When the Talking Heads Get Too Loud

“Forget cocaine or heroin, there is no drug more dangerous than being right.” – pastor Jonathan Martin.

Louder.

The world that we live in can get pretty loud. Everyone has an opinion and a burning desire to share it. Politics, religion, family structure, the environment, race, taxes. These are heavy topics that will have emotion packed behind the words used to articulate feelings on them. It seems more and more, there’s a call to put more emotion into our words we use to disagree with others on these and other topics. The internet has surely made this worse, adding a layer of anonymity to further distance us from the power our words can wield. The call to mix anger with our opinion is strong. And the talking heads around us have become very loud. They drone on in concert, like angry war drums.

Louder.

I’m not sure we are even aware of the polarizing effects that culture has on us in the moment. It’s pretty easy to get carried away into the stream of insults, claims, and boasts. Goodness knows that I’ve let myself fall into that mindset. If I can just tell you what I’m saying loud enough, you’ll agree with me. If I’m louder, surely I must be right. And being right feels so good.

Forget cocaine or heroin, there is no drug more dangerous than being right.” – pastor Jonathan Martin.

Louder.

Isn’t that the truth? In an argument, we’ll forgo the idea of getting our point across and aim more squarely at getting the other person to submit to our correctness. Power and not peace becomes the point of the conversation. It’s not enough to be heard and understood, but they must admit that we were right. And if they won’t do it, then we’ll find others that agree with us and rile each other up with the mantras we share.

Louder.

Confrontation can be healthy and lead to a resolution. But discourse seems to rarely lead to that any longer. Our current political climate encourages using a heavy hand when entering into any debate on stance and policy. The war drums want more than polite discussion. They demand us to be loud.

Louder.

And we want so badly to be right. We need it. If it sounds like we’re losing the argument, we’ll change it to avoid the weight of being wrong. And we’ll align our views with those closest to us and join in on the chanting.

The quickest way to find common ground with someone else is by listening. Not just pausing while grasping for spaces to make counterpoints. Society has little time for something so passive. How counter intuitive it must sound to so many. But that’s where we need to start. I have a few ideas on what to do when the talking heads get too loud.

  • Start by listening. There’s already enough noise going around. There are times to speak up for what you believe. But try listening before you do anything else. You don’t have to have a take on every topic.

  • Pause and consider. While you’re listening, you might hear something you don’t like. It can be easy to write it off as someone hating or being argumentative. But just because someone says something you disagree with, that doesn’t make it wrong.

  • Don’t trust your opinion too much. If the other person has space to not be wrong, that creates room for you to not be right. That’s actually a freeing thing to not have to trust our own judgment to be perfect. Trust in the things you know, realize the rest is just your opinion, man.

  • Think about how you sound. You might be completely right. The other guy might be totally in the wrong. But he’s not going to listen when you’re badgering him and attacking his character. People don’t respond well to hate.

  • Know that there’s almost always some middle ground. Okay, you’re right. And you’re even being nice in the way you discuss it. But the other guy still isn’t buying it. The thing is, there’s basically always room for both sides to have some ground to stand on. They might be coming from a good place too. Rarely is a situation black and white. Be okay with exploring the nuance.

I get it. It’s not easy. I can be pretty difficult and cling tightly to my own perspective of correctness. But that’s what it really is, my perspective. And perspective changes everything.

A Legacy of Love

Legacy isn’t really a thing I’ve lived most of my life concerned with. I spent the majority of my days content to simply dwell on daily pleasures. And there is definitely merit in learning to enjoy the moment. I just found myself too often caught up in it, unable to look ahead. But the steps in my daily walk have ripples beyond what I can immediately see. I am now more aware of that. But it’s tough to tell what kind of impact your actions will have without the benefit of hindsight. ​I think it’s often right after loss we come the closest to fully realizing the personal legacy others leave behind. It’s sad that it can take a broken relationship, a friend moving away, or the death of a loved one before you can come closer to framing what they mean to you. It’s not like we’re not aware of loving the person, but that shock of the loss has us thinking about all the small and large ways in which they actually changed our lives. I’ve had several opportunities to experience that and I bet you probably have too.

 ​Recently I attended the visitation for one of our church elders. Ron Wagoner had been ill for a while but it was still a surprise to hear of his passing. I drove alone and sat out in my car for a moment before entering the building. My grandmother’s passing was the last time I’d been to something like this. And it was a very emotionally tough time. Immediately I noticed a different feel than other visitations and funerals I’ve been to. It wasn’t a party but did not feel like a somber event. I filed in the line that snaked around and out from the main room and into the entryway with a few friends from church. There were pictures posted by the door, celebrating the life of a good man. The line bent and curved near itself over and over, so I was always close to several others I didn’t know. People who had been impacted by Ron.

 ​What I overheard aligned with what I knew of him. He and his wife Brenda would always take time to invest in my life. They made to sure that I was okay, wanted to know how my sister was. Ron was a man who was always ready to help. A man who carried a great faith. A man who cared. I was in line with people who I shared a connection with because of his and his wife’s love. It took well over an hour to get to the front of that line to hug Brenda. There are never any good words to impart to someone dealing with that kind of loss. And I didn’t have to try and come up with something. Brenda made sure to pour into me and comfort me that day. She told me how good life was because she’d married a man who loved God. She told me to make sure I’d find someone who does the same. I noticed that the people after me got the same treatment. They’d arrive, looking to comfort her, instead they were lifted up by her words. It was pretty powerful.

 That night has weighed on my mind since then. The idea of living and leaving life with a legacy of love. That possibly living in a way that stores up treasures in heaven still leaves a big impact here on earth. I want to live in a way that builds others up. Even after I’m gone.

The importance of mentors

I was only thirteen when my father died. 

Old enough to have memories of him, still too young to have a wealth of time invested. On that day, I remember an anger I had no idea what to do with. Or at least that’s what the emotional roller coaster I was captive on usually settled on.

I honestly don’t recall a lot about myself before the day he passed away. 

I do remember spending nearly every recess period made available to me proving to others that I could run faster than them. Except the girls. I would bet them that they couldn’t catch up to me and kiss me. I’d then somehow run out of steam just behind the big tree where the teachers couldn’t see. I feel like that trick must’ve worked a hundred times. The actual number is probably far smaller.

I do remember hanging around in my backyard, probably saving the world as I climbed all over our swing set, listening to Adventures in Odyssey on my little portable radio. I’m certain that I struck fear into any would be invader with the way I’d come flying out of the slide with an impressive array of kicks and punches towards imaginary foes.

I remember being able to read bigger words faster, and with better comprehension, than pretty much every other kid. Which made me pretty successful when it came to Pizza Hut’s Book It Program. The only problem was that somehow my younger self didn’t care for pizza. I have no idea what I was thinking. My mother didn’t complain. I got to read, she got free pizza.

One thing I’ll always remember from right after my dad died was what my Grandpa Reed said to me. He was sitting in my dad’s chair by the front door when he told me that, “you’re the man of the house now.” I’m not sure that I even replied to that. I do know that those words were sharp. I remember being swiftly angry at the idea, then a weird feeling that may have been the concern of it being true weighing on me. How could I accept this role? And even if I could, what would that even mean?

I didn’t ever bring up what he’d said to me around anyone else for a long time. But as I look back, I know that it affected me. Seeing myself now as a man while barely a teenager, I had to stick to what I thought I knew. Because if the rules I knew weren’t true, then I had nothing else to hold on to. That part of my identity was fragile. Without my dad around, I didn’t have a lot of up close examples of what it meant to truly be a man. And with that, not a lot of intimate knowledge on how to be the other roles a man should be. A big brother. A friend. An uncle. A loving husband.

There are many, many ways in which I’ve failed at all of those roles at different times. And I’m learning more and more that my previous views on exactly what failing meant need a lot of updating. Because I’ve failed in large and small ways. But I’m not really aiming at listing all the ways in which I’ve gone wrong. Or even to explain away my mistakes as anything other than being the fault of my own. Instead this post is more just me sifting through a mix of emotions swirling in me, though this time for a different reason than that day so many years ago. 

Over the years it’s become apparent as I’ve learned to be open to seeing it, that God did grace my life with men who could speak life into me. Men who had valuable lessons to teach me about what being a man really means. About grace, forgiveness, temperance, kindness, and love. Sometimes it’s still pretty hard for me to even accept that I could use some help, let alone absorb the lessons. But I’m grateful that even my stubbornness doesn’t always outpace the lesson as it comes my way. I am more certain now that there’s so much I’m uncertain about. I am glad for that perspective. That uncertainty looms large as I now continue in this life without one of the men who has meant more to me than I’d ever really known how to say, not being a part of it any longer.

This part should be the whole point and yet this is the part that I have no idea how to write. The prevailing feeling is probably one of confusion. But spikes of uglier stuff are there too. Even an excited curiosity for the future and joy for the good fortune for a loved one are both mixed in there. Eventually, I know that these things will come into focus, and I will know that God uses all things for my good.

I am more equipped to handle rough patches now. I’m not sure that I could quite call myself content through all circumstances but I can at least see where Paul is coming from.  Still, unlike the younger versions of myself, I’m well aware of the benefits of growing in knowledge and wisdom. I seek out ways to improve by gathering insight from those farther along than I am. And right now I can’t help but lament losing a close relationship with someone who wanted to see that same growth in me. I do desire someone who could check me when I need it, or pray with me, or just show me how love is lived. But it’s not something I just toss an ad out for on Craigslist. And I’m not really sure the best way to find that.

But if there is one thing I’ve learned from the long term and short term mentors I’ve had, it’s that my Father is always there with me. I guess I’m now just praying He’ll send someone along to make it a little easier. Sometimes I feel like I’m still just that scared thirteen year old, facing life’s problems headlong without any real shot at taking them on myself.

I’m going to fill my jar.

Sometime late last year I saw a picture of on Facebook of gratitude jar. It was a pretty simple idea; just a glass jar filled with little slips of paper, each of those slips containing something worth being thankful for. I’ve never really done anything quite like that but writing down good things that happened for the sake of remembering seemed like something worth doing. So I went to Hobby Lobby and got my jar, 2015 was going to be the year that I would wake each day more aware of the blessings in my life.

And then as it does, life got in the way. Oh, I tossed in a few notes in here and there. And I was happy to not be able to see the bottom of the jar any longer. It that made me feel like I was really doing something good. Soon, I’d go a few days without putting anything into the jar. And then a few weeks. Something that seemed like a pretty good idea when I started now was just a nagging reminder every time I passed it. When I stopped filling my physical jar of gratitude, I think I also stopped filling my internal jar. And when that jar isn’t being filled, when I’m not living a life of gratitude, my attitude changes. I think the main goal of that Facebook post was to help approach each day from a grateful perspective. Through that lens, I can see that things aren’t always as bad as I think on the rough days and I can savor the good days even more. It reminds me of a quote I really like,  ‘It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy’.

And I guess I could finish the rest of this year at that same clip. Writing something down when it’s really awesome. The kind of thing I’d want to tell others about or just a personal moment worthy of fireworks, filling the jar with tweetable moments only. Or I could force myself to put pen to paper just to fulfill the commitment.  But neither of these ideas keep in line with the original ideal behind this. So I’m going to take a few moments to remind myself of a few things that should be in that jar. And maybe come out the other side with a better perspective.

First, I’m thankful for the church family I’m a part of. There have been a lot of changes in the last year at Christway but I’m blessed to be journeying with some pretty awesome people there. It wasn‘t that long ago that the idea of a bible study seemed like something I’d only find the time to make a good excuse not to attend. Now I spend time with guys who’re concerned not just with how work is or what I thought of the game, but honestly concerned with my spiritual growth.  Sunday lunches and being reminded to stay away from the pretzels have been pretty great with Rudy, Ryan, and Deli.

I’m also pretty lucky to have a few friends outside of my church family who’ve been great for me too. Countless rounds of both Catan and disc golf or just talking the latest sports headlines are how Cory, Peck, Jordan and Shawn and I spend leisure time. But it’s good to know that these are good dudes who are willing to lend a hand any time, whether I’m ready to say I need it or not.

I’m grateful for a family that has always loved me even when I wasn’t very lovable. 

I’m pretty blessed to be at a job that’s been steady for such a long time. I know a lot of places have had to downsize the work force and I’m thankful that I haven’t had even that threat. I’m not in a place of great wealth, but I can pay my bills.

For a little over a year now I’ve been lucky enough to be dating a wonderful woman. Amber is a great encourager and best friend. She builds me up and makes me feel cared for. She hopes great things for me and lets me know how I can show care better. She’s an incredible woman and I’m lucky to have her in my life.

Even just reading back through the few things I’ve gone over here put me in a better place. And that doesn’t begin to cover the things I should be thankful for. I think thankfulness flows into more thankfulness. I just need a reminder from time to time.

I’m sorry isn’t always easy, but always worth it

I sometimes find it fun to think about what kind of tattoo I would get if I ever decided to get one. If I had the real estate on my bicep, I think an eagle and a lion entangled in a lightsaber duel might make for a pretty sweet conversation piece. In all honesty though, there aren’t a lot of things I could envision myself feeling that ardently about forever. That’s a huge commitment. So I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon. If I did ever lose a bet or something and had to get one, maybe the idea bet would be getting ‘apologize’ some place I would constantly see it.

There are many reasons that being apologetic is the right thing. Earnestly seeking reconciliation makes things easier in the long run and eases things for healthier relationships. It’s this kind of attitude that helps us live in better harmony with ourselves, others, and God. I believe this is most clearly shown what God thinks of it biblically in the New Testament, Matthew 5:23-24. Reading that verse recently, God really hit me with the weight of that. Holding onto a disagreement or resentment, or just generally not getting something settled with someone else is pretty serious. He doesn’t even want us to approach Him before we address it! Man, if we’re called not to worry but to call out to our Father about everything, that means settling things is a big deal.

When Jesus illustrated his idea of forgiveness to Peter with the parable of the unforgiving unforgiving servant, he made it pretty clear that we should be up front about admitting our faults, that we should be forgiving of others as He has forgiven us. It’s selfish to think of ourselves worthy of that forgiveness but that others aren’t. And when it’s us who needs forgiveness? Well, we should approach humbly. God forgives willingly. When it comes to others we’ve wronged, that may not always be the case.

Sometimes coming to someone else to apologize isn’t because we think they’re completely right in the situation, it might just show that we value the relationship highly. In fact, most of the time culpability can be shared to some degree. In keeping a bitter heart towards someone over something, we fall into a line of thinking that is self damaging. I’ve heard it said many times that holding resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. You staying angry will likely not affect them and certainly won’t help you. Admitting to your fault may not lead to reconciliation. The other person may choose not to forgive you. That’s entirely up to them. But it’s up to them whether or not you care for that relationship by doing that. I need to make sure to swallow my pride and step up to apologize. Being apologetic looks better on me than my pride does.

Lastly, apologizing is good for us. Sometimes we’re not afforded the opportunity to apologize in person, sometimes not at all. But instead of clinging to the reasons why we justified our selfish actions in the first place, harboring a hard heart, we need to be introspective and find what we can change. And apologizing is nearly always the right first step. When things start to go wrong, I’m big on finding the next right step. Releasing our imaginary hold on things that we don’t actually control is always a good step. No, we may not be able to find the acceptance of forgiveness that we’re seeking. But we will always find a clearer conscience by doing it. A lighter load is a pretty sweet reward for doing the right thing anyway. It makes it easier to forgive someone else because we know the kind of humility it takes to approach with a an apologetic mindset. Maybe that is something worth getting a tattoo as a reminder.