Tag Archives: reality

“What Can We Know Right Now, and How Do We Feel?”

“I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet,” wrote the man we know as the prophet Amos (7:14). He said that he was just a shepherd and a caretaker of sycamore trees when he was called by God to deliver the Lord’s message.

I understand. I’m a “non-prophet” myself. And right now I’m “sucking air” on delivering anyone’s message, even as a deadline for this column is racing down the rails toward me.

Newsworthy current events are currently plentiful.

We just successfully launched two astronauts into space and to the International Space Station without the humiliating need to hitch a ride on a Russian launch vehicle. This is progress, and the public-private partnership between NASA and commercial entities is a fine thing. (I wish we’d try it with TSA and a trillion or two other government agencies.) I feel good about this.

The Covid-19 pandemic is still pandemicking and causing an incredible level, a mind-boggling variety, of stress—physical, emotional, and economic—pretty much everywhere. (“Everywhere” is the “pan-” part.)

But the situation “everywhere” varies widely. They have over 2,500 cases in a couple of not-far-off counties where some of my kids/grandkids and two of my brothers live. Yet one son says he personally knows only one person who has it; one brother says he knows of two. In the county where I live, we had zero cases for weeks; now we have 21. I know personally one person who has died due to the virus. He lived in the same state, hundreds of miles away. I know a couple of folks in New York City who have been dealing with the virus assault there.

Most of us where I live have been trying to be careful, but until recently, it seemed pretty unreal. I always took my mask with me into the grocery store; it always stayed in my pocket.

How to feel about this all right now? Worried? Ticked off? Scared? “Over” it? Tired? Sick of it but not sick? Well, ya feel the way ya feel, but it feels weird when your feelings are all over the place. When you don’t know how to feel, you mainly feel bad.

And now. Now comes the brutal killing of George Floyd and the subsequent mayhem, and here’s the “non-prophet” aspect of this column.

Last week’s column was entitled “It’s Almost Never Wise to Trust a Mob.” It dealt with some pandemic reactions. I asked about when a crowd becomes a mob, when a protest becomes a riot, how long it takes “righteous indignation” to become mindless anger, when protesters are high-minded and brave and when they are misbehaving malcontents and professional victims.

And then a week later in Minneapolis, a police officer put his knee on a suspect’s neck and the man died in custody. I didn’t know white police officer Derek Chauvin’s name. I didn’t know black suspect George Floyd’s name. But we know the names now.

The pictures and video I’ve seen are appalling. I don’t know if they tell the whole story, but the story they surely seem to tell is abhorrent. I don’t know if Floyd committed the crime he was accused of, but I know he didn’t deserve to die. I know that I wish race wasn’t a factor. I know that people jumping on cars, burning and looting, are thugs with no excuse, no matter their race, and they demean those they claim to “speak” for. I know that I wish we weren’t all—black and white and all races—so quick to believe in caricatures of others instead of seeing the image of God in all.

But how do I feel, and how do you, watching the pictures of the mayhem? My emotions are many. Mostly sad.

But I do know this: I know that people of good will of all races, people who aren’t interested in joining mobs, can and do learn to respect and love each other. I know it happens, and I suspect that it happens most regularly among Christ’s followers. I’m thankful for that.

I know that we need to hug each other, virus be hanged.

 

You’re invited to check out my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Genuine Truth Is as Real and Unchangeable as Gravity

I was scrolling through some news this morning and ran across a completely nonsensical “headline” in the midst of much “non-news.” Some popular actress or other generic celebrity (I don’t remember her name), the headline promised, would tell us all about “her truth.”

Great. I suppose that if we’re interested enough to read that article, we can logically look forward to some companion articles, some sequels. Maybe she can later tell us about “her gravity” or “her multiplication tables.” If truth itself is up for grabs—and why wouldn’t it be in a society where your very gender is dependent upon the day or your mood and not easily determined by your chromosomes and plumbing—are any of the “laws” of physics or mathematics really much more than suggestions?

If anybody wants to come talk about his or her gravity, I suppose we could climb up on my roof, have a nice visit, and discuss our deep and very individually unique feelings about gravity and how we’re feeling on that particular day about “up-ness” and “down-ness.” Or, forgive me if this is harsh, we could save a lot of time by holding hands, taking a deep breath, and leaping together off the roof. However we feel about the experience, I’m willing to go on record as believing in the absolute law of gravity which dictates this harsh but real truth: we will not fall up. And “open-minded” is not the first word that comes to mind when I think about someone who feels a need to try such to find out if gravity is a law still in effect on this particular morning.

It is not simply my opinion that gravity is still a law today. It is. This is a truth I can know without any need at all to resort to difficult or dangerous or painful testing. And, I suppose, if I wake up one morning with doubts about the truth and reality of gravity or the multiplication tables, professional help is available to help me come to terms both with reality and with whatever malady or foolishness is causing me to doubt it. In the long run—and even the short run, if I’m contemplating jumping off a roof to test gravity—coming to terms with what is inalterably true and real is much wiser, more helpful, and less painful than the alternative.

Of course, the point I’m trying to make here is true regarding genuine truth and laws that are real and incontrovertible laws. Physics. Mathematics. And I’d say, the Ten Commandments. No one can break those without consequence. I don’t remember if my brother had a clothes-pinned super hero towel-cape around his neck or not when he fell or jumped out of a redbud tree in our back yard when we were kids; I do remember that he broke his arm.

The problem comes when I get my opinions confused with incontrovertible laws, my opinions confused with immutable truth. I am not a super hero, and I am wrong and mistaken about many things, and this fact calls for some serious humility.

But I’m not so confused that you will ever hear me talking about “my truth.”

 

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 

 


Reality Is Hard, But Denying Reality Is Harder

Dealing with reality can be hard, but it’s better than the alternative which looks easy and turns out to be much harder.

In Jesus’ famous parable of “The Two Builders,” he talks about two gents who both did the hard work of building houses. Yes, but only one, the “wise builder,” did the harder work of building his on the right foundation, one of rock; the “foolish builder” built on sand. Both houses looked fine—until “the rain came down, the streams came up, and the winds blew and beat against” those houses. The house built on rock stood the test; the house built on sand fell with a great crash. The moral of the story: don’t build a house in California anywhere near mud, fire, or flood!

No. The moral of the story, Jesus tells us, is that a life built on the truth of his words (he’s just finishing his “Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew 5-7) will be a strong life that will stand even in the midst of great trial.

Storms eventually assail us all. When they come, we discover the truth about the quality of our foundations. Was laying the foundation quick, cheap, and easy? Okay. Until the storm comes and, unable to stand the test, what we built falls quickly. The collapse is expensive and may even be fatal. Nothing about the crash is easy.

If only we’d listened! If only we’d invested in reality, built on truth, trusted the One who built this whole universe and tells us the truth about living in it in a way that is fulfilling and “successful” in the deepest sense.

Reality is hard. But denying it is ultimately much harder.

I once spent a little time—it felt like hours—a fathom or a few under a Grade 5 rapid called “Silverback” in the Nile River, near Jinja, Uganda. Among several problems one encounters after having parted company with a perfectly good raft and being cast into the depths is, literally, not knowing which way is up. The Nile neither knows nor cares about how you feel about that stark question, but this much is sure: not all answers are equally correct. Only one squares with reality. In this situation, the very sensible rule is that you not to try to swim toward the surface. Instead, you relax and trust the reality of two of this world’s unbreakable laws: the laws of gravity and of buoyancy. They are real and strong and your life jacket, obeying them, will invariably propel you upward if you’ll be still. Underwater in the Nile is not at all a good place to try to beat or deny the reality of the laws of physics.

It’s no skin off the “nose” of the law of gravity if we choose to ignore its reality, but it may be more than a little skin off of ours. Beliefs have consequences.

I once asked a class of smart kids this question: Does everyone have a right to his/her own beliefs? Of course, they answered, “Yes!” resoundingly.

Then I asked a follow-up question: “Is every belief of equal value?”

That’s when the class got interesting. No matter how undemocratic or unpopular it might be, the obvious answer is “no.”

Every person in this world is of immense value to our Creator, no matter his/her belief. But beliefs that are based on what squares with reality are, by their very nature, worth more than beliefs that fly in the face of reality.

C. S. Lewis once opined that we’d raised a generation too “mentally modest” to believe the multiplication tables.

And a few generations later, we’ve raised some folks who find even the reality of their own chromosomes, which no amount of surgery can truly alter, too confining.

You and I can discuss the various merits of preferring dark over milk chocolate or a blue pickup over a maroon one. You can choose differently than me on such questions and live in this universe quite successfully.

But truth and reality are deeper than tastes or trends. A person who sincerely wants two plus two to equal five is going to need either remedial math or a different universe; he’s not likely to be very happy in this one.

And if we want to live in a place where people who murder, lie, steal, covet, break faith, etc., find real fulfillment and genuine joy, well, wherever that place is, it’s not this world.

When our Creator tells us “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not,” he’s telling us the real truth about successful living in this very real world. He’s pointing us toward foundations that can stand up to reality.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


In the Face of Real Love, “Tolerance” Is a Weakling

 

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Shhh! If in our society you are about to walk out your front door, it’s important to remember these days that you’re about to step into the temple of secularism. You must be very careful to be quiet and reverent lest you cause any stir in the temple and upset the worshipers in the midst of their devotions.

It is rather striking how religious modern secularists are about their irreligion, how very “tolerant” they are of anything except “intolerance.” No big surprise. It’s never easier to be religiously (or irreligiously) arrogant than when you’re being self-righteous about not being self-righteous.

By the same token, “tolerance” is always easiest when one of your deepest convictions is that no one’s deepest convictions or beliefs can be objectively right or wrong. Tolerance is only difficult when you find you have something to tolerate. If everyone’s belief is equally correct just because it’s earnestly held, tolerance is incredibly easy because at heart it just means not caring very much.

Once you actually start caring about something enough to believe that what folks believe about it genuinely matters, then you soon find yourself swimming in waters far too deep for tolerance; you will, in fact, sink unless you latch onto a four-letter word called love.

Love is always better than, stronger than, far more noble than, mere tolerance. “What’s right? What’s wrong? Is there any such thing as right or wrong?” Tolerance doesn’t much care.

But love cares deeply. It faces the bedrock truth, as real as the law of gravity— truly “inconvenient” though it may be, if, say, you’d prefer a universe where two plus two could just as easily equal five on days when the wind has changed and you’re feeling a little down on “four”—that in this universe some things really are right, true, and beautiful, and others are wrong, false, and ugly. Real truths, you see, have real consequences. It’s rather important that engineers who design bridges believe the old-fashioned, and true, multiplication tables, as inconveniently unbending as the stone cold truth behind those tables may be.

What if this really is a universe woven with genuine laws of right and wrong? Believe that truth, and in these days colored by the religion of “tolerant” secularism, it’s as if you passed gas loudly in the secularists’ church service, spat upon their holy altar, offended their non-god gods in some unforgiveable way. You seem incredibly intolerant and out of date. If we’re tired of those old multiplication tables, or any other truths that might bind or chafe us, let’s just take an opinion poll and change them, right?

But that’s where love comes in and mere tolerance is shown to be a tottering weakling. Love may be completely unable to “tolerantly” accept a person’s actions or beliefs as being anything but mistaken and harmful, but love is beautifully able to accept even the person with whom it most strongly disagrees as a person deeply loved by the God who is love. It cares deeply. And chooses to love anyway.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Worshiping Feelings Is a Path to Unhappiness

 

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The God who designed us as creatures with bones and skin also equipped us with all sorts of feelings and emotions. Good.

But that same Creator warns us not to trust that our feelings are always an accurate reflection of reality. He even commands us to “live above” our feelings. We are, for example, to love our enemies whether we feel like it or not.

Sometimes, maybe even many times, our feelings accurately reflect reality. But not even close to “always.” Surely the unhappiest people on the planet are those who always trust their feelings and set them up as the gods they follow at any terrible cost.

I mean no disrespect to “man’s best friend” when I say that we humans often operate at a level somewhere below that of our dogs. And our dogs sometimes misinterpret reality.

If you meet a dog in the park, unwisely thrust out your hand to pet the cute little beast, all the while with nothing in your heart but love, warmth, kindness, and the best of human intentions, but he nonetheless perceives your action as threatening, you may draw back a bloody human paw. The dog has reacted not to reality but to his perception of it, the way he “feels” about it. He may be dead wrong. But he’ll bite you anyway.

With a little time, and if he’s a fairly intelligent beast, he may learn that his estimation of your intentions was flawed. Eventually, he may even allow you to reach down more carefully and pet him with your remaining good hand.

More likely, he won’t wait to change his opinion; he’ll tuck tail and run barking over the hill, desperate to get away from you. He’ll likely be even quicker to sink his teeth into the next human who innocently tries to pat his head. For the rest of his doggy years, he’ll live firmly convinced that all humans who try to pet him are mean, malicious, mutt-haters who should be run from or bitten. That is truly how he feels. Even if he is truly mistaken.

Would that this were only a problem with dogs!

How many people live just as witlessly, wrongly, mistakenly! Because they completely, blindly, trust their often fouled up feelings—feelings rendered untrustworthy by tragic backgrounds, bad upbringing, mental disease or distress, or even bad digestion or too little sleep—they draw wrong conclusions about the motives or intentions of others. Then they run around snapping and biting folks who’ve done nothing to deserve it.

We need to pay attention to our feelings. Filter them. Judge them. Evaluate them. But God help us, and those around us, if we think we can always trust them and if we worship them as invariably infallible gods.

No wonder Jesus warned us about not judging others. We’ve got our hands full just trying to be honest about ourselves.

Personally, I’d trust a dog with a good nose a lot farther than I’d trust a biting, barking, snapping, ill-tempered human.

 

             You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Perceptions and Reality Only Occasionally Line Up

May I state the obvious? People react to other people, situations, and issues on the basis of their perceptions of those people, situations, and issues, and not necessarily on the basis of reality.

I mean no particular disrespect to either breed, human or canine, but in that regard I think we humans generally operate a little below the level of man’s best friend.

If you meet a dog in the park, thrust your hand out to pet the cute little beast, all the while sincerely holding nothing but love, warmth, kindness, and the very best of intentions in your human heart, BUT he nevertheless perceives your action as threatening, you may well draw back a bloody nub. He reacts, you see, not so much to reality as to his perception of reality.

And he may be dead wrong.

If he’s an exceptionally intelligent canine, he may later “learn” that his estimation of you and your intentions was flawed. Maybe you’ll go on to help him reach a more realistic conclusion as you reach down more carefully to pet him with your remaining hand.

Or, probably more likely, he may run over the hill before you have an opportunity to change his mistaken opinion of you, and he may be even quicker to sink his teeth into the next human who quite innocently reaches out her hand. He may well go on to his reward in doggy heaven a decade or two (in dog years) later still firmly wedded to the erroneous opinion that all humans who reach down to pet him are mean, malicious, mutt-haters. Now, he would be absolutely wrong, but he would believe deeply in his error and die not knowing that his perceptions were completely unfounded in reality.

I wish this sort of thing was only a problem with dogs. But I’m afraid that we humans are often just as witless and wrong when we react quickly, and very often poorly, just on the basis of our all-too-fallible perceptions. How hard it is for someone else who doesn’t share our fouled up view of a particular person, situation, or issue to try to help us see reality when everything from our backgrounds, our upbringing, our unfortunate experiences, all the way to our lack of sleep and the state of our digestion, conspires to give us flawed perceptions and, to some degree large or small, blind us to reality.

Then you know what happens, don’t you? We go around biting folks who don’t deserve to be bitten. And then too often they go off and bite someone else.

The fact that we are such poor judges both of reality and of the motives of our neighbors is one significant reason Jesus warned us not to spend time judging and criticizing those around us. You and I are very poor judges.

Our dogs may not always be great judges either, but I personally would trust a dog with a good nose a lot farther than I’d trust a biting, barking, snapping, ill-tempered human.

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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