If Only

Life can be full of unbearable pain and hardships
IF ONLY there was a source of healing, comfort and strength

Life can be full of doubt and fear
IF ONLY hope and assurance was possible

Life can seem permanently stained by some of our choices
IF ONLY there was a way to become clean

Life is full of noise and distractions
IF ONLY we had regular reminders to renew our focus on what matters most

Life can be hectic and draining
IF ONLY there were routine ways to recharge and find strength

Life can feel empty and lonely
IF ONLY we had a constant companion who filled us with light and joy

Life can feel clouded and confusing
IF ONLY there were reliable directions and guides to help us navigate through the darkness

Life can feel incomplete and inadequate
IF ONLY we had someone who knew us completely and loved us despite our flaws

Life can seem so pointless and temporary
IF ONLY the light never faded with time

When Fighting Evil Creates More Evil

Hydra Snakes

I find it fascinating that, sometimes, the very people who oppose a particular form of darkness do so with the same exact evil they profess to oppose. When terrorists murder innocent people in America, the government rightfully denounces the actions but then responds with invasion and exponentially more murder of innocents. Many self-identified “conservatives” rejoice, turn a blind eye to their government’s injustices and don’t see their double standard. Perhaps they view people from other cultures as less human. Or perhaps their unfettered commitment to authority, flag and uniform blinds them from being able to have eyes to see that the intentional killing of innocents is murder – whether the killing is done instantly by bombs or slowly by sanctions. This is true no matter who “started it”. Tragically, each evil perpetuates exponentially more evils on each side of the conflict.

There are also many so-called “liberals” who rightfully perceive the historical injustices perpetrated towards particular people (e.g. women, African Americans) as evil but then have the exact same level of intolerance for people from other groups (European descendents, males, southerners, Christians). I recently heard an interview where a corporate executive rightfully pointed out that she didn’t believe it right to judge or exclude others from societal functions because of their genitals or skin pigment but then went on to berate “white men” and encouraged women to keep lists of their male coworkers who have crossed them in any way so that they could fire them when they became the boss. Sound like a double standard? When you flip the roles, it’s obviously wrong but, according to “liberal” mental gymnastics, it’s not racism or sexism if the groups that they are criticizing are part of the powerful elite.

Let’s pick this distortion apart. First of all, it’s not true that southerners and Christians are the powerful elite and yet it’s perfectly acceptable, according to today’s “liberals” to be prejudiced towards them. A coworker of mine constantly denounces racism (even going so far as to perceive racism where it doesn’t exist) but then he constantly makes fun of “rednecks” and Christians. I overheard him and some other coworkers sympathize with the Europeans who drove the Christians out of their land hundreds of years ago. Notice they were siding with the persecutors, not the targets of bigotry. I thought liberals were supposed to be tolerant. I thought liberals were supposed to be a voice for the weak and oppressed.

Secondly, the victim/oppressor worldview teaches that victim groups are the good guys and that those in authority are the bad guys. If this perspective is consistently applied, as Orwell points out in Animal Farm, then once the oppressed get into power then they will become the very evil they were fighting against. So perhaps the problem with power isn’t rooted in superficialities like genitals and skin pigment; perhaps the problem with power has to do with its breadth and application. This is a principle that many classical liberals were better at discerning. I struggle to find this consistent perspective with today’s “liberals”. 

Also, group identity politics is a horrendous way to view the world. It perpetuates hatred, division, bigotry, bitterness, violence, revenge, close-mindedness and hypocrisy. During Utah’s last election cycle I was lectured by several “liberals” about how disproportionately white and male the positions of power are, particularly in congress. I responded, perhaps wrongfully by joining their group identity games, by pointing out that it’s possible that these positions were mostly filled by men due largely to the fact that power attracts megalomaniacs and megalomaniacs tend to be mostly men. I may have received some brownie points for dissing on men but they continued to insist that the reason for disproportionate representation was due to systemic sexism and racism. Distinctions of correlation and causality are lost on people infected with confirmation bias.

Just after these conversations, their “principles” (if you can call them that) were put to the test.  An African American congresswoman in their district was challenged by a white, Christian male and guess who these “liberals” voted for? If they consistently applied the “principles” that they espoused then you would reasonably guess that they voted for the African American woman but you would be wrong. They voted for the “white, Christian male”. Why? That “white, Christian male” was also a “liberal”. The African American woman was not. In other words, many of today’s “liberals” don’t care about the things they outwardly profess as much as they do about their underlying ideology and crusade for power. As Malcom X pointed out decades ago, and as I’ve consistently observed from experience, minorities are just meat-shields for “liberal’s” quests for power: 

“The white liberal aren’t white people who are for independence, who are moral and ethical in their thinking. They are just a faction of white people that are jockeying for power…The liberal elements of whites are those who have perfected the art of selling themselves to the Negro as a friend of the Negro. Getting sympathy of the Negro, getting the allegiance of the Negro, and getting the mind of the Negro. Then the Negro sides with the white liberal, and the white liberal use the Negro against the white conservative. So that anything that the Negro does is never for his own good, never for his own advancement, never for his own progress, he’s only a pawn in the hands of the white liberal. The worst enemy that the Negro have is this white man that runs around here drooling at the mouth professing to love Negros, and calling himself a liberal, and it is following these white liberals that has perpetuated problems that Negros have.” 

An open-minded, self-identified “liberal” friend once asked me about my views on race since I am not white but also not “liberal” (by today’s standards). I’ll paraphrase here what I told him.

I believe it is a fallacy to paint everyone within a group with a broad-brush based on some limited experiences we’ve had or heard of from others. It’s a sin of ignorance. It hurts the accused. Willful ignorance is an even greater sin. Prejudice coupled with hate is the worst form of bigotry. Prejudism is perpetuated when we pit group against group. I believe in being tolerant of all individuals and loving them no matter what. We can’t overcome these painful hurdles of prejudice with more prejudice. We can’t create justice with more injustice. We can’t spread light with darkness. 

Seeing others as individuals rather than groups will help unite rather than divide, a principle that Daryl Davis enacted and that Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt discovered while researching the effectiveness (or rather ineffectiveness) of diversity training, sensitivity training and other forced inclusivity models. When all we can see is our differences, we grow further apart. 

I agree with Dr Martin Luther King Jr when he famously said: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Today, many are only applying this important principle in particular instances that serve their political ends but completely ignore and act the opposite way when it doesn’t serve their political purposes. 

Some pick at scabs, unaware or not caring that these wounds will never heal with that approach. Many converts to ignorance, prejudice and hate can be gained by merely magnifying people’s focus on a few atrocities (real or not) perpetrated by an extreme minority. Scapegoats are a convenient shortcut to getting our way. Some socialist Germans took this dishonest approach towards some “undesirables” in the 1930s-1940s and were very effective at propagating the basest of human instincts of almost their entire country in the process. Today’s socialists are playing the same dishonest, group-identity games. Through much of today’s movies, media, government and academia, they magnify the horrific words and actions of a few to make it seem commonplace and then slap toxic labels on anyone who they view as their enemies as “racist”, “sexist”, “misogynist”, “homophobe”, etc. They purge their enemies of their voices and livelihoods by merely accusing them of these toxic things. They distort the contexts of the accused’ comments or they dig up something wrong about that person’s past and shine a focal beam on it for the world to see. Or they make things up. Lying is ok; the ends justify the means. “Let us do evil that good may come.” The point is that the “ruling class is evil” so using any means necessary is justified to eliminate them and anyone who looks like them. Many buy into this seemingly righteous crusade. But, as Nietzsche put it,

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

Disengage Over Disagreement?

I’ve been noticing how easy it is to have unity and good feelings towards others when conflict is absent but how quickly warm feelings vanish when there’s a simple difference of opinion. As a general rule, I don’t think it’s right to cut people off from our lives due to a disagreement. Yet it happens all of the time in marriages, friendships, employment, churches and other relationships. It’s amplified when intolerance of opinion is not only justified but embraced systematically in the forms of group-shaming and other dehumanizing purges. Tolerance vs purging. Inclusion vs exclusion. Freedom vs oppression. Understanding vs ignorance. The olive branch vs the sword. Love & forgiveness vs anger & bitterness. These are some of the choices we face when we have differences of opinions with others. 

Have our past convictions been so flawless that we can, with confidence, state that our current convictions are beyond question? Do we have all of the facts and perspectives that would make us capable of judging a topic competently? Is our moral arsenal so complete that even if we had a full understanding of the facts that we would be able to make a rightful judgement? Is it our right to judge? In other words, are we perfect? If not, why do we expect others to have the same convictions as we do? Other’s possess perspectives that can help refine our own, if we will search their minds with an open heart. Purging people tends to make their ignorance worse and therefore the likelihood of misery worse. Loving people, despite our differences, can make incremental advances towards love, truth, completeness and fulfillment. Thank goodness we all have different perspectives.

“Ah, but what about the nihilist?”, says one? “Or what about the racial supremacist?”, objects another. “Are we to embrace these nasty ideologies?” Objections to tolerance are constantly made on the grounds that it is condoning symptomatic ideas and behaviors. But tolerance is not condoning anymore than listening is agreeing. We can love the sinner and still hate the sin. 

Daryl Davis was able to convert over 200 people away from the KKK, including multiple upper-level leaders of the group. What makes this feat most meaningful is the fact that Daryl is an African American, the target of much of the group’s intolerance and violence. His success hasn’t come from shunning, screaming, deplatforming, ignoring, fighting or any other form of purging. Rather, Daryl reached out, talked with, listened to and befriended some of the very people who initially viewed him as inferior. These actions ultimately humanized his race to a large segment of an organization that society had thought irredeemable. His kind actions dispelled the darkness that clouded these people’s minds. That light was not and could not have been instilled through dark methods. 

Daryl observed a timeless lesson about the importance of actively trying to understand each other during an interview he had with a few of the KKK members. No violent intentions were being expressed during their meeting but tensions were still high. Neither trusted the other. All of a sudden, a loud noise occurred that startled Daryl. He was afraid that one of the other two was making a quick movement to hurt him. As he glanced at the others, he noticed the same startled look on their faces – they were on high alert that something might happen to them. It turned out that the noise was just a can of soda settling in a bucket of ice next to them. Daryl associated layers of meaning from this incident by pointing out that: “Ignorance breeds fear. We fear those things we don’t understand. If we don’t put a lid on that fear and keep that fear in check, that fear in turn will breed hatred because we hate those things that frighten us. If we don’t keep that hatred in check, that hatred in turn will breed destruction. We want to destroy those things that we hate. Why? Because they frighten us. But guess what? They may have been harmless and we were just ignorant.” 

Take parenting as another example of how seeking understanding can make everyone’s lives better. Many parents will play behavioral whack-a-mole with their children not understanding that their attempts to correct their children’s behavior could actually be making things worse for the child and requiring more energy on their part overall. In order to help children, or anyone for that matter, long-term successes are tied to the means in which the corrections are consistently, patiently and lovingly applied. A parent will see a child acting out – yelling, crying and throwing a tantrum when they don’t get what they want – and the parent often responds, usually with good intentions, with authoritarian dictates or force (or in some cases, rewarding the child for the bad behavior). None of this helps because none of it is getting to the root of the issue. The child’s tantrum is a symptom. The symptom is an opportunity to stop and dig deeper into why that child is acting out to begin with. Perhaps their love-tank has been running on empty for an extended period of time and what they really need, instead of lectures and punishments, is genuine attention that is meaningful to them. Or perhaps they were bullied, abused or they made a critical mistake and they are too afraid to raise a sensitive topic up to someone who will make them feel smaller than they already do. Or perhaps they’ve been conditioned to behave this way from others who constantly give in to those styles of demands. The root causes will vary almost as much as there are different personalities and circumstances. What is not needed, though, is ridiculing or verbally discarding that child because of their behavior. What is always needed is love, understanding and appropriate boundaries.

Just like there are boundaries for many other good things (e.g. charity, freedom), there are boundaries to tolerance as well. First, as mentioned previously, we ought to separate the sinner from the sin. Always viewing a person through the lens of love and choices through the lens of truth helps us to not debase each other to varying degrees of worth. Second, if someone’s choices are aggressing on someone else, those breaches don’t have to be tolerated. We can and should forgive and have mercy but that doesn’t mean that we need to continually put up with abuse. As an exception to the general rule to be tolerant, there are occasions where we can admit that another’s actions have actually severed their bond to us. After agressions are repeated so often and after so many petitions to stop, the only choices left are to cut yourself off from the abuser (if escape is possible) or fight back (if escape is not possible). Though, as was the case with Daryl Davis, this doesn’t mean that we should stop extending the olive branch. The behaviors of those who we perceive to be hopeless are often just symptoms of deeper problems that can be healed with our patience and love. The problem is that most of us jump straight to the exception (of separation) rather than living the rule (of tolerance).

Too Far Gone

 

prodigal-son-e1565800625276.jpg

Marj was my last English professor. I attended her course for the first few classes and then I stopped going. After about 6 weeks, I was talking with a friend about my absence and how I regretted quitting the class. He encouraged me to reach out to her to see if it was too late for me to go back. I said “There’s no way she’ll take me back.” He responded, “What do you have to lose?” So I emailed her and she responded that it was absolutely not too late and that she’d love for me to return. I attended regularly to the end after that. 

Unlike previous English teachers, Marj actually taught us principles of good writing and she taught them to us through our own interests. That’s how she helped everyone discover the light within themselves. Every other English teacher I had before her seemed to have the same social cause that they imposed upon us. Marj encouraged each of us to read, research and write about topics that were meaningful to us individually. She would work with us one on one to guide and mentor our efforts along the way. 

She loved and respected everyone in the class and, those of us who would open up to her, loved and respected her back. I remember during one of her lessons she was talking about her son in law. When she first met him, she disregarded him because of his outer appearance. She didn’t approve of his hair, piercings or the way he dressed. She told us about her regret that she had judged his outer appearance, especially after discovering his inner kindness, humility and character. As she recounted this story, there was no judgement in her voice. Only genuine love and compassion. The humility it took to publicly admit this fault only added to our trust and respect for her.

These experiences with Marj taught me valuable lessons about following Christ’s teachings and example:

His Grace is Sufficient – Before Marj, my writing was deplorable. C-letter grades were common from my English teachers up until that point. If you were to read my writing, you’d see that my teachers were being merciful. I left Marj’s class with an A and not just because she was a softy. My final paper was submitted to an external writing competition by Marj and another professor in the department. I don’t write this to brag but to emphasize the principle that when we receive the Perfect Mentor’s help, it produces results we can’t produce on our own. We are weak without his help. Critical problems are impossible to overcome without the guidance, empowerment and strength of the Savior.

Don’t Judge – Like Marj, before she repented, many of us have wrongfully passed judgement on others when we’ve had no right to do so. Man looketh on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh on the heart. The Great Judge requires that we have mercy, love and forgiveness for others. Jesus said, “I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it’s required to forgive all men.” He also taught us to “Judge not” and that “Judgement is mine“. 

Pride Repels, Humility Invites – Marj’s humility made it easier to connect with her. My other English teachers spoke at us but rarely truly connected with us. When someone is prideful, it’s difficult to build an open and trusting relationship with them because you know that everything you do or say will be received with condescension and belittlement. No one is perfect but yet everyone acts so, to some degree, through their pride. The only perfect person to live on Earth invited others to come closer to him, not only through his words but also through his humble treatment of others. I suspect that the sinners who ate with Christ were happy to be in his company because they knew that despite their shortcomings, he still humbly loved them.

Love Mercifully – Marj’s mercy towards me, after missing so much of the semester, did more good for me than the proverbial sword would have done. I recently learned about a marriage therapist who can predict with over 90% accuracy whether new marriages will end in divorce. The number one indicator is to see whether one or both of the spouses have contempt for the other. When we have contempt, we despise and don’t respect the other person. We cling to the sword as we justify to ourselves why the other person is in the wrong and why our rotten feelings towards them are justified. The Savior didn’t hold anyone in contempt. Even for those who falsely accused, arrested and crucified him, he advocated on their behalf. The world might see such mercy as impractical but consider how many lives have been spared and elevated because of its application. Contrast that to how many souls that have been destroyed because of the proverbial sword. The swords of shame, criticism, judgement and contempt are heavy burdens being lugged around by so-called “pragmatists” who refuse to exchange their burden for the lighter olive branch. The olive branch, as hard as it can be to hold when we perceive wrongdoing from others, is so much more effective than the sword at convincing others to repent, resolving conflict between people and bringing inner peace amidst life’s storms.

The Whole Don’t Need A Physician – On multiple occasions I’ve heard people express that “so-and-so” shouldn’t be going to church because of “fill-in-the-blank” sins that they’ve committed. When the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with publicans and sinners they repeated the same sentiment. Jesus responded that “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick… I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The church is a hospital for the spiritually sick. The gospel is treatment for the spiritually sick. The Savior is the Great Healer. Much like my unfounded fear that I wouldn’t be accepted back into Marj’s class, sometimes we may convince ourselves that we’re too far gone and that our Perfect Exemplar won’t take us back. None of us are perfect. We’re all spiritually sick and lacking. We can take today as an opportunity to reset our perspectives and consider how we can return to a loving, inviting, unshaming Savior. He’s ready with open arms to receive each one of us. What do you have to lose?

The Beggar & The Three Travelers: Adding To The Golden & Platinum Rules

Beggar WaterThere’s an ancient proverb about The Beggar and The Three Travelers. It’s a hot, dry day. A man is begging in the streets of a city. Another man, dressed in a yellow robe, is traveling through and sees the beggar. Before the beggar could ask for anything, the man gives him the last of his favorite nuts and then continues on his way. A while later, a second traveler dressed in a gray robe sees the beggar and asks what he wants. The beggar says that above all, he would like some wine to help him cool down from the day’s heat. The traveler obliges, gives him wine and continues on his way. A third traveler, dressed in a white robe, assesses the needs of the man, gives him a drink of water and helps him find a continual source of water before continuing on his way. The beggar was allergic to nuts and would have died if he had eaten them. He was also dying of dehydration and the alcohol would have sped up his demise. What he truly needed wasn’t what another person wanted for him nor was it what he wanted for himself. He simply needed water. 

This proverb isn’t ancient. I just made it up. But it illustrates a timeless principle – the need to rise above the limited perspectives of desires when serving others and instead look at needs. The story depicts three ways which we can treat others:

  • The Golden Rule: I will treat others the way I want to be treated.
  • The Platinum Rule: I will treat others the way they want to be treated.
  • The Celestial Rule: I will treat others the way they ought to be treated.

The Golden Rule is commendable. My one year old son recently offered me a soggy animal cracker that he was sucking on with an innocent “It’s good, you’ll like it” expression on his face. His intentions were good. He wanted to share his joy with me. I admit – when I give gifts – I do the same thing. I often give others what I want them to have rather than what they want. I wonder how often they perceive my offerings with the same humored disgust that I felt with the soggy animal cracker. There’s a better way to give.

Living the Platinum Rule means that we escape our own self-centered perspective and see the thoughts, emotions and desires of others from their perspective. Once we do this, we are better equipped to empathize and provide others with what they want. When it comes to harmless offerings, the Platinum Rule is the way to go. But it definitely has its shortfalls. When what a person wants for themselves is unhealthy – physically, emotionally or spiritually – then we should not be giving that person that thing. There’s an even better way to give in these cases.

The Celestial Rule means that we perceive others through the lens of the higher law. The higher law requires that we treat others the way that they ought to be treated within the bounds of tactful, loving kindness. For example, when someone is going through a difficult time, some people will express their sympathies in ways that make it about themselves rather than the person going through the difficult problem (Golden Rule). Others will act as enablers and give the person attention in a way the person wants but this is unhealthy when it feeds negative energy and grants permission to the person to see their problems through the lens of victimhood or helplessness. This is an example of how the Platinum Rule falls short. The Celestial Rule helps us to see the struggling person through the lens of love and the circumstances surrounding their struggles through the lens of truth. When that happens we can, like Christ, empathize with their pain and provide empowering guidance for healing – all in a spirit of love.