Archive for the ‘Accountability’ Category

Proverbs 14 is a wonderful text that most Christians are familiar with.  As a book written mainly by the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, any chapter is a great trove of what it means to be wise, but chapter 14 stands out as one of the simplest ways to determine your standing in this era of quick quizzes.  You can read through Proverbs 14 like a Cosmo quiz; am I this or am I that and then add up the score at the end of the 35 verses and see on a score of 0-35 how wise (or conversely how foolish) you are.

Today I wanted to focus on two specific verses, verse 14 and verse 29 as I find myself assessing how we are doing as parents all the time using these two measures that God has so wonderfully provided.  For those not familiar with them, let me reprint them here.

Verse 14 says “The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, But a good man will be satisfied with his.” Verse 29 reads “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.”  I’m going to talk about each of these individually and how I feel they should impact our lives as parents.

One of the things anyone who knows me understands pretty quickly is that I love personal finance and helping others with it.  I’ve been contemplating ways to start financial coaching as a side hustle because I think my combination of financial simplicity joined with a humble Christian spirit of wanting to help can benefit a lot of people.  I’m not looking to write books or be on TV, just to help people and as a bonus maybe make a little extra money to help my family.  One of the first concepts that anyone needs to grasp as a motivation for not spending (which leads to saving, which is the goal) is compound interest.  You may have even heard the statement attributed to Albert Einstein (most likely falsely but done so nonetheless to add some weight to the importance of it) that goes something along the lines of compound interest being the most powerful force in the universe, the eighth wonder of the world.  That he who understands it, earns it and he who does not, pays it.

Again, if you are unfamiliar with the concept, compound interest is what happens when you let money just sit in some instrument that provides a return.  What happens is that you earn a little interest that first period, and then in the second period you earn interest on the whole balance including the interest you earned before and ad infinitum until some point in time.  If you make a sound investment in a stock of a great company such as GE (less great this week after its last announcements), a very small amount of money invested when the company started would be worth millions today.  And this is just over a little more than 100 years.  This is an example of the power of compounding and we can see it at work all over the place in the financial world.

I believe we can take this same principle and looking at Proverbs 14:14 as our base and, understanding that God’s promises are eternal, apply this same concept to the power of influence we have through our connections.  As with any of the statements in Proverbs 14, you can be on the wicked/foolish side or the wise/godly side.  As the Einstein quote explains, if you are a fool you pay the interest, so it can drain your savings just as quickly as it can add to it, if you make the wrong choices on where to let compound interest work in your life.  With our kids we also are making an investment by showing them how to live with what we say and do every day.  We can live for the world and it’s ephemeral, short-term “rewards” or we can live for God and His eternal purposes and rewards.  Verse 14 tells us we can be guided and satisfied by what we do in following God, or we can have our fill, reap the cost, of backsliding to the world’s way of thinking about anything.  Every “investment” we make in our children can have eternal consequences.  Every word we say, every action we model they take in and it impacts them from that day forward.  What we then have the ability to do is change what happens in the world to a greater and greater degree the more time that passes.  How our children develop and how they treat others including their children continues to ripple outward and grow and the number of connections and generations grows.  We can radiate good out into eternity by making the right investment today.  Imagine what the impact you have today will have on this world 10,000 years from now, 100,000 years from now.  It is just hard to wrap our heads around that but if we return to the financial analogy, the impact we see in just 25 or 100 years is impressive, but if we calculated that out for 10,000 years it would be mind-blowing.  This is what God offers all of us to understand in life, and as a parent I think about that a lot.  Our decisions echo in eternity.  This is why God fights for every soul to be saved, because he understands the impact the compound interest of our actions has.  What we do today does not only impact today, it effects and changes everything that happens into eternity.  Can you even begin to think about what that means?  Does the awesomeness of that weigh on you as much as it does me?  That, and nothing less, is what God has given us a chance to impact.  What will you do with that awesome power?  I try to make it impact my thinking as often as I can and it helps me understand the importance of standing for what is right, asking What Would Jesus Do, and driving in the positive direction as much as I can.  Will you let this sink in and reassess your thinking?  What verse 14 challenges us to do is realize we cannot always change our position, but we can always change our disposition.  And that is the lesson of compound interest when applied to parenting.

Moving on, let’s look at verse 29.  I’m sure we all have heard this many times but do we really get what it means? Let’s walk through a scenario we all face many times as parents.

I ask my kids to do things, such as clean up around the house.  After I asked the first time, in a few minutes I heard raised voices.  When I approached I found they were arguing about who had done the most, complaining to each other that one or the other was not pulling their weight.  I asked them kindly to stop and keep working.

After a few more minutes, I returned to find them bickering about who was going to do what.  Who would vacuum, who would pick up the socks.  I stepped in again, got them to be quiet and told them to finish the job.

Finally, the third time, I checked out the results after they said they were done.  What I saw was very lackluster and not the result I expected, and they explained they did not understand what a clean basement looks like.  At this point I lost it and yelled at them about how they never help around the house, how they make no effort, how they never listen, how they never show any respect and I stormed upstairs as they started flinging their feelings at me.

I stood there thinking two things. Why am I having this discussion?  I should just tell them what to do and if they don’t I should just bring the hammer down and remove all their privileges! but the second thought pierced me to my soul, deeper than any basement could ever be, I let my anger get the best of me and I am acting like a foolish child.

I do not remember exactly what I said when I calmed down and laid out my expectations clearly along with consequences of not being able to use the space later if it was not clean in the future to help the lesson sink in but most importantly in these time I need to understand If I am going to help these kids grow up emotionally and teach them to appropriately express their anger, than I need to grow up myself. 

God never says to not get angry but he does give us example like verse 29 and Ecclesiastes 7:9 “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” that are meant to clearly explain the consequences of improper anger.  We look and act like fools.  God never said we should not be angry, but he did warn us to not let anger turn into sin.  The easy way out is to think that losing our cool is human and natural and happens from time to time, but we are called to be better than that.  Let’s not take the easy way out, let’s help our kids learn how to behave like caring, rational adults and not like raving fools.

With a lot of kids, there is always a lot going on in our house.  It takes effort to not get angry, and we can say it is worse with more people, but those are just excuses.  God does not give us criteria for when it is OK to be a fool because we just can’t handle life.  His criteria, like him, are absolute.  Unrighteous anger is always a sin and as such we should avoid it.  Like any habit, this takes conscious effort.  It takes having a plan on how things will be addressed.  I have a plan, and even though that plan is when I feel my emotions getting the best of me to step away and regroup, I sometimes fail to execute the plan.  I need to then ask God and those I was inappropriately angry with for forgiveness.  However if we circle around to the earlier discussion, these actions have eternal compounding interest built into them.  Do I want people around me to learn that what we should be compounding is anger, or should we be compounding love?  Christ makes that answer very clear for us and we need to get better at laying the troubles we cannot handle, those that make us angry and irate like exes we cannot control, at His feet and try to emulate Christlikeness and show that we trust God.

So, can we be more like Solomon and less like ourselves?  I believe we can, but I know it will be hard.  Every sinner is on a road to improvement right up till they leave this world and then I am not sure if it continues in heaven or not.  I won’t be able to update this blog once I find out, but I do thank God for the fact that he gave us a Cosmo quiz right there in the Bible in Proverbs 14 to go down and assess ourselves and the ability to reach out to the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance to fix the warts we find.

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“just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” – 2 Peter 2:1b-3 (NASB)

We have recently been talking about this section of the Bible in our Sunday school class.  Our sermon this week was about Psalm 73, that most scholars describe as contrasting the end of the wicked and the righteous.  As we left church one of the pastors commented “You guys live this every day”, and he was right, though we are certainly not alone.  For those who question my Christian faith and how I can feel so strongly about it, it is times in my life like these where what is weighing on our hearts aligns with outside support that those without faith would simply label “coincidence”.  Our current season of life is one of those times, for not only did a sermon and a Sunday school lesson align, but so did the timing of a move “Paul: Apostle of Christ” happen to hit me with questions and lessons that fit the problem at hand.  You see, what the pastor was referring to and that we continue to wrestle with in our children’s lives, are the influence of our exes from a position of authority similar to what Peter was speaking of within the church.  Parents who secretly introduce destructive heresies into the lives of our children, who lead them down a path of wickedness with seemingly little conflict (Psalm 73) and inspire in them fascination with flawed gods gone by (similar to Maritius’s unrewarded belief in “Paul”) that goes beyond just being interested in mythology.

A brief comment by my wife after the comment from the pastor kindled in me the seed for this post, for in blended families we have the added challenge of being exposed to attacks from within, from the other parent.  For some people trying to blend, those attacks also can come in their new household with disagreements between each other as they try to meld different upbringings, food choices and lifestyles.  I have heard recollections from multiple people about how things that really are not normally a part of life for an intact family because everyone in the household grew up with the same rules, traditions and experiences, can become a litany of challenges for a blended family.  This is another one of that endless stream of things that are just difficult to grasp and fully appreciate unless you have lived it or walked very closely with those who do.  It is important to formulate how you will navigate those obstacles early and often within a new blended family and I feel we’ve done a great job in that area.  I also feel in other but the worst circumstances that these are not really attacks, because in a loving couple there is not poor intent.  That’s why I will focus exclusively on the other parent.  It helps hearing from outsiders from time to time about how well all our kids appear to get along, because as with anyone, the self-doubt constantly creeps in and outside affirmation helps, especially when it comes with godly counsel.

So while we have done well to work with our helpmate within our own four walls to craft a new family dynamic, let me return to the other possible source of attack from within a blended family, that of the other parents involved.  I have mentioned before of Bert’s total lack of God in his life as well as Nan’s at best luke warm, convenient and superficial belief.  Bert tends to replace God with other mythology which created a high fascination with Greek and Roman gods, in Jan in particular, and open the door to other things like witchcraft and other pagan idolatry.  It is hard enough to guard our children’s souls against this in normal circumstances but when a parent, who is in their lives with positional authority simply from being a parent, shares what can be seductive and intriguing information, it is exponentially more difficult to combat, most often to the point where we find ourselves having to turn it over to God and trust that He can hopefully establish enough of a foothold to turn them away from falsehood.

These attacks occur on many fronts and conspire to erode our ability to influence and at times leads us to situations where it seems, and likely often is, best to withdrawal and allow the children to make up their own minds, for shortly they will all be aged out of the mandatory presence in our sphere of influence and able to decide for themselves what is right or wrong, what is fact and what is fiction.  I have this argument often with my parents where they get upset that I am not “making” Marcia, or Greg or another do the “right” thing.  I calmly (OK, many times not so calmly) repeat what it feels like I have covered dozens of times, that making someone do something is not a sustainable goal as someone who is coerced or bullied into a behavior will simply drop that behavior the moment they are free from the means of coercion or pain, a point all our children are fast approaching.  It is this ongoing onslaught of the world coupled with the exes that has led us to lay the problems at God’s feet and pray while still trying to ascertain when to get involved.

It is on this front that we find ourselves with Peter and Bobbi and that my wife has been wrestling with for months.  Peter fought so hard to embrace the false teaching of Bert that his diabetes is not really that big of a deal and therefore he could play with it and manipulate it to get what he wants in life that he endangered his health and his life by overdosing on insulin to make himself ill perhaps because he did not want to attend school and certainly because he wanted to spend more time with Bert after visitation was curtailed due to Bert’s lack of responsibility in Peter’s care.  Basic parenting skills are missing, such as actually knowing what kids are doing within his house or if they are taking medications needed, so that Peter created a poor outcome.  Further false teaching about how things were not important, doctors are all dumb and therefore their input can be ignored at will and other such drivel also contribute to Peter’s belief that our household stance of following your medication regimen and believing doctors in major medical systems is important to good health, especially with a chronic medical issue.  Fighting this never-ending battle has caused my lovely wife to have to vacillate between fighting against the noise or just letting it go and trusting God.

A similar path has been embarked on by Bobbi, where my wife finds herself as being the only adult that Bobbi might want to listen to (she has zero desire to listen to me over Bert) that is advocating for Bobbi to finally get her drivers license.  The paradigm my wife and I operate in is one similar to parents our age that assumes that children will not be able to wait until they are sixteen to get that document and be able to move about the world less dependent on someone else to get them places.  As we have been finding out for a few years now, since Bobbi is driver number four in our brood, this paradigm has shifted, as kids have less desire to take on the responsibility and see much less benefit in driving than we did.  So Bobbi is supported by a general peer group paradigm shift, a counselor who has expressed Bobbi’s input on being “terrified” and other such alarming (at least to the counselor who does not understand the Bert led teaching of exaggeration of negative feelings to alarm adults) words of driving and Bert’s support of her not driving because it lets him control her more by being the only driver she has reasonable access to (where he uses another false teaching to reinforce the fact that working at a normal job the way my wife and I do that does not allow you to be available throughout the work day to drive kids around is showing a lack of love and caring for your kids).  This led my wife to once again feel she needs to concede, as she is the only one “forcing” Bobbi to get her license and now Bobbi is alienating my wife because she feels uncared for.  Bobbi has amplified childhood feelings about being worried about others not wearing seatbelts in cars to the point she would burst into tears for fear of their safety, to now perhaps creating psychosomatic symptoms of legs that go numb when she drives because she is too terrified.  Never mind that she recently drove a total of about three hours round trip for the Easter holiday without any indication or complaint of this paralyzing numbness that she mentioned to the counselor.  We feel this again is her taking the teaching of Bert to use those people in her sphere (counselors) to get results she wants rather than having real conversations with her mom about how she feels and how to get past it like most people do.  After all, even in the new paradigm of her generation, kids are not foregoing getting their license because of numb legs that did not impact prior generations but suddenly are because of the secret design changes in car seats that only impact teenage drivers lower body blood flow but leave older drivers unimpacted.  Trying to have any sort of discussion with any of Bert’s kids that borders on the rational, preparing-them-for-responsible-adulthood kind is nearly impossible (Jan with accident and liability responsibility, Bobbi with a driver’s license or real concerns of a food allergy and Peter with his diabetes) and places us in a very unhappy situation.  We feel forced to approach these conversations with kid gloves or alienate the kids to the point of having them run head long to Bert because he supports, coddles and encourages them to be irresponsible and crafty.  Both of these approaches are less than optimal, we are forced to be half-way parents.  They have a parent, a false teacher, who models poor living and social responsibility (not conning people to live versus getting a job and making money as is socially acceptable).  He not only teaches them poorly, he lives poorly and so they see this as a normal situation.  Bert’s way appears easier to an uninformed child who cannot rationalize all the unseen impacts yet (and may never be able to if not free of Bert’s orbit long enough to learn there are better ways) and so it is easy to ridicule our “stupid” ways.  It is this type of way that basic teaching in the Bible aligns with clear lessons in everyday life to support my faith that if in doubt on how to address a topic, the Bible is the owner’s manual for life.

I do not want to imply that Nan comes off scot free in false teaching, i.e. difficult to combat, influence; she simply is not as egregious as Bert.  Nan certainly does not encourage living within a budget, thinking things through clearly to avoid unintended consequences, or teaching responsibility.  She brushes off the importance of missing lessons for Greg, of giving solid financial advice to Cindy, or helping Marcia figure out how not to live in a perpetual financial hole.  Some of this is a result of Nan just not understanding how the world works (during our divorce she once called me in a panic from the cellular carrier store on New Year’s Eve because she was convinced all cellular contracts renewed on January 1st and wanted to make sure she had her own phone for the coming year, when we would be divorced, and felt if she missed this window she’d be stuck until January 1st the next year).  Nan also does not seem to argue too vehemently against my input, as Bert does against my wife’s, but that viewpoint may just be wishful thinking on my part.  Nan is also usually aligned to, at least to what might be considered a normal degree of difference between adults, most critical issues like health care, need to get a job in life and other things that we are at odds with Bert on.

The further challenge that my wife struggles with in relation to Bert is what is the pain of the writer of Psalm 73.  How does Bert continue to live wickedly with seemingly no consequences and yet winning the hearts of his children?  Bert could not do this without the benefit of false teaching, for if he did align with society or the teachings of Jesus, then his teaching would also by definition align.  By presenting a more enticing worldview, Bert seduces his children just as the snake hypnotized Eve, but just as we learned about hypnotism, one cannot be hypnotized without at some level wanting to be hypnotized, to be convinced.  The unfair position Bert takes here is that he has the love of his children, so they are therefore already open to his influence far more than say, to mine, and then he offers a tempting and seemingly rewarding option.  After all, why take responsibly for anything when you can apologize for the impacts to others, blame other things or people, or claim ignorance?  The danger is that the kids do not understand that as one gets older the consequences get larger and they are not able to see the path they are being led down as one with a large cliff at the end labeled failure that does not have a trampoline at the end to bounce them back up on the road.  The danger now is that the kids are old enough to get a bit of Bert’s manipulation of others and not see any real consequences, so it seems like Bert might have pulled a fast one on the world.  We are not sure what to do with this.  Our advisers in our pastors, our parents, our sibling and friends have assured us that eventually Bert’s ways would catch up with him.  After all how long can it go on?  This is our Psalm 73 moment (a moment which for my wife is stretching into decades) and why our pastor said we live this every day, because we do.  But it does not make us feel better.  Because while the end of Psalm 73 says that in the end God will give Bert his, that’s all well and good for Bert.  Our concern is that he may drag his kids along with him into the fiery pit of doom and therein lies the real anguish for a divorced parent facing an attacker from the inside.

This philosophy was a short synopsis for my parenting style that I heard at one point, and recent events as I’ve watched other parents around me over the last year just made this rise to the top of things I wanted to share on this blog.

The most recent example of “preparing the road for the child” is helicopter parenting, but it existed in other forms before that in coddling etc.  Some people, my wife included, feel I’m too harsh in my goal to never have our kids come home after they finish with college, for example, but this stance is bred directly out of the desire to prepare the child for the road.  I’m having to live in the same world they if they were to come rushing home.  My preparing them to understand that one of the key tenets of not having to do that is not spending above your income they should have no reason to need this proverbial “safety net” that has become all the rage lately and for some reason seems to have brainwashed otherwise rational adults into thinking that somehow “now is different”.  It’s not.

There have always been challenges.  In the 70s when inflation was over 10% and interest rates were even higher, there was not talk of kids moving back home.  When unemployment soared during the Great Depression people were struggling and such but there has not been anything I could find of this mass movement back in with parents.  Why?  Because the parents were in the same world they were in and this shift of making it OK to prepare the road for the child was not as prevalent as it seems to be today.

If the situation existed that I am a financially astute and responsible adult and the world is in such a state that I could only survive by dipping into savings each year, then we have a rational argument for a younger adult, not having built up that savings, to be unable to make it on their own.  That however is not anywhere near the situation in the US today, contrary to media hype of the sky falling.  Preparing kids for the realities of life puts them in a much more resilient situation.  There was a recent discussion I was involved in with folks trying to figure out how much they pay for for their high school kids.  One mom was feeling guilty because her daughter wanted to do dance but every week’s competition to team went out for a fancy dinner instead of doing something like a pasta party at a parent’s house, got their hair and nails professionally done for a hundred dollars a week and a bunch of other expenses.  She was uncomfortable telling their daughter this was just not doable in their budget and she’d either have to pick another activity, forgo some of the pre and post activities the other girls did or find a way to cover those expenses herself (like a job).  Some other parents were trying to convince her of all the reasons she just needed to find a way to suck it up and go into debt for her daughter to have this high school experience.  I knew my viewpoint was in the minority so I caught up with this person later and shared my perspective and it led to a really good conversation and she was relieved to hear someone who was not just buying into the spend, spend hype because it would somehow damage out kids if we did not make this happen.  It was another example where people were just killing themselves preparing the road for the child and the wondering why they hit to the rock or the pothole in the road later on because mom and/or dad was not there to pave it over or push the rock on to the shoulder.

The learned helplessness this creates in children is often overlooked.  A slight hiccup occurs and the child cannot figure a way forward without immediately calling the parent.  Somehow then people are surprised when this behavior continues for decades after their kids are “adults”.  I feel we do a disservice to our children when we do not prepare them to be independent, autonomously functional human beings.  There are fewer and fewer guardrails in the world these days.  More institutions lack customer service on any level and unless you understand how what you are asking for is to be delivered you will struggle your entire life ending up on the short end of the stick.  Everyone would like the easy way out, but not having that grit or resilience comes with a cost that is many times not understood until the emotional and relational damage is far too great.  I’d much rather coach my kids through the bumps and bruises and have them excited when the achieve something through hard work of their own than clear the obstacles entirely and then when I’m not there they stumble and fall and are clueless why.

I may not be the most popular parent in the room, but I know that if I focus on giving them the tools that is far more valuable.  We seem to have forgotten as a society that if you give a person a fish you feed them for a day, but if you teach them to fish you feed them for a lifetime.  In the same way if you make your guide “prepare your child for the road and not the road for the child” you give them what they need to handle the eight-lane highway, the treacherous mountain road, or the unpaved cow path all on their own.  It gives them more sources of pride and gives you a lot more energy back to handle all the roads in life you have to deal with yourself.

My heart hurts. It hurts because I know that with my strong faith in God, if my heart hurts, I can only imagine what others without that hope are feeling.  For weeks, actually months, I have been feeling this way but unable to put it into words.  I have been paralyzed into inaction, slow decisions, lack of enthusiasm for doing something.  It’s been there and I know I did not enjoy the feeling but it had become common even normal, but the Spirit inside me has kept fighting against the oppressive weight that I could not name.  God, as He always does, pulled together a few things into my small sliver of the universe and made things a little clearer and resulted in this post.  With the confluence of national events, an ailing woman who verbalized her feelings and a baseball team I have adored my whole life, my frustration and this weight have become clearer.  I am paralyzed by fear and loathing.

That’s still not truly correct in naming what I feel, it is not fear that I myself am feeling, it is frustration for the cult of fear I see stifling many around me. It is that initial thought that save for the grace of God within me, I could be like them.  And that makes my heart hurt for my nation and my fellow people in it.

I have spent the last few months mainly interacting with people I directly know, trying to exercise some influence over something I hope I can influence rather than coming here to a medium that reaches many people that I do not know directly, and therefore feel that I have less influence over. Yet a big part of the reason I started and continue this blog is the share my thoughts on what is effecting our and our children’s lives, and it helps me to get those thoughts on paper (or screen, as it were).  So like the ailing woman I referenced above who finally returned to her video blog after months of absence and explained that the reason she had not posted any videos was that they all felt irrelevant, I felt this morning that I just need to get my thoughts out there and let God do what he wills with them, in the hope that perhaps we can all move past this paralysis I see.

We have a national election here in the US that is so detestable that it has sucked the life out of our nation, and I feel what I am seeing is a national version of something described during the NLCS Game 3 last night. The announcer indicated that hitting and executing on a baseball team is contagious.  As one or two batters enter a slump it seems to drag the whole team with it.  But the hope is that one hit can be the first step to turning that energy around and suddenly having a whole team executing again and doing no wrong.  That last little nugget of information was the key to connecting all that I had been mulling over for the last couple weeks of what has been occurring for the last several months or year with our national spirit.  I see a nation stagnant, might I say paralyzed, by fear.

I am not that old, but am old enough to remember a time when all around me there was a buzz in the air of the possibility and promise of America and of being an American. Even leading up to and after horrific events like 9/11 that buzz was firmly present and palpable.  Only in the last decade or so has it been fading to a dull roar, then a small short circuit and now on the brink of being snuffed out, I fear, forever.  For you see, much like a small group of nine men can “catch” negative thoughts and actions and struggle mightily and fail to extricate themselves from that, a whole nation infected by the fearmongering drivel of media and a candidate can take those final steps into the abyss, perhaps never to return.

I am angered by the fact that when I was in high school and college, my outlook and my nation’s outlook was one of extreme, maybe even delusional hope. It was fueled by a leader, Ronald Reagan, who while perhaps a showman like Donald Trump, was a showman with an entirely different core.  Reagan was a master at using poetry, artful delivery, and wonderful turn of phrase to inspire hope and desire for every person living in America to look for the best in themselves.  Yes, he was an actor who turned into a President, but even as a young adult I could see the goodness emanating from the man like the bright shining hope he told us America was to the world.  And the nation gladly followed.  We were still under the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union and had just emerged from gas lines in the 70s and staggering inflation that made mortgage rates so high that today while we complain about the horror of 2-3% were laughable and should have been stifling.  But the mood of the nation, and most importantly of the leader, made us all look past those things that were patently worse than anything we face now, while we have a buffoon posturing to “Make America Great Again”.  So today, I have children who do not truly look forward to the future, who talk down about themselves and their abilities and who are more and more infected by the spirit of sadness that has become the national mood.  Just like the Cubs in these last two weeks of October, our national mood is contagious, and it is making us all sick.  This makes me angry to the core.

Our entire focus has been moved from nation to self, and the vile nature of that, of what God clearly tells us in Scripture will eat away at the soul of a man, is on display for all the world to see. In my own circle I have a father who became a citizen in 1995 yet has never seen the point in registering to vote because the hope he saw in America when he immigrated here in the 60s is gone.  I have a mother who wants to vote but feels it is pointless because she cannot see a path forward.  I have a brother and a sister-in-law who excuse Trump’s behavior and core character as things to look past for possible good.  I have a smaller and smaller circle of family and friends I can even speak to about current events, including my wife, because this entire cycle has turned so heart wrenchingly sad that people would rather angrily say they no longer want to talk about it than do something about it.  It is a paralysis driven by hopelessness and perhaps fear and anger.  It is why I am sharing here to hopefully provide that last piece of the puzzle for someone to make positive change in their home, their neighborhood, their community.  This is done in the hope that with those small “hits” we can turn the mood of the nation around to one of hope and excitement rather than continue to be dragged down by an irrational fear of what is not.

My brother, normally an intelligent and very well spoken person, regularly spouts off that Hilary Clinton is personally responsible for six million deaths. He seems to believe that Putin is the nicest guy we’ve ever had in charge of Russia and that the only reason he is acting this way, invading Ukraine and trampling on human rights, is because Hillary and Obama have single handedly backed him into a corner and made him do it.  If not for our leadership we would be vacationing together in the Urals with Putin sipping champagne and converting Russia to a democracy and their citizens would enjoy unparalleled riches.  I heard some women at work excusing the sexual talk of a presidential candidate as “stupid things guys say” because they were not sure what to do.

God teaches us that He is in control. The fear I have with this election is that too many feel that they are in control and that with their vote and their rationalization of their vote, that they can see all the interactions like what Supreme Court nominees someone will name, what legislation they will get enacted and what the world situation will become because of it.  Nine men who sit together in a dugout, dine together and live together in hotels on the road, and know each other and have the same common goal cannot see clearly what their actions will accomplish in the world, but individual voters are making decisions about how thousands of people totally unattached to them will act based on which box they check and are delusional enough to feel they have the omniscient power to foresee what only God can see.  Scripture is full of verses that teach us that as long as we try to influence events rather than leaving them to God, our efforts are due to fail and only destruction is the result.

So how is one to decide? Again, we only need to look to God for the answer.  Seek the fruit of a person’s life to decide on their intentions, for God uses everyone to execute his will.  He can use Hilary, and yes, he can even use Donald Trump, but when we overthink things and look past the simple truths that He tells us to use, we try to wrest control from God and that path leads only to destruction.

This brings me to the other word in my title that I have not explained yet, loathing. I have never in my life used this term to describe my feelings towards anyone.  The simplest definition is “feel intense dislike or disgust for”.  Other examples are, “feel repugnance toward, not be able to bear/stand, be repelled by”.  The only person I have ever truly felt this way about is Donald Trump.  The book of Ezekiel uses the word loathe multiple times to describe how the nation of Israel will look upon themselves for their practices.  One of the key themes of Ezekiel is the need for individual responsibility and national accountability before God.  When the media states that this election is for the national soul of America they are not being hyperbolic.  Again, it is between God and them if they are saved, but even if they are not, God uses everyone for his purposes, and these views are very truthful.  Electing someone who is as far from servant leadership as you can be and who has not a shred of public good will as fruit of his life is a mistake.  For all we can say about all the other candidates, while their motives may be misguided, and may be self-serving to a degree, they are not anywhere near the entire lack of national good that we see from Trump.  For getting us to this point, for being a candidate for President, for keeping the national mood on fear and hate I loathe Donald Trump and have since he stepped on the national stage and announced his candidacy for the Presidency by lying about Mexican immigrants.

We are down to three weeks until the election. God is in control and our nation will be used for the purposes He chooses to fulfill His plan, but we can make it much worse for ourselves by denying that omnipotence.  My plea to those who feel that Hilary will pull this nation apart or destroy it is to know that she is not in control.  We are however in control of who will be in charge of our national mood.  I have hope for my beloved Cubbies because they have Joe Maddon at the helm and he exudes hope and positivity.  The Cubs players have rallied around their manager, even waking him up on the plane heading to Los Angeles in the middle of the night so he could talk to the team and lift their spirts.  As a young adult, even with all the challenges in our nation at the time, every time Reagan got on TV to address the nation, even though I knew it was about something sad or sinister or dangerous, I waited with hope KNOWING that at the end of whatever he had to say, I would feel better than how I felt before he started.  When we have a national crisis can any of us truly say we want to go to the front of the plane and wake up Donald Trump to give us inspirational words of hope and solid plans of action that will make us feel better at the end of what he had to say than when he started?  God has placed the answer in your heart to that question, if only you have the courage to listen to it and stop listening to the excuses we all make about why a despot is “not so bad” and things will work out OK if we put him in power.

My desire to stay informed is directly challenged by my desire to stay sane.

Variations of the quote above have been floating around for quite some time, but in recent times (mainly driven by our political cycle for me), it has been ringing around in my head more and more.

For well over a decade I have gotten out of the habit of watching the nightly news that my parents had ingrained in me throughout my childhood.  When I left home and went out on my own, for a few years, I kept up this habit, but over time determined that the negativity and that outright spin and omission that drove every reporter to have you see things their way was a problem.  Somewhere in here I read “the Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker (a book I highly recommend) and he had an epilogue in the book that really resonated with me, basically centered around the fact that the news industry is successful because they create artificial fear, worry and anxiety.  Removing this negativity from your life was something he preached to learn to actually know what to be fearful of.

Lately, as we have moved to the land of cord cutters and had less to watch, for some reason I started up on one nightly new program again.  After trying this for several weeks (and coupled with the fact that I am driving my wife nuts by not watching these news reports when they appear on our streaming service, already a day or two late, but binge watch them every couple weeks, so we are seeing very old news) it has started to bring back all those irrational concerns and skepticism and therefore I am going to remove this from our repertoire and go back to looking things up that I need to know about on the internet but staying away from all the sensationalism and junk.

A new temptation in this space are these new “reality crime dramas”.  The one we got sucked in to was “Making a Murderer”.  I was reluctant to delve into this as I thought it would be something similar; just a prolonged news story edited in such a way to cause fear, trepidation and panic in the viewing public about just how messed up the system is.  I found myself four episodes in to the ten episode series knowing where things were headed and really asking myself do I want to burn another six hours of my life to keep watching a highly edited train wreck.  After talking it over with my wife we decided we had already invested four hours of our life, so we might as well get the full payoff, a sentiment I’m sure was heavily discussed in the board room of Netflix when they were pitched the series.  “Most viewers will feel like they are getting the same information over and over by the mid point of the series and will see that we are painting a picture of Steven Avery as a tragically wronged soul, but we promise the series is just compelling enough to drag viewers into finishing it”.  My challenge with this logic is that had this been network TV, there would be ad dollars at stake to suck viewers in and make them stay.  I can see this with the FX American Crime Story that just started yesterday, I believe, and will have commercials to sell.  Netflix, however, does not make money by ads, but they already have it by subscriptions.  I suppose if they get me to keep burning hours watching things I should walk away from because I feel invested, that gets me further down the road to the next payment, when I can find something else to watch, so I suppose it works.  Thing is there are other shows on Netflix, like House of Cards or Orange Is The New Black that I KNOW are more entertaining than Making a Murderer, but that desire to stay informed won out over the desire to stay sane.  Maybe, I told myself, since this is a documentary, they will give me some great insight into how reforms are coming in the justice system to change it for the better.  Nope.

This all comes at an interesting time in my life.  I am having to find a new job, and in the last few days have been blessed with a lot of solid activity that now has me in the middle of four, marginally five, solid opportunities.  One of these is the typical, good job at a good company that could turn into a good career, and another is a really interesting company that really pulls at my soul as a thing I would love to be a part of but it is smaller, lots of remote staff and for all intents and purposes a start-up, at least for my department that I would be leading even though the company has been around for decades.  As I really step back and pray for guidance it slowly came to me that this impact of regenerating this fear and worry from getting back into edited and canned news is having an impact on things like deciding what truly is the best choice for a job.  Since the one opportunity is in a travel space I started taking the news of the Zika virus and all the hype around it and asking if it would impact this company and should I therefore stay away from it, but calmer, prayerful reflection showed me that that was not a sane response because the issues that are caused by Zika are really not ones that the target customers would be upset about.  If I had instead used a method of just learning about the real threats of Zika from a solid article versus the overhyped reporting showing the same three infants born with microcephaly over and over, my reaction would have certainly been less visceral.

It is this challenge that we need to guard against to keep our sanity, exactly as the lead quote indicates.  We need to find way to stay informed, but to do so in a way that is not effecting our ability to be rational.  We are constantly drawn to feel like if we are not informed we are somehow less, but I feel that is a societal pressure and not an actual reality.  We are made to feel like “what you did not hear what happened yesterday?” and that makes us feel inferior to the individual that is asking.  Are we really inferior?  No.  We can get informed in a few minutes from sources that we choose that are less entertainment and marketing driven.  It is this inferiority that led my wife to add a CNN notifier app to her phone, and me to think that watching news again, even if it is late, was somehow worthwhile.  It is not.  I can go out, as I had for over a decade and check a few sites to see what I might need to know about.  I can listen to conversations I have with others and if something peeks my interest, only then will I take time to go learn about it rather than have some news cycle determine for me what I should be informed about because they can make a sensational story about it.  I pray that in general my fellow countrymen will do the same thing as we move into a formal election cycle for an individual that can be our national guidepost for the next eight years as the world gets more and more complex, and when spun by the proper producer and director like in “Making a Murderer” or any nightly or weekly news show we can find, can cause us to lose our humanity and devolve into the fear and irrational behavior of frightened animals.

We all need to stay sane, and the first step in that is to understand the things that make it hard to do so. I’ll be removing these news programs from our cycle again, and we can dig into what we need.  This has been a blessing moving to streaming services has produced in that I can’t always get what I “want”.  American Crime Story is not appearing on Hulu.  I have been saved from my weaker self.  I’m pretty sure when I am looking for something good to watch later, this will not rise to the top of my list.

Through my work in the divorce ministry I get the privilege to take a more intimate part if some people’s lives than would be expected with strangers.  Many times the pain and struggles people face are worked through and they emerge on the other side stronger and better as the Lord intended.  I understand my role in this process is to simply be the one who can share wisdom gained from having traveled the road they are on ahead of them.

There are times, however, that the road someone is on is not one I have traveled and one I have difficulty understanding because I have no parallel experience I can pull from.  At times I can try to empathize and learn what is happening but there are limits to what our program can achieve as we are not professionals in helping to deal with serious issues.  We encourage and press our participants at that time to seek professional help, but we cannot compel and so it is difficult when someone is battling the demons within and there is little else we can do other than be an ear to listen.

Such has been the journey of a recent participant in our program, Scott.  I met Scott a year ago when he arrived at the DivorceCare session I was assisting with and he seemed to be in a decent spot given the recent timeframe of his divorce which had only completed a few months prior.  He had a job, had friends and had showed up to our program to help himself heal and be the best he could be for his son.

What came out over the next few weeks was a struggle that Scott was having that went into one of those areas I could not share direct of parallel wisdom on because it was so far from my situation.  Scott has an addiction to pornography.  I have never been drawn to porn nor have I been addicted to anything, so the associations I could try to pull from were things I had read or just a general understanding.  Scott was also drawn to a very bad relationship that he explained to use he knew was destructive but that he was unable to stay away from.  It involved too much drinking and too much sex that led Scott to some dark places and while he wanted to stay away for the sake of his son, he was drawn back in part because this woman also had a child that his son befriended and would ask about in the times when Scott had broken off contact after a particularly bad incident or situation.

During the session Scott reached out and wanted to begin some Bible study so I met with him at his home to begin a general discipleship process.  We met for a couple hours, but even during it I could see Scott was struggling, and we spent most of the time discussing his feelings there.  He was thinking about how different this was from what his friends would be doing and it was very boring to him.  I shared what was on my heart about the process but in the end I left feeling like Scott would not continue and he did not.  I sent a very long e-mail to my pastor asking for some guidance as I could not help but feeling responsible for the failure of Scott to grasp on to something that I felt would help give him the strength to see the destruction the porn and the toxic relationship were having on him and his son.  My pastor explained that I had done everything I could and that it was in God’s hands to work out with Scott if there would be more there between them.  Shortly thereafter Scott stopped coming to the DivorceCare sessions.  I continued to try to encourage him to come but he wanted to practice with his band and they met on the same night we did.  I explained that I felt the most important things he could do was heal.  I did not want to push him away but I also knew that I must speak truth or I was no better than the superficial friends he had that were guiding him down a dark path.

My wife and I are now trying to get a divorce ministry started in our own church so we have made the decision that we could not continue with the program I have helped with for four years.  Scott came back this last session and the leader reached out to me to be his accountability partner to monitor an app that will e-mail me if he goes to any questionable sites.  It has been five weeks now and nothing unacceptable has been flagged, so that is good, but I am saddened to see that over a year later Scott is in the same place he was, struggling with the demon of pornography.  He has made the step of trying to do something to stop, but he did share we me he has used this app before.  The difference he shared was that he picked a bad accountability partner.  I hope Scott sheds the pull of this vice forever, but if he returns and I see behavior and call it to his attention, will he just ignore the warnings and fall back into the darkness?

This is where not having the parallel makes it hard.  If I see something is bad for me I have always been able to walk away.  I call it will power or determination, but it is the same struggle I face with my kids when I explain to them how to stop doing something or associating with someone who is hurting them.  I cannot empathize with Scott about how hard it is to walk away because I have never been addicted to anything and it has never had that draw on me.  Therefore I cannot offer first hand guidance on what worked for me.  I feel a bit like an AA advisor who never was an alcoholic.  Every Thursday when the report comes out I offer praise for another good week but other than the first week, Scott had not replied to these messages.  I know how easy it will be for him to simply ignore me if he does regress.   The DivorceCare session he is in now will end in a few weeks and then he will be alone with the same struggles he has voiced to the leader this time around, which are the same ones he voiced the first time around; he feels stuck, he wants to not feel miserable.  This is where we pointed him to professionals.  For whatever reason he has not taken that step.  I know there is nothing I can do beyond that guidance, the old you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.  Just as I could not open Scott’s heart to a longing to learn about God’s Word no matter how eloquent I was about the glory on the other side, I get that in the end whether Scott succeeds or fails in his attempt to remove porn from his life is not in my control.  That does not make it any easier for me.  I know I will still be disappointed and will wonder if there is anything I could have done differently to help him choose.  I think part of what makes it easy for me to stay away from vices is that I see the despair and pain that those vices cause others.  I just want to grab Scott by the shoulders and shout, “What’s so hard?  Man up and just walk away and never look back!”, but I know that’s not how it works, and the fear that I cannot grasp why that is not how it works combats any desire that might spark up in me to head down a path.  People “experiment” with things, but how many fail in that experiment and never come out the other side?  Far too many.    So the parallel I get from this is that Scott and I are both just men.  If a man like him cannot shake the demons after the struggle I have seen, it helps me to understand why it is important to stay far away from those temptations for my path might not be any easier if I entered those depths as well.  That I it the piece I can empathize with here, and ultimately that may be all that God wants me to get from this experience.

Over the last few weeks the United States has been going through some interesting discussions.  We have home some really terrible incidents in the last few months and many have gone through the justice system and the results have caused major unrest result in protests, some peaceful, but many not and riots, which by their very nature are not meant to be peaceful.  For those unfamiliar with the situation (I know I have many followers from outside the US) these incidents involve how police handled situations with people like Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others.

I have often talked about our God-given expectations in our role as parents.  One of the most important is guiding our children to interpret and understand the world through the proper lenses.  Certainly my greatest hope is the first lens that my children will see through is God’s, however they may choose to discard that lens, so the next lens I can provide is that of basic decency and morality.  While I certainly have a Christian lens, for this discussion I am going to move from that to something I hope more people can accept, which is that second level, because I believe the topic at hand is important enough that I do not want to lose people who just do not want to read another discussion of what Scripture says.

As parents I believe it is a common wish to have our offspring be successful as they move through life and we try to equip them with this.  As a parent how I discuss incidents like these with my kids will determine how they frame their judgments the rest of their lives.  It will train them which lenses to use.

In the incidents at hand, there is a crucial question, certainly, but I think that too many in America have made it the wrong question because they have labeled these problems as having primarily a racial element, and I firmly disagree with that.  I believe to frame them that way clouds the discussion to the point of not addressing the real question, which is what must be done to hold authority figures (police officers) accountable for their actions when those actions exceed what would be considered reasonable and customary?  Saying that Michael Brown or Eric Garner were killed because the officers were white and they were black is not right.  They were killed, at least in Garner’s case, because the officers in question used poor restraint and judgment.

The officers involved in Garner’s case used a banned method of restraint.  To me this is the fundamental problem.  Garner died because an officer choked him to death.  He did not die because the officer was white.  I am not going to discuss what the consequences of this action should be for that officer.  That is for the authorities to decide, but what I have a problem with is that there should be some consequences when someone, regardless of position does something wrong.  This is my problem with diplomatic immunity extending to possibly allowing a homicide to occur because of someone’s status and no consequences being applied.  The situation is similar to a police officer being “immune” as well.  This is what I do feel was broken in this case.  I think using the race lens and protesting and rioting because of black and white relations is so disrespectful to people that it makes my heart ache.  Were there race issues in this country?  Unquestionably.  Are there still some today?  Certainly.  However, they are much improved over where they were 150 years ago, 50 years ago and even 25 years ago.  When I was in college my parents would still openly use the N word.  Today, while they may still think that in their heart, they do not utter it and they get upset when others do.  I do think we have a generation or two until this nearly vanishes from a daily concern, but the point is it gets less and less every day and prominent people like Chris Rock and others in that community have publically stated that as well.  By turning these incidents into black versus white, or anyone versus anyone we are creating natural defensiveness of entire groups.  When my black friends discuss this in those terms it makes it hard for me to truly talk about it and vice versa.  It is not a color issue, it is a people and relationship issue.  Is it ever right for a police officer to choke someone?  If the answer is no, then we need to focus on that problem and not cloud it with race.  This is what I hope everyone, including my kids, understands.

Now let’s look at another problem in these cases, using the Brown incident as our back drop.  Was what Brown did worthy of his death?  Again, that is not for me to opine on.  I was not there, I do not have all the facts.  What I have heard is that he was acting is a belligerent way at some point and the officer felt threatened.  This is the root of the situation as well.  Garner was doing something illegal.  Again, if people want to argue about if selling the type of cigarettes he was selling should be illegal or not, there are forums for that, but it will not be changed by yelling and screaming and rioting.  That just shows that proper, peaceful discourse is not a method of dialogue used by those making that choice and so their opinions are discounted because of the violence used.  Does anyone seriously want to make the argument that the right way to get someone to change is to violently force them to do so?  Should we wrestle or co-workers to the ground in a meeting or pull a weapon on them in the hallway because they want to do a project task in a manner different than we would?  If that example is obviously stupid, then why do we feel this is the right way to change a community?  Sadly, I think the lens these people were given by their parents or others was that violence is the way to get heard.  You do get heard; in the same way that Eric Garner and Michael Brown were heard.  Once you start yelling, screaming and threatening all the person or people you are attacking focus on are your behavior, not your goal.  No matter how much Garner or Brown thought they were in the right, arguing with a police officer who legally has the right to detain you and arrest you is not the answer.  Sadly, these men lost their lives doing that and investigations of these incidents were done, but I believe the fact that the focus of the public was diverted to race made it impossible to really address the problem.

Why?  Because of the fear of what strong discipline in these cases would mean.  It now became clouded with white and black instead of just being about right and wrong.  I do not care what color Eric Garner was.  What the police officer chose to do was wrong and there need to be consequences for that.  I do not care what color Michael Brown was, I care that he was aggressive to a police officer.  I do not feel he should have lost his life for it but I was not the officer faced with the situation.  We need to fix the abuse of authority in these cases.  I hope we can see our way clear to do that, and I hope all our children can get past the clouds of the race issues of the past and see what is really broken.  When we see injustice because of race we should certainly speak up, but we need to stop coloring what should not be colored.

In the end I do feel that the officers should have to respond for their actions.  In the Brown case, I believe that was done to some degree especially since the officer resigned.  In my mind, not knowing that situation, I’m not sure if he made the right choice.  Trust is shaken and in a profession where we need to trust that man, he realized he could no succeed and so will now choose another career.  In the NYPD case with Garner, I have not seen any consequences so this needs to be fixed.   The LAPD wrestled a woman to the ground a few months ago because she was on her cell phone while driving.  It is being investigated.  This is good.  People need to be responsible as so clearly stated in the video by Charles Patrick.  Let’s all try to be more responsible for ourselves today.