Posts Tagged ‘contentment

06
Jan
22

It’s An Outrage!

The other day I heard someone say (or perhaps they posted it on a social media platform), “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

The implication here is that the goal of awake, alert people should be to ascend to a state of perpetual outrage as we observe events unfolding around us.  

And personally, I am outraged at that suggestion.

I mean, yes, there are very important and noteworthy things going on in the world. Yes, there are bad actors perpetrating grief and misery upon innocent victims every day. Yes, there are catastrophic weather events taking place here, there, and everywhere. Yes, there is disease, famine, poverty, addiction, greed, war, and environmental degradation sweeping across the face of our planet. 

And yes, I am concerned about every one of those things. 

But I really, truly resent the efforts of you Controllers of the Public Discourse who seek to whip me up into a never-ending state of outraged frenzy about it. 

For example, is it really necessary to begin EVERY SINGLE nightly national news broadcast with the breathless incantation, “Breaking news tonight…”, followed by an overly dramatized report of something I found out about six hours ago?

Of course, news is a business. Social media is ALSO a business. As such, these businesses succeed or fail based on how many eyeballs are watching and how many ears are listening. And the Head Honchos of these businesses know that eyes and ears aren’t drawn to them by calm, matter-of-fact descriptions of important events. 

Oh no. 

They know that eyes and ears are only drawn in by LOUD, BOMBASTIC declarations of DIRE EMERGENCY!!

And when you and I fall for this trick by choosing to walk around in an uninterrupted state of OUTRAGE, we only ensure a future of LOUDER and MORE BOMBASTIC declarations of dire emergency from the people holding the megaphones. 

And perish the thought of ever leading with a story about the overflowing milk of human kindness, decency, and compassion. No, those are the stories reserved for the last 45 seconds of the Nightly News. 

So, what are we to do? How do we straddle the divide between the call to be INFORMED while resisting the call to become OUTRAGED?

Let me say first that I don’t believe OUTRAGE is always misplaced. Outrage is the appropriate response to an outrageous event. Outrage is also the thing that spurs us to get up off our tooshies and ACT! 

Ginned-up outrage, however, only serves to hike up our blood pressure and feed the click counters of the Media Masters. 

First, we must figure out how to be thoughtful about our outrage. And before you say it, I will confess I recognize the fact that this advice is much easier SPOKEN than ACTED. Most of the time my outrage is quick… emotion-based… explosive. I get outraged because I have NOT been thoughtful or reflective. In those times I make myself an easy target for the click-bait headlines that start with phrases like, “You Won’t Believe What ___________ Just Did!” 

When we digest the events of the day, it might be good to ask questions like, “What is really at stake here?” or “Who benefits most by my outrage?” or “What good does it do for me to blow my top about this?”

Next, if we have a hard time moderating our reactions to the world around us, it might be great to declare a News Fast. You might decide to make it for 24 hours, a week, a month, or an undetermined period. Make it just like the time you swore of chocolate, booze, or red meat, only better. 

Ultimately, the lesson we should all learn is the lesson of the exiled Israelites from 586 (or so) BCE. Faced with an endless stream of failure, frustration, fiasco, flood, fire, and famine, they were at the end of their collective rope. They had perhaps greater reason to be outraged than any group of people before or since. They were supposed to be God’s Chosen People and yet, here they sat… exiled in a foreign land. 

Just when their fists were weary from being shaken so vigorously at the sky, God spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah and said, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NRSV).

Yes. Things fall apart. Plans backfire. People do stupid stuff. Outrageous events happen all around us. But in the middle of it all, God reminds us to hold out for a better day ahead.

Abundant blessings;

08
Mar
21

A Moment That Lingers…

This morning, while I was out walking Patrick the dog, a runner passed by. Despite temperatures in the high 30s, the guy was wearing a pair of grey running shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.

His strides were long and effortless. His breaths were slow and even, producing white clouds of vapor. He did not seem to be exerting much effort at all, and yet his figure grew smaller and smaller as he disappeared down the road ahead. 

Here where we live, we see a LOT of people out running.

Remember?” my mind asked. “Remember the days when that was you… back before your knees went bad and your back went out? Remember the way you once glided over the neighborhood streets at 6:00 in the morning, keeping a steady rhythm, avoiding potholes, all while working up a righteous, glistening sweat?”

Remember?” And then, “I bet that could be you again, no problem.”

And for a fleeting moment, it seems like a reasonable proposition. I mean heck, there are plenty of people my age who are still strapping on the trainers and hitting the bricks on a regular basis. Shouldn’t I also be able to?

But then I remember my knees. I remember my back. I remember my age. And I remember how, toward the end, I really came to despise running as a form of exercise.

That’s quite OK,” I tell my overactive imagination. “I am – or at least should be – content to applaud that man’s effort and confine my energies to forms of exercise more suited to my station in life.” 

I continued, “Besides, I have nothing to prove to anyone. The goal of running a marathon no longer appeals to me or torments my dreams. Preventive maintenance is my program these days. Just let me get Patrick around the rest of this block so I can get home and start brewing the morning’s coffee, OK?”

Sometimes it is hard to accept the turning of yet another one of life’s pages. Sometimes I allow myself to be seduced by the siren’s song of Eternal Youth… [aided and abetted in no small part by Mr. Tom Brady winning another Super Bowl at the age of 43.]

“IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN DO IT!” the athletic shoe marketers cry. “AGE IS ONLY A NUMBER!”

And while I agree with the general idea of staying active in body, mind, and spirit, I am also a tremendous advocate of peacefully embracing the fullness of one’s present reality. Too much joy can be robbed wishing we had a different body, a different brain, a different nose, a different spine, or a completely different set of circumstances. 

And then I remember that regardless of whether it is sunny, or rainy, or snowy, or dismal outside, whether their back aches or their knees throb, the psalmist (or any other person of faith, for that matter) wakes up in the morning and proclaims, THIS is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be GLAD in it.” (Psalm 118:24, NRSV). 

Of course, they also say, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1, NRSV), but THANK GOD they don’t tell us how fast we should run!

Abundant blessings;

21
May
19

How is your HT/WT?

ContentmentWhen was the last time you checked the HT/WT ratio of your life?

Just in case my question is a little obtuse, let me explain. I am referring – of course – to your “Have to/Want to” ratio… the relationship between the things you do during your day because you HAVE TO do them and the things you do because you WANT TO.

I think each of us probably strives for something like a 0/100 ratio. That is, we hope everything we do is something we do because we want to… even if we have to do it.

I have to eat… but I also want to eat. I have to brush my teeth… but I also want to. I have to write a sermon every week (because – you know – I’m a pastor), but I also want to.

I certainly have a whole host of things on my “Have to… don’t really want to” list, including:

  • Exercise
  • Lawn mowing
  • Shaving
  • Bill paying
  • Weed pulling
  • Poop Scooping
  • TV news-watching

… and trust me when I tell you the list goes on.

Most of us, I would guess, fluctuate somewhere within 10-15 points of the 50/50 line on any given day. But I have also talked to some folks who tell me they feel like they are living 100/0 lives where EVERYTHING is a “have to” and nothing is a “want to.”

Another word for the “have to/want to” ratio might be CONTENTMENT.

JOY works also.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing that a change in the outward circumstances of our lives will be the key to improving our HT/WT ratio. We say things like, “If I could only find a different job/place to live/set of friends I would be a lot happier and more content.”

As a person on the brink of retirement, I often catch myself saying, “Once I retire, I’ll be able to do WHATEVER I WANT TO… all day long.”

And while it is true that I will be able to have MORE of the “want to’s” every day, there will still be quite a few “have to’s.” I will still have to exercise… still have to mow my grass… still have to scoop poop. (Unless, of course, I can somehow train the dogs to use the toilet! Hmmmm…)

While we scour the shelves of the “How To…” books, attend seminars, and engage expensive therapists to help us figure out ways to boost our WT numbers in relation to our HTs, the answer has been right there all along: staring us in the face.

Some wise guy once said, “The key to happiness lies not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you get.”

Socrates put it this way: “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” 

What it really boils down to is the ancient virtue of GRATITUDE… Being grateful for every day, every relationship, every task, and every breath that enters our lungs. In fact, I am willing to bet there is someone in the world right now who would be tickled to death to have the task of cleaning up his/her back yard after their dog(s).

To emphasize the importance of gratitude, the Bible repeats the command to “give thanks” a total of 61 times in both Old and New Testaments. 1 Thessalonians gets a little more extreme when it tells us to: “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”(1 Thess. 5:18, NRSV).

That’s right: ALL circumstances.

Even when you are working out.

Even when you are mowing the lawn.

Even – I suppose – when you are scooping poop.

27
Mar
18

My own Facebooklessness

Facebook iconSomething had to change. And it had to change soon.

I would compare the feeling I was dealing with to the very earliest nibblings of an oncoming head cold… you know; those times when you know something is a little out of kilter but you’re not entirely sure what it is.

I looked and saw my normally puckish, buoyant outlook on life taking on unfamiliar, churlish overtones… I noticed my already woefully short attention span getting even shorter. I noticed that I seemed to be more reactive and less thoughtful and deliberate.

The guy looking back from the mirror didn’t seem nearly as likable as he did a few short years ago.

Alarmed at where symptoms like these might eventually lead, I did my own armchair diagnosis.

The diagnosis? Acute Facebookitis!

The cure? Phased withdrawal from the social media miracle known as Facebook.

According to the Facebook stats page, I have been a part of that universe since 2008. (Is that really possible?)

And for the most part, I have really LOVED it!

  • Where else can one find a platform from which to dispense one’s own slightly off-center commentary on the world and know that many more than two or three people sitting around your dining room table will hear it?
  • Where else can you go and regularly see pictures of family members who live 2,000 miles away from you?
  • And where else – pray tell – can you go and take a quiz to clarify which month you REALLY should have been born in?

But it was becoming increasingly clear to me: ever since entering semi-retirement, I have been spending waaaay too much time Facebooking. One sure-fire indicator (to me) that I was overdosing on this form of social media was my belief that posting my calm, rationally composed political views on Facebook would actually change someone else’s opinion!

I know… right?

And so… I started cutting back.

The first step was to remove the Facebook app from my phone. YIKES! That step was HUGE. I had no idea – until after the fact – how much time I spent every day mindlessly picking up my phone, tapping that friendly, blue icon and peeping in on the spiffed up, sanitized lives of a whole bunch of different people.

I didn’t realize it at first, but I soon became aware that I usually came away from that time feeling somehow “less than”. Studies have now shown conclusively that people who passively scroll through Facebook are more prone to depression than others. Psychologists theorize that this is because we look at the exciting and glamorous posts from our friends and judge our own lives to be rather shabby in comparison.

And let’s not even get started on political “discussions” on Facebook. Treading onto this turf guarantees one of two things will most certainly happen: 1.) You will be loudly affirmed and encouraged to continue holding the views you now hold, or 2.) You will be ridiculed, mocked, belittled, and condemned to hell for those same views.

And honestly… I am not sure either of those results helps me grow as a person.

I am pleased to tell you that removing the Facebook app from my phone brought an unexpected level of tranquility into my life. Since it was no longer there to check, I was instantly cured of the twitchy, impulsive practice of taking out my phone and “just checking.” I was actually free to lift up my eyes, talk to people around me, and notice the subtle shadings of spring beginning to appear.

And then came the season of Lent… that great time of self-denial and reflection on the Christian calendar. Could I go completely cold turkey and even give up Facebook on my laptop?

Here we are, in the last week of Lent, and I am happy to report that the withdrawal has been (mostly) painless. Since February 14 I have not maligned or been maligned by political adversaries. I have not tested my I.Q., or found out my celebrity crush, or investigated the amazing array of skin rejuvenation products available. I have not snarked or jeered at the fates of the basketball teams of my friends.

And not once have I pined for a life other than the one I am living right now!

On the other hand, I have also not congratulated anyone on their son or daughter’s piano recital, seen the photos of my siblings’ European vacation, told a high school buddy “Happy Birthday” or marveled at the wit and faith of one of my pastor pals.

In the end, I guess I have to conclude that Facebook is a lot like fire; kept under control and used judiciously and carefully it has an enormous capacity for good. Used mindlessly it can cause enormous harm.

Facebook – and all other forms of social media – are tools. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is up to you and me to use them wisely.




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