Prison walls started falling

On Tuesday, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone in preparation for giving up social media for Lent. Now my phone is just a phone and not a time-wasting distraction. This morning as I drove to the gym, I listened to a beautiful song that not only expresses how I feel about the “sacrifice” I’m making, it reminds me of the real reason for the season of Lent.

Red Letters is a song written by David Crowder and Ed Cash about the life-changing impact of the red letter words of Jesus.

Then I read the red letters
And the ground began to shake
The prison walls started falling
And I became a free man that day

Red Letters – David Crowder Band

The phrase, prison walls started falling describes how I feel about being freed from the addictive hold of social media. Over time, I have become a slave to Facebook, depending on it to keep myself entertained, looking to it for social affirmation, and ridiculously fearing that I will miss out on something important if I don’t read my news feed everyday. It’s only been a couple of days since I gave it up, but the prison walls are already falling.

Red Letters also reminded me of the real sacrifice that Jesus made.

For God so loved the whole wide world
Sent His only Son to die for me
Arms spread wide for the whole wide world
His arms spread wide where mine should be
Jesus changed my destiny

Thank You, God, for red letters
When the ground began to shake
The grace of God started falling
And I became a free man that day
The prison walls started falling
And I am a free man today

Red Letters – David Crowder Band

Thank you, God, for red letters. Thank you, God, for Jesus!

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Photo by Denis Oliveira on Unsplash

Giving up social media for Lent

This year, my pastor encouraged us to give up social media for Lent. As a Presbyterian, I have never been asked to give up anything for Lent. I have decided to take my pastor’s advice because I am addicted to Facebook and I know that I waste a lot of time on it.

I did not tell anyone that I’m going to stay off of Facebook for Lent. Will anyone even notice that I’m not posting anything?

It will be interesting to see how my life changes in the next 40 days. Will I miss out on anything important if I don’t use social media everyday? How will I use the time that I would have wasted scrolling down my news feed? Will I have a more positive outlook on life?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Breaking down the wall of hostility

Before church on Sunday, my pastor placed a long piece of blue tape down the middle of the sanctuary. When he began his sermon on Ephesians 2:11-22, he pointed out the tape in case we hadn’t noticed it. Those of us on one side of the tape were to imagine that we were God’s chosen people of Israel; the others half were Gentiles, excluded from the Jewish community. The blue tape represented the wall of hostility that once separated Jews and Gentiles.

The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus that as Gentiles, they were excluded from the covenants of the promise, without hope and godless. Jesus reconciled Jews and Gentiles. Because of Jesus, Gentiles are not considered foreigners or strangers to God’s promises. Now all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, may come to God the Father with the Holy Spirit’s help because of what Christ has done for us. We are not lost. We are not without hope.

God made a new covenant with the people of Israel; Jesus made the old one obsolete. Jesus annulled the old system of Jewish laws. Jesus broke down the wall of contempt.

Paul wrote that Christ’s purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two. He made peace between us.

My pastor said that many Christians still think in terms of us versus them, black versus white, liberal versus conservative, Christian versus Muslim. This is not the way of Jesus. This is not the model of the kingdom of God.

Given how divided the United States is and how divided the Church is, I was pleasantly surprised that my pastor specifically mentioned a few of the walls of hostility that exist today, though much more could be said. I was very happy that he said this is not the way of Jesus. God-and-Country Believers need to hear this. Too many Christians forget that people of all nations are children of God. Too many Christians forget that we are all temporary residents of God’s world.

How incredibly timely was this sermon, coming in the midst of a huge, costly debate about building a wall to keep people south of the border from entering the United States. Today the president demands that we spend billions of dollars to build a physical wall to protect Americans from murderers and rapists. But the truth is, he is building a wall of hostility to shut out the brown people he has always despised. This is not the way of Jesus. This is not the model of the kingdom of God.

No matter what happens in the coming days, I take heart in knowing that my brothers and sisters south of the border are loved and welcomed by God. God does not see them as foreigners or illegal aliens. Jesus will break down the walls of hostility and one day a great multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people and language will stand before the Lamb of God (Revelations 7:9-10).

The Age of Acceptance

When I was 51, I wrote that I was Determined to Age Gracefully. To me, aging gracefully means having an inner beauty that shines through the wrinkles. While aging gracefully is a noble goal, getting old is no fun. If you kick and scream like a toddler as Father Time carries you off into old age, there is nothing graceful about it. And there is nothing fun about the aches and pains and physical degeneration that come with aging. It took me a few years to come to terms with losing my youth. Thankfully, I can now say, with no shame: I am old.

Accepting Reality

The process of coming to grips with aging is much like the stages of grieving the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Many people deny that they are getting old by lying about their age or pretending to be younger than they are. We bargain to put off aging by buying anti-aging, age-defying products or having cosmetic procedures to cover up the effects of aging.

I never saw the point in lying about my age because if you lie about your age, you have to lie about other facts of your life, like how long you’ve been out of school or how long you’ve been married. In my opinion, pretending to be younger than you are just makes you look silly. Yet I do try to counteract the effects of aging by using anti-aging creams and by taking hormone replacement therapy. I work out harder than I did when I was young to offset my decreasing metabolism.

There is a lot of cultural pressure to deny and defy aging. I often see articles targeted to people my age about hair mistakes that make you look older, makeup mistakes that make you look older, fashion mistakes that make you look older. The underlying message is that there is something wrong with being old or looking old.

Aging is a fact of life. Looking your age is not.  – Howard Mo 

And here’s a quote from SilcSkin, a company that sells anti-aging products:

When you are happy with what you see in the mirror, your self-esteem is directly affected and when you feel great and look great, you are unstoppable.

SilcSkin on Twitter

Isn’t it better to feel good about yourself and to feel unstoppable, regardless of how you look? I think so. Because no matter what you do, if you live long enough, you will eventually look old.

It’s true that your physiological age may be less than your chronological age. Research shows that exercise makes your DNA younger by lengthening the telomeres that shorten as we age. I hope that my biological age is younger than my chronological age because I want to be healthy at any age. But even if it is, I’m still relatively old.

A meme I saw on Facebook said it well: the day you realize that your co-workers are young enough to be your kids is the day you are officially old. It is hard to deny that you are old when you see how old you are relative to other people. I am old enough to be the mother of a couple of my coworkers. My boss is more than a dozen years younger than me. And here’s a link to a fun graphic: at my age, 70% of people are younger than me.

It helps to accept aging if you can laugh at yourself. The first time I experienced the shock of seeing my aging neck skin in the side mirror of the car, I felt bad about my neck, just like Nora Ephron. She wrote,”our faces are lies and our necks are the truth.” If redwood trees had necks, you wouldn’t have to cut them open to see how old they are.

I am now able to laugh at my aging self. My husband tells me I look like an old lady when I bend at my knees to pick something up. You didn’t do that when you were young! I just laugh and say, I am an old lady! I don’t care if I look old; I just want to protect my back.

I have a great-niece who is nine years old. She has always struggled to understand how we are related (her grandma is my older sister). When I visited before Christmas, she said, “wait, are you my great grandma?”

Accepting aging is accepting reality. There is a time and a season for everything. I’ve had my time to be young. Now it’s my time to be old.

Becoming a work of art

Poet Stanlislaw Jerzy Lec wrote, “Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.” I know that not all old people are a work of art. The challenges of life make some people bitter, resentful, and prone to complaining about everything. When they age, they become crotchety and curmudgeonly.

Fortunately, the challenges of life can shape you into a wise, compassionate, and beautiful soul. People who are open to the lessons of life can become a work of art. Age provides perspective on the purpose of life and clarifies what is really important.

The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of life is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.

William Arthur Ward

I believe that the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit never fades. As I continue to age, I want my beauty to come not from the outside but from the disposition of my heart.

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Painting of Chronos (Father Time) by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli – pl.pinterest.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54277715

The Ideal in the Making

I keep thinking about the age-old philosophical question: do the ends justify the means? Does a good outcome excuse any means to attain it? Many people certainly seem to think so. While I can imagine situations in which I would be tempted to use immoral means to achieve moral results, if I did, I believe I would compromise my integrity. But the more I think about this question, the more I realize that the answer isn’t that simple.

On Christmas day, I read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Christmas sermon on peace. In that sermon, he said that if we are to have peace in the world, “ends and means must cohere.” To cohere is to hold together, to be united, to be logically consistent. Cohesion is integrity, the state of being whole and undivided.

I question whether you can maintain your integrity if the means and ends do not cohere. Does anyone admire a hypocrite? Jesus certainly didn’t. Hypocrisy is pretending to be virtuous while concealing or hiding your real flawed character. You could say that a hypocrite’s actions (the means) do not cohere with the moral standards or beliefs (the ends) that they pretend to have.

Politicians often act as if ends justify means. Gerrymandering and voter suppression are seen as legitimate means to acquire political power. Conservatives who were once very concerned about morality now excuse the amoral behavior of the man who promised to nominate conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

If you believe that ends justify means, then it’s all about winning and not about how you play the game. It’s all about what you want and not about how you get it. But if you care about the kind of person you are or the kind of person you hope to become, then what you do to achieve your goals matters.

When I see people try to justify immoral means such as dishonesty or cheating with the results of their actions, I conclude that they lack a moral compass. A moral compass should guide a person to ethical behavior. But I have to admit that we don’t all agree on what constitutes moral or ethical behavior.

My approach to morality is called deontological ethics (from Greek deon, “obligation, duty”). I generally assess whether behavior is right or wrong based on my moral beliefs or values rather than on the consequences of the behavior. Another approach to morality is called teleological ethics, (from Greek telos, “end, goal”; logos, “reason, explanation”) or consequentialism. People who endorse this approach to morality believe that a moral act is one that produces a good outcome; therefore, a good end justifies the means.

Why don’t we agree on what constitutes moral behavior? Where do moral values come from? Many people think that religion is the source of moral values yet non-religious people have moral values. In 5 Inherent Values We’re Born With, Dr. Tom Muha writes that according to Jonathan Haidt, human beings are born with five moral values:

  1. Caring about other people and not doing anything to harm them (physically or emotionally). (Harm/Care)
  2. Being fair, reciprocating kindness, and following the Golden Rule. (Fairness/Reciprocity)
  3. Being loyal to people in your group, cooperating, and helping others to succeed. (In-group/Loyalty)
  4. Respecting authority. (Authority/Respect)
  5. Practicing self-control and restraint. (Purity/Sanctity)

As adults, most people still believe that the first two moral values are important. But almost half reject the last three. In Haidt’s TED Talk on the Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives, he says that moral arguments and political differences tend to focus on the last three values.

Politically, I think of myself as a moderate. For me, in-group loyalty is not an important value. I don’t belong to a political party. I am not blindly loyal. I do believe in cooperating and helping other people succeed if I believe in the rightness of what they are doing. In the same way, I respect the authority of moral people and I don’t respect immoral leaders.

Haidt concludes that if you want to change people, rather than trying to prove that you are right, “step out of the moral matrix” and try to see that we are all engaged in a struggle in which everyone thinks they are right and everyone has reasons for doing what they’re doing. I agree that it is good to try to understand the moral reasoning of other people and also to recognize that you cannot change them.

But back to the question of whether the ends justify the means. In his Christmas sermon, MLK, Jr. said something that I think is profound and worth repeating. The means represent the ideal in the making. The means are like a seed growing into a tree or like a tree producing fruit. You can’t achieve good ends through evil means. This conclusion is consistent with the teachings of Jesus. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. The ends and means must cohere.

So, if you’re seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there—they may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – A Christmas Sermon on Peace

Photo by Macu ic on Unsplash