“Self-Preservation: A Gaping Chink in the Armor to Spiritual Formation in American Christianity”

The Search for Happiness

Well for someone who had as their goal to “write one blog a week in 2018”, I have no doubt given “I suck” new meaning in terms of goal setting.  In fact, it’s been almost two months now.  And though I have a myriad of excuses the size of all my x’s who currently live in Texas, the truth of the matter is that ADHD in this above middle-aged man is the “real deal Holyfield”J.  And the irony is that as I’ve deduced lately, like most Americans, my distraction is of my own making, and not something I can blame on a “syndrome” or a culturally created “sickness”; but rather the ravenous quest built up in my DNA since my more original “sucking” at my Mother’s breast for the pursuit of some “pipe dream” called “the pursuit of happiness”.  In fact, Ruth Whippman reminds us in her best seller America the Anxious: How to Calm Down, Stop Worrying, and Find Happiness that though “Americans as a whole invest more time and money and emotional energy in the explicit pursuit of happiness than any other nation on earth”, the results of that investment has not delivered the goods in that it has instead made us the “less happiest place in the developed world”.  Yet, no one seems to be in line to request their money back!

Five Minutes of Fame

And as you look around, the results of our learning from the limitless poor investments has not taught us much I’m afraid. Today for instance, as you look around, everyone is looking for their “five minutes of fame”.  Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has made us all into stars now who otherwise would have had no chance, allowing us to “go live” in the most risqué of life’s otherwise “behind closed doors moments” by recording for us everything from our bedroom privacies; pregnant teenage Mom’s holding their child while simultaneously getting the hell beat of them on the street for only God knows what (our shock and awe I suppose); to no endless repertoire of self-authoritative opinions derived from mere regurgitation of the media spin doctors we feed on from dusk till dawn. And though the exception to the rule is some stars are truly born who otherwise would not have been given a passing glance, the vast majority are an endless upchuck of “much ado about nothing” forced into our watching eyes and mini-screens.  Who will be the next American Idol, YouTube sensation, Twitter n Chief, or Facebook phenomenon?  Only time and a whole lot of endless blushing and barfing knows!

And though the pursuit of happiness in and of itself is not a bad thing, “if” we know where it comes from and the place it should actually hold somewhere down the line in our lives; the real issue for us is our unremitting “fear of death”, which is in stark antithesis to our lofty American pursuit.  As a result, self-preservation rules the day in all of us, and has not bypassed this modern man to boot, constantly scurrying about wondering what to do about it.

The Culprit: Self Preservation

For instance, we’ve got health insurance; life insurance; flood insurance; fire insurance; pet insurance; and now identity-theft insurance, as well as any number of nuances of extra insurance as a caveat to whatever the aforementioned insurance doesn’t cover in the endless fine print.  And of course, everyone now knows that most of the food we eat and the water we drink is toxic; just one more proposed threat to our “survival of the fittest”.  As a result, other fortune hunters and equally do-gooders have created a new health and wellness industry that promises better health, more energy, a better sex life, a solution to the germaphobes in us all, and overall adds more insulation to our otherwise cushy American life.  In the aftermath, when you tally it all up, there is little left for the “giving back” part of life that supposedly delivers the real happiness according to our antiquated Savior, and not enough time in a day to barely write the skimpy check after the “necessary” precautions have been taken into consideration for our own escape from the stuff, and the people of the world crumbling all around us.

What this has done to Christianity in America and in me should be no secret for anyone who pauses for a millisecond to pay attention, or who hasn’t been sleeping under a rock with Rip Van Winkle. Spiritual formation and discipline in the areas of contentment, sacrifice and humility have already “died on the vine”, and the prospect of storing treasures in a blissful and remote heaven we’re so far removed from rarely makes it into the discussion in the majority of our homes, and now sadly (even more a travesty), in most churches that claim to be teaching us (for a small fee) how it’s all supposed to be done.

Seniors Lead the Way?

I do recall once upon a time, if anyone was listening, hearing the prospect at least, that the old men could teach the younger men, and the older women could teach the younger women how to exemplar Christ, but not to worry anymore.  The old have now by and large become even worse about their own self-preservation and the desire to live till that can’t see straight, just as long as endless surgeries and pharmaceuticals can preserve them, right up until the precipice of the injection of the final embalming fluid.  And they have become the germaphobes extraordinaire these days quite frankly.  In fact, as an ecumenist who takes it upon himself to visit and worship with the kaleidoscope of churches under the Christian rainbow, I’ve noticed lately a trend in the high churches I had not before experienced. It seems that even to them, the eucharist is not that “big a deal” I suppose, for the elderly take the bread and bypass the cup, and then whisk back to their seat, shortly after they “nod” at the “blessing of peace” to others, rather than shake someone’s “germ-ridden hands”.  After all, who the Hell knows where those hands have been for goodness sakes, and even God would want us to be cognizant of this wouldn’t he?.  And so it would seem I guess, that they too no longer believe it’s the actual body and blood of the Lord that we need to imbibe.  Transubstantiawho? In fact, I’m now waiting for the “gluten free” bread line to enter the buffet line of church options.  Hell, there’s an idea!  Maybe we could start a eucharistic gluten free church?  Oh, and bring in the organic wine without all those damn added sulfites too for goodness sakes.  Throw out the Common Cup and bring in the plastic protestant-evangelical cup thingies why don’t we?  Opportunity knocks!  But I now digress.

In Search of the Spirit

The truth of the matter is, that self-preservation has infiltrated the one last beacon of hope (the universal church), while the self-proclaimed “frozen chosen” all across the Christian landscape in America hasn’t much left at the end of the church ledger sheet to tip the poor and send those called to proclaim the good news to the rest of the world as to what makes for real happiness and joy in both this life and the next.  And unless the Spirit comes and engulfs all of us by surreptitiousness, none of our money, reason or logic will budge the thinking and shoes of the vast majority of those who still as of yet aren’t paying us even a smidgeon of attention.  And the crux of the matter to be sure is, that enduring hardship as a good soldier sounds like something synonymous to old fashioned rubbish even to the Christian masses, and thus the chink in the Christian’s decrepit armor takes center stage!  Ho Hum.

But at least lately, as I look at myself in the mirror, I doubt that until I’m willing to die in some form or fashion again, or volunteer occasionally to become our Lord’s court jester, that a world and a church now going head-first after whatever spirit of the age is willing to lift up its dress and show its new world to us, that anyone will pay much bloody attention. Sniff, sniff.

Selah

Still Holding On Loosely To Some Fool’s Gold

The Move

It was early October, when although watching the Weather Channel beforehand would have been enlightening to say the least, the Prince family actually loaded up the truck and moved just south of the “Red-Neck Riviera” to the lovely Surfside by the sea.  Yes, that’s right.  We moved smack dab in the midst of the terrible flood of 2015 that took Columbia and much of the country by surprise.  A time at which also marked a new beginning for the 6 of us minus 2 now, just 7 years in the aftermath of the economic Tidal Wave that first engulfed me, and later was to teach me lessons tattooed forever in the very fiber of my being.

Fool’s Gold

The lesson had something to do with the allure of fools gold I suppose.  In fact, in my Full Focus Planner, it’s at least penned as my number 1 “habit goal” for my life at age 53.  It reads, “Settle once and for all the allure of the world’s fools gold”.  I know, I know, you’re probably not that impressed.  But it does look good on paper.  I can show you if you like.  And for me at least, being enamored with fools gold seems to capture what I’m actually trying “not” to be about; given my lesson I supposedly learned and all.

In fact, evidently years ago it was something called “iron pyrites”, having to do with a gold-like mineral that of course is found to be absolutely worthless, thus given the name fools gold.  Many “would be” treasure hunters evidently found this out the hard way after expending all kinds of energy and capital trying to find it, and came up with the bottom of a worthless barrel.  Interestingly however, though the bible warns us that the pursuit of money is synonymous to a “fools gold” of sorts, the fact is, money is real; and it gets you a lot of stuff, and respect, and a whole lot of false friends to boot.  It also functions very much like a god however, and indeed exerts power both for us and in us in exceedingly formidable ways.  And like Gollum, to part with “my precious”is no easy task, and it’s no secret as to why.  Because as the late Zig Ziglar famously said, “though money it isn’t everything, at least in this life, it ranks right up there with good old oxygen”!

But of course you can’t really know any of these things quite honestly until you actually make some of the green stuff yourself.  And though the rich look down on the poor for what they don’t have, and the poor look down on the rich for what they do have, the truth of the matter is that you don’t know its fools gold until you’ve played the fool that a lot of us play sometimes. Just ask any lottery winner!

A Day Late, and A Dollar Short

As I said earlier, I moved here in the aftershock of my economic quake that happened in my life. And as I’ve written briefly about before, my wife and I did so for a number of reasons.  Some of it had to do with giving a little distance between us and our now blossoming young adult sons who were finally “grown and gone” (in theory at least).  It also had to do with extended family ties that no longer were binding; owning nothing of equitable merit; and a job that allows me to live anywhere in the Carolinas. All of this equaled to a risky proposition, but one we gladly took up nonetheless in order to lunge forward, and spread our wings and fly, fly away.  The oasis by the sea also had a nice ring to it as you can imagine, and I vowed that once I got here I would finally begin writing, something to which before I had only given lip service to.

We’ve been here 2 ½ years now, and moved recently to a spacious rented home just shy of two blocks from my refuge of endless sand and waves, and God’s still small voice.  We own a 2002 Honda, I have a company car, and my wife has done a wonderful job of taking the few material possessions on the inside, and has made this ocean sanctuary my favorite rescue mission ever–to the point at which I almost never want to leave.

As I mentioned before, I’m a sales dog.  In fact, if I sucked at pretty much everything else, this is the one thing that I was meant to do, even if that’s as good as it ever gets.  The last 10 years have been a rollercoaster ride nonetheless. I’ve still been in “sink or swim” mode quite a few times, but have had a few “good” years in terms of Benjamin’s, but not yet enough to purchase a home the smart way this time (If I’m to learn from my tattooed lessons), or to re-stockpile any measure of a portfolio that will as of yet put me back on the financial map (Whatever the Hell that is).  Yet I’m still optimistic.  I mean what else can we do with the time that we have other than seek to get better and stronger, still learn from life’s lessons, and hopefully follow the Lord on the narrow path that leads to real life so I’m told.  I still set goals, though if I had to cash it all in today, the social security money the government has probably already spent is about all I’ve got at this stage of the third quarter of my life.  As a result, I’m shopping for my doublewide retirement villa as we speak.  Realtors, no phone calls please.

But oh yeah, we were supposed to be talking about loosely holding on to fools gold.  I almost forgot.

Pay Attention Sucka

Well it started with a brief and acute reminder about that very thing this last Saturday.  My wife and I went for the first extended time at the beach in awhile due to a surprise winter that has had us spoiled Americans pretty ticked and ready for some “fun in the sun” baby.  It was such a joy to be down there again, though I spend at least 15 minutes a day there in reflection just about every time I’m in town. We drove our golf-cart down there, and that is so cool you know.  I mean after all if your going to live less than two blocks from the beach you gotta have a golf cart man!  It took us two years to save for it, and it was a joy back in August to finally stroke that $3200 check for a used one that we were so ecstatic to finally have.  So on Saturday, we parked our official beach bum statement at our favorite beach access, walked about 50 feet, and then gazed at the ocean’s splendor for about an hour or so.  We talked again about our dreams and plans, the children and others we love, and the God we are desperately trying to follow in the midst of the world’s rigamoro.

It was just a short hour, but so exhilarating.  And then we packed everything up and started to walk back to our golf cart.  And as I got closer, I realized I didn’t see it, but I nevertheless ignored that unwelcome thought until I got closer, until of course it was all over but the crying. My wife was so torn up about it. More for the fact that she knew money is hard to come by, and remembered how thrilled I was to finally get it for everyone, and for the guests that come to see us often.  But as she was rightly torn up about it for the both of us, I just sighed and let my words be few.  We walked back to our short distance home, made our trek to the police station and filed the report with the local police, and then numbed ourselves with a couple of Saturday cold beers until night came briskly by, with another day and another negative dollar waiting on the horizon.

Achieving At Least One of My Goals

I haven’t said much since then about it, because after all, it’s G.O.N.E.  But somehow, I knew immediately in my spirit, that though the Lord didn’t steal it, and I’m sure He was equally sad for me, it was His gracious reminder yet again to hold on to the things of this world loosely; for they are indeed fleeting and truly are (like us) “dust in the wind”.  And then all at once, I was quickly reminiscent of verses etched in my memory and in my soul, such as “whoever loves money, never has enough”, and others such as being free from the love of money, and the very truthful fact that it is nearly damn impossible to serve two masters, since we no doubt will love one and give nothing more than a month of Sundays here and there to the other.  And then I thought about that gosh-darn rich fool who looked at all his barns, quite satisfied with his accomplishments, his multiple streams of income and diversified portfolio; yet who like the late J. Paul Getty when asked how much money would be enough, he replied, “a little bit more”.  And that night, as the story goes, his soul was required of him.

The truth is, I’ve always held on to money and things loosely for as long as I can remember. That can be both a good and a bad thing, at least in this life.  At one point and time, I was like Erasmus, who once said, “When I have a little bit of money, I buy books, and afterwards I buy food and clothes”.  Other times, if I’ve had two dollars, it was a dollar too much when someone else has needed it.  And on other occasions, no matter how hard I’ve tried to accumulate some in my older and wiser years, in life it seems there’s always a golf-cart thief lurking somewhere beyond the dunes.

And then all at once it has occurred to me yet again, that though money has an immense power both for us and in us I’ve already mentioned, and Lord knows we need some of it.  Yet I don’t know if we’ve paid much attention lately or not, but the truth I’m told, is that wherever our treasure is, there will our heart be also.  And so at least for now, I’m thankful for that blasted stolen golf cart, and that it didn’t up and take my heart along with it.

Selah