“There is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into ‘coteries’ where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumor that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.”
― C.S. Lewis
“Anyone familiar with party systems has seen the disgust one party member is apt to show toward another whom he may really know nothing about other than that he is one of ‘the enemies.’ He cannot afford to know much about the person, for then he risks finding some redeeming feature in his enemy, and this is unacceptable. Any redemption for the enemy is a failure for propaganda which seeks separation between individuals; communion is defeat.”
― Daniel Schwindt
These are difficult and divided times. It seems like everything is political, and our thoughts and actions about them are determined by which camp we’re in. Wearing masks is political. Getting vaccinated is political. Standing during the national anthem is political. Many actors and celebrities are political, losing roles because of their views. Many churches are political.
Being “political” is one thing. Having views about issues that matter is important. But we’re taking it further. We’re not just political, we’re partisan, which is different … and dangerous. When I say “partisan” I’m referring to the mindset described in the quotes by Lewis and Schwindt above. Partisan is when we over-identify with our group, to the extent that we get blind to its failures and inconsistencies, and demonize those in “the other group.” Being political is normal and healthy … being partisan is abnormal and dangerous.
I can’t tell you how many people I know who’ve lost friends — and been alienated from family members — over political differences. The most visible recent example of this is Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger getting a scathing letter from his family — calling him an “embarassment to us and to God,” and accusing him of joining “the devil’s army” — after breaking with fellow Republicans to vote for the impeachment of Donald Trump. I suspect Thanksgiving Dinner might be a little awkward at the Kinzinger household this year.Continue reading “How to Stop Losing Friends Over Politics: Six things to do, starting now”
I wrote this article for my email newsletter last year, so the podcast and documentary film I refer to are no longer “news.” In light of recent political developments, and incessant social media chatter, I thought I would post it on this website now, as a reminder of why I’m not sharing my views and interacting about the news of the day on social media. Who knows, maybe you’ll decide to join me.
“Fake news spreads six times faster than true news.”
“If everyone is entitled to their own ‘facts’, then there’s really no need for people to come together. In fact, there’s really no need for people to interact at all.”
“The intention [for social media] could be to make the world better. But if technology creates mass chaos, loneliness, more polarization, more election hacking, more inability to focus on the real issues … then we’re toast. This is check-mate on humanity.”Quotes from The Social Dilemma film
There is a principle I’ve heard from software engineers: “Your system is perfectly designed to produce whatever results you’re getting.” What is happening to or around you is no accident … it’s the natural consequence of the system you’ve created. If you don’t like what’s happening in your life, your church, or your society, remember that these things didn’t “just happen.” All the various aspects of that life, church, or society are working together to produce those results.
Right now, most everyone I talk to is deeply dismayed — and maybe genuinely frightened — by what they are seeing in our society: extreme polarization, division, cynicism, and social unrest. I’ve been writing about this for some time now, and I’ve been saying that our current environment of mass media, especially television and talk radio, and social media are a big part of the problem. They are an almost inescapable part of the fabric of our lives. They are how we understand and interact with the broader world. They are how we communicate with each other.
And, I believe, they are very bad for us.Continue reading “Here’s Why I No Longer Write or Interact on Social Media”
Loneliness is a big problem, and the pandemic is making it worse. Here’s how an article on Vox puts it:
The coronavirus pandemic has created a loneliness epidemic. Social distancing, while necessary from a public health standpoint, has caused a collapse in social contact among family, friends, and entire communities — one that is particularly hard on populations already most vulnerable to isolation.
But Americans were experiencing a loneliness crisis long before anyone had heard of Covid-19. In a 2018 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 22 percent of all adults in the US — almost 60 million Americans — said they often or always felt lonely or socially isolated. The problem is even more concentrated among older adults: A major National Academies of Sciences report from February found that a little more than a third of adults over the age of 45, and 43 percent of adults over 60, felt lonely (other surveys have returned similar results).
Loneliness isn’t simply painful; it can be lethal. Several meta-analyses have found the mortality risk associated with chronic loneliness is higher than that of obesity and equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
The article goes on to interview former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Murthy’s new book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, is about this loneliness epidemic that has taken hold across much of the Western world.Continue reading “Loneliness: The Pandemic Inside the Pandemic”
“The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.”Douglas Wood
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”G.K. Chesterton
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”Melody Beattie
This year, the coronavirus is changing many of our plans for celebrating Thanksgiving. We are reducing the scope of — or abandoning altogether — our plans to get together with friends and family. At the same time, health and financial concerns, as well as the mental health challenges of these strange times are putting people in much less “thankful moods.”
So we need to focus on gratitude right now more than ever! Every year during this week, I try to get some time by myself to focus on gratitude, spending time in reflection, meditation, and prayer. I encourage people in my church, and clients I work with, to do the same. You might think of this as a personal mini-retreat. It could take just a few minutes, it could span more than an hour. Whatever works for you.Continue reading “Your Stay-at-Home Thanksgiving Mini-Retreat”
“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.”― Stephen R. Covey
“What happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens. Events matter little, only stories of events affect us.”― Rabih Alameddine
“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.”― Chuck Palahniuk
Much of what we focus on, in the ultimate scheme of things, doesn’t really matter. But there is one thing we must cultivate, and take care to never lose. It’s not often talked about, but its absence makes life especially hard today. Our world is confusing enough as it is — and without this quality, it becomes a nightmare.
What I’m talking about is a sense of proportion … a sense of perspective. I was reminded of this while reading James Allen’s book “Light on Life’s Difficulties.” Allen lived in England around the turn of the 20th century, and wrote many books, including the classic “As a Man Thinketh.” Don’t let the sexist, King-James-language title put you off: this is one of the all-time classic self-help books. It’s still in print, and well worth the read. “Light on Life’s Difficulties” has more of a focus on moral and spiritual teaching. It was the last book Allen wrote, and published in 1912, the year of his death.
What follows is what I call a remix of his chapter “Light on the Sense of Proportion.” By “remix” I mean it’s a combination of extended quote and revised and updated language. I include my own thoughts mixed in with the original author’s, as well as updating the language for today. Since Allen is long dead and the book is no longer in print, I don’t think he or his publishers will mind. Listen to what he has to say. I think you’ll find — as I did — how relevant these words from 1912 are for today:
In a nightmare there is no relation of one thing to another; all things are haphazard, and there is general confusion and misery. Wise people have likened the self-absorbed life to a nightmare; and there is a close resemblance between a selfish life, in which the sense of proportion is so far lost that things are only seen as they affect one’s own, self-absorbed aims, and in which there are feverish excitements and overwhelming troubles and disasters, and that state of troubled sleep known as nightmare.
In a nightmare too, the controlling will and perceiving intelligence are asleep; and in a self-absorbed life the better nature and spiritual perceptions are also locked in a kind of unconscious slumber.Continue reading “The One Thing You Cannot Afford to Lose”
“Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God.”
– Stanley Hauerwas
“To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” – Bell Hooks
“There are people who are shocked and appalled to find out that there are other people in their congregation that have completely different views on the best way to handle a pandemic.” – Pastor Trevin Wax
Several years ago, the journalist Aaron Gell decided to write an article about a small, annual men’s gathering in upstate New York. So he went to the gathering, and got involved in the relationship network being created by it. He was impressed by their desire to not simply create an event, but an ongoing community. And he realized how rare that kind of community really is.Continue reading “We need support now more than ever … and it’s getting harder to find”
It’s time to rescue the practice of meditation for Christians today. It’s time to be clear that meditation is not only for practitioners of Eastern religions — it’s something Christians have been doing for centuries.
Scientific articles seem to be coming out daily that demonstrate the benefits of meditation, and it makes sense why people are so interested in this practice today. We live in a stressful, media-saturated, anxiety-producing world! We need to learn how to still the mind and “find rest for our souls” if we are going to survive — let alone thrive in — our over-crowded lives. And meditation helps us to do that.
The good news is the Bible — and historical Christian practice — shows us exactly how to establish habits like meditation, contemplation, and what Christians in the Eastern Orthodox tradition call “the prayer of the heart.” The bad news is that these practices seem to have been abandoned by the Western church in the past several hundred years. Now we have a situation where contemplative practices have almost exclusive associations with Eastern religions, and many Western Christians seem suspicious of them.
This is a tragedy. And it poses a huge danger for the well-being of the Church — and its members — today.Continue reading “Meditation and Contemplation for Christians”
This weekend, my wife Charlene and I will celebrate 34 years of marriage. It’s hard to imagine that we’ve been together so long. We are so young! How did this happen?! One day you wake up, and you realize you’ve been with this person for 34 years.
I wrote about these three myths in my email newsletter, but I’d like to share them here as well. I’ve seen many marriages struggle, and many break apart. I’ve also seen people stay together in marriage, but live with ongoing dysfunction, lack of intimacy, and unhappiness. Having marriages that last is a pretty low bar of “success.” What we want is not simply that marriages that endure, but marriages that thrive.
I have come to believe that good marriages are rare, because they’re hard to sustain. But they are worth the effort! Believing these three myths get in the way of that:
Myth 1 — That a good marriage shouldn’t require a lot of maintenance
Maintenance has gotten a bad rap. We don’t think that good relationships should need maintenance. If somebody is difficult to get along with, we call them “high maintenance.” In marriage, many people assume that if they marry the right person, then the relationship should stay strong and healthy without a lot of maintenance. They assume that as time goes by, a good relationship will just stay strong.
It doesn’t work that way. GK Chesterton once said that “the fundamental flaw of conservatism is believing that if you leave a white picket fence alone, it will stay white.” It’s the belief that if don’t do anything to “mess with,” tune up, or re-invigorate something, that it will continue on as is. It won’t. If you want your white fence to stay white over time, you’ll have to clean it periodically, and re-paint it every few years.Continue reading “3 Things I’ve Learned in 34 Years of Marriage”
“Longer than an earthquake, a pandemic shakes your life and living.”
― P.S. Jagadeesh Kumar
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
— Marcus Aurelius
“Hope begins in the dark. The stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
– Anne Lamott
A mental health crisis in our country is brewing during the current pandemic. I’ve not seen many studies yet that verify this with data, but they are coming. Many people are struggling. Even before the coronavirus exploded around the world, experts were talking about a mental health crisis in our country. I use the acronym ADA to identify today’s three-headed mental-health monster: addiction, depression, and anxiety-related mental health challenges. The pandemic is making them worse.
Here are some numbers from recent reports:
- Alcohol sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic, according to the research firm Nielsen. Online alcohol sales were up by 243% in the seven-week period ending April 18 over the same period a year ago, and brick-and-mortar alcohol sales were up by 21% for the same period. (source)
- Nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year.” (source)
- The most robust recent nation-wide study I’ve seen so far shows evidence of “unprecedented trauma from the pandemic.” The whole article is worth reading, but here’s a synopsis: Researchers interviewed 808 adults from 27 states. 90% of respondents had one or more “traumatic stress symptoms.” 27% met the diagnostic criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). To put that in context, the national estimate is normally 5.3% of the population with PTSD. In fact, for service men and women who were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s 7.6%. (source)
Just to be clear, the National Institute for Mental Health defines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as “a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This ‘fight-or-flight’ response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened, even when they are not in danger.”
An article in “The Hill,” a politically oriented, public policy news magazine, sums up our current situation this way:
Experts warn that the United States is ill prepared for a coming mental health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic….The problem is expected to get worse in the coming months as people begin to reckon with the emotional impacts of the pandemic, and experts say there may not be enough resources to help them.(source)
So what can we do about all this? What can we do to protect our mental health during these hard times? I’m going to offer you a plan … 10 practices that mentally strong people do during crisis times like these.Continue reading “10 Things Mentally Strong People Do During a Pandemic Crisis”