Hey friends!

What a crazy week we had!

My family and I decided to start off our vacation by visiting family back in Kenosha, Wisconsin. That’s right, THE Kenosha, Wisconsin.

We arrived a day after riots, fires, and looting had started.

Places that I had walked past my whole life were now piles of smoldering rubble. An old friend’s business, was burned to the ground. Our first night there, three people were shot, and two of them died.

It was far from the “best place to raise your kids” town that I grew up in. It had become a frightening place where people from outside the community had come to create chaos and destruction.

I was heartbroken and anxious. But, most of all, I was angry. Furious. I wanted to hurt back. A friend said that he knew where all of these out-of-town rioters had parked their cars, and suggested that we pay them back by vandalizing their vehicles.

I have to admit, I was tempted. I wasn’t going to let the fact that I’m middle-aged, and not particularly fast, stop me.

But then my wife (and voice of reason) chimed in, “Is that what Jesus would do?”

I hate it when she asks that.

Needless to say, I didn’t slash any tires or graffiti and windshields. I just seethed and wrung my hands.

Then, some local church leaders announced that they would be gathering in the park where the protests began each night, and that they were going to pray and worship the Lord for two hours.

Unfortunately, we had to head out of town a couple of hours before their meeting began, but I heard the reports, and they were amazing.

Nothing short of supernatural.

Around a thousand believers showed up to cry out to God for their city. People were set free, they gave their lives to Jesus, and were baptized. There was reconciliation. It was miraculous.

You know what else? The protests that night (and every night since) were peaceful. No more burning. No more looting. Just marching and declaring their petition.

I guess love really does win. Fighting fire with fire really is futile. When Jesus wanted to flex his muscles, he washed feet and sacrificed his life.

If only we could learn to ignore the impulse to take an eye for an eye, and turn that energy toward prayer and loving service. We might just see more miracles!

Wherever you stand on the issues we face today, I hope it’s motivated by Christ-like love.

Well, hopefully, the rest of my vacation will be more relaxing!

It’s Time to Tear Up the Script

It’s Time to Tear Up the Script

“Packers are way better than Vikings!” I said to the other boys in the huddle. It was a cold November morning, and we were waiting for the bell to ring to go inside. I was a junior higher who spent most of his time playing outside, reading comics, or watching reruns of The Honeymooners.

I couldn’t name a single player on the Packers, much less stay awake through one of their games.

But, living in Wisconsin, I’d heard how the Packers were a superior team to the Vikings, Bears, and anyone else in the NFL. My friends said it, my cousins said it, and the guy on TV said it, so it MUST be true. No need to actually watch a game, right? Just follow the script.

The last time I blogged (unfortunately, a whole year ago) I talked about how the news media is not our friend.

Since that article, events have happened that have given the news media enough fuel to go from highly influential to controlling and crippling. Not only are they not your friend, they’re far worse than I originally thought.

Never in my life have I seen the news completely dominate the lives of so many people. Everywhere, there is a paragraph that gets published, repeated, televised, shared, and broadcast every single day. In the state where I live, it looks like this:

“Illinois health officials Thursday reported 894 new known cases and 41 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known cases to 139,434 and the death toll to 6,810.”

Every day, like the beat of a slave ship drum, the “death toll” numbers drive the life and joy out people while they put their dreams and hopes on hold, unable to see a future where they’re living for something greater than surviving the next few months.

My point is this: there are those who want desperately to write the script of your life. They want to dictate your thoughts, your beliefs, your dreams, and your activities. They want your money, your allegiance, and your soul. That’s not an exaggeration. They are the barking “reporters” who tell you who’s good and who’s evil. They are the ones who declare right and wrong. No discussion, no debate.

What they present is fiction dressed as information. Or information spun so badly, it vaguely resembles the truth.

All my life, I’ve wanted to write a non-fiction book (and still might). Why did I choose to write fantasy novels instead? Because a story stirs emotion and moves the heart. People are inspired more through story than through cold facts.

It’s why our news headlines use massive amount of hyperbole. They want to hook your heart and bypass your critical thinking. Then they want you to share it!

They want you to follow their script.

I think it’s time to tear up the script and write our own with the guidance of God’s Spirit. It’s time to return to a sound mind. It’s time to turn off the noise so that we can hear the Lord’s still, small voice. Time to fill our hearts and minds with love, joy, and purpose.

To assist me with this, I’m taking a 12 month break from my personal Facebook feed. I’m also taking a 12 month break from the news. If it’s really important, I’ll hear about it. I’m giddy about getting their voices out of my ears!

You don’t have to like the Packers just because the people around you say they’re the best. You don’t have to follow their script.

I want to wrap this up with a quote from a book written over 80 years ago. Pay close attention to what it’s saying. Especially the last paragraph. (Italics and bold added by me.)

“A reputable physician estimated that 75% of all people who visit physicians for professional service are suffering with hypochondria (imaginary illness). It has been shown most convincingly that the fear of disease, even where there is not the slightest cause for fear, often produces the physical symptoms of the disease feared.

Powerful and mighty is the human mind! It builds or it destroys.

Playing upon this common weakness of fear of ill health, dispensers of patent medicines have reaped fortunes. This form of imposition upon credulous humanity became so prevalent some twenty years ago that Colliers’ Weekly Magazine conducted a bitter campaign against some of the worst offenders in the patent medicine business.

During the “flu” epidemic which broke out during the world war, the mayor of New York City took drastic steps to check the damage which people were doing themselves through their inherent fear of ill health. He called in the newspaper men and said to them, “Gentlemen, I feel it necessary to ask you not to publish any scare headlines concerning the ‘flu’ epidemic. Unless you cooperate with me, we will have a situation which we cannot control.” The newspapers quit publishing stories about the “flu,” and within one month the epidemic had been successfully checked.

Napoleon Hill, 1938

 

The News is Not Making You a Better Person

The News is Not Making You a Better Person

When I was young, I would spend my summers with my grandfather on his farm. Every night, we had a ritual of watching the ten o’clock news (followed by Quincy with Jack Klugman).

As I got older, I learned to appreciate the news. It was delivered by well-dressed men and women with spot-on hair, concerned expressions, and a cadence in their voices that carried authority and understanding. When commercials for the news came on, they would say things like:

A difference you can see
A friend you can turn to
Coverage you can count on
Stories that count from people who care

Then I went to work in media and discovered it was all total bull$#!+.

The news doesn’t make a positive difference, news outlets are not your friend, you can NOT count on objective reporting, and they do not care about you any more than McDonald’s cares about the last dope they sold a box of mystery meat nuggets to.

There is one fact about news that everyone knows but chooses to forget. It’s glaringly obvious but we push it aside because we want to believe that reporters have our best interest at heart.

News reporting is a business and its number one priority is to make money.

Shocker.

The news is not a charity. Not even NPR. It is not a benevolent institution existing to dispense truth to an otherwise ignorant people, blessing the masses with information they need to know to survive, take action, or otherwise be generally more interesting.

At best, it’s entertainment. At worst, it’s misinformation designed to create a narrative to sway readers, listeners, and viewers toward the station owner’s bias, even if it means turning family and friends against each other.

In the business of broadcasting, eyeballs equals money. There’s no better way to do that than to create drama, divide people, and get some hashtags trending. It’s about stirring up emotion, even if it means creating panic and anxiety in people who are helpless to do anything about the trauma playing out in front of them.

Good news travels fast but bad news travels faster.

Have you heard about the car that is being developed to run off of solar power? Did you know that the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot is giving away 80% of his wealth to charity? How about that there is a greater percentage of people in our country going to church than in a very long time?

Of course you haven’t heard about these things! That kind of news doesn’t get clicks. You’re not going to get the comments, likes, and shares on your Facebook post by talking about these things.

Remember when the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire? Why haven’t we heard about restoration efforts? What about ISIS? Is that still a thing? North Korea was testing short-range missiles. Is the threat over?

Apparently, nobody cares. Those issues aren’t “hot” anymore. They weren’t generating enough ad revenue so they’re no longer important.

Currently, the news is ablaze with stories about the conditions at the U.S. and Mexico border. This is an issue that is over 10 years old. It’s terrible and there are thousands of people that need help but why is it so popular now?? Why, all of a sudden, are we being force-fed endless articles, videos, and radio pieces on this topic?

Hint: it stirs drama and provokes feelings outrage. It pits people against each other. It generates ad revenue. And as soon as the story has served its purposes for those who share it, it will disappear behind the next hot-button issue that can be spun to grow the business.

Just in case, let me be clear. I am not singling out any particular media bend. I see this in liberal media, conservative media, christian media, public media, and all media that benefits from more readers, viewers, or listeners (which is pretty much all of them).

So, what’s the takeaway? Before you get all lathered up about an issue or topic, before you share, comment, or lose your peace, remember that doing so is exactly what news producers want you to do. You are advertising for them!

Like soap opera producers, they want to keep you addicted to their programming (there’s a reason why it’s called “programming” by the way). They’ve got your attention and they will do whatever it takes to keep it. Their first priority is to make money. They are a business, and not a benevolent distributor of objective information.

I’m not suggesting ignorance but let that fact filter every headline you read and every story you hear.

The news is Bull$#!+.

5 Awesome Things I Learned From Stan Lee

5 Awesome Things I Learned From Stan Lee

Stan Lee died today.

It’s strange feeling a sense of loss over someone you’ve never met personally but I can’t think of a time in my life that I didn’t know about him. As an avid Marvel Comics reader throughout my childhood, teen, and young adult years, I remember seeing his name on the first page of every issue, “Stan Lee Presents”.

Over the years, I read interviews with Stan, checked out articles, and enjoyed “Stan’s Soapbox” printed toward the back half of earlier comics. I’d known about him for so long that, when he appeared in cameos in the Marvel films, it felt like I was seeing someone I knew up on the screen.

To honor his memory, I thought I would share a few things I’d learned from the work of the man who created icons like Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. It’s a small list but it’s filled with things that have had a big impact on me and others.

There’s no such thing as too crazy of an idea. When you consider the massive, ridiculous ideas printed in Marvel Comics, you have to admit that they’re insane. People that can burst into flames without burning up, realms of incredible unreality, and worlds in peril day after day. I wonder if anyone ever thought that an idea was too far-fetched! He taught that no idea was too crazy and that the only limitation to telling a story was our imagination.

Good wins. Sure it might take a few months. The hero might face some setbacks. But in the end, good triumphs over evil. I always knew that The Hulk would overcome The Leader. Spider-Man would defeat Doctor Octopus, and The X-Men would beat Magneto. The old saying, “right is might” is true in comic books and I believe it’s right in real life.

Heroes are born from tragedy. Stan wrote about characters who became heroes when they went through tragedy. Peter Parker lost his Uncle Ben and vowed to fight crime instead of waste his talents entertaining people. Steve Rogers was puny and bullied and enlisted to serve his country. And Tony Stark became Iron Man when he became a prisoner to terrorists. Tragedy can shape us all into heroes if we’ll let it and Stan Lee captured that beautifully.

There is greatness in the unlikeliest of people. One of my favorite things about Stan’s characters is that they’re far from perfect. Bruce Banner is a spineless nerd. Donald Blake is borderline crippled, and most of the X-Men are social rejects. You don’t have to be pretty and perfect to be great. You just have to be willing to step up.

You’re never too old to imagine and have fun. Lastly, Stan Lee demonstrated that growing old doesn’t have to mean growing up to be a curmudgeon. At any age, you can still make up amazing stories, create unbelievable characters, smile, and have fun. Even in his 90’s, he was still dreaming, still laughing, and still having a blast. I hope that I’m still carrying on the way he was when I’m late into my life.

Thank you, Stan, for the gifts of creativity, imagination, and wonder that you brought into the world. You will be missed!

The 5 Scariest Things About Burnout

The 5 Scariest Things About Burnout

I vividly remember sitting in the psychologist’s office as he told me I was experiencing burnout in a bad way. I had been suffering for a while but I didn’t know that there was a clinical term for what I was going through. I just thought I was broken somehow and hoped he could help me.

“You’ve got to take your foot off the gas,” he told me. “If you don’t, your family and church are going to suffer.” I wrote about the experience here.

Burnout is a strange phenomenon. It’s tricky. It’s not like an illness that you can see coming and try to take extra vitamin C to get ahead of it. It’s a lot more devious than that. To this day, I still feel the effects of that chapter in my life. Hopefully, the following five things will help you put practices into your life that will protect you from burning out.

1. The warning signs are incredibly difficult to see. Like I said, it’s not like the flu. You don’t get a scratchy throat indicating that you’re coming down with something. In my case, my wife noticed before I did. It’s like you’re charging ahead and then one day, you realize you’re not yourself. Don’t think you’re immune, don’t believe that you’re better than, and don’t ignore the subtle absence of grace and patience.

2. Burnout numbs you to the things you love. This one is nasty. I remember feeling like the things I loved were just more work. Instead of enjoying the holidays, I endured them. Activities that I typically enjoyed, like writing and music, had no appeal. Even sex was a chore. I lost my passion for the ministry that God called me to and pastoring felt laborious.

3. Life becomes flavorless. This point is really just an extension of the previous one. Instead of life having ups and downs, it just had downs. Vitality was rare, fatigue was constant, and I couldn’t recall the last time I had a good laugh.

4. Burnout is extremely difficult to recover from. You can’t just go up north fishing for the weekend and bounce back from burnout. In my case, I had to take a month off work, and that was just the beginning. In the film, The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo is stabbed by a Ring Wraith. When Gandalf discusses the matter with Elrond, he explains, “I’m afraid that wound will never fully heal.” It’s a bit like that. Your passion will return, life will regain its color, and your energy will return. However, burnout seems to be lurking in the shadows, and passion has to be intentionally protected or it disappears when you’re not looking.

5. It’s all about taking preventative measures. I have gotten in the habit of scheduling times of restorative activities all throughout the year now. I take two personal retreats, a three-week vacation, and guard my day off. It may sound like overkill but it’s necessary if I want to love and serve others in a way that’s genuine and meaningful. The best way to beat burnout is by guarding yourself against it in the first place. If you’re taking work calls, texts, and emails on your day off, you’re not only putting yourself at risk for burnout but you’re eroding the grace that allows you to serve others best in the first place.

I hope this helps. If you’ve suffered burnout, how did you recover? Also, what sort of preventative measures do you take? Feel free to share in the comments section below.