January 12, 2017

Lies, Darned Lies, and Platitudes

Do you know what too many people don’t understand?  That not everything is formulaic in this world.

We live in a society that, more and more, is examining the science of things and infusing scientific thought into things we hadn’t before.  The study of sports science, for example, is yielding new equipment, new procedures, and even new measurements of performance.  The beauty of science is that it always yields verifiable, replicable results.  

But, as much as we human beings are bound physically and even mentally to science, there is, despite our increasing efforts to prove to the contrary, ultimately no science to human emotion. 

Emotions stretch beyond the bounds of the physical and mental.  They aren’t predictable or immutable.  They’re fleeting and fluid.  You can never truly pin down emotions into a predictable pattern or subset.  

I think this is a point on which most people would agree, with the potential exception of the hardcore, Temperance Brennan types out there—and, even she started coming around in the later seasons.

So why, then, do so many of us fall into the trap of believing that there are verifiable, replicable, one-size-fits-all means of dealing with human emotion on so many different fronts?

Now, before you shake your head and say, “People don’t do that,” consider the following.  

When someone we know and care about loses a loved one, what often occurs?  We hear (and, at times, even repeat ourselves) the cut-and-dried platitudes and pieces of advice that have become so commonplace.  

Now, I’m not referring to Biblical truths that we share here:  they're a solid foundation.  I’m talking about the other things, and some of them contradict themselves.  
  • You need to let it out.
  • He/She wouldn’t want you to cry.
  • The Lord never gives us more than we can handle (an absolute butcher job of Scripture that we’ve let slip into our Christian vernacular).
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • Time heals all wounds.
  • You can probably think of others, too.  
We expect grief to be dealt with in a formulaic fashion, but it just doesn’t work that way.

Now, consider the fact that grief isn’t limited to just instances of death (even though we often overlook that fact).  
  • The parent whose child has just left for college sometimes grieves.  
  • The employee who’s lost his/her job sometimes grieves.  
  • The person who’s seen a cherished relationship end grieves, too.
That last one is one that we really treat in a formulaic fashion.  

If there’s anything outside of dealing with death that we desperately want to be cut and dried, simple and easy, and cleanly routine, it’s recovering from a breakup.  

I’m fairly certain that's because we don’t want to see our loved ones hurting; though, I’m not always convinced of whether that’s because we care about said loved one so much, or because their grief makes us uncomfortable, and, that thought could be applied to any instance of grief.

I will say, for the record, that I believe that my own family’s hearts have been in the right place in this regard throughout my lifetime.  (Don’t go writing me any disgruntled e-mails, siblings and parents. 😜)

But still, the platitudes persist as people try to make a science out of recovering from heartbreak.  
  • In the end, this is a good thing.
  • It wasn’t meant to be.
  • Just get over it and move on.
  • Put yourself out there.
Now, these things do work for some people. If you’re a twenty-something, attractive female, you can just move on, put yourself out there, and have another date in the heartbeat.  But, as the Everly Brothers sang, “If you wonder who the loneliest creatures in the world can be, they’re the ugly duckling, the little black sheep, and me.”

It’s just not as simple for some as it is for others.  

Dates aren’t readily available for everyone.  All hearts don’t heal at the same speed.  There’s no science to this, as much as we want there to be.  I know that all of this probably isn’t a popular take on emotion and grief, but it still needs to be recognized and understood.

So, what do we do to help the hurting in our lives?

Let me answer that with an observation.

Do you know what I haven’t gotten enough of since my own recent breakup?  Hugs.  I mean, real hugs.  Not the “thanks for coming, be safe on the road” variety.  Genuine, unsolicited, “I know you’re hurting, I love you, and I’m always going to be here for you” hugs.  

Don't get me wrong; I've gotten a few, and I'm grateful for them, and for the people who gave them.  But, the members of my support system have their own problems and concerns, and all of them are pretty significant right now.  So, I can't fault them in the slightest for concentrating on those things.  Their needs and concerns are important, too--more so than mine, to be honest.  You can’t really ask for those kinds of hugs, though.  They’ve got to be offered freely.

Of course, not everyone appreciates hugs.  But, everyone appreciates something.  

It’s for us, as family and friends, to learn what the hurting in our lives need to sense our care and concern, and then provide those supportive gestures sincerely.  Recognize that the process is different in every case, and commit yourself to be there for the hurting through the process, whatever that may entail, for as long as it takes.  The hurting might be inclined to tell you exactly what they need sometimes, but don’t count on that or wait for it to happen.  Be proactive in finding out and providing those needs.  

I promise you, there’s no better way for us to show a hurting person that you care than to take the initiative in addressing his/her needs in a way that that will benefit them, not in the way that seems right or most convenient to us.  That kind of caring goes further than any well-meaning platitude, and it doesn't even require speech.  Our efforts can always say what our words may fail to express.

January 1, 2017

The Digital Front Porch: An Introduction

First, a pointed disclaimer:  I thoroughly despise the Christian blogosphere.

I know that sounds like heresy coming from a pastor, but hear me out. 

One of the things that’s made my Facebook experience so much better is the little dropdown arrow at the top-right corner of posts.  When third-party websites or Facebook accounts are shared, it gives the option to block all posts from that party.  I’ve made a consistent practice out of doing this with pretty much every post I’ve seen from popular Christian bloggers for well over a year, (with the exception of my Mom, of course).  As a result, my news feed has been largely free of the Christian blogosphere’s presence, much to my relief. 

I’ve made such a concentrated effort to rid my social media presence of those influences because what I refer to as the Christian blogosphere has degenerated into little more than a political sounding board erected in a theological minefield.  Whether it be organizations or individuals, too many Christian bloggers are using their online presence primarily for political and social engineering.   Some have even taken up the mantle of the radio shock-jocks, with provocative, controversial headlines designed to generate the clicks.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because if you’re still on this page after reading all that, you need to know that I want nothing to do with the Christian blogosphere I’ve just described. 

So, what you should expect from this blog, then?

Every time I write a guest post for one of my Mom’s blogs, she tells me that I should start blogging, because I have such a “way with words.”  I think she’s meant that I should put out one of the many devotional style blogs that you see around.  But, the truth is, I’ve tried that more than once in the past, and it always quickly fizzled out.  Some people just aren’t cut out for that style of writing, and I’m one of them—and no, it’s not the same as sermon preparation.  Besides, I’ve some fine family and colleagues who are producing solid material to that end—the foremost of whom is Mom herself, whose blogs are quite great.

That’s not to say that nothing I put here will be focused on my faith, though.  Quite the contrary—the Lord is at the core of my life, and that’s the basis of my worldview--though, to be clear, I don't talk very much about politics these days unless I'm asked.  So, if you’re looking for something designed to supplement your devotions, a political opinion page, or a doctrinal or theological treatise, I'm afraid you may be disappointed by the frequency and content of the posts most of the time.  Again, I highly recommend my Mom's blogs for that purpose, especially to you ladies.

When I do write, which is pretty rare, I get the most fulfillment when I simply put my thoughts on the digital page.  

That's why social media is such a wonderful innovation to me.  It lends itself to that style of writing. But, even then, I often hold back—more than I probably should, in fact.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve put fingers to keyboard to express thoughts that weighed heavily on my mind, only to either delete the writing or, in rare cases, save them to my hard drive.  I’ve done so because I’ve suspected that my words wouldn’t be well received, especially not on a shared community like Facebook.

You see, the things I have on my mind aren’t always peppy, happy, and upbeat. 

They are, however, always real.

But, that can rub people the wrong way, especially coming from someone in my vocation (a subject that I may explore more deeply down the line).  Sometimes, though, serious thoughts need to be expressed.  Expressing these serious thoughts, whether verbally or on social media, usually results in someone getting upset for one reason or another—and, since I hate upsetting people, I usually just keep my mouth shut. 

But, this isn’t a shared community.  

Sure, there’s a comment section, and you're welcome to use it—encouraged to, even—but it’s moderated, and it’s going to stay that way.  This is my cyber-territory, and this is where I’m going to attempt to express those not always rose colored, but always genuine thoughts.

An acquaintance of mine once referred to social media as a digital front porch that wraps around the globe.  Your front porch is one of those places where you can sit down and shoot the breeze about anything that’s on your mind.  Nothing is off-limits on your front porch unless you decide it is, and you can talk forever or say nothing at all.

So, that’s what you can expect here.

This is my Digital Front Porch.  

If you want to, you can feel free to pull up a rocker and sit awhile.  Yeah, it's just me expressing my thoughts and opinions; but, that's what a front porch is for.  Besides, what good is expression if you're expressing yourself to no one?  Nobody talks just to hear themselves talk.  So, I'd love for you to join me, friend.  I do like good company.