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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A psalm of my life

Praise You, O God,

For your goodness though all the Earth.

Your steadfast love has endured through all generations

From the beginning of time until now.

Your love, as you promised,

Will continue to the end of time.

 

I’ve seen your glory

And felt your love

From the day of my birth.

You blessed me with a strong family,

A prosperous home

With parents who gave and a sister who cared.

Mom and Dad continue strong,

57 years of marriage and counting.

 

You touched me at camp as a teenager,

Revealing yourself in a special way

Through the unconditional love of counselors and, especially, other campers.

You entered my heart as Savior

And I’ve been learning ever since what it means to call you Lord.

 

At college I learned the ways of the world;

You opened my eyes to new ideas and thoughts.

You introduced me to my future spouse there,

And other friendships that have lasted a lifetime.

 

Off to the working world you sent me,

Young and naïve, but willing to learn.

You revealed my passion,

Then led me to a job where I could use it

For more than two decades.

 

We raised a family, three boys,

Our pride and joys.

Good health you blessed us all with,

A home of our own

Where we could lead a strong family.

 

You gave us servant’s hearts

Through our church and community,

Where we could love others

And praise you.

 

O Lord, why did it not last?

We could have served you forever there.

But life was too easy, was it not?

You had lessons to teach us,

New people to meet,

New opportunities to pursue.

 

Out-of-state moves, two of them, Lord.

I have no home on this Earth.

Like your son, I wander,

Seeking to do your will

Wherever you take me.
You lead us to brothers and sisters

Wherever we land,

Those who love you, Father,

Whom we can worship with side by side.

 

We see you everywhere.

Even in the struggles, Lord,

And those are many.

If all is sunshine, where is the rainbow?

 

But Adam and Eve knew good, and only good.

It wasn’t enough for them.

The serpent tricked them.

Their gain? They learned evil.

 

I know evil too, Lord, see it firsthand every day.

It’s easy to see it in your people, God,

But I see evil in my own heart as well.

I cannot place blame

Because I am not innocent.

 

In the midst of this you came to Earth, Lord:

To offer a return path to goodness,

A road to your heart.

I am not a worthy traveler, Father,

And yet you invite me along.

Who am I that you hold my hand?

 

I stumble and fall, bruise my knees, every day.

My hands are bloodied with sin.

And yet you wipe them clean

With your own blood.

 

I still seek my place on this Earth, Lord,

Still pursue you.

On Sundays and Wednesdays, yes,

In gatherings of your people,

I find rest in you.

 

But I seek more, Father,

Because you want me to seek more.

Are you among the tax collectors and sinners?

That’s where you live most days, Jesus.

Outside the walls of the church,

Where the people who need you reside.

 

You send me there, Lord, so that’s where I go.

Good health you’ve blessed me with

So I’ll use it for your glory.

I’ll serve you in the morning when I wake up

And find ways to serve throughout the day.

Not because I’m anything special, Father,

But because you deserve it.

Thank you, Lord, for saving my sins,

Even my sins.

 

It’s easy to get pessimistic in this life, Lord,

Looking only at worldly pleasures

And worldly troubles

In my own life and in the news.

So much to complain about, isn’t there, Father,

And yet what do you say?

 

Rejoice always, and again I say, rejoice.

That’s what you say, Lord.

Can I do that? Is it possible?

It’s a choice, isn’t it, Lord,

I can see life through my eyes or through yours.

 

Your eyes are beautiful, Father.

You see the good in all people

All have sinned, and yet you desire mercy for each one of us.

You said that too, Father.

 

I’d rather sit at your judgment seat than in the defendant’s chair on Earth.

You know my deepest heart, Lord,

While man knows me only a little.

You’ve given me acting skills, Lord,

That I can hide behind.

I tell others what they want to hear, and no one questions me.

No one.

But you know me, Father. You know my secrets. I cannot hide them from you.

 

I fall before you, Father, a broken man,

Sinful, weak and impure.

Yet I carry on.

This life is a marathon, not a dash; your road is long,

Longer for some than others.

I’m ready to get off now, Father,

To fall into your arms.

If today is the day …

But if tomorrow comes, I will rise and serve you again.

Such as I am

Because of who you are.

Until you call me home, Lord,

I will rise and serve you again.

 

You give life meaning, Father;

Why else should I awake in the morning?

This day will pass,

But your steadfast love lives forever.

Even for this sinner,

Your steadfast love lives forever.

Praise you, Father.

It’s why I live.

We get what we deserve

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

 

This quote, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, graced the entrance of a high school I entered recently. It’s a good reminder for all of us in these days of political firestorms.

President Trump is an easy target for finger-pointers these days. He’s making dramatic policy changes, including The Wall and an immigration ban, two related decisions in an attempt to keep potential terrorists out of the United States.

There’s collateral damage. Innocent people are affected. That’s all the rage these days.

Explaining Trump

The questions for me are: Why does Trump feel these decisions are even necessary? And if his policies are so bad, why did we elect him president in the first place?

The second question has a deeper answer than most of us are willing to admit. All of us are responsible for Trump, whether we voted for him or not. All of us created the atmosphere that has allowed him to take charge. Even those among us who oppose him.

The role of the media

One of Trump’s first actions as president was to attack the media, saying he would control the information that comes out of certain government agencies. His tweets bypass traditional media outlets. These are two separate but connected issues. He’s our oldest president, but also the most social media-savvy. He’s changing the rules.

As a (former) journalist, this worries me. The media are a necessary watchdog on government. But the media are among the groups that have created the atmosphere that allows Trump to thrive.

Television newscasts are little more than political commentary and reports on extreme weather, with an occasional feel-good story thrown in for good measure. Newspapers have – and continue to – gut their staffs to the point where they aren’t able to attend local city council or township board meetings, or ask the tough questions even when they do. The last newspaper I worked for is more concerned with winning peer-driven plaques and trophies than it is in writing and editing news that matters to its readers.

Beyond the fatal crash

On Jan. 24, a Cleveland police officer was killed while directing traffic around two previous accidents on Interstate 90 on the city’s west side. Once the officer died, emotions took over and that’s all the media – and everyone else – has talked about.

There’s nothing wrong with memorializing a fallen officer, of course. He was killed by a hit-skip driver who was arrested several hours later in a city west of Cleveland. If this driver faces trial and is found guilty, I hope they throw the book at him. Officer Fahey died a tragic, untimely death.

But no one talks about the beginning of his end.

There was a single-vehicle crash on westbound I-90 near Hilliard Road reported at 5:04 a.m. Jan. 24. Police responding to that accident requested medical assistance, so a Rocky River fire truck was dispatched to the scene.

At 5:33 a.m., a Chevrolet van crashed into the fire truck, killing the driver and sending a passenger to a nearby hospital.

Officer Fahey was setting up traffic flares around the fire truck at 6 a.m. when a white Toyota Camry hit him and fled west on I-90.

I saw one brief newspaper article naming the Chevy van driver who died. I never saw anything on the original crash, the single-vehicle wreck that started the whole thing.

And that’s my point. Details, people. No one cares about details any more. Including the media.

Once Officer Fahey died, that became not only the main story, as it should have been, but it became the only story, which it wasn’t. There were two other crashes that preceded it.

If either did not happen, Officer Fahey most likely would still be serving among us.

Because (presumably) no one died in that first wreck, no one cared about it. Even though it started an escalating sequence that culminated in the death of a police officer.

Small things often lead to big things.

Distorting facts

Not only does the media miss details, sometimes it misrepresents them. Sports Illustrated in its current issue wrote an article about “The Super Bowl sex-trafficking myth.” The magazine presents evidence that sex-trafficking statistics have been skewed to showcase a problem that isn’t nearly as severe as the manipulators want it to be.

Sex trafficking is a major issue in this country, but it’s year-round in numerous cities and places, Sports Illustrated argues. It’s not a one-time problem that goes away once the Super Bowl hoopla ends. By misrepresenting the issue, proponents are actually undermining efforts to stem sex trafficking across the nation.

Why does President Trump attack the media so hard? Because the media, in general, is no longer doing well the job it’s supposed to be doing.

Instead of getting all emotional about Trump’s actions, how about a focus on details and accuracy?

Terrorism was a major issue in 2016. There were a number of attacks around the world, including on U.S. soil. Trump campaigned against this. We elected him. Here we go.

How do terrorists get into the United States? Is Trump targeting the wrong countries? Would a different strategy work better?

Instead of soundbites and one-liners, how about a little research to make your point?

Since the media aren’t doing much of that research now, and since the Internet has opened up the world of information to all of us, we each do our own research. Nearly all of it is slanted. We pick the sources that make the points we want to make. The other side picks the points it wants to make. Trying to sort it all out is a difficult game.

Rise above the firestorm

In this information overload and fact vacuum, enter Trump. He’s the result, not the cause, of what this nation has become.

Instead of firing off hateful one-sided diatribes, perhaps we should take the advice those high school students offer. Be the change.

I saw this LinkedIn post the other day:

 

Apart from the ballot box, philanthropy presents the one opportunity the individual has to express her or his meaningful choice over the direction in which any society will progress. (author unknown)

 

My comment on that post:

 

Philanthropy is throwing money at the problem, which is good. A better word is volunteerism, which is actually doing something.

 

We’re good at pointing fingers. Those of us who have money are good at spending it.

Let’s get off our rear ends, myself included, and get back in the game. Whether it’s through traditional media or other means, we need to discover the truths about life, why things happen as well as how. Let’s dig a little deeper. Let’s be more objective. More open-minded. More sensitive.

If Trump is a bull in a china shop, it’s because we are, too.

Too much destruction going on. Time to build up.

And I don’t mean a wall.