This year for Christmas, if it were somehow possible, I would like to give some gifts to our culture. I would like to give some things back to our culture that it seems to me we once had. Some things that seem to be slipping from our midst, almost entirely unnoticed.
These five gifts, if some way existed by which I could return them to our country, may not stop school violence. They may not pull us back to a strong economy, and they may not bring back every single victim of human trafficking. But when I think about it, they actually might accomplish all those things. If not, I believe they could set on course, the kind of people who could stop such social symptoms.
Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, as I see no real way to give this gift back to our culture. This is especially true as each of these gifts must be laid ahold of, pursued, valued and even cherished if you will. Perhaps even this kind of pursuit is another gift I would love to return. If I can’t give these gifts back to our culture this week, perhaps you will allow me to encourage just you to receive these gifts.
As we shop like crazy people for just the right present to wrap this week, consider laying ahold of these five things as a gift to yourself, and a never-ending gift to those you love. Consider capturing these five endangered species before they disappear from among us entirely.
1. Thinking: Before I could catch myself, I heard the words come out of my mouth. “Who needs my mind, I have my iPhone.” My friend had just told me to take a picture in my mind of some lovely meal set before us. I snapped an actual photo, while my words echoed in my mind (Phew, it must still be present…).
As my mind will do, I began to ponder the reality of how many devices, and processes we have allowed to become our substitute for thinking. It is not my intent to protest any of these people, places, or things. We have, however, much like the nation of ancient Israel, called out for a king, and turned to any monarch that will prevent us from the hard work of sensory intake and cognition.
We have pundits of every flavor who will tell us what to think. What they cannot do is tell us whether or not we are asking right questions. They supply answers, we become parrots.
I am certain I do not have any phone number memorized but my own, and that of my wife. I know where to find every other phone number on a touchscreen.
Like an educational system that teaches memorized facts and events, but does not supply ways to think, we live in a culture that supports the ease of easy answers (there’s an app for that, or a law for this) and suggests that we need not think. Someone more qualified will do that work for us.
Google is not an original source, and Wikipedia cannot perform the intricate synthesis of original ideas for which the powerful human mind was designed. The human mind is a muscle, like any other function of a living soul, it can be exercised or atrophied.
True freedom takes place in true thought. Our culture slips slowly into spoon fed bondage, while we let great thinkers like Homer Simpson, and Oprah Winfrey hand us a world-view.
Work a crossword puzzle (yes, a paper one with a pencil). Read a hard book. Put away your electronics and look out at the horizon while you let your mind ponder hard questions. Enjoy the power of thinking, and come up with a thought that no one else ever had before. You exist for a reason. You cannot find that reason on Google. Think. It may be what stands between you and a life if slavery.
2. Respect: Respect is more than what you grudgingly give someone who holds a position of authority over you. And contrary to popular opinion, respect does not have to be earned. Respect is a quality you develop and it has to do with how you regard and value anything or anyone that is not you.
If you are a respectful person, you will respect things and people. If you are not, you will lose your way quickly. Many have lost their way.
The opposite of respect is contempt, and this is the quality that Jesus likened to murder. If you have hatred (contempt) in your heart towards your brother, you have murdered him. This sounds extreme, but consider. All murder begins with the ability to see someone as a non-person. We must see others as less than us before we pull a trigger, or swing a bludgeon.
But what of the bludgeon of the heart when we make it clear to another that we value them less than ourselves? Truly our own heart dies a bit when another clearly expresses that we do not matter. It does not begin with a gunshot. It begins with an offense and our tendency to demonize someone we do not take the time to know or consider. It begins when they pull out in front of us, or take our parking space. Contempt. We diminish their personhood. And when we do, we diminish our own hearts.
Respect is a wealth that cannot be taken away from you. It is an awareness that attributes value and worth to others, because you take the time to see, or at least believe that they are created in the image of the same God as you.
Perhaps this is the greatest loss that our culture is enduring. We no longer have meaningful dialogue, we just shred another’s soul if they do not think like me. The comment strings on blogs (Christian blogs may be the worst) are one of the most damning indicators of the erosion of respect. These, alongside the linguistic assaults of our political process seem to be the barometer of the murderous hearts our nation has come to cultivate.
Consider that each man or woman has a story. Consider that the disrespect handed you is part of an epidemic that each of us must take the responsibility to stop. Consider exchanging your offense for empathy and your judgments for the opportunity to see through new eyes.
Let the next car in, instead of grudgingly demanding your right to that 30 feet of concrete. Ask God to show you the value in all things He created. You can respect the environment without becoming a weirdo. Parents rather than demanding respect from your children, model it by first respecting them. This is a position of strength not weakness.
Regaining respect in your own soul will bring you more peace than you realize. Regaining respect in our culture could change everything.
3. Conversation: Conversation is far more than a verbal exchange. It is an exchange of ideas, perspectives, and a sharing of the richness that is deposited in each of us.
If U don’t have time 2 talk, consider U may B losing 2 much connection.
Again at the risk of sounding like an old guy on a rocking chair on a porch (which is a great place for conversation by the way) I am not trying to cure the ills of social media, or protest against every form of convenient communication.
What I would say, however, is that when those convenient exchanges become an ongoing substitute for real face to face, eye-contact-full communication we lose the building blocks of human relatedness.
Meals are fast. Twitter is faster. A facebook status and a reply are a nice touchstone, but they are not contact. Communication research says that words are less than ten percent of what makes up human communication. Tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, touch, volume, pacing, proximity; all these things make up the human aspect of commune-icating.
If you have ever tried to resolve a personal conflict via e-mail, you recognize (I hope) the deep limitations of semi-communication.
Stand or sit, without a time limit. Or at least with more than an hour. Have enough time and tolerance to chase a few rabbit-trails. While it is good to be able to stay focused, it is wonderful when someone truly enjoys the story that arises from an unhurried pace. Breathing slows down, and barriers lower. Hearts have time to connect, and the exchange reaches beyond the necessary data.
Verbal exchanges in hallways, and rushed meals may have their place, but do not assume you have had a full-fledged human connection, and do not underestimate the vital building block of the human soul that exists only in the real connection that happens when two or more people take the time to exchange the reality that exists within them. As my good friend Phil Buchanan says “People Last Forever”. As I say, data fades quickly.
My daughter and her friends occasionally stack all of their cellphones in the middle of the table. Whoever reaches for their phone first has to pay for the meal. Real conversation is too frequently interrupted by the many “necessary contacts” that flow through our phones all day long.
The convenience of a free flow of data, may supercede a sustained connection and starve our souls slowly.
Put your phone down. Look your friend in the eye. Ask yourself what is going on in those eyes, and then set about to discover. Fight the urge to pick up the phone, and stay connected past the point that feels comfortable. We are losing this most valuable resource, even though it is unlimited.
People Last Forever.
4. Letters: What? Letters? You mean paper letters, with envelopes and stamps? Yep, I do. For a variety of reasons, I am aware that about the only people that get letters any more are residents of our prison system. Ironic isn’t it?
Why would I want to give back letter writing to our culture? This one may be more symptom than source, but it used to be our only way to communicate across distances and time. Today distances are more than geographic. It is a sad joke that we all walk past tables full of people looking at phones and not each other. Someone will ask the question, “are you texting each other?” and laughter ensues. Then we all go back to looking at our phones. Distance.
How much thought goes into writing a letter, finding an envelope and a stamp and then mailing it? All of the previous gifts, thought, respect, conversation, are encapsulated in the simple act of writing (and mailing) a paper letter.
I haven’t done it in years. Maybe not since my father passed away. He was in prison.
I think I will write a letter. Maybe two. With real and substantial content.
5. Modesty: Modesty is a topic which many of my friends and fellow bloggers have discussed this year. Sadly modesty as a conversation is often reduced to rules about showing skin, or not. Let’s dive at least a bit deeper than that shall we?
As a counselor for sixteen years, I made a clear distinction between topics that belonged behind the closed door of my office, and the open public forum of say, a lunch table at a restaurant, or a simple conversation that did not involve a client. Some things simply belong behind closed doors, out of respect (There is that word again) for people both behind the door, and the people in the public forum.
Aren’t you glad when a marriage counselor doesn’t discuss a couple’s sex life at the dinner party that evening? Both the couple and the party guests would feel violated by such a discussion.
The problem is, if you are violated enough times you develop a tolerance for it. Our culture has opened the door to a level of sexualization to which we are entirely desensitized.
I am not a prude. I am part of a team who is trying to restore a healthy sexual dialogue to the mainstream church. For too long we have not taught or discussed sexuality in healthy ways. In the vacuum of healthy discussion, any and all discussion seems to arise and be welcomed.
Things that would have never been considered are now defended as free speech and educational opportunities. You and I have both read of the extremes that have happened in a handful of college settings where actual sex acts are watched by students and performed or sanctioned by pseudo-educators. Pornography flourishes in a culture where we assume “free sexual expression” means that anything is allowed.
As with any freedom that is mis-defined, the holy has become profane, and that which is rare and beautiful has been “promoted” to the standard of “common”.
There is a vast difference between healthy understanding and conversation about sex and sexuality, and an unbridled access to every view and variation of actual sexual activity and stimulus.
What our culture would have once not allowed, we now defend in the name of freedom and tolerance. The sexualization of our thinking is expressed at so many levels that we do not even see them any more. To begin to name the various aspects of this sexualization, promotes a case by case defense of this act, or that standard, and a polarization between the two sides.
When can we simply say that each individual circumstance, law, or social norm is part of a larger social drift, that is becoming a tsunami. Can we as a culture say that some things while normal and natural do not belong as a part of our dinner conversation, advertising campaigns, or next years political agenda? And can we say that some things that are normal and natural in one context, are not normal and not natural in another?
At what point in that dialogue does the machinery of our culture turn on us to protect the drift, and keep pushing us further and further into sacrificing our families and children and eventually our culture on the altar of free sexual expression?
I would simply like to give back to us the gift of modesty. Not a standard of appropriate dress, but a standard where human intimacy is actually intimate, and we actually value maintaining certain aspects of our lives and bodies only for those relationships for which intimacy is intended. I would like to give us back the gift of modesty that says I share different aspects of myself with people in different ways, in direct correlation to the level of relationship and intimacy that has developed between us.
For days now I have thought of what impact it might have to give back to our culture gifts of thinking and respect, of deep connection and protection of our intimate selves. How might it change the decay of our nation if we intentionally turn the course of human value and values? I know it is wishful thinking. But I value God’s image in you enough to wish.