mercy. That is the wondrous news of the Gospel.

While none of us is perfect, and none of us has lived up to God’s standard, and all of us have fallen short, Jesus Christ came to do what we are unable to do. In His mercy, He saved us by His blood. (Quote source here.)

And in another article published on May 14, 2019, titled, Feeling Vengeful?” by Marc Massery, contributor at thedivinemercy.org, he writes:

It’s inevitable. People in our lives, even people we love, will wrong us in one way or another. Look at Jesus. He never did anything wrong. Still, He was gravely wronged, to the point of death.

When someone wrongs us, often we have the natural urge to want to harm them back…. We’re all susceptible to giving in to the spirit of revenge. But we must try our best not to give in. Though exacting revenge may feel like it will relieve us and set things right, it never does. In fact, trying to get revenge only ever makes things worse.

It says in Scripture, “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.'” (Rom 12:19-20). It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK, even good when appropriate, to express feelings and emotions. But to channel our anger into exacting vengeance only breeds more hurt. We must replace desire for revenge with mercy, as Jesus did.

Scripture commentator Scott Hahn says of this Scripture passage, “Heaping coals of kindness on one who has wronged you can cure him of vices, burn away his malice, and move him to repentance.”

Love and mercy can bring healing into just about any situation. God, of course, transformed the death of His innocent Son into the saving act of Redemption.

On the other hand, prudence requires us, in certain situations, to take reasonable steps to protect ourselves from harm. For example, avoiding someone who has shown they mean you harm is not revenge so much as mercifully protecting the innocent.

Though we should not seek revenge, this does not mean that God is unfair. Hahn continues, “God overlooks no evil or wrongdoing but will exact justice on the Day of Judgment.” The Lord will set everything right at the end of time. For now, we can trust that God can bring forth a greater good from our suffering if we let Him.

In the end, God is the only one whom we can count on to never hurt us. No matter how much we might harm Him, He is all-merciful. He merely asks us to treat our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the same way. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 12 from the J.B. Phillips translation of the New Testament:

With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers [and sisters], as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

As your spiritual teacher I give this piece of advice to each one of you. Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you all. For just as you have many members in one physical body and those members differ in their functions, so we, though many in number, compose one body in Christ and are all members of one another. Through the grace of God we have different gifts. If our gift is preaching, let us preach to the limit of our vision. If it is serving others let us concentrate on our service; if it is teaching let us give all we have to our teaching; and if our gift be the stimulating of the faith of others let us set ourselves to it. Let the man who is called to give, give freely; let the man who wields authority think of his responsibility; and let the man who feels sympathy for his fellows act cheerfully.

Let us have no imitation Christian love. Let us have a genuine break with evil and a real devotion to good.

Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers [and sisters], and a willingness to let the other man have the credit.

Let us not allow slackness to spoil our work and let us keep the fires of the spirit burning, as we do our work for God.

Base your happiness on your hope in Christ. When trials come endure them patiently, steadfastly maintain the habit of prayer.

Give freely to fellow-Christians in want, never grudging a meal or a bed to those who need them.

And as for those who try to make your life a misery, bless them. Don’t curse, bless.

Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad.

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t become snobbish but take a real interest in ordinary people. Don’t become set in your own opinions.

Don’t pay back a bad turn by a bad turn, to anyone. Don’t say “it doesn’t matter what people think”, but see that your public behavior is above criticism.

As far as your responsibility goes, live at peace with everyone.

Never take vengeance into your own hands, my dear friends: stand back and let God punish if he will. For it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay’.

These are God’s words: ‘Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head’. Don’t allow yourself to be overpowered with evil…

Take the offensive . . .

Overpower evil . . .

By good . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mercy Came Running” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Overcoming the January Blahs

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), Chilean poet-diplomat and politician who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971
Today (January 20, 2021) is Inauguration Day here in America, and a new administration has taken over from the previous Trump administration when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris took the oath of office of President and Vice President of the United States of America earlier today. I watched the inauguration on TV this morning.

I was not able to vote in the Presidential election in November as a few weeks before Election Day I moved from living in a hotel room (for longer then I ever expected to live in a hotel room) in one county to moving into an apartment (after a six-year search which I have explained previously) approximately 20 miles away located in another county. Unfortunately, in the new county where I moved to requires that a person of voting age must be a resident of that county for 30 days in order to register to vote,  and the registration deadline date had already passed at the time I moved into my apartment. So, I was unable to vote.

What has occurred between Election Day on November 3rd and now doesn’t need to be repeated in this blog post. The entire world is well aware of what has taken place, and hopefully some of the heat has subsided now that Inauguration Day is over and we are moving on.

So here we are–a few days past the middle of January–and even with the installation of a new administration today, I have a bad case of the “January blahs.” It started right after New Year’s Day and it usually lasts throughout the month of January. I call it the “post-Christmas/New Year’s Day letdown,” which takes a while to go away.

Two years ago on January 25, 2019, I published a blog post titled, Journey Out of the Mid-January Blahs,” so this phenomenon is nothing new and it is really quite common for a lot of folks. A Google search produced a bunch of articles on how to beat the January blahs after all of the activities that took place leading up to Christmas through New Year’s Day. It is probably why the Super Bowl is scheduled only a few weeks after Christmas and New Year’s Day to bring us back to life after the January blahs…

I came across an article published on January 28, 2020, titled, 5 Tips for Overcoming the January Blahs,” by Dr. Fields,” who describes herself as a “Nonprofit CEO, innovator, internationalist, feminist, creative, hopeful romantic. Student of power. Not that kind of doctor. Smokescreen for the guilty.” She writes:

Your creativity is hibernating–and that’s okay.

For some reason, my 2020 case of “the Januaries” has been the worst one I can remember.

I’m finally coming out of it, but I’ve had to dig deep into my bag of creative tips and tricks and pull out all my old favorites.

Here are some of the things that are helping me fight to the surface:

1. Get moving

There’s no better thing than movement for loosening up the brain’s rusty hinges and letting thoughts and ideas flow.

I take my pug for a little walk around the block or put on some dance music and jump around. Sometimes I stretch at my desk.

It only takes ten minutes or so to get some dopamine and oxygen into the system and refresh the mind.

That little bit of exercise can make the difference between finishing the day with energy to spare for the rest of life or zoning out on half of what I’m supposed to be doing.

2. Solve other people’s problems

Giving advice—solicited, of course—often results not only in bursts of helpful creativity but insight into my issues.

Some of my best moments have come when listening to my partner talk about problems in their highly technical field and realizing that the difficulties—and the solutions—can apply to my own organization.

It can be much easier to cut to the essence of a problem when you are not invested or emotionally attached to the details.

Talking to a colleague in my field can also be energizing, too, as long as you don’t let it degenerate into a lengthy bitch session. Stay focused on what you can solve, rather than what you can’t.

And don’t forget to comment on what is going well.

3. Create a soundtrack

Music combines well with physical activity to energize you up before a brainstorming session or a difficult negotiation.

I would never share this with my team, but I’ve been known to walk around the block a few times to Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back” and Snap’s “The Power” on repeat.

Silly as it sounds, it helps me channel confidence, which is a good thing in most situations.

Plus, if you’re sitting at your desk with your headphones, most people know not to interrupt you unless it’s crucial.

4. Embrace the downtime

Back in December, I decided to allow myself to hibernate as much as I needed to until Spring.

Humans are denning mammals, after all, and most of our kind are doing the same. Even plants don’t bloom at the same rate all year long, so why should we?

It’s okay to spend the day on the couch drinking tea and watching Netflix when it’s cold and dark outside.

Now is also an excellent time to think about letting some of the stuff that is draining you go. Unfinished projects, especially creative ones, waste energy.

There’s a reason trees drop dead leaves and branches during this season.

5. Consume and digest

Now is an excellent time for Netflix, reading, and for visiting art galleries or museums and soaking up the essence of somebody else’s inspiration.

Make up a story about a work that inspires you. How did the artist, writer, or filmmaker come up with the idea? Did they work from an image or a memory? Or an overheard snippet of conversation? What tools did they need, both physical and intellectual, to get it done? Did they need ladders or special equipment? Did they have to travel or translate documents?

Don’t worry about the real story; enjoy the one you’re making up.

Yes, I do recognize the irony of breaking out of a creative slump by writing an article about creativity, but I’ll take it where I can get it.

In fact, maybe this piece is that no matter how deep the snow is right now, the green shoots will break through. Eventually.

Spring is coming. (Quote source here.)

In another article published in the Los Angeles Times on January 19, 2018, titled, Postcard from 1-A: The January Blahs are a Thing; I Actually Kind of Like Them,” by Chris Erskine, a nationally known humor columnist and editor who retired from the Los Angeles Times in 2020, he writes:

In January, a house is a million little things. The kettledrum thump of the furnace kicking on. The burned coffee smell when you yank the pot out a little too early and the last few drips sizzle on the heating plate. The booming echo of a shower door.

Add in quirky people, quirky traits and you get the full family symphony. Not a good symphony. Just three movements, all out of tune.

People, eh? We live in stubborn, caustic times. I was grumbling the other day how our little newspaper, once as jovial as a college campus, has grown less friendly over the years.

To me, acknowledgment is such a simple gesture. Look up from your phone, note the person passing, fake a nice nod. It’s not such a difficult thing.

Basic civility used to be taught at home and school, but that was in the days before our little Einsteins were primped, coddled and treated like celebrities. I’m pretty sure there are kids today who have never said thank you.

Perhaps our increasingly cold and unwelcoming ways are tied to this. Or, perhaps it’s the nature of popular entertainment. TV is wonderful, but loaded with dark and dysfunctional shows, and our movies are all so cynical and loud.

And when was the last time you heard a love song?

It’s as if we’re afraid of hope and happy endings

If I’m wrong, I’m wrong—and I often am. But on this particular issue, probably not. I must sound like your grandpa. Truth is, I like grandpas more and more.

Or maybe it’s just a seasonal thing, the warmth and sparkle of December giving way to gloomy middle winter.

My buddy Sam made an excellent point the other day. Sam noted that if you wedge your way into a line of cars and don’t raise your hand as a thank you to the driver who let you in, you’ve got issues.

I agreed with him, though someone else added that you need to wave only if you’re allowed in. If you have to wedge your way in, a wave is just sarcastic.

Who knew life could be so nuanced, and that a wave could be sarcastic? Yet these are the times in which we live.

Look, I’m all for sarcasm; it makes my world spin. It greases the gears of daily conversation and makes tolerable the tiny injustices of my too common life. Sarcasm is the little guy’s revenge on the bully. It’s Boise State beating Oklahoma. It’s the Bulls or Clippers beating anyone.

I take sarcasm like I take my coffee. Black. Like I take my steaks — charred and on fire.

Point is, we need to laugh any way we can. So don’t be so damn choosy, OK?

“A good laugh is sunshine in the house,” noted British writer William Makepeace Thackeray.

“If you have no tragedy, you have no comedy,” said Sid Caesar. “Crying and laughing are the same emotion. If you laugh too hard, you cry. And vice versa.”

Or, versa vice, as I always like to say, in another desperate stab at Dad humor, which also makes my world spin.

Like someone who sees Jesus in the clouds, I remain buoyant and a little naïve. To be too wise is to be a little dead. To have all the answers is to have none of them.

Certainly, January is an optimist’s finest challenge.

January is dads on ladders taking down the lights and moms deciding when to toss the half-dead poinsettias. It’s boxes of Kleenex all over the house… the dog sleeping on the furnace vent… stale eggnog forgotten in the back of the fridge.

January is the lent before the Lent. It’s diets and boot camps and proclamations to be a better person.

If you start to feel sorry for yourself in January, just remember that February is even worse. Why do we always insist on starting a year like this anyway?

The January blahs are a thing. I actually kind of like them, because they remind us that much of life is mopping floors and taking care of those you love at your own expense. January is obligation and duty—de-linting the dryer and de-gunking the stove.

None of this is fun, but there are payoffs to that as well. It is a deep, unappreciated subset of our love for those we live with.

When I tell my kids that an adult’s life is 70% chores, largely unacknowledged, I can see the gloss of youth leave their beautiful eyes. They start to tremble a little, and the words catch in their throats.

Chores?” they say, a word they only half know. “Are you… kidding us? In our experience, life is life.”

But, oh, kids, this is January. And this is life too. (Quote source here.)

In this next article, we’ll take a look at the January blahs from a Biblical perspective. This article is published in PremierPraise.com and it is titled, Overcoming the January Blues,(the author’s name is not mentioned). The article states:

Winter blues getting you down? You’re not alone, and we’ve come up with a few ways to help lift your spirits…

The days are still dark and the weather is dull, and perhaps you overspent on Christmas presents or overdid the festive snacks. Your relationships may have been put to the test over the holidays, or the Covid tier system may be making you feel trapped and afraid. But don’t worry if you’re suffering from the January blues, as there are ways to get back on track.

Reintroduce a routine

This may sound really basic and boring, but having a routine in place can really help your mental health. Try to get up and go to bed at the same time each day, even at weekends. Shower and dress every day, even if you have nowhere to go. Have set times for the various activities you do throughout the day, even if you’re not currently working (for example housework, taking the dog for a walk or replying to emails).

Look after yourself

Your physical health has a big influence on your mental well-being. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and are eating a healthy, balanced diet. It’s time to ditch the breakfast mince pies and get back on track! Try to eat your five a day and replace caffeinated or alcoholic drinks with water. Get outdoors! The weather may not be wonderful, but it’s really important that you breathe fresh air into your lungs, feel some light on your skin and get some exercise. If you really can’t get out, do an online Pilate’s class or run up and down the stairs 100 times!

Focus on your faith

It’s a good time to focus on your relationship with God if you’re struggling. Talk to him about how you’re feeling and ask him to help you overcome the darkness you’re currently facing. Study those in the Bible who suffered periods of mental challenge, for example Elijah, David, Job and even Jesus as his crucifixion approached. Talk to Christian friends or leaders and ask them to pray with you. Spend more time in prayer and worship, soaking up God’s presence.

Do something fun!

You may not feel motivated to do anything wild and wacky at the moment, but there’s no harm in reviving an old hobby or pursuing a new passion. It could be anything from learning to play the guitar to running a marathon. Maybe you’ve always wanted to own a pet, learn a new language or bake your own bread but never got round to it. Perhaps you just need to take some time out for yourself, put a face mask on and enjoy a nice long soak in the bath with a good book. Don’t feel guilty about making time for the things you love, as having something fun to focus on can really help to lift your spirits.

Connect with people

We may not be able to hang out with friends and family the way we used to, but it’s important to keep relationships going and avoid becoming too inwardly focused. Set up an online book club, pub quiz, bake-off or prayer group. Arrange video calls with loved ones. Send good old fashioned cards and letters through the post. Send someone else who might be struggling a text or an encouraging Bible verse. Respond to people positively on social media. Ask God to restore any relationships that might have fallen by the wayside.

Deuteronomy 31:8“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Quote source here.)

So if you’re feeling a little sluggish and blah as we head through the rest of January and into February, I hope the above articles help to lift your spirits and give you some helpful suggestions. I’ll end this post with these words from Ecclesiastes 3 verses 1 and 4: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

A time to weep and a time to laugh . . .

A time to mourn . . .

And a time to dance . . . .

YouTube Video: “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (1965) by The Byrds:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here