2016: My Year-End Review (Part 3 of 4)

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(Blogger’s Note: This is the third in a series of posts reflecting on 2016, and looking ahead to challenges in the new year. Tomorrow in the final post, I’ll share some thoughts about ideas and approaches we can adopt (filters and anchor points, if you will) in what I view as a post-truth world).

What a year. My, my, my, 2016. What got you so stirred up?

During the last three days I’ve written about personal observations and takeaways from 2016, and the foreboding potential for the “perfect storm” I think it creates next year. Never before have we been better poised for a complete unraveling of a civilized society. No, sadly I don’t think that’s a dramatic overstatement.

We’ve been told the following:

“Unfortunately, there are no longer any such thing as facts.” ~ political surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of (the president elect’s) supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? …  Now some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” ~ Hillary Clinton

“Look at that face.” (a negative reference to opponent Carly Fiorina) ~ the president-elect of the United States.

Seriously, how did we go so low, so fast?

One of the most important revelations occurring to me in 2016 is this: At a certain point in life we’re responsible not only for what we say, but what people hear. This requires looking outside and beyond ourselves – more practically – taking our eyes off ourselves.

Yesterday, I wrote about what I see as six of the most serious circumstances that weave together and create the most ominous set of domestic challenges in my lifetime. I believe they are the new invisible enemy of American society. You can read that post here.

Today, I’m adding to that list of unfortunate 2016 circumstances that may very well establish nonsensical, bizarre behavior and a complete absence of civility as the country’s New Normal. In 2016 we also witnessed the following:

  • We’re living in a “news” environment that wants to “bait” you, much more than it seeks to inform you. Even though the results are long counted and official, have you noticed how the mainstream media just can’t let the election go? The latest completely irrelevant debate is whether Obama would have defeated the new president-elect in a contest between the two. Have you noticed when it’s not the election, it’s black vs. white or christian vs. muslim? When you take the bait, it drives the ongoing conflict, and the conflict is necessary for the media’s survival. Stop taking the bait.
  • Increasingly, we are living with, (and buying into) our own perceived image of ourselves as opposed to who we truly are. It’s part of the evolution of social media, has been going on for years, and it’s the worst possible thing for personal development. A solid foundation of knowing who you are, that in which you believe (and why), and where your truth is anchored, is the key to everything else in life. Don’t lose your ability to look into an introspective mirror. Brand yourself if you must, but cast yourself in refreshing reality.
  • Our convictions have never been more shallow. It’s so easy to brand ourselves as a staunch advocate for this cause or that purpose. Words are cheap. Want to really convince people of your convictions? Go out and get your hands dirty.
  • We love making public declarations of our charitable endeavors. We’re literally shouting our good deeds from the mountaintop. Self-awareness of your motives has never been more important. May I recommend this book as you consider your own motives in the new year?

    A book recommended by my friend Jay Gunter that has really shaped some of my thinking.

    Or just meditate on this: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Those words are so important to a fulfilling life.
  • The irony of creating a false image of ourselves, and the public pronouncement of our good deeds in a world that’s more accessible and smaller than it’s ever been is that we are lonely. In the absence of deep, meaningful, real relationships, we are crying out for friendship and attention.
  • Also ironic is that in an increasingly small world, our knowledge about the world is shallow. We’ve furthermore begun replacing an intrinsic desire to know more about the world, with our preferred ideas about what we want the world to be. Of all the things in the last election cycle that troubled me outside the public mocking of a disabled reporter was the widely circulated “fake news” article suggesting Pope Francis endorsed the future president-elect a month before the election. Anyone with any degree of world knowledge whatsoever knows a pope would never endorse a political candidate. It would never happen. No matter how much you wish things like this to be true, they are not, and never will be true. If you’re going to “share” news, share responsibly and, quite frankly, know what the hell you’re talking about.  Want an interesting place to begin your world knowledge? I came across this video in 2016:
  • This may stir some people up, no doubt. I don’t understand the obsession we have with national pride and the insistent belief that the US is the best at everything. No disrespect to military sacrifice intended – that’s an entirely different topic, but news flash. We’re not the best at everything. Want to see a cohesive family unit? Go to Latin America. Quality engineering? Try Germany. Extraordinary high standards of living? Norway. We are not the greatest at everything under the sun, and we could learn some things if we weren’t so obsessed with fear, walls, a minuscule fraction of crazy people, and the insistence that we’re the greatest. Personally, I don’t think God looks out and sees borders.
  • By now, we’ve taken enough bait, and allowed the media to lead us down enough roads of conflict that we’ve surpassed the highest levels of intolerance. Our default reaction is now an intolerant one. This intolerance has stifled productive conversation and is a root cause for bringing any greatness we have to a complete standstill. We’ve become a “what about this” or “what about that” society. At the slightest mention of a candidate mocking someone, the next person will say, “well, what about the deplorable comment?” Well, what about it? Both actions were wrong, and neither justifies the other. Stop getting so caught up in a label or a “side” that you can’t see the bigger picture. Talk for crying out loud. If we can’t talk to one another and learn from one another, I hope you like where we are right now, because we’re not going anywhere. This place and these circumstances are your home forever. Welcome to chaos.
  • As part of the obsession with labels and “we vs. them,” we’ve bought into the false idea of things like “binary choices.” If you live in the US, you enjoy freedoms because some magnificent advocates for change preceded you. Advocates for change don’t always get to see the change they valiantly pursue. Look outside the system. The possibilities are endless.
  • A final thought: As long as everything is about who gets the credit, there’s nowhere to go but down.

As I wrote yesterday, this is all way more negative than I prefer. So many of these circumstances you cannot control, but you CAN take responsibility for yourself, and that responsibility has never been more important.

In tomorrow’s final post, I’ll offer some ideas about filters and anchor points that work for me, and that you may also consider for 2017.

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2016: My Year-End Review (Part 2 of 4)

(Blogger’s Note: This is the second in a series of year-end blog posts focusing on milestones and challenges in both the old year, and the new.)

“Never get into a fight with a pig in the mud. You get dirty, and the pig loves it.” ~ unknown

It’s not easy to say something that’s practically contrary your very nature, so at the beginning I should first say this:

I have peace. Never have I felt less conflicted about priorities, truth, and the pursuit for growth. And I wish the same peace for you.

Because it happened to me for three long years, and because I’ve lived up close and personal with chronic depression, no one hates a gloom-and-doom outlook more than me. At the slightest hint of gloom and doom, I run. So, there is no great pleasure in the paragraph that follows:

The New Year forebodes the makings of a perfect storm. It reveals a potential like never before to rob us of the things we’ve always claimed as important – things like civility, truth, kindness, charity and an overall goodwill toward humanity.  screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-5-46-09-amIt has the potential for a complete societal reset, destroying decency and bringing new vigor to a shallow, watered-down life of meaningless, labeled identities. And if the New Year takes us there, further than we’ve already gone down that path in 2016, it’s a long road back home. The Prodigal Son had to walk that road when he found himself wallowing with pigs.

Cults have thrived on less well-developed story lines than the one already coming together for 2017. And lest I remind you of a place called Jonestown in 1978. It didn’t turn out well for those who got caught up in the story. There was a devastating metaphor that evolved from that tragedy. It’s now known as “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Whether you realize it or not, whether you want to believe it or not, even if you immediately deny it as true, as many will – it is true. We’re ripe for a breakdown. I hate writing those words from which I’d normally run.

All this comes not from some lingering frustration over an election, not from loyalty to any polarizing labels that dictate false ideas like “binary choices,” not from any agenda at all, but rather from my own experience in public service and a lifetime of working in, and studying mass media communication. And if you know me, I’ve been writing with melancholy about a deteriorating media for years.

Everything I’ve seen and experienced in the world of public service and mass media points to six foundational components that warn of a seismic societal shift. There are many others and I’ll write about those tomorrow, but the six that follow are critical:

  1. New leadership in the United States is gifted at mass media manipulation like no leadership we’ve seen. Void of substance, it’s based on a keen understanding of bait and switch techniques and preys on demographic vulnerabilities and emotions that couldn’t be further removed from our best interests. It’s the ultimate exhibition in distractive technique. The product, just as intended, is polarizing conflict and division.
  2. By and large, mainstream media lost its objectivity 20 years ago when the economics of survival dictated the need for demographic-directed programming. Pure, pristine news coverage that allows consumers to evaluate world affairs for themselves is long a thing of the past. What mass media now requires is the perpetuation of an ongoing, drama-infused, conflict-driven story. And it needs you to keep watching.
  3. The two circumstances above create a parasitical relationship as never seen before.  screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-2-28-59-amWhile the leadership and the media want you to believe there’s a dramatic, enemy-like tension between them, nothing could be further from the truth. Each feeds off, and perpetuates the other. They are bed partners. Don’t play into the false narrative of their check and balance system. This dysfunctional relationship is the most dangerous thing, foreign or domestic, the US has ever faced. Truth is, it’s the new enemy.
  4. Self-centered, self-interest is now modeled for us at the highest levels. Do you know what creates big changes over time? Exposure. The more we’re exposed to certain behaviors, the more acceptable and adoptive they become. Modeled behavior shapes both the good and the bad, and can do so in big numbers.
  5. If you love words as I do, you might notice two rapidly growing trends: (1) the shifting perceived definition of words that have generally been foundational to an American society (e.g. evangelical, Christian, marriage, truth, man, woman, gender, sex, etc.); and (2) a new kind of empty language aimed at diffusing certain historically narrowly defined truths  (e.g. May the Universe send you light, love, positivity and special vibes today.) These new definitions and the new evolving language speak nothing of substance outside a desire to be gods and goddesses of self. It’s thus consistent with the modeling cited above.
  6. We’re having great difficulty distinguishing patriotism from religious fervor.

I’ve written a lot lately about our need for information filters and anchor points. They may be the two most important foundations for a meaningful and happy life in 2017. Never has the simple idea of “responsibility for self” been more important. A new world demands that we rededicate to some basic, yet important decisions to help us guard our hearts and our heads.

In the next two days, I’ll expand on the challenges I see in 2017, and some practical ways I believe we can anchor ourselves in the blowing winds of a post-truth world.

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The Absolute Worst Trends of 2015

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… in no particular order…

1. The increasingly casual remark of putting others in our “thoughts and prayers” as an expression to pretend we care.

2. Sending “good vibes” to one another. What’s a vibe? How do you send it? And how do I receive it? Does it show up on my utility bill? Those words literally make me cringe.

3. An evolving, growing shift from a primary focus to love and have genuine concern for other people, to a love for, fascination with, and almost worship of,  animals. There’s some deep, disturbing, profound sociology/psychology there.

4. Mainstream media’s (particularly cable broadcast news’) evolution from at least pretending that it still seeks to inform you, to its complete disregard for that idea, and blatantly acknowledging it cares only to entertain, divide and create conflict between you and your fellow man so that it may perpetuate its own interests at any cost.

“SuperPacs may be bad for America, but they’re very good for CBS.” ~ CBS Corporation CEO Les Moonves.

5. The growing notion that somehow “the universe” will provide all our needs if we’ll just be open to that idea, and listen to it.

6. The crystal clear evidence that so very many young adults in their 20s and 30s have absolutely no idea who they are, or where they’re going because they were raised by a generation of parents in their 40s and 50s who had no idea what they were doing.

7. The idea that “religious liberty” somehow also means all things can be true.

8. “Relevant Truth,” the very idea of which, conflicts itself.

9. The United States’ growing isolationist philosophy based in fear, and propitiated by those most likely to lead the country after the next election cycle.

10. For that matter, fear-based everything.

11. The manner in which we’ve falsely come to believe we’re actively making a difference by expressing our convictions on social media. It’s so serious, most of us no longer even know who we really are.

12. The unnecessary devaluation, and outright ridicule of Christianity as vehicle to legitimate religious liberty for other beliefs.

13. The degree to which we’ve allowed symbolism to heighten our convictions, most of which don’t matter anyway if all you’re going to do is run your mouth about it. See #4 above.

14. Failure to do something (anything) and have civil conversations that can produce real results to keep innocent people from being murdered by the masses in the United States.

15. Bruce Jenner, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, The Duggars, Barack Obama, CNN, FOX News, Starbucks cups, Good Morning America, Disney and more. But moreover, our fascination with each of them.

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On God and Suicide

I’ve spent a good part of my life wondering what God thinks about certain things.

When I was a kid, I wondered what God thought about all the bad things I did. Sins they were called. It’s what the pastor at our church talked about most of the time. This thing called sin. It was everywhere, and I was bad because I did it, he said.

Even as an older adult, I still contemplate God’s thoughts. When I was divorced several years ago, I wondered how disappointed He was in me. Certain things I read said I’d just filled out my own prescription to Hell.

Today, I wonder a lot about how God’s going to bring all this worldly mess together for His glory. He will do that, no doubt, but I don’t have a clue how.

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

About the time I was 30, though, I was wondering something that I didn’t even know I was really wondering. Until, that is, Pastor Rick Warren wrote his best seller Purpose Driven Life.

It was Warren’s subtitle that really caught my attention … What on Earth Am I Here For?

When I saw Warren’s book on the best seller shelf of my local bookstore, I devoured it, because it was exactly what I’d been wondering for years.

It’s one of only a few books that’s really had a profound effect on my life for the good, and since that time, nearly 20 years ago, Rick Warren has carried a special place in my heart, as is the case with so many others across the world.

And so last weekend, we all collectively mourned when we learned that his 27-year-old son Matthew took his own life, a result of chronic depression.

Matthew Warren

Matthew Warren

Sometimes very bad things happen to really good people.

When such “everyday things” happen to prominent people, it makes us wonder. The Warren family’s circumstance caused me to ponder a  “God question” I thought about for many years.

Did Rick Warren’s son go to hell because he committed suicide?

The church teachings to which I was exposed as a child and young adult all basically gave an unfortunate, but profound “yes” to a this question. The justification behind the doctrine? In a nut shell, murder is a sin, the man took his life, and by taking his own life could’ve never repented for said sin. Harsh, but simple and true, the sin preachers preached.

It’s the academics of God’s word, I think they believed.

Because the authority figures taught that teaching, I bought it for the longest time. It made me sad, but I believed it because that’s what the men behind the pulpit said.

I’m glad I don’t believe this today. And thank God he’s not the God of Academics. Actually, he’s God of everything, but you know what I mean.

I didn’t know Rick Warren’s son, and truth is, I don’t know where he is today. I hope he’s in Heaven. But I do know this. He wasn’t doomed for Hell because he killed himself.

How do I know this? Because rather than counting mistakes and messes you and I make against us, His nature is forgiveness. Unquestionable, unconditional forgiveness, circumstances be damned.

Matthew Warren‘s mistake was an unfortunate one. Terrible timing with collateral damage everywhere – friends, family, you name it.

But it was a mistake, and that’s all it was. And mistakes don’t necessarily send you to Hell. I believe that, and I’m staking my life on it.

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Remembering the Day AFTER 9-11 and Our Present Hypocricy

What I remember most, is not the day itself, but the days that followed.

I was one of the lucky ones, I suppose. I lost no family members, no friends, no colleagues in the triad of disaster that day. As so many others, I simply watched in disbelief.

bush and chief of staff at school on 9-11I was 36 on September 11, 2001, and pretty much numb to our nation’s divisiveness. Uncomfortable as it all felt, it was a privilege freedom carried, I’d somehow come to reason.

But the precious days that followed, at least in my small hometown, gave birth to a feeling I’d never before experienced. For a few short days, things were just different.

I think it must have been what it’s supposed to be to feel like an American.

On the day after 9-11, cars proudly displayed American flags waiving through the rush-hour commute. And there was no road rage. If someone cut you off that day – well, it was no big deal. We had our families and our futures ahead. We were alive and safe so we let it all slide.

In the few short days that followed 9-11, handshakes were firmer, hugs were tighter – we were actually civil, united, kinder and gentler.

The day after 9-11 all politics were cast aside. We all supported President Bush. And we wanted him to kill Osama bin Laden. He was the commander-in-chief and we stood united in his leading the charge.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if we could’ve somehow captured our collective sentiment and made time stand still? But time moved on. And eventually, we returned to our former selves.

Yesterday, Americans across the country shared the memories of 9-11. We gaveremembering 9-11 tribute and honor to the fallen, and we celebrated our resiliency as a people. It’s an honorable thing we do in our remembrance. But I can only think about how much we’ve forgotten.

In the days that followed 9-11 we were so … well … together. It’s quite the paradox that we remember a former time of unity during such a present time of divisiveness.

Today, we cast outright hate toward our commander-in-chief. And as the election approaches, we also question the morals of his opponent.

Politically, we disrespect the beliefs of our friends. Racially and ethnically we continue to build impenetrable walls. Economically, we endorse growing the margin between the wealthy and the poor while children go hungry.

Yesterday we all talked about our memories of that day. We made endless social media posts with powerful visuals recalling the day we came together as a nation and we made ourselves feel good for a brief moment in time.

Today, history will repeat itself, and yesterday will be forgotten. How does that happen?

I think about all those who gave their lives, and what they might say about our current state of affairs.

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