Friday, August 18, 2017

The America I Knew...

This morning I was reading a random section of a book I wrote in 2013, “Remembering America.” In the final chapter, I wrote these words:
     “America has become a disjointed, sectarian, broken land where neighbors don’t last because nobody has neighbors anymore. Not really. Not like we did.
…The extent of our interaction with our neighbor is when we wave hello as we pull out for work in the morning. We don’t know them. We don’t know what brought them here to this community. We never find out where they’re from in this country, or where their family is from in the world. We never learn their son’s middle name and if it has some family history. We have never tasted their mother’s homemade bread, or borrowed a cup of sugar, or shared a glass of tea on the front porch on a summer evening. Great people with great stories live 30 feet from us and we never find out anything about them until we read their obituary one day unexpectedly. Then we pause for a moment, wince at how we should have reached out to them, and wish we had that chance now. Then our cell phone rings and we are dragged back into the tyranny of the urgent and returned by our digital wardens to the prison of upward mobility.
…America was founded by neighbors. She was built by neighbors. She ascended to unbelievable heights because we were a nation of neighbors. We were a community. We were fiercely independent in the ways that mattered. We worked hard, got things for ourselves without the government helping us, took no handouts, but gave them when we saw a need.
…Nowadays, we live in the age of talk-radio, and social media. Nobody sees the face behind the voice and nobody really cares to. We can call Rush or Sean or watch MSNBC and become angry, bitter, and violent towards the other side –whichever side that might be- and we don’t feel even the slightest twinge about the slow death of our human spirit because we are detached from everyone else. Our sense of humanity is slipping because we aren’t interacting with humans anymore. We aren’t neighbors anymore. Twitter and Facebook have become poor replacements for summer cookouts and get-togethers, and having a beer with your neighbor while sitting in lawn chairs in your driveway on a summer evening.
…We don’t drive down the street at the end of the workday, and see the neighborhood, and attach a funny story to each address on each mailbox. Nobody waves to us as we pull up. If they do wave, it’s reflexive like swatting a fly. They don’t call out our name as we get out of the car. They don’t amble over casually with a lawn rake still in their hands and ask us how we are and remind us that the big game is this weekend and oh yeah…Me and Jim and Pat are getting a truckload of manure for the gardens if you want to join in. They don’t come over with a tray of cookies or a pot roast, or some free tickets to the circus that someone at work gave them, but they can’t go and they knew your kids would just love the circus. And they knew those kids by name.
…I wish we were still like this…like neighbors. Because we’d have a much better America. We truly loved each other, and you simply can’t be mean to those you really love.
…They were really our neighbors. We were a real community. We cared deeply about each other because we’d had so many years together. Time was our bond. It fostered love and endeared us to each other in ways that we have never found since. Ways that Social Media erodes.
…..If only we could somehow capture this again. If only we could somehow become friends like we were then. If it was safe enough to drop our guard and lower our defenses and let ourselves care deeply about the people whose houses we drive past each night as we pull up in our driveway…maybe we could see that America again. If we slowed down and learned the amazing stories that make up the people on our street, if we became their friend, maybe we could have a better America again. How could we not? How could we not make this place better for everyone if we returned to a place and a time when we knew each other…when we loved each other?

I wrote these excerpts and that book four years ago, in a Panera in Franklin, TN. I was homeless, lonely, lost, and desperate. I have a home now and a job. But in so many ways I still feel like the person I just described Homeless, lonely, lost, and desperate. I crash-landed on this new planet and found an America so different from the one I grew up in as to be foreign to me. I have allowed myself to crawl into my digital hovel, and sequester myself from the world. If the isolation and alone-ness are doing this to my heart, then surely it is doing it to us all. We’re all isolated now. All digitized. We text message our kid because it’s easier than going upstairs and knocking on her bedroom door. We have verbal fistfights and spew anger and venom because those “people” aren’t really people to us. They’re profiles. Avatars. Facebook accounts. People who would never hate anyone find it easy to hate someone online because to them…they aren’t really real. And then, sadly, that worms its way into the real, tactile world. A President becomes an object of hatred and wrath and the target of assassination threats because he’s no longer flesh and blood. He’s just that guy with the “POTUS” Twitter account. He’s not a dad…a grandad, an American. He’s a series of internet code. I can hate him, or adore him and it means nothing in the real world because he’s not real to me somehow. The same goes for everyone I disagree with. You think the first amendment allows Nazis to march? Then you MUST be a Nazi! Then I hate you!
That’s easy when I’m just a miniscule picture in the corner of a thread on Facebook. It would be harder for you if you sat in my living room and flipped through my photo album and saw the picture of my best friend Rich, when we were just 18 years old and hanging out together at Wildwood NJ. You’d see my handsome friend happens to be black. You’d hear in my voice, the admiration and love I have for him, and you’d never even have to ask me –or yourself- if I was a racist or a Nazi. Because you’d know me…and you’d have your answer.

I decided this week to end my Facebook presence. I may also end my Twitter account. I’m not sure yet. I’m going to spend the time I spent on FB, writing more things like this. Searching for the America I grew up in and chronicling the expedition. I’m going to rekindle the friendships I had as a child and as an adult and maybe add a few faces to that list. I challenge you, gentle reader, to do the same.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Charlottesville

"When the Psalmist saw the transgression of the wicked, his heart told him how it could be. 'There is no fear of God before his eyes' he explained, and in so saying revealed to us the psychology of sin. When men no longer fear God, they transgress His laws without hesitation. The fear of consequences is no deterrent when the fear of God is gone." -- A.W.Tozer "The Knowledge of the Holy"

I was a freshman in college when I first read A. W. Tozer. My roommate was reading it for a class and he read one quote to me and I was sold. Tozer writes from a different perspective than today’s Christian authors. He wasn’t looking for fame or acceptance. He wasn’t out there, writing his books and preaching his sermons, hoping to win friends and influence people. He was a clarion call. He was consumed by the Holiness of God and by the changes that automatically brings in the life of any who encountered it.
Tozer did not mince words or soften the blow of an encounter with a holy God. For him, it was a total surrender or it was nothing at all. I never met Tozer, he died the year before I was born, but I think he would have approved of my often-used description of the cross of Christ as a “head-on-collision.” An inescapable totaling of your person. Your frame is bent and needs to be straightened. Your metal gets wrinkled. The outward skin that shone and gleamed is ruined. It all needs to be redone. That is the Cross. A place where humanity runs headlong into the face of Christ, dying a most vicious death, and realizes that it was for them He died, and that this death requires change. Total, complete, to-the-heart change.
Tozer would never have written books like “Your best day ever” or “The Shack.” He never would have abided smiling, slick-haired game-show hosts, passing themselves off as pastors. He would be the first to address the heresy of Osteen and Hinn. He never would have approved of someone like Lentz Instagramming himself doing shots with Justin Bieber. In fact, he would have been the first to be in Lentz’ face, thundering the enormity of his sin and the depth of his mockery.
He would not have remained silent while “Kanye West’s pastor” hawked himself to Oprah and preached something that permitted West to continue to act like West.
Tozer, Ravenhill, Graham, these men did not preach a Gospel of “everybody is okay.”
They preached a Gospel that demands change. That commands different living. A Gospel that requires saying “yes” to all the Bible, not just the parts that speak of God’s love and make us feel giddy. He would reject, entirely, this gospel that says it’s okay if we sin and it’s no big deal since Jesus covered that at Calvary and God is just a big old sugar daddy who shakes His divine head at the sin of his children and somehow thinks it’s cute.
He doesn’t. He is offended. It insults His holiness. Those who call The Name, and for whom the Cross has become a turning point, are obliged to live differently. Those who preach this Gospel are obliged to preach the holiness it produces and the expectation of that Holiness it demands. Obliged to preach it. You must.
This is a lengthy introduction for this article. This bears all the markings of a challenge to Holiness, but that is really the introduction. This is about Charlottesville.
Yesterday was a black-eye on America, but not in the way most folks see it. Yesterday, while a protest march became a war in the streets, I watch in horror as the left used this event to once-again attack President Trump. He instigated this, they said. He didn’t condemn it strongly enough. When he issued a statement and it wisely and properly called for all people to unite, he was attacked again by the left. Why? Because he wanted unity and after eight years of a “president” preaching division, this message is dangerous. What if we really did unite? The game would be up.
But back to Charlottesville…
I watched in sadness as certain voices from the Christian Left immediately started attacking The Church, as if latent racism is their fault. They immediately made statements like “Racism has no place in Christianity!’ Who ever said it did? I know the fringe racists claim the Faith, but nobody takes them seriously. The leftists who claim Christianity is racist, do so only when they have nothing else to complain about. Yet they’ll take the aid given by Christian churches as soon as the next disaster hits, and never notice whether it was delivered by a black hand or a white hand.
The notion that Christianity in America is inherently racist is a farce and an insult. I’ve heard the same tired statements about “Church is the most segregated hour in America…”
Only by choice. And so what? My preference in worship style and doctrine has nothing to do with skin color and everything to do with personal taste. I love black Gospel music. The classics at least. I loved Andrae Crouch. I loved Sherman Andruss. I wish we had that style in the church I attend. But I love my pastor’s teaching and doctrine and music is secondary to me where church is concerned. I don’t go to church for the music, but there is music there when I go.
But what does all this have to do with holiness?
Yesterday I watched as Christian after Christian puked apologies all over social media. I saw the hand-wringing and the self-loathing for being born with white skin. I watched the same voices attacking the church again and the church responding from the defensive. Guilted into confessing some sin they never committed. The Church folk kept reminding everyone how the Church doesn’t abide racists. The sad fact is…yes, they do. But not in the way the Left claims.
The Church hates racism. Let’s be clear. They don’t approve of racial hatred, bigotry, hate, or any such thing. The church is guilty of allowing racism to simmer under the surface because the church no longer preaches holiness.
The church no longer preaches about a God whose very presence would destroy such sinfulness. They abandoned the message that proclaims a God who will never abide anyone considering His handiwork something less. Something wrong. God created man. He created all man. His creation is Holy. His choice to make some men white and some black and some Asian and some Hispanic, was His Holy Decision. That makes race sacred. It’s sacred. Nobody chooses their skin color. It is divinely chosen for them and that makes it sacred. A person with a healthy, correct view of the Holiness of God would not be able to permit himself to view anyone of any color as something different…something less. A person with a proper view of the holiness of God would never presume to speak ill of a man’s race, because to do so is to speak ill of the man’s Creator!
The church, in her recent mad dash for popularity, has long forsaken preaching about real personal holiness. The holiness that comes from a long, life-altering encounter with the Holiness of God.
Instead, she has taken to hip, trendy, man-made methods of integration, with the hopes that somehow familiarity will breed acceptance. But familiarity does not change a heart. Only a head-on collision with the Cross and the subsequent holiness it engenders can do that. My sinful human nature will never accept anyone or anything different than me or other than what meets my approval unless it is broken and rebuilt by the Holiness of God.
Paul challenged us to “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5)
And there is no question that the true mind of Christ would never abide racism. Not from white nor black. But how often do we hear about this mind of Christ anymore?
When was the last time you heard a sermon about real holiness? Real Godliness. Total change at the Cross? When did you last hear someone preaching a message that grabbed your soul and demanded a trip to the front of the church and drove you to your knees in repentance. The church these days is not guilty of racism…she’s guilty of something far more sinister. She’s guilty of false humility. She’s guilty of a soft-soap gospel that washes the outside a little but leaves the inside full of disease and evil. She has “forsaken the Holiness of the Lord, which He loves.” (Malachi 2:11)
She has become a boneyard full of glad-handing flock stars who refuse to preach the uncomfortable Gospel of Holiness and heart-change.
Until she gets back to the thundering voice of Holiness and righteousness, until the words of Tozer, and Ravenhill, and others of a different generation are heard, and accepted and until she repents in dust and ashes for her callous acceptance of a good-time Gospel…nothing is going to change. Nothing. Not racism, not fascism, not hatred, not greed or avarice or lust or adultery.
Racism is the result of a sinful, fallen heart. It’s not a product of white skin. It’s a product of a black heart. The same black heart we were all born with. It’s a symptom…not a disease. The disease is sin. The cure is the Cross. The healing process is painful, as much medicine is. But there is only one cure for this and it is going to require…to demand, that the Church gets herself back to the beginning. Back to the Cross. Back to the call for holiness that says, “You cannot hold to this sinful ideal and call yourself by The Name!” Read Tozer's quote at the start of this article. The "psychology of sin" is that when men no longer fear God they transgress His laws without hesitation." Men -of any color- no longer fear being racist. Because they no longer grasp the Holiness of God. Because the Church has gone silent on the matter.

Until she once again stands against the tide, she will continue to be swept out to sea by it.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Substituting Social Media for Real Life...

I've been praying that God makes a way for me to move back home. Home is where your heart is, they say, and my heart is back home. Not to sound pathetic, but just to explain the "why" of it...
I moved to Nashville in 1997. I lived there 17 years, and in that time I only developed real, deep friendships with two or three folks. That is NO reflection on Nashville; it's a reflection on the truth of relocating in your thirties. About 35 years ago I read a book called "The Friendless American Male' and the author laid out the premise that men do not develop deep friendships after college. Why? Because we enter the business world, we compete with every other man in our sphere. Compete for a spouse, a job, a raise, a house. When we get those things, we encircle them and mark our turf. We don't let our guard down enough to build the friendships we had as children, or in young adulthood. In Nashville I only had two groups of guys I saw on a consistent basis, my hockey teammates and the Tuesday Morning Bible study guys at DW's house.
Hockey on Sunday evenings for about three hours, (including going to eat afterward) and an hour on Tuesdays with the DW gang. I developed what I would consider strong friendships with a few guys in each setting. A couple of teammates and a couple of guys from the Tuesday group became real friends. Outside of that, there was one couple who really became friends, that I talked with regularly and could open up to. I'm not saying no one else was friendly or cared. I'm talking about the people you could talk with until late into the night if you just needed to pour out your heart.
It's just not likely to happen after a certain point in life. You need a history with someone to be able to open up to them, and when you meet folks in your 30's and 40's and later...there is no history, and everyone is too busy to develop one.
I love the job I do. I love living in Lynchburg. The views are spectacular, and being the hunter / fisherman I am, I'm in an almost perfect place. But the sad truth is that other than the cursory interactions with my co-workers and business units at work, my entire human interaction occurs here on social media or with my daughter. I wasn't going to write this or admit to it, but I'm wondering how many others find themselves being dragged further and further into this same pit..."The only human interaction I have is on social media."
Sadly...this thing is insidious in that you eventually become so used to it that you prefer the controlled isolation. I find myself NOT wanting anyone to talk to me anymore. I look forward to fishing the James...alone. I come home from work and am thrilled when I don't have to go to a side job so I can just sit at home and not interact with anyone but my daughter.
When I was home last week, I felt alive again. I was surrounded by folks I have a long, deep history with, and who, I have no doubt, care. Not that others don't, but it's different somehow. I wanted to be around them. I didn't feel intruded upon, or uneasy. I wanted to be in a crowd of familiar faces.
The last four nights I have had strange dreams involving my home in Tennessee and other places I've lived. In each dream, I thought I was home and then I walked into a room or the back yard and found someone else living there and I felt like a trespasser. It wasn't hard to figure out what these things meant. I think this is what I feel inside.
The only people I talk to are the people here on Facebook, or those back home when I call them or visit. I'm okay with that...I'm an introspective guy who values "down time." But we aren't meant to be isolated for long periods. Otherwise prisons wouldn't use it as punishment. I've fallen victim to the notion that this interaction here is somehow a decent replacement for meaningful, deep, honest, HUMAN interaction in the real world. It's not. It's not even close.
I have given up on the possibility that a friendship like I seek is possible here where I now live. Not because people aren't friendly, but because we're all adults, with adult responsibilities and lives and families and demands. And we have no real history together. I don't know your mom and dad and you don't know mine and we didn't play little league together and fish in the summer sun and grow up slowly in a different America than exists now. I have no doubt that my co workers care, as I do for them. But our commonality ends within about 10 minutes of conversation...and then what?
Last week I called my friend Kevin while I was home. We didn't get the chance to meet face to face, but I had gone by the nursing home to see his mom and I wanted to make sure I said hello to him, and he knew I had stopped. We talked for an hour. We laughed. We remembered. We picked up right where we were about 25 years ago when I still lived there and we saw each other regularly.
The 20 years since I've been gone haven't been the kindest. I lost a marriage, half my fatherhood, a home, a career, and the middle part of my life. I have been stuck in the spin cycle and I am tattered inside. I want to go back to the last - the only- place where, no matter what was happening, I wasn't alone.
I am seriously considering shutting down my Facebook page. I go back and forth because there are so many people on this site that I have come to care for. But they aren't HERE. So many of them I haven't even met. On the one hand, it's a miraculous result of the age we live in. On the other hand it's a sad, almost pathetic statement on where my life is. Even more sadly, I think my life is a microcosm of what is becoming the reality more and more of us live each day. I think if I went home for good, I would probably never get on social media again. I would have the thing I am trying to use it as a substitute for and I would no longer need it.
Social media is not friendship. It's not interaction. it's not flesh and blood. It's scary how cleverly this thing conceals itself and before you know it...you're spending more time arguing with people you'll never meet, than you do loving people you really know.