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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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.