Racism is the killer of the will. Be willing.

America has had a tough week. Never mind that MLK was an American. Never mind that we went from segregated schools and “colored” bathrooms in the 1950s to electing an African-American President roughly 2 generations later. Charlottesville is where we are now. And where we are now doesn’t look very good.

The enemies of the will are walking about.

The will: it’s¬†a posture, an attitude, a way of living. A willing¬†person¬†takes life as it comes and doesn’t keep count of what they deserve, or whether they’ve gotten a fair shake. A¬†willing¬†person looks at the hand they’ve been dealt and fights tooth and nail to turn it into a winning hand because they know the alternative is not acceptable. People are counting on them.¬†Life¬†is precious. And every minute they spend being un-willing is a minute not truly living.

So what does it mean to be un-willing?

Bitterness.

Bitterness is that ultimate killer of the will. Bitterness says, “I’ve got a bargaining chip in the game of one-upmanship, and the only way it’ll be taken from me is if it’s pried from my cold, lifeless hands.” The thing is, every moment we hold onto that chip, our hands get a little bit colder and less lively.

When have we seen bitterness this week?¬†If the photo of the crowd of men carrying tiki torches is not an example of mass bitterness, then I don’t know what is. That image is an incarnation of bitterness, a terrible visual representation of the attitude that grasps for bargaining chips in every imaginable nook and cranny of this life, and spreads its sickness wherever it goes. That attitude does not help create a healthy society.

Dishonesty.

Honesty is the ultimate ally of the willing; it’s opposite is present wherever bitterness thrives. Dishonesty enables us to create fictions that venerate us and our kind, and to spread lies against an enemy that in reality does not have the power to harm us.

What has been dishonest? We, the members of the majority culture, have been caught up in a seemingly benign dishonesty for decades, that has allowed us to think we can save face, and avoid the consequences of our history of sins against the minorities living among us.

Willing¬†people don’t back down from the truth because they know they can’t. The truth is just another part of life that they take by the horns, just like everything else. But they take it because they know that if they can face their history, they will not be doomed to repeat it.

Fear.

Fear is the enemy that dooms us to inaction. It takes our dishonesty and bitterness and uses them to encase us and cement us down — ensuring that no matter how bad our situation becomes, then one thing we will never, ever do is¬†change.¬†

Where is fear?¬†Fear is the barrier that keeps us from seeing past¬†the next step. Fear prevents us from seeing that living people are more important than stone and metal, and that another type of will —¬†good will¬†— at times is more valuable than the gold domes in our capitols. It paralyzes and prevents the chance of a step in the right direction.

Be willing.

Honesty, courage, and action — those are the¬†allies¬†of the willing. Those are the things that we need now, more than a statue, more than a carving. Regardless of how we got here, this is where we are. Individually, we’ve got to find the will to let go of the things that hold us back, and take hold of a future that will bring people together.

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3 Questions To Ask When Watching the News

Sit down. Turn on the tv (or the tele for you non US). Flip over to CNN, Fox, or BBC. Listen to their account of current events.

Pick up your phone. Open Facebook, tap on this article and that, and read about how the President is corrupt or good, or how our society has forgotten this or that custom, or whatever.

Sit in the car and turn the radio dial to the “news” station. Listen to traffic reports, headlines, and some talk show that you mostly agree with.

I bet¬†that these are the main ways in which we follow what we call “news”.

Here’s the problem: Good things in life require that we go out and get them. Why should we think any differently about news?

What’s the goal in watching the news? How do we resist being¬†tossed about amid the various winds of what we perceive to be current events?

Things to consider:

  1. Things portrayed on the news programs as important are often insignificant in relation to the myriad of other things happening in this world.
  2. Stories we are shown on such programs may shrink our perspective on the world, instead of expanding it.
  3. We sometimes forget to distinguish between facts and opinion in the channels we follow, and we end up taking on opinions of others without realizing it.

3 good questions to ask

  1. What are they NOT saying? What is the reporter, writer, or news network trying to communicate with their coverage of this story? Can we see an agenda behind their reporting, or are they simply reporting pure facts? People rarely report events without some basic agenda that they are trying to advance. Having an agenda in itself is not bad, but we run the risk of being manipulated if we are unaware of them.
  2. Is this really worthy of my time? I believe stories about Ryan Lochte’s escapades, for example, are inconsequential and unworthy of our time. However, most of CNN‚Äôs broadcast in the closing days of the Olympics was devoted to this story. When the news becomes a soap opera, don‚Äôt complain ‚ÄĒ just turn it off.
  3. Does this make me better? Many times, we take in stories gossip and conflict, and we are no better informed about the world than we were before. Many stories are in fact distractions, taking our limited time and energy away from the things on which they should be focused.

What then do we do?

As I said before,¬†if something is important, we’ve got to go get it. I think that information¬†is the same way. Rather than an end in itself, the news¬†should be thought of as part of the means by which we journey toward truth. So, perhaps, as we watch the news that does come in front of us, we ought to ask ourselves, does this help me grasp the truth of what is happening in the world around me?

Here are some stories that may help:

Over 100 Children Among 338 Killed in Aleppo Attacks This Week, W.H.O. Says 

Many of us seem to have forgotten, or at least lost our concern for, the civil war that still rages in Syria. Just days after things were supposedly dying down, the country continues to be torn apart by war.

 

ISIS Crucifies 11 Christian Missionaries, Cuts Fingertips Off 12-Y-O in Front of Preacher-Father Before Killing Them

Christians are still being tortured and killed in areas controlled by ISIS, an area that has not seen peace in a long time.

 

After Hurricane Matthew, Devastation in Southern Haiti

While Americans get back to business after the hurricane, people in Haiti are devastated. We ought to ask many questions; Haitians have endured much suffering over the decades.

 

Bosnian Elections A Triumph For Nationalist Parties

Unfortunately, nationalism still prevails in many Eastern European nations, which stifles the economy and keeps people from working together.

 

Thousands Fasting After Russian President Putin Signs Law Banning Evangelism Outside of Churches

Many of my friends have been nervous about this situation in particular.

You always put more into life than you get out. Thoughts on willingness.

I’ve written before about this idea of willingness.¬†

We remember when we meet people who are willing. They are rare. Most of us wouldn’t be characterized as willing.¬†

It’s easier in this case to define willingness by describing what it is not. Willingness is not the attitude that one ought to get what one deserves out of life. It is not the attitude that, if things don’t go according to plan, then the world is against us.¬†

Willingness is an understanding that the world is not made for me, and that the unfolding of events often has very little to do me personally. Willingness is an understanding that what one “gets” out of life often has little connection to the amount of effort one invests into it. It is an awareness that inconvenient or unfortunate circumstances do not entitle one to have a poor attitude toward others or the future.

A double sided slippery slope

Psalm 51 was written in the wake of great sin and deceit on the part of the author, King David. David was caught and brought to justice. Many of us have been in similar dark situations, publicly embarrassed by sin being brought into the light.

In those situations, shame¬†is the enemy that steals a willing spirit. It is the fear of presenting one’s true self to others out of a false belief that “good” people are flawless. It is the false belief that by doing “good” things one can make oneself more worthy of love and purpose, and that “bad” actions make one less worthy.

Our defences go up, and we immediately start comparing ourselves to others, trying to find justification for our existence. We go¬†forward prickly and averse, forgetting¬†that our worth is not earned, but intrinsic. Goodness has no connection to flawlessness — it’s honesty, not some misunderstood goodness, that we should be reaching for.

The other side of the slope

We usually see unwillingness playing out in another way. We see the ways in which we have been wronged. We look at our investment returning void, and we react with animosity toward the world around us. We feel that we are owed, and we greet life with an unwilling spirit because we feel we are entitled to a poor attitude. 

It’s interesting that we often seem to see the balance as being in our favor. We often seem to think that we’ve put in more than we’ve gotten out.

But if we recognize that we are not perfect, then is it possible that we are biased in our understanding of¬†our level of “investment”? Perhaps entitlement and shame are actually cut from the same cloth.

Self-sufficiency. Is a lie.

Underneath all of this animosity and unwillingness that we often encounter (surely, only in¬†other¬†people) lies an attitude of unhealthy self-reliance. We believe that we have everything we need, within us, to be all that we are meant to be. We just need to try harder, be better, and tap into what we are supposed to be doing. But the trouble with that is that it’s not true either.

The truth is that none of us is self-sufficient, and the more we believe we are, the more we stuff our shame down and trump up our own accomplishments, believing that through our actions we can increase our worth. Only by accepting the truth — that we are dependent beings, in need of¬†grace and relationships¬†— can we begin to embrace life with the willingness that we were meant to have.

Accepting the truth is difficult, but it is necessary, and it is accepted incrementally over time. No one accepts this all at once, but I think truth is the key to becoming someone who is willing.

I don’t know that I am yet, but I want to be willing.

 

Your Happiness Depends on You

I don’t have a lot to be happy about this week. After two days of driving around the country on a work trip, my car broke down. What’s worse, I was unable to make it back to my home, had to stay an extra night on the road, and had to leave the car 100 kilometers away at a mechanic in Sarajevo. In addition, I have to drive my mother-in-law to the airport tomorrow, 200 kilometers in the other direction, and I will have to try and borrow a car. The baby keeps waking up in the night, my daughter refuses to use the potty, and my son refuses to keep his Legos in his room and off the living room floor. 

Sometimes it seems life is just a series of crises that flow one into another, producing nothing especially memorable, but obscuring memories of anything else. 

Willing Makes Us Happy

A while back I wrote about the idea of being willing. There are people who have very difficult lives, and some of those people, through all the difficulty, become inspirational people. I haven’t solved any great mysteries of life, but I have a theory: the reason these people are attractive is that they are willing. 

Out of your control

I must be willing. What does that mean? It means that, whatever one faces, be it hard or easy, that person willingly takes it in. The situations that are out of one’s control,  that come without warning, and leave us wondering about the meaning of life — everything is faced with a willing spirit. 

Willingness does not imply approval. Willingness is not approval. Being willing doesn’t mean you approve. I hope I made that clear. 

When I see willing people, I don’t see people who live lives of happiness in every situation. I don’t believe anyone approves of all the things that happen to them. In fact, I see real sadness. I see real regret. But in the midst of the mud, I think the thing that makes these people attractive is that they trudge on, and face this sadness and disappointment  willingly — they acknowledge its existence and respond appropriately. 

You Have to Love the Truth 

There is a mentally ill man who lives in my neighborhood. I see him almost every day. And every day, he tells me, “I’m not crazy.” 

One of the hallmarks of mental illness is that those who have it are unaware of their condition. They must be made aware. But then, after being made aware, only a few are brave enough to acknowledge it and respond appropriately. 

There is something about this facing the darkness and acknowledging its existence. One doesn’t have to be insane. There are plenty of other things in life that we are unwilling to face.

Usually, I think people just attempt to act as if the darkness in their lives doesn’t exist. I know that because  that’s what I do. It’s like the crazy man, telling everybody, “I’m not crazy.”

The difference between facing the darkness and hiding it is the difference between willing and being unwilling. It is the difference between having true joy and being joyless. 

So be willing, then. 

You know, there aren’t that many people who are willing in the way that I have described. One reason is probably that you can’t make someone willing. There is nothing on earth that anyone else can do to make me into a willing person. The will is something that is inside of oneself, separate from prescriptive statements and maxims, not free from influence, but separate nonetheless. 

Quit depending on others 

Everyone knows someone who blames their circumstances for their lack of happiness. Lots of people do that. And I’m afraid that a lot of the time, I might be one of those people. 

And somewhere at the base of all this is a simple decision — I will be willing. 

The problem is, underneath that one decision is a paradigm that is hard to swallow. 

I will love the truth more than fantasy. 

I will accept things that are true. 

I will do something — and not do nothing — about that which is true. 

I will not deceive others into thinking better of me. 

I will not deceive myself. 

I believe these are some pillars of willingness. It is probably unfair, then, to imply that the result of willingness is happiness. 

Happiness may, after all, be an insignificant goal.