Looking For Water

According to Wikimedia “a cistern is a tank for storing water, usually covered. It may be as small as a toilet cistern or large enough to be essentially a covered reservoir.”

God, through the prophet Jeremiah used cisterns as a metaphor to show His people’s relationship with Him.

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

696415_mountain_waterfallI don’t know about you, but if I were in need of water and had to choose between “living water”–the kind that flows freely, abundantly, cleanly–and water stored in a cistern, I’d take the former every time.

But God didn’t just accuse His people of choosing cistern water over living water. They were making for themselves broken cisterns—ones that couldn’t hold water at all. In other words, since we need water to live, they were abandoning the source of life in favor of their own empty effort.

What a great picture of Humankind’s attempts to make it without God. We dig and work and build and produce and save, but in the end we go out like we came in—alone.

Our own efforts to provide the love, security, purpose, sense of belonging that we all need, net us muddy ground. Furthermore, one person’s attempt to do religion is no better than another person’s rejection of religion.

Water isn’t found in man-made activities. We can’t give up enough for Lent or fast often enough or serve in homeless shelters frequently enough to get the water we need.

The Jews who Jeremiah was talking to had left worship of the LORD their God and were serving false gods, made with their own hands. They couldn’t see how silly it was for them to pray to a statue that they had carved from a block of wood, one that could not walk or talk, and certainly could not give them Living Water.

But people in contemporary Western society aren’t any smarter. We think happiness will come if we just have enough money, just get the right job, just marry the right person, just have freedom or protection or safety or health. We go all in on things that are temporary, ephemeral, over which we have little control.

God tells us that He’ll provide. But like little children we say, No, no, let me, I want to do it myself. So we’re hacking away to dig out these systems we think will make life make sense or fill up our loneliness or at least get us through to the weekend. It’s a sad way to live, trying to squeeze water out of the muddy mess we make.

Especially when we can turn and enjoy Living Water in abundance.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April, 2013.

Published in: on January 14, 2019 at 4:49 pm  Comments Off on Looking For Water  
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Olympia_roller_coasterI was talking with a friend yesterday about the radical changes in society here in the US. We started looking at history to see if we could figure out how the earthshaking changes occurred. OK, first she related to me a discussion in a Bible study centered around Ephesians 5:16: “making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” The question came up from a Millennial, what does it mean “the days are evil”?

Well, that’s a question I think is self-explanatory. I mean, I just heard a statistic that said 90 people a day die in the US from gunshot wounds. Well, I went to verify this if possible. It’s a stat apparently Secretary Hillary Clinton has used in speeches against gun violence. On a web site that lists the numbers of deaths annually, the total they give for 2015 is 12,942 people killed “in a gun homicide, unintentional shooting, or murder/suicide” (The Trace). A little math reveals that’s more than 35 deaths a day.

Oh, so 35 isn’t 90, meaning it’s not so bad? The days aren’t really evil then? Well, 35 people would be like killing everyone (and a few visitors) in one of my classes during my teaching days. Every day! I think that’s pretty evil.

And that doesn’t begin to address the numbers of assaults, the muggings, the lies, the adulteries, the rapes, the abuse, the drunken stupors, the addiction overdoses, the robberies, the prostitution, the bribery, the corruption, the hate, the pornography, the abortions, the cursing, the betrayal. I find the evil to be overwhelming.

I mean, listen to an average news show and see what horrific things are happening in the world. The days are evil.

But this young Millennial had to ask, What does it mean, “The days are evil.”

So my friend and I began to discuss where in society is the breakdown that made this intelligent, well-educated Millennial ask for a definition of evil days. I mean, with atheism on the rise and church attendance on the decline, with terrorism seemingly unchecked, and presidential candidates who are potentially going to be indited for crimes or who have advocated for illegal action in their debates, I find it astounding that anyone would not immediately grasp the concept of “evil days.”

Thus the conclusion: something in our society has broken.

What, and when?

I suggested first, the dynamics of the home are not what they once were. During World War II and the Korean War, then the Viet Nam War, young men were not in the home, so any number of young wives were left to parent alone or to change roles from the one caring for the home to one providing financial necessities.

I didn’t mention this, but divorce also became easier to obtain and the stigma of divorce was removed. Hence, single parent homes began to increase. In short, a generation was not parented well, and they, in turn did a bad job of parenting their children who are now Millennials.

Parenting styles also changed. One difference was the determination that spanking was an inappropriate form of punishment. But there was also a surge of what my friend called “helicopter parents” who constantly hovered. I’ll add that homes became more child-centric than ever.

Our discussion ended before we reached any conclusion, but as I look at the changes in our society, I see two threads: parents who neglected their children, so they ended up growing up like weeds, and pampered children who grew up thinking the world owed them whatever their hearts desired.

Both extremes produced children who are part of the Me-ism of today. The first decided that no one else was going to watch out for them, so they had to watch out for themselves. The latter saw that everyone was taking care of them (coaches awarding participation trophies, teachers giving do-over tests, or changing their standardized test results, more recently, safe zones on university campuses where students won’t hear anything that offends them, and the like), so they expected the world to continue to center around them.

I’ll add another element. Our society has moved from one that believed in hard work and success to one that believes in happiness and safety. Our highest priority now seems to be happiness, and safety is needed to make happiness possible.

Consequently, entertainment occupies much of our time and attention. We want to have music on always. Unless we’re watching TV or the movie of our downloading choice. We read about the stars and watch “news” shows about the stars and talk about the stars. We are obsessed with the lives of people who act. Or sing. Why? Because they entertain us. And entertainment is key to happiness.

I think Me-ism is responsible for our view of truth and the push for tolerance. After all, if the most important value is each person’s individual happiness, then whatever the person wants must be good. If you want to believe in an after life, then that’s fine because it works for you. But if someone else says there is nothing beyond the grave, that’s fine too because they can be happy here and now. Because, you see, all views have to be tolerated so that everyone can be happy.

Enter Jesus saying that He is The way, The truth, The life, and no one can come to God the Father except through Him. He shatters the underpinnings of Me-ism. He shakes us from the lethargy of escape to entertainment and tells us to be on the alert. Peter explains that our enemy, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Paul says to Christians

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6)

In short, we simply don’t have time to be caught up in Me-ism, no matter what our culture is about. Like the first church which broke from their Jewish friends, neighbors, family, and community, Christians need to break from the culture of Me-ism and hold to the standards of the Bible. Because, yes, the days are evil, but our Redeemer is coming back to set things right.

Cam Newton And Society’s Narcissistic Make-over

Tourist_taking_selfie_with_stickMillennials, those born between the 1980s and the early 2000s, have been accused of being narcissistic, but they’re just the latest—and perhaps greatest—version of the Me Generation.

The Baby Boomers once wore the Me Generation tag, and it was appropriate. We stood in sharp contrast to the Greatest Generation who scraped through during the Great Depression and sacrificed for their country in World War II. They literally carried the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Baby Boomers? We carried the weight of our own desires.

Millennials have just perfected what we started. But does that necessarily mean that group of adults is narcissistic? In fact, what is narcissism?

According to dictionary.com, narcissism is defined as “an inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity; self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism” (as quoted in “Narcissism and Millennials in the Digital Age.”

Some scholars have postulated that millennials are in fact more self-absorbed than other generations, and the cause is social media. Others claim that teachers and parents are to blame because of an inordinate amount of praise lavished on ordinary children:

Throughout the last few decades, there has been an increase in parental coddling and the so-called “self-esteem” movement. Parents and teachers trying to instill a healthy sense of self-esteem in children by praising them lavishly often do more harm than good. In fact, studies show that children offered compliments for a skill they have not mastered or talents that they do not have are left feeling emptier and more insecure. (“Is Social Media to Blame for the Rise in Narcissism?” by Lisa Firestone)

Firestone goes on to build a case for parental causation, not social media, citing studies that indicate a person’s personality is generally in place by age 7—prior to involvement in social media. In addition, she points out what’s behind the scene in a narcissistic individual:

Self-esteem differs from narcissism in that it represents an attitude built on accomplishments we’ve mastered, values we’ve adhered to, and care we’ve shown toward others. Narcissism, conversely, is often based on a fear of failure or weakness, a focus on one’s self, an unhealthy drive to be seen as the best, and a deep-seated insecurity and underlying feeling of inadequacy.

In essence, Firestone is saying that a child who has been told he is the greatest and can be the best at whatever he wants, develops anxiety about achieving those expectations.

The great concern, however, is that the narcissistic behavior of millennials is creating a make-over of our society.

Author and Time editor at large Jeffrey Kluger argues that the popularity of the “selfie” is just one way that our culture is becoming more narcissistic. In fact, he says, narcissistic behaviors today aren’t just more accepted; they’re celebrated. “We’ve become accustomed to preeners and posers who don’t have anything to offer except themselves and their need to be on the public stage,” he says. (“The Persistent Myth of the Narcissistic Millennial” by Brooke Lea Foster)

Of course there is debate that the Millennials are actually more narcissistic than their predecessors. In fact studies indicate only one percent of the group would fit the clinical definition of narcissistic. Society has co-opted the word to reflect “traits people deem unpleasant or unlikable in a person” (Foster).

Cam_NewtonUnfortunately, I think Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton might be one of the glaring examples of narcissistic behavior, celebrated. Newton led his team to an impressive 15-1 record in 2015, then swept through the playoffs and entered the Super Bowl with his team favored to win it all. Along the way, he picked up the league’s MVP award.

But Newton had his detractors because after every score he celebrated . . . well, himself. When asked by a reporter if he was the Lebron James of the NFL, he answered, Why isn’t Lebron James the Cam Newton of the NBA?

In fact, Newton does have some similarities with James who readily accepted the designation “King James.” Cam Newton went one better, embracing the title “Superman.”

The narcissistic traits reared their ugly heads after the Panthers lost the Super Bowl. Newton pouted through a mandatory post-game press conference before prematurely walking out. If that weren’t bad enough, he followed up the next day by embracing his behavior. He wasn’t sorry. He was a sore loser, he said. And anyone who is a good loser is a loser.

His behavior was perfectly in keeping with narcissistic tendencies, but here is this role-model athlete telling his fans and followers that the new acceptable, and even preferred, behavior after losing is to pout, be rude, and show disrespect to whomever is in your way.

The thing is, such behavior is consistent with our sin nature. We all think more highly of ourselves than we ought because our sin nature has us believing that we can be like God, that if given half a chance, we might actually be better at His job than He is.

How in opposition is this position to Scripture:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. (Pro. 3:5-7)

Rather than putting ourselves forward, we are to acknowledge God. Rather than following our own wisdom, we are to trust the LORD. Rather than depending on our own perspective, our own plans, our own desires, we are to reverence God.

The two worldviews couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.

Selfism or Narcissism is taking firm root in the hearts of people in our society, not as something we need to grow out of but as something acceptable and celebrated. Thank God that He still gives new life to those who turn to Him. That He still rescues us from the dominion of darkness. That He still makes it possible for us to lay aside the old self with its evil practices.

But I have to wonder if narcissism doesn’t make it harder for a person to see himself as a sinner in need of a Savior.

The Life And Times Of Manti Te’o

Tmz_headquarters_and_officesIt took President Obama’s inauguration to move Manti Te’o off the lead-story slot on most news programs. Now he’s back. I’ve been amazed—not so much about the dead-girlfriend hoax but about so many people’s fascination with it. Did Manti know that “his girlfriend” wasn’t a real person? Was he a victim or the mastermind?

Who cares!

Well, obviously millions must because radio talk shows discuss it, nightly news anchors discuss it, national TV news personalities discuss it, Facebook friends discuss it.

But why?

Apparently we have become a vampire society, living off the lives of other people–movie actors and sports figures, singers and celebrity dancers, bachelors and survivors.

Once people ridiculed the tabloids; now the tabloids are us. We care more about whether or not Manti Te’o was part of the dead-girlfriend plot than we do France’s involvement in Mali or what the rebels in the Congo are doing.

We’ve been TMZed, some say. But before TMZ, the TV show that prides itself in passing along celebrity gossip, there was Inside Edition and before Inside Edition was People Magazine. In reality, there’s been a steady climb toward the frivolous and vapid in our news.

The bottom line is, we have become a society that lives to be entertained. We want our news to be sensational, our commercials to be either amusing or easily bypassed, our entertainment to be constant. We live for the weekend and only endure the time in between that isn’t lived in front of a screen.

Manti Te’o is only the latest and certainly not the last person marked out by the media for constant, overwhelming attention–his fifteen minutes of fame. He’s a high profile athlete from a high profile school coming off a high profile season, and his story seemed too sad to be real.

Lost in all this is the fact that Manti’s grandmother really did die, though the pretend girlfriend did not. But real grief doesn’t quite live up to sensationalized deception, and the story has become, who lied? Who commandeered the “girlfriend’s pictures,” and set up the fraudulent scenario?

Why should anyone care?

But already there’s been talk about lawsuits, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a book deal is in the works. I mean, strike while the iron is hot!

All this simply makes me think, How the mighty have fallen.

Published in: on January 24, 2013 at 6:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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Writers Writing Nothing New

Writing instructors constantly remind novelists that there is no such thing as a new story. All of them have already been told before. And why should we be surprised by that since there is no new thing under the sun.

A wife lured her husband into grabbing for power. Is that Macbeth or Eve with Adam? An innocent man is kidnapped and thrown in jail. Joseph, or The Count of Monte Cristo?

First, stories happened, then they became a tale someone told.

But why do writers keep on writing if none of the stories are new? I think there are several reasons. For one thing, the particulars of every story change.

The man-versus-man conflict has been told millions of times, for example, but in each one, a man is not murdering his brother. Perhaps he’s selling him to traders instead or setting his field on fire. Maybe he’s stealing the heart of his girlfriend or sleeping with his wife.

There are any number of details that can change — particulars about the characters, the location, the time, the events leading up to the culminating act, the motivation behind it, the resolution, and what it all means.

Writers continue telling stories, in addition, because each one of us adds our own touch. The story, in essence, becomes an expression of us — our personality, our outlook on life.

Painters have not stopped painting mountains because some other artist completed a landscape featuring mountains. Photographers haven’t stopped snapping pictures of sunsets because others before them have taken photos of the sun slipping below the horizon. These visual artists know that no one has captured their subject at that moment, in that way, and from that same perspective as the one presently holding a brush or peering through a lens.

So, too, writers bring their unique selves to each twice-told tale.

J. R. R. Tolkien said that writing is an act of sub-creation. Scripture says Man is made in God’s image. It’s not a stretch, then, to believe that the act of sub-creation is something humans do because of who God made us to be.

A fourth reason writers continue putting out stories even though we understand we are not writing a new thing — society needs them. For one thing, language changes, and some people prefer stories told in the vernacular.

In addition, society forgets. We need stories to remind us that there’s still a Big Bad Wolf in the woods, that a scorpion still stings because that’s what scorpions do.

Our stories anchor us to the truth, but they also serve as beacons looking forward. They fuel our imagination and make us look beyond ourselves. They attach us to one another, though we live across the globe or the galaxy or in a different era or world. They show us our commonalities even as they inform us of our uniquenesses.

Sure, no story is new, but none of them has ever been told in exactly the same way before. So writers keep writing, and readers keep reading.

Published in: on August 18, 2011 at 5:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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Throwing The Baby Out Instead Of The Foreskin

As the US hurtles toward social, political, and economic changes, I wonder at the break down of simple logic in our society. There seems to be, for example, a great disconnect between the values a segment of our country claims are desirable and the illegal activities to which those lead.

Take, for example, attitudes toward sex. Our youth today are taught in public school that sex is natural and that they are free to experiment and discover who they are and what their sexual preference is. But woe to the teenage boy who discovers that his sexual preference is six year old little girls. Woe to the adult male who acts on his preference for teenage boys.

Here’s another disconnect. Back in the latter half of the twentieth century, schools stopped teaching morals and ethics, as pundits began the process of eradicating religion, and Christianity in particular, from anything associated with government, in the mistaken idea that the presence of religion equated with the establishment of religion.

The new ethic became, It’s not wrong unless you get caught. Now in the early part of the twenty-first century we are rocked by scandal after scandal in local and national government, in financial institutions, in business, in labor, in houses of worship.

A different kind of disconnect recently came to the forefront — this one a subset of the larger body of activities designed to protect children, such as outlawing lead paint, requiring infants to be in car seats secured to a back seat, and any number of other safety regulations.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m all for protecting children, though I think we’d do better if we instructed parents how to raise kids rather than pass laws bad parents aren’t going to obey anyway.

But back to this latest version of Disconnect. It seems enough people in San Francisco signed a petition to get a proposal on the ballot to outlaw circumcision for anyone under eighteen. Presumably after eighteen, a man can decide for himself if he wants to be circumcised, but until then, the government will step in and protect these innocent baby boys from their evil parents who might inflict unspeakable harm on their little bodies. 🙄

How ironic, then, that those same evil parents are considered innocent if they choose to kill their baby boys before they take a single breath. Unborn babies, the entire little person, can be thrown away, but these anti-circumcision people want to spare foreskins.

This one is right up there with pregnant drug addicts being accused of abusing their unborn child if they continue to take drugs while they’re completely free to abort the baby if they choose.

These disconnects seem to get more bizarre every year and therefore more glaring. I wonder if sometime the majority of people will start realizing these issues are related. If babies need to be protected, then we should start by protecting them in the womb. Why is that one a hard concept to grasp?

Published in: on May 27, 2011 at 7:26 pm  Comments (9)  
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Pop Culture and the Normalizing of Anti-religion

For some time, I’ve seen trends in the way pop culture turns society’s values upside down. TV has become a favorite vehicle for this process.

First comes humor or sympathetic inuendo, then regularity, and eventually a politically correct attitude and legal protection.

Take abortion for example. First came the stories of back alley abortions. In this case, legal protection came next. Then regularity, or normalcy, followed by a politically correct attitude that sneers at pro-life.

Or pornography. First “adult bookstores” and people that frequented them were joked about. Then TV programs like Cheers and Friends normalized viewing porn, and now it is considered free speech and protected by our constitution.

Go back further to divorce which once was considered something shameful. Along come shows like The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, and we started talking about blended families as a normal part of the culture. Laws that once limited who could file for divorce soon became “no fault,” and now it is a rare occurrence even for a pastor to suggest divorce is something God hates.

We could go on to sex outside marriage or gay rights or animal rights or spanking children or any number of topics. You get the idea.

Well, the latest subject under attack is … God. Or so it would seem. A new movie is out, starring a good number of A-list actors, called The Invention of Lying. Today our paper (the Whittier Daily News) ran a review. The premise, it seems, is innocuous enough. The characters in the story world do not know about lying. Consequently everyone tells the truth, all the time (no fiction or tact—evidently, “telling the truth” means a person has to say whatever is on his mind). Until one loser writer invents lying.

At that point, however, the movie, according to the review, turns from silly to thoughtful because it begins to address The Biggest Lie—religion—exploring what that one lie can do to help or limit the human race.

Did you catch that? This is not a discussion about whether religion is a lie or not. That, apparently, is a given. We’re moving on, in other words, in the cultural upheaval process, to normalizing this belief.

Coincidentally, I saw something similar, albeit on a smaller scale, last night on a TV show called Lie to Me. Two of the “good guys” were sent to a cult to see if the leader was perpetrating tax fraud. In the process, one of the good guys makes a disparaging comment about prayer or God—I don’t remember which. The other good guy said, What’s wrong with praying when you need help? Good guy #1 says any other time people talk to someone who isn’t there, it’s called delusional. Then the show moved on.

The statement sat there unchallenged.

Seems I remember hearing that book buyers need to hear the title of a book seven times before it really starts to register. I wonder if it’s the same with “God is a lie.”

How long before our culture is adding to the “truth bucket,” alongside such fallacies as gays are cool, God is a lie and so is religion?

Published in: on October 6, 2009 at 4:07 pm  Comments (7)  
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