Monday, August 29, 2016

Critique of the Self-Made Man/Woman

Self-made, are you?

Americans take pride in self-made types: the do-it-yourself, go-it-alone, I-did-it-my-way guy, especially when it comes to money, as in the self-made millionaire.

But what exactly does it mean to be self-made?

No helping hand, no guidance, no assistance or support or instruction from others along the way, is that what it means?  I doubt it.

My guess is that it would be safe to say that the greatest of men or women were those who were NOT isolated or alone in the making.  They connected or bonded with someone special in their lives.  And they were most likely lovingly mentored.

Indeed, most biographies of great men and women will often point to a special someone in their lives giving encouragement—inspiring, motivating, and/or instilling hope in them.  They were NOT alone.   There was someone there, cheering them on, routing for them, believing in them, providing moral support, if not actual guidance and direction.

And there is no shame in that.  Indeed, anyone with good sense would consider it an honor to receive that kind of focus and attention towards one’s personal development by another.

The point is that we need to value more the very idea and practice of mentoring.

As a society, we value personal growth.  We acknowledge the importance of personal development and maturity.  (At least I assume and hope that we do.)  But we also value our independence and our freedom to “be myself.”  So much so that we may ignore the fact that to become one’s true SELF actually requires meaningful input from significant others; and here is where quality input from a valued mentor becomes extraordinarily valuable.

We need mentoring or some kind of guidance and instruction along the way of upward growth and constructive development.   Here’s why.

For one, we learn who we are by engaging with others, bumping into, responding to, reacting to, and/or imitating the other with whom we closely identify; consciously or subconsciously accepting or rejecting their values and practices along the way.  That is, we develop within a social relational context.

Secondly, we don’t always see what we need to see without someone holding a mirror up to us.  That is, we also learn to know our selves’ best when others mirror back to us what they see in us, good, bad or indifferent.  Obviously, it is best to learn the hard truth about ourselves from someone who loves us, having our best interest in mind.  Authentic love is not afraid to tell us what’s wrong with us, what we may be doing wrong, where our weaknesses lie.  We shouldn’t be averse to hearing it from such a person either.  It’s for our own good—development.

Thirdly, we can’t possibly always anticipate and know what it is that we need to know, or where to get that knowledge or info when we discover that there is a flagrant gap in our experiential/knowledge base.  Very few of us, if any, are trailblazers in knowledge; others have gone before us and know the way to get there.  This is where real guidance and direction is helpful.  For example, there is a reason why all good athletes have excellent coaches.  There is no sense in re-inventing the wheel considering that someone has already “been there/done that” before us.

This is just a short list as to why we need input/mentoring from others when aspiring to do well in developing into solid human beings of value and significance.  This of course presumes willingness on our part: that we are humble and teachable, for example, and are able to invite others into our personal lives to get under our skin and to provide constructive criticism, trusting them to have our best interest in mind.

Because, in the end, our truest value and worth actually does not come from the amount of money we make and leave behind, or in the number of awards we may have won in our careers, or in the many titles we have earned to attach to our name.  Rather, our truest value is in the many people we have touched in an enduring and positive way because of who we ourselves have become.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Rio Olympics and The Lochte Case

How old is Ryan Lochte?  I hear he’s thirty-two.  That is, he’s in his early thirties.  Thirties!  And this is his behavior?

The incident with Ryan Lochte in Rio made me think of other times when other athletes and/or entertainment celebrities of various types (singers, actors, or musicians, for example) have gotten into trouble.

At quick glance, an immediate observation that I’d make, as an outsider looking in on these various “another celebrity in trouble” incidents, is the common denominator of the childishness and immaturity of the initial misbehavior that triggers the media spotlight on them, questioning their judgment and character.

I especially find it interesting that some celebrities reactively choose to defy the assumption that, because they are celebrities, they are expected to be good role models.  Their defiant attitude goes something like this: “I didn’t ask to be a role model.  I don’t want to be a role model.  And I don’t have to be a role model to anyone.  So, don’t lay that burden on me!”

Back to Ryan Lochte, I have no idea what his attitude is, respecting the public expectation that he should be a good role model as an Olympic star athlete.  He may accept this, he may not; I don’t know.  What I DO know is that, celebrity or not, his age (32) in and of itself demands that he should be a good role model.  In short, he’s all grown up.  He’s a man.  He’s well beyond his adolescent years.  As a full fledge adult, he should act like one.

Don’t get me wrong; even adults need to let their hair down, have fun, and be a kid again, so to speak.  I get it.  There’s a kid in all of us, or there should be—and that’s a good thing.  We should all stay young at heart.

But—okay, at this point I realize that I am risking the chance of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy—it seems to me that our society is trending toward extending adolescence well beyond the teen years, into the twenties, and even into the thirties.  What used to be considered adolescent antics, in thinking and behavior, has now become the norm for twenty and thirty something year-olds!  Or is it just me?  Please don’t tell me that I’m just an old stick-in-the-mud.

Recently, my three-year-old granddaughter has picked up on the difference between being a “grown-up” and being a “kid.”  So, she made the following profound observation: “Mommy is a ‘grown-up,’ so is Daddy.  Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop [that would be me] are ‘grown-ups’ too; but I’m just a kid.”  That’s my granddaughter for you!  She tends to make life observations like that.

What she didn’t say, yet I know she’s thinking and observing, is that kids don’t act like grown-ups and grown-ups don’t act like kids; they’re different.  And she most certainly instinctively understands what that “difference” is; it goes something like this: “grown-ups are responsible for us kids, they show us the way, teach us, and protect us; I am learning how to be a person by watching the grown-ups around me.”

An adult that normatively functions as an adolescent is suffering from arrested development, is emotionally, psychologically, and/or mentally stunted.  Sure, most if not all of us adults may regress from time to time, have moments when we react or behave immaturely.  Still, few adults would like to be viewed as childish and immature in the long run.

Yet it seems that that’s where so many of our celebrities are—in arrested development.  I admit, this is just an impression, not probably true in actual percentages or numbers.  Still, there seems to be enough adolescent acting celebrities out there that the impression is there!  Men and women in their twenties, and sometimes even well into their thirties, that seem to have remained in permanent adolescent mode, given the immaturity of their personal and/or social behavior as highlighted in newsreels.

I have to ask: Why is that?

Is it possible that we’ve so glamorized youth, coupled with the assumed freedom to “do to as I very well damn please,” that we no longer value or even understand actual wisdom and maturity?  In short, are we raising a generation of young people that no longer view the aging/maturing process as a good thing?  Aging is bad!  And, if aging is bad, so is the wisdom and maturity that goes along with it.  Message: Don’t grow up!  Stay young.  Consequence: remain an adolescent in your thinking, attitude, and behavior.  Apparently arrested development is a good thing these days.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Words Matter!

What we say, how we say it, why we say it—it matters!

Words influence.  And when someone is moved to take action by someone’s words, the words themselves are the source of said action.  In other words, words DO!  Thoughts become words, words become deeds.

“Your word is my command,” ever hear that?  Have you ever said that to someone (light heartedly, of course), when that someone has asked you to do something?  “Just say the word, and I shall do it.”

Words are not empty sounds that disappear into nothingness.  That’s why we have a cautionary saying: “Be careful what you say, for you can’t take it back.”  Words have impact.  That’s why we have another saying: “Think, before you speak!”  Or, “Think about what you’re saying.”

Words carry meaning, signal intent, and even shape our reality.  Words are evocative and translate ideas into suggestive action.  They bark out orders and assert demands.  They invite response or command obedience.  Words can be dangerous!

Officials, people in positions of responsibility, speak with power and effect.  “Stop right there!” shouts a police officer, and most people stop.  As to those who don’t, they know that they are in active rebellion against a rightful authoritative spoken word.

Words are also inexact.  They can be confusing.  There is such a thing as double entendre, double meaning.  Indeed, words have multiple meanings; may even sound exactly the same while having exact opposite meanings: raise the barn or raze the barn, build up or take down, which is it?  We must choose our words carefully.

I could go on about words.  Suffice it to say that this is why a president, or any elected official for that matter, must speak rightly, carefully, meaningfully, and with as much precision as to intent and purpose as possible.  There is too much at stake—in terms of national security, international affairs, or economic stability, and so on and so forth—for a president’s words to be misunderstood or misinterpreted or mistakenly taken!

So, yes, a good president must weigh his/her words carefully.  Of course, he/she must mean what he says and say what he means, by speaking with clarity and accuracy, avoiding unnecessary confusion whenever possible.  The president is a statesman (/woman), not a comedian and so shouldn’t act or speak like a comedian.  To say, “I was only kidding,” or “I was simply being ironic,” in the aftermath of much confusion or much offense taken by a listening populace, just doesn’t cut it.  There is no excuse for foolish innuendo, silly irony, or petty joking around with loaded words or the imprecise use of words in anyone who aspires to hold the highest office in the land.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Liars All?

I read somewhere a while back that the majority of Americans take it for granted, that is, actually expect that politicians lie.  It’s politics!

Yet, we also get angry and reactive when a politician is caught in a bald face lie.

No, let me be more specific.

When caught in a lie, we eagerly attack our political opponent’s candidate with scathing judgment and condemnation of him or her while at the same time we readily overlook and/or minimize the lies made by our own favored candidate.

It’s a simple double standard formula: If we don’t like the candidate, we pronounce, accentuate, and condemn every lie, however small, however big; on the other hand, if we like the candidate, we excuse any and all lies as insignificant and forgivable.

Why do we do this?  First, we want what we want and we humans tend to do anything it takes to get what we want—even if it means lying or cheating or cutting corners and/or misleading, as in leaving things out and failing to tell the whole story, or exaggerating and over embellishing.

Secondly, we feel more in control when we lie.  Emphasis is on “feel.”  Fact is, we generally lose control when we lie, for we more often than not become victims of our own duplicitous behavior.  Yet, when we lie we feel as if we are controlling the situation, managing and maintaining our reputations, our personal interests, our ego & pride, or are containing our influence over others and/or our control over events and their possible outcome.  In that sense, lying is a means to an end, a tool, or a weapon and/or defense mechanism.  In short, we believe that lying works!

The trouble is that lying often IS effective—in the short run!  And that’s what reinforces the tendency/temptation for us to lie.

And who hasn’t lied?  Indeed, some of our greatest personal injuries have occurred when we have discovered that our closest friend or confidant or loved one, someone we truly respected and trusted as unquestionably trustworthy, has lied to us.  Now THAT hurts!  That adds to the problem.  Furthermore, if we’ve lied to others, we assume or expect that others will also lie to us; or, if others have lied to us, we feel more justified in lying to others.

Of course this is why the question of character is always raised in a political campaign.  Is he/she honest, trustworthy and true to his/her word?  But we started off by admitting that most of us already expect political candidates to lie?  So what do we mean by the question of trustworthiness in a political candidate, if we already assume that all political candidates (left or right) lie?

Furthermore, if that’s the case, why stop at the character of the candidate?  What about the character of the voter?  Are we willing to have our chosen candidate win by any means and at any cost—even if it means by lying, cheating, and misleading along the way?  If so, what does that say about us and our national character as a whole?

Studies have shown that most people either ignore or proactively resist revealing discrepancies found by “fact-check” reports against a candidate, if it is a candidate that they favor.  That is, if a fact-check report reveals egregious lies and half-truths and/or great errors in a favored candidates speech, for example, the attitudinal response of that candidate’s supporter goes something like this: “I don’t want to hear about it?” or “The fact-check report itself is a lie!”  In short, we don’t want to know the truth, if the truth goes against our own desired interests.  So be it.

It is no wonder that Jesus the Christ said, when speaking of the evil one: “When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

The Biblical (Gospel) message: God is Truth.  So, even if we only tell a so-called little white lie, we fall short of God’s righteous perfection.  Indeed, you and I fall short of God’s purity, holiness, goodness, and righteous all the time.  This is why we humans tend to mess things up so badly, in whatever arena we may speak of—political, economic, social, etc.  We have character issues.  This is why we need a Savior and why it is that Christians point to Jesus as our needed Lord and Savior.  For, given our human nature, we’re certainly not going to perfect the world on our own; just look at what we have to work with—look at the world's condition right now and compare it to any century prior to this one and you know what I’m talking about; we've not improved a bit, have we?

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Lost Message of Christ in Today’s Political Arena

The Gospel: boring, irrelevant, outdated, unnecessary?

But what is the Gospel Message?

You’d think it has something to do with the American Dream as in “God Bless America!”  You’d think it has something to do with the ultra conservative right wing branch of the Republican Party, a la Ted Cruz.  You’d think that it has something to do with anti-communism, Laissez-Faire Capitalism, or name-it and claim-it economic prosperity.  You’d think it has something to do with power, independence, individual freedom, and the right to happiness.  You’d think that the Gospel was tailor-made for America so as to be “a shinning city upon a hill” to the rest of the world.

You’d think.

For, when the Gospel is couched in patriotic terms, embedded in American values, wrapped in the American Flag as it were and presented as the American Dream, the Gospel glitters and dazzles with glorious applause: “America!!  Isn’t she great?!  That’s what we’re talking about.  Preach it brother!  Spread the Good News—freedom, liberty, wealth and prosperity!  America the Beautiful!  Now, that’s a Gospel message worth talking about!  And cursed be anyone who preaches a different Gospel than that!”


In actuality, the Gospel of Christ has little to do with the American Dream and most certainly has nothing to do with American politics, the American Way, or American Nationalistic Patriotism.  Yet, somehow many Christians express their Christian faith with patriotic sentiments as if the Gospel and the American Dream were one and the same.  How odd.  For, to do so, is in fact to preach a false Gospel.

In truth, generally speaking, the actual Gospel message, when authentically and sincerely shared, is either ignored, unwelcomed, contested, and/or rejected as irrelevant, narrow-minded, pie-in-the-sky, head in the clouds, outdated matter that has little place in today’s Modern World.

The true Gospel of Christ is first and foremost about God, not wealth and prosperity, not American Nationalism, not liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  It is about God who is righteous, holy, good, and just.  It is about God as Creator, master and lord of the universe.  And it is about humanity’s relationship to God.

According to Gospel Truth, humans are creatures, made by God, made in God’s image.  Humans therefore owe God respect and adoration.  Humans are to rightly worship God.  And thus, the Gospel is about judgment and condemnation—God’s judgment and God’s condemnation of rebellion and wrongdoing and sin and evil.  That is why the Gospel is most pointedly about salvation.  God saving humanity from its own self-condemning acts of rebellion, distrust and disbelief in God’s Goodness, righteousness, and justice.

And so, the Gospel has little to do with American politics or American social economic agenda, as such.  Yes, the Gospel has implications that affect a person’s mindset, attitude, and values, which in effect give shape to one’s thinking and behavior as a citizen of his/her country—whatever country that may be.  But the Gospel is not about one’s nation or country or one’s government.  Rather, it is about a Kingdom that is not of this world—the Kingdom of God.  And it is about a King that stands apart from and above all other earthly rulers—the Lordship of Christ.  And most importantly, it is about humanity being held accountable to God for falling short when measured against God’s goodness, holiness, justice, and truth—God’s Glory.

But here’s the thing, American Christians bemoan the fact that the church and Christianity no longer has the dominant sway and influence over American society that it use to have and once took for granted.

I suggest that the reason for the decline in Christianity’s influence in American society is twofold: (1) Christians have wrongly merged the Christian faith with American patriotism, making it feel to others (especially non-religious type) as if the Christian agenda is supposed to be more authentically “American” than any other agenda, for defining American principles  values  and practices.  And (2) there is a growing lack of belief in God, coupled with a growing variety of Faiths in God, in American society, such that, the Gospel message of Christianity is more and more viewed as too narrow or exclusive (and therefor unacceptable) by more Americans than ever before.

I would therefore suggest that Christians would have a better chance of being heard again, and being respected again for the content of their faith and practices, if they correct the error by UN-coupling American political agenda with the Gospel of Christ.  That is, the Gospel of Christ must be separated from American political nationalism so as to be authentically heard again.

In other words, the Gospel must stand on its own terms and have its own voice again.  America is NOT God’s Promise Land and US political agenda need not cater to Kingdom of Christ principles, values, and practices in order for the Gospel to remain relevant.  Christians are sojourners, citizens of the Kingdom of God, and must therefore act as such.  It is a citizenship of a higher calling, calling for a higher level of living, and should have a deeper impact upon human lives than that of any earthly political party, left or right.