Cultures to Avoid – Jealousy and Selfish Ambition

I wasn’t planning a series on the world’s fallenness, but of course it’s still on my mind. How could it not be? New revelations of sexual sin (including assault, harassment, adultery), abuse of power, and deceit in high places continue almost daily. And we’re seeing that it’s not just one “bad apple,” but rather a culture of abuse and dishonesty in many organizations or even industries. It leaves one thinking, is everyone everywhere where a sociopath? Can anyone be trusted? How do we protect ourselves? What should we watch out for?

James, the brother of Jesus, has some good advice in this regard:

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying.  For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
James 3:13-16 NLT [emphasis mine]

That sure resonates with me. Aren’t the entertainment industry and D.C. Beltway politics filled with jealousy and selfish ambition? It’d be hard for any objective observer to suggest otherwise. Not to say that every actor is a prima donna or every politician is on the take, but these industries (and politics is an industry) do have that kind of “it’s-all-about-me” culture. The National Football League also comes to mind, but reasonable people could argue about that.

At an individual business level, culture varies across companies, departments, and even work units. Some are emotionally healthy, others less so. Even voluntary associations – clubs, churches, and other groups – may experience harmful or toxic cultures. No organization is too small to be affected by sin. Perhaps you have seen jealousy and selfish ambition in action at your homeowners association for example.

Honestly, we’re all subject to jealousy and selfish ambition; this isn’t about pointing the finger at someone else. But as we work to let go of our own jealousy and selfish ambition, let’s be mindful of James’ warning. There are some industries, organizations and places that we should avoid for our own protection, and he gives us one way of spotting them.

Be safe,

Pete

Seeing the World as It Really Is – Thank God for God!

Kevin Spacey, Trump, Hilary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood, Russians, Facebook, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Politics, Google, Steve Mnuchin and wife, Wall Street, Violent Protesters, Crooked Cops, Lois Lerner, Baltimore, Greedy Admirals, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Charlie Rose… where does it end? It’s been a remarkable couple of years. At this point everyone’s eyes should be opened to reality.

The powerful exploit the weak. Greed and corruption are endemic at all levels of government. What’s not overtly criminal is incompetent. Hypocrisy is so common that our first instinct is to assume “he’s lying” or has something to hide, and the next blockbuster story revealing a politician’s secret life confirms our jaundiced view. Even worse, what is evil attacks what is good. Honest people of high character are drawn down by those in the mud.

Here’s the deal – the world runs on power, sex and money. Really. See it. Believe it. It feels bad to admit it, but it’s true. I for one don’t really want to believe it. Like many others do, it would be nice to pretend that “people are inherently good.” “Oh sure, they’re a few bad apples out there, but you can trust people.” But that would be wrong. We all need to accept reality. The world is fallen and we can’t fix it.

Jesus reminds us of this, saying to his disciples; I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matt 10:16) His point was that they should understand the world’s corrupt and greedy operating system (for their own self protection) but not be corrupted themselves. Easy to say, hard to do. Christians are still trying to do that 2,000 years later.

And of course, pretty often the world wins, or seems to win in the short run. The disciples were almost all killed in nasty ways. Although we may not die for Jesus, being innocent, fair and honest doesn’t usually “pay off” in the ordinary sense of the term. As the saying goes, “nice guys finish last.” But again Jesus has words for us; “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And the disciples themselves give us a lot of advice on how to go about living rightly and cheerfully in wicked and troubled times. Here’s a bit:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:4-9)

And there’s more where that came from.

So if, like me, you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, disillusioned and depressed, take heart! Be of good cheer despite the world. Encourage a brother or sister. Turn off Fox and CNN. Trust God. Follow Jesus and do the best you can. It will all work out just fine.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pete

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Remember brothers and sisters, they can kill us but they can’t hurt us.
– Justin Martyr (beheaded 165 AD)

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Social Media – More Harm Than Good?

I’ve been pretty quiet on social media lately, reading more than posting, and I’m not feeling too good about it. Decorum and civility continue to decline on Facebook. Sexy and controversial posts are now firmly established on LinkedIn, where boasting and shameless self-promotion have gone off the charts. In Social Media Land memes and provocation are the currency of the realm. Well-developed thinking is in short supply and wisdom is hard to find. Perhaps that’s my problem – wisdom is what I’m after.

Of course social media can be beneficial in many ways. I do like keeping up with friends and family on Facebook, and it, along with Twitter, is very useful for communication in “breaking news” type situations (like the recent hurricanes for example). Linked in has helped me professionally. It’s an address book that maintains itself and a good source of potential opportunities and new colleagues. I don’t want to give these things up, but I’m not interested arguing or jumping in the scrum for eyeballs, likes and shares. I’m after wisdom. How should I live? What’s important? What’s not? How can I be truly well?

I haven’t been posting much lately, at least partially because I feel like what I have to say doesn’t fit in on Facebook or LinkedIn where conversations seem to be happening. Apparently “nobody actually goes to blogs anymore.” Yet writing helps me to sort things out. And hopefully, my thoughts are also helpful to any readers seeking their own physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. So I’m going to try writing more often, posting here on Grace Based Wellness without sharing my posts elsewhere. I just don’t think they fit with the current spirit of the media. I’m also going to close the Grace Based Wellness Facebook page soon. If you’ve been following the blog that way, you may wish to change to an email subscription.

Thank you for your readership and encouragement,

Pete

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If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
– James 1:5-8 NLT

A Vacation Reset

Sharon, the kids (adult kids) and I just returned from a weeklong vacation in northern California, Santa Rosa and San Francisco to be specific. We spent time connecting and reconnecting with various branches of our extended family and seeing the sights. It was a relaxing and restful time. Now that we’re home, I’m reflecting on my experience, and here are some of my takeaways.

I worry too much. The trip took my attention away from all of my usual responsibilities. No thinking about home or work issues, just staying “in the now” as they say. I enjoyed visiting people and places, and he most critical daily issue usually was “what are we doing for lunch?” Life got simple and immediate. It was nice. How can I bring this simplicity and immediacy back home with me? I’m resolving to be more attuned to the present and spend less mental energy on the future.

My family is worth my time. Not just my immediate family but also the extended family. People are relational creatures,designed to be in community with one another, and that starts with our families. If all we do is “see the family” that alone is worth the trip. Seeing the sights is not as important as seeing the people. I’ve got to remember that.

Disconnecting from the media is a good idea. While gone, I didn’t read the morning newspapers and didn’t miss them. I didn’t watch the news, and I didn’t engage in much social media. Although, we remained aware of breaking news and current events through the internet, we didn’t put much energy into analysis or discussion of the latest “crisis.” That was refreshing.

I was still thinking about our media-driven, feverish culture on the way home. During a three-hour layover in DFW, watching many hundreds of people (of all shapes, sizes and colors) go by, I got to thinking about them. About how each one of them, like me, had a life to live, and perhaps a family to care for. And about how each of them needed to think about getting home, eating lunch, and also the larger issues in their lives. And finally, about how little that most of the “crisis news” has to do with that.

The well-lived life is mostly an internal affair. I need to keep working on myself. And, with God’s help, I shall.

Pete

 

More Compassion, Less Piling On

compassionnoun
sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others

Sharon was out of town last weekend, and I thought I’d relax and watch a late night movie. Perusing our small DVD collection I ran across MASH, a film I’ve preciously enjoyed, and thought “that’ll do.” Sometimes it’s nice to just go mindless for a while with a movie that I know already. So I hit the play button and settled in for the evening.

Twenty minutes later I was unsettled. The film wasn’t sitting well with me. The lead characters are arrogant and mean, and their meanness bothered me. I’ve seen MASH before, many times, but this time was different. I was uncomfortable trying to enjoy it. It didn’t seem like something that I should enjoy. Eventually I hit eject and went to bed.

Although this seems to mark some sort of internal shift for me, I have been thinking about meanness versus compassion for the last few months. My social media feeds have way too many mean spirited posts and comments about people suffering the consequences of drug addiction, criminal behavior, or just plain bad judgment. Some comments are shocking in their nastiness. Do the posters truly think that the foolish young man deserved to die (probably after torture) at the hands of North Korean officials? God help them.

In healthcare, and in life, we all see a lot of undeserved suffering. Disease and misfortune befall people for no reason other than “bad luck.” Knowing that we too are vulnerable, we can be moved to compassion. But just as often, or maybe more, people create their own mess. Smokers get lung cancer. The texting driver crashes and dies. Shall we be indifferent to their suffering, or even cruel, piling on with hurtful commentary? Apparently a lot of people believe we should.

I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. We are to be compassionate, and we should be able to see that “there, but for the grace of God go I.” That doesn’t mean endorsing bad or foolish behavior. Some things are simply wrong. Nor are we compelled to fix everything (even if we could) for those suffering harsh consequences of their behavior.  But we can be compassionate.

I don’t know if  anyone can summon compassion in every circumstance; some behavior is truly heinous, but ending the piling on in social media seems like a good place to start. God help all of us.

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“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” – Jesus, (Matthew 7:12 NLT)

Why is Loud “Background Music” Everywhere?

music, noun – vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion

noise, noun –
a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance.

Seriously, what ever happened to quiet and calming spaces? I find myself being assaulted by blaring music in almost every public place. Restaurants, retail stores, parking lots, even at the gas pump, or in church before the service. At sporting events, I take earplugs – not for the actual sounds of the game, voice of the announcer or cheers of the fans – but rather for the loud music played during any small breaks in the action. Why is this happening? Who thinks this is a good idea? What is their rationale?

My belief is that most “background music” is simply noise; noise that isn’t healthy. This high volume surround sound prevents conversation and relaxation, keeping us all shouting and agitated. You shouldn’t be hoarse after dining out with friends. Being continually amped up simply isn’t good for us. It’s another form of stress.

It occurred to me that this is all very recent in human history. Sound recording only began in the late 1800’s and widespread amplification is a child of the 60’s or 70’s. Before that, one either played acoustic music oneself, or one attended a live performance specifically in order to enjoy the music. Other than that, there was no music. It was a special treat, for people’s enjoyment. Can we get back to that?

This seems to me to be typical of human progress. Our breakthrough technologies begin as blessings yet somehow morph into curses (or at least mixed blessings). And we know that with “progress” there is no going back.

For myself, I’m playing defense. As mentioned, I take earplugs to sporting events. If I walk into a store with very loud music, I walk right out again. In restaurants with music volume sufficient to inhibit conversation, I’ll typically ask my server if it can be turned down a bit. I’ll bet I do this at least seven or eight times a year. Perhaps surprisingly, I have never had any say no, and often the volume goes down considerably. (Maybe they don’t like it either.)

What do you think?

Pete

Finding the Essence of Things

My wife and I are recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Arizona. It started as a business trip to which we tacked on a week’s rest in Phoenix and Sedona, and it turned out great. We’d never been to Sedona, a strange and spectacular place to Florida folk; it was enjoyable seeing a very different landscape and learning more about the desert. Our schedule was pretty unstructured, and I appreciated being “off the clock.”

Moving from place to place, we experienced a variety of accommodations from a high-end resort to a much more basic hotel. Our meals spanned the spectrum as well. The most elegant was a 4-course Valentine’s Day dinner at an exclusive resort. The simplest was fruit and cheese in front of the television. In between was a home-cooked dinner with family and restaurant meals of course.

Now I’m back to work and we’re both back to our usual routines, but I feel rejuvenated and I’ve been thinking about what made the trip so great. It wasn’t the fancy hotel of the fancy meals, it was much more basic than that. I think the key elements were:
– getting away from my usual responsibilities,
– maintaining a relaxed, no-pressure attitude,
– experiencing a new place, and learning about it, and
– sharing time with my wife and family.
These are the things I should think about when planning our next getaway.

Too often I think we Americans miss the essence of things. We get focused on the sizzle more than the steak. Our culture relentlessly pushes us to covet the most exclusive experiences and the finest things. Selling and upselling drives the national economy, but it comes at a cost. Too many people live beyond their means, under constant pressure to keep up with the Joneses and keep up appearances. Consuming is not the essence of life.

I’m resolved to focus more on identifying the essence in all of my activities. What are the essential elements of my work, my hobbies, my home, and my relationships? They deserve more of my attention. The superficialities deserve less. I’m looking forward to seeing where that leads.

How about you?

Take care,

Pete