Discovering what’s real

Back in the day, I wrote an occasional column for The Saginaw (Mich.) News. I received far more feedback from one column in particular than I did for any other. The headline on that column, published Oct. 24, 2006, was:

Fake news pundit doesn’t help, could hurt Spirit

I was writing about “fake news” almost 11 years ago. Many readers didn’t appreciate it, either.

Who was the “fake news pundit?” None other than Stephen Colbert.

What is the “Spirit” that I was referring to? The minor league hockey team that called – and still calls – Saginaw home. The team name is the Saginaw Spirit.

spiritmascot

The Spirit had held a contest to name a mascot. Colbert found out about it, entered a name and won the contest. Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle.

In the column, I said I didn’t think Colbert and the cumbersome mascot name he entered would help the Spirit much. (So much for my prognostication. Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle lives on today.)

I went further, though: I wrote that Colbert’s persona opposed the family values that the team stood for. Colbert, on his show The Colbert Report, which aired from 2005 to 2014, bounced back and forth between his real self and his alter ego, which centered around his essential rightness about the issues of the day, according to one reviewer.

Several readers told me to lighten up, to take a joke, that in his personal life Colbert is a strong family man. Good points, all.

But life then, and even more so now, is a combination of real and fake, with fake too often taking center stage in our lives. Was I wrong to point that out in 2006?

Real vs. fake

What’s worse, today we often don’t know the difference between real and fake. It’s not as simple as moving between a real self and an alter ego. For many, I fear the alter ego has become real.

When my alter ego clashes with yours, we have a disagreement we can’t resolve. Because the clash isn’t about what’s real. It’s about our perceptions of reality.

book-of-discipline

I first saw this a long time ago in the United Methodist Church. I worshiped in that denomination for many years. One of its core foundations, according to The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, is this “theological guideline:” Scripture, tradition, experience and reason.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, “believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience and confirmed by reason.”

In other words, we need to understand those four concepts in that order: Scripture first, then tradition, then personal experience and finally reason.

But many in the United Methodist Church change the order. They start with reason or experience, and use Scripture and possibly tradition to justify their experiences.

An immovable clash ensues.

Case in point: homosexuality.

Elsewhere in the Book of Discipline is the statement that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Some people within the church have been trying for a half-century, since the 1960s, to remove that language from the Book of Discipline. They say experience and reason come before Scripture, and find various Bible verses to justify their position.

Because they read the Bible differently than the “Scripture first” folks do, they come up with a different conclusion.

Reality exists

So, which side is right? Which is “real” and which is “fake?”

Depends who you ask.

I can give all the arguments I want for my position, and those of you on the other side won’t change your mind. And vice versa.

Does that mean reality doesn’t exist, or that reality is in the eye of the beholder?

No. Reality does exist.

velveteen rabbit

As a child I read The Velveteen Rabbit, a children’s book first published in 1922 that chronicles the story of a stuffed rabbit and his desire to become real, through the love of his owner.

The owner, a small boy, at first preferred more modern and mechanical toys. Eventually the boy’s nanna gave the rabbit to the boy to sleep with to replace a lost toy, and the stuffed rabbit became his favorite toy.

The Velveteen Rabbit helped the boy through a serious illness; when the doctor ordered his room disinfected and everything in the room – including the rabbit – destroyed, the rabbit learns what it means to be real.

In real life, as with the Velveteen Rabbit, it often takes tragedy or a crisis to discover what reality really is. When something meaningful is lost, what remains?

One of my Facebook friends posted this recently:

The truth of the matter is that, in many ways, we’re all fakes. Facebook is “fakebook” where we put only our best face forward because we all long to be loved. We present portraits of ourselves we hope will get us love. But the good news is that God loves us REALy. He sees the REAL us and says, “I love you. You were made by Me. And my arms are open to you.” True, deep joy is found in the grace of the cross. He really is the answer.

Truth

When trying to discover “truth,” a good friend offers this litmus test: If it’s true for me, for my 100-year-old grandmother in Oklahoma and for a starving child in Africa, then it must be true.

I can’t determine truth on my own. Truth must be true for you as well as for me, or it isn’t truth.

Even more than that, it must be true for all people in all cultures in all nations in all time periods, past, present and future. That’s how we determine truth.

When I took on Stephen Colbert in 2006, I picked the wrong fight. “Fake news” and “real news” are much bigger than that.

For real.

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Giving thanks, every day

Things I am thankful for today:

 

Good health

The ability to donate blood (most of the time) www.lifeshare.cc

A good job with a supportive supervisor, a great staff and flexible hours

Hector, the student I mentor in Cleveland

Monopoly, his favorite game (and Robert’s at the center where I work)

Greater Cleveland Volunteers http://www.greaterclevelandvolunteers.org/

The American Red Cross www.redcross.org

Interstate 90 (I spend a lot of time on it)

Interstate 480 (a great connector to places I go)

Good friends, locally and across the country

My wife

Our three sons

My parents, who are still doing well in their 80s

My sister

Good health throughout my family

 

Jesus Christ

The Bible

Discernment

Insight

Silence

Quiet time nearly every morning for decades

Pittsburgh-based Summers Best Two Weeks, a summer camp where I gave my life to Christ in 1975 www.sb2w.org/

 

Our two cats

Our previous cat, Paws

Coffee in the morning

The ability to write

The ability to edit, including my own copy

LinkedIn www.linkedin.com

Facebook www.facebook.com

The Christian Blog Collection

An Internet hearts game https://cardgames.io/hearts/

A good book (I’m reading Hamilton, which the Broadway musical is based on)

Re-connecting with high school classmates

Seeing some classmates at a picnic last summer for the first time in more than 35 years

 

Food on the table, something I never take for granted

A place to call home

Money in my wallet

My 401(k), future pension (I hope), future Social Security (I expect), as secure a financial future as I could wish for

Ability to tithe

Ability to be financially generous at times

Going out to dinner with my wife every Sunday after church

 

Time to walk/jog once or twice a week

Jogging in a warm spring or summer rain

Working up a good sweat

Colorful fall leaves

Cold winter air on my face

Good balance on an icy bridge

Buds on trees in the spring

Deer

Birds overhead

Occasional turkeys on the property at work

 

The lawn mower we bought in 1988 that still runs

The 21-year-old car I drive

The Chevette I drove for 18 years

My work van, which has 193,000 miles on it

A sweater my grandmother made for me that I still occasionally wear in winter. Grandma died in 1980

Our nearly 33-year marriage

July 24, 1975: The day I gave my life to Jesus

The red Schwinn bicycle I rode as a child (I still have it) www.schwinnbikes.com/

An indestructible hand-crank pencil sharpener that sits on my bedside table

My Indian Guides vest (it’s a tight fit, but I can still put it on, sort of)

Our card table, which was our first dining room table back in the day

 

Michigan State University https://msu.edu/

Classes that challenged me to think

The Magic Johnson-led basketball team that won the NCAA championship my freshman year

The beauty of the campus

University Reformed Church, where I met and married my wife https://www.universityreformedchurch.org/

Bailey Hall, the dorm where I lived all four years at MSU

 

Ames United Methodist Church, where we raised our children http://ameschurch.org/

The Ames softball team

Playing on that team with all three of my sons

The opportunity for my wife and I to both be leaders in that church

The youth directors who taught our sons so much

Sunday School classes

The 12-week membership class, which I helped lead for awhile

Small groups, one a couples group and the other a men’s group

A summer Bible study or two

Monday night basketball in the church gym

The structure and accountability of the United Methodist Church http://www.umc.org/

The chance to serve on a couple of statewide committees through the church

 

The Saginaw County CROP Hunger Walk, which continues to raise thousands of dollars to feed hungry people locally and worldwide https://www.crophungerwalk.org/saginawmi

Ultimate Frisbee on Saturday mornings

The annual Thanksgiving morning Ultimate game

Playing Ultimate in 8 inches of virgin snow

Mom’s Thanksgiving dinner (no matter how the Lions did)

 

The Saginaw News, where I worked for 24 years http://www.mlive.com/saginaw/#/0

Accountability, with respect

Proofreading to keep mistakes out of the newspaper

Participating with News employees in the federal summer lunch program, thanks to the leadership of one of the reporters

A clear mind on deadline

 

The beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula http://www.michigan.org/hot-spots/upper-peninsula

Snowplows in winter to keep the roads clear

An engine heater in my Chevette on sub-zero January mornings

Pickford, my first home after college http://www.hsmichigan.org/pickford/

The Wallis family for frequently inviting this single guy over for Sunday dinner

Learning to drive in a region with no traffic lights and only a few blinker lights

 

Friends everywhere I’ve lived

Brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere I’ve lived

Wonderful co-workers at all of my jobs

Opportunities to volunteer in the communities where I’ve lived

The future hope of Heaven https://www.gotquestions.org/heaven-like.html

 

I could update this list every day. What are you thankful for today?

See the big picture

The devil is in the details.

According to Wikipedia (not my usual first source for details, but useful on occasion), that phrase refers to something that might seem simple at a first look but will take more time and effort to complete than expected.

This applies to numerous issues in today’s America. We get caught up in one or two details that we think make our point, and ignore other details – or, more important, the big picture – which might prove that we really don’t know what we’re talking about.

I’m becoming more of a big picture person these days. Details are important, of course, but only as they fit into the grand scheme of things.

Let’s start with a couple of Facebook pass-along one-liners that I often ignore, but these two got my attention this time.

Adultery

homosexuality

This post, by an ordained minister, defends homosexuality by saying that it’s not in the Ten Commandments, while adultery is.

My response:

Homosexuality is one form of adultery. Sex outside traditional marriage. You’re right, though; we’ve too often ignored the “traditional” adultery.

That generated a couple of responses:

Yes, traditional marriage such as marrying two of your cousins who happen to be sisters (Genesis 29), or a rape victim being required to marry their aggressor (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

 

I have always thought it a very curious obsession, especially when read within the context of the chapters that surround it (e.g. no shellfish, no mixed garment clothing … I routinely break lots of those, but I don’t see anyone demonizing me for my impure behavior.

Given the objectively far more serious things humans can do to one another (e.g. murder, assault), it just seems like small potatoes for flawed humans to judge other humans so harshly based on what they deem are “bigger” flaws.

Here’s another one:

ignore

Don’t wear clothing of mixed cotton and wool! Leviticus 19:19

As long as we’re looking at “the context of the chapters that surround it,” let’s show that both of these posts do not do that. The Genesis 29 passage refers to Jacob marrying Leah and then Rachel. That wasn’t his first choice, but he followed the rules set by the girls’ father. The man married off his own daughters that way. And in the Genesis time period, when there weren’t very many people around, marrying cousins was not unusual.

The man buying the bride he raped is not “traditional” marriage, nor does the Bible call it that.

The Leviticus passage is even sillier. The quote is just one part of one verse that starts, “You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind …” My version of the Bible ends that verse this way: “… nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.” (The wool and linen, not cotton, passage is actually Deuteronomy 22:9-11, which proves the person who generated that post didn’t do his research.)

From gotquestions.org is this response:

https://www.gotquestions.org/different-types-of-fabric.html

The rule against wearing different types of fabric was not a moral law. There is nothing inherently wrong with weaving linen and wool together. In fact, the ephod of the high priest was made of linen and dyed thread (Exodus 28:6-8; 39:4-5). The dyed thread would have been made of wool. This fact is probably the key to understanding the prohibition. The ephod of the high priest was the only garment that could be woven of linen and wool. No one else was allowed to have such a garment. Apparently, this rule was to place some distance between the high priest and the people, with the ultimate purpose of reminding Israel of how holy God truly is.

Read the entire Bible before posting such comments. God supports “traditional” marriage, in many places in the Bible, for a reason. We can pick and choose a verse to say just about anything we want it to. But put it in the context of the entire Scriptures, and you’ll understand what it really says.

And God’s holiness is a major theme throughout both Testaments.

There are other big-picture topics that we miss as well.

The Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James

The Cavaliers had a 7-10 won-loss record in March, then lost their last four games of the season in April and gave up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference to the Boston Celtics. Those of us worried about details were afraid that the Cavs weren’t ready for the playoffs as they limped into the post-season.

Not to worry. The players themselves all along were thinking big picture: repeating as NBA champions. They didn’t care, really, about their March record.

So far, they haven’t lost a playoff game yet this year. They swept Indiana and then Toronto, winning eight consecutive games, most of them easily,

Will they win the NBA championship again this year? Time will tell. Their big-picture focus has them prepared to do just that.

Retirement savings

saving

Nearly half of families in the United States have no retirement savings at all, the Economic Policy Institute says.

The median for all families in the U.S., which means half have more and half have less, is $5,000 in retirement savings.

However, according to the EPI, the mean retirement savings of all families is $95,776. That means the rich are getting richer and the poor are staying poor, because many of those who have retirement savings have a nice nest egg.

http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/12/heres-how-much-the-average-american-family-has-saved-for-retirement.html

We are caught up in an instant-gratification society: I want it, and I want it now. Many of us aren’t willing to delay gratification. Some of us can’t, certainly, but some of us can and just don’t.

We let money control us, rather than taking control of our bank accounts.

More of us need to think long-term. We need to see the big picture.

Driving habits

I encounter this every day. If we would set our alarms five minutes earlier every morning, we might not be in such a hurry to get to work in the morning. Or to hurry back from lunch. Or to hurry … wherever we’re going.

Notice the rest of us, and get where you’re going. Just get there. And let me get to my destination too. I shouldn’t have to slam on my brakes because you can’t control your vehicle.

Here’s another one: I wish we understood that when we’re turning left at a major intersection and we block traffic when the light turns red, we’re causing gridlock. If we truly paid attention to traffic patterns, we’d understand that we’re not getting where we need to go any faster by blocking traffic. Indeed, we’re slowing others – and ourselves – down. Really.

Look up. Pay attention. Observe red as well as green. Things will go smoother. I promise.

Again: Just get there.

Obama’s legacy

obama.jpg

I see posts that say former President Obama was the best president this country has ever had. I’ve seen others that say he was the worst.

Please. Legacies aren’t determined five months after the president leaves office. It takes time, possibly decades, for history to show how a president affected the country.

Obama was the first black president; that’s obvious and historic. What he did, however, will take time to evaluate. That’s true with every president.

The long view

It takes time to read the entire Bible, to win a pro sports championship, to save enough for retirement, to determine a legacy. The devil really is in the details.

Winning long-term is so worth it. Even if I can’t see the results today. Look up. Think big. Think long.

That’s the winning formula.

When real life gets tough …

Job/career. Family. Church/volunteer activities. The foundation underneath all three of those pillars is my faith in Christ.

Thank you, Stephen R. Covey, for helping me discover that about myself.

A long time ago, I read Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of the seven habits includes writing a personal mission statement. He offers guidelines on how to do that (habit 2: Begin with the end in mind).

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-people/?gclid=CPPh5OWPz9MCFQMcaQodpsAP4g#gsc.tab=0

I discovered that my life has those three pillars, with my faith as the bedrock of each. Over time, I’ve seen cracks in all three pillars, some cracks bigger than others. My faith has kept the pillars from crashing down.

Covey’s first habit is “Be Proactive.” One of the subheads in that chapter is “Act or be acted upon.”

It’s so easy to reject that advice, to say it takes too much effort, or the results may not turn out the way we want them to.

But the alternative is even worse. I know people who choose not to engage life at all, unless absolutely necessary. We spend so much of our energy trying to escape real life, because real life is hard. It often doesn’t go the way we’d like it to.

So, we set up alternative worlds:

  • Pokémon.
  • Movies and TV shows, sometimes.
  • The casino. (Do you really expect something for nothing, a big jackpot for an output of a few dollars? The American Dream has never been about that.)
  • Social media. Many of us interact only with people who have views similar to ours. Hey there: Look up from your device to see the world around you.

Not all “escapes” are bad things. Sometimes we need to refresh ourselves for the real life we find ourselves in.

But even in our own fantasy worlds, we should follow the values we’ve decided are worth keeping.

I can’t say I’ve always done this. I know the theory, but putting it into practice is hard.

My job/career pillar was the first to take a hit. A big hit. I had a great job that allowed my wife to be a stay-at-home mom for our three sons. After 24 years with the same company, my job was eliminated as the company downsized.

Over the past eight years, I’ve had six jobs in three states, and twice was out of work for 11 months. When stuff like that happens, you find out whether your personal mission statement is written well or not. Was I prepared to handle such a major shake-up in my life?

Yes and no. It’s been a major struggle, since as a man I feel the need to provide for my family, and I’m convinced I’ll never have a “secure” job again. Any company, any career, any job can disappear. When Jesus said build your treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), he wasn’t kidding. Treasures on this earth can be taken away very quickly.

That’s real life.

Because I’m married, my wife has taken this roller coaster ride with me. When I get an out-of-state job, she comes to the new town not knowing a soul, and with no connections. It takes time to find a niche, to make a house a home, to begin to feel settled in a new community. We’re still working all that out. It hasn’t been easy, and still isn’t.

In a new place, we have to find new social opportunities as well. These also take time.

Our faith is a huge help in these situations. We can find brothers and sisters in Christ, who read the same Bible and follow it, no matter where we go. Instant connection. It takes time to develop friendships, but having faith in God can ease that transition.

I like to put my faith into practice, to get involved in the community where I live. I was a leader in the Saginaw County (Mich.) CROP Hunger Walk for many years, an annual 10-kilometer event that raises money and awareness for hunger issues locally and around the world. Here in Elyria, Ohio, there is a CROP walk, but the leaders here aren’t passionate about it. In Saginaw, it was a nearly year-round event as we sought new ways to reach people and connect with the community. Here, the committee meets once, the same people show up, the same people walk, they raise some money and they’re done.

They don’t need me.

I’m not one to force myself on people. Perhaps I should have tried to light a fire under them, but I didn’t feel the passion myself to do that. So I let it go.

I also enjoy mentoring elementary school students. I did that for a year here, then the program disappeared. I recently started mentoring a fourth-grader at a school in Cleveland, a half-hour down the highway.

Why do that? Because volunteering is one of the pillars of my life. I need to do things like that to feel fulfilled.

Covey says we should tweak our personal mission statements every so often, even though the main points remain the same. I haven’t tweaked mine in years. My statement has become a part of me, guiding me through uncertain times.

I’d encourage you to write a mission statement of your own, if you haven’t already done so. It will be different than mine is, for sure, possibly very different. That’s a good thing.

What gets you up in the morning? Where do you find meaning in life? You won’t find it in any fantasy world.

Time to get real.