Don’t Feed the Trolls

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*https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/heres-happens-confront-internet-troll-face-face/*

First impressions are critical in life and in business.

A good or bad first impression can decide whether or not that date will turn into a relationship, you get the job, join a particular church, or vote for a certain political candidate.

All of us are guilty from time to time of making snap judgments about people and situations. We judge someone’s character just by looking at them. We tune out a song or speech after the first verses or sentences. We don’t like something new because it’s not as good as the original. We overuse such phrases as “It’s the best/worst ever.” After making the determination about someone or something’s value, we look for confirmation bias:

“I got stuck in traffic this morning. I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

After the news is announced that a particular actor was cast in a movie yet to go into production and be released, “That’s going to be terrible. Worst casting choice ever!”

“This country is going to hell in a hand basket. I miss the good ol’ days.”

What if I told you that you can manage your impressions and starve your inner troll at the same time? You can. Everyone of us has the ability to control our responses to any situation. As individuals, we have the right to think for ourselves, thus we can move away from doctrine, party, and the same talking points which will never convert your opponent anyway.

I am a firm believer that life is fraught with difficulties and we should anticipate problems, but we should not live in fear of them. What if we were to take a few moments to step aside and assess the situation? You received a bad diagnosis from the doctor? You can always seek a second opinion. You can examine your life and make changes concerning your health. In the case of a terminal issue, you can even make the most of the time you have left.

In Epictetus’ The Art of Living, the Stoic philosopher discusses how our view of situations, including death, can be more damaging than the situation itself:

“Things themselves don’t hurt or hinder us. Nor do other people. How we view these things is another matter. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. Therefore even death is no big deal in and of itself. It is our notion of death, our idea that it is terrible, that terrifies us. There are so many different ways to think about death. Scrutinize your notions about death- and everything else. Are they really true? Are they doing you any good? Don’t dread death or pain; dread the fear of death or pain. We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” (italics mine).*

When the alarm goes off to signal a new day, don’t sigh or allow yourself to be filled with dread, because you’ve been given a second chance. Take the time to talk to the person you dismissed and maybe you’ll find some common ground or become friends. In order to manage our impressions, we must be fluid and adaptable to whatever comes our way. Don’t expect to have the same beliefs at forty that you did at twenty. As we experience more of life, the more knowledge and wisdom we attain in order to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We must also realize that life is not all bad and it’s not all good, as there will be difficulty. Change your perception of the situation and you will chance your response to said situation. And please, stop feeding the trolls. God bless.

*Epictetus, The Art of Living, interpreted by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 10.

Jesus Crosses Social Barriers

“Now he had to go through Samaria,” John 4:4 (NIV).

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Have you ever tried to avoid driving on a certain stretch of road or try to bypass traffic in a particular city? What if going through said stretch of road or city was the shortest, most direct route to your destination? Would you still avoid it? Is there some long-standing bias or bad memory associated with the road or city?

During biblical times, the average person walked everywhere or they may have rode a donkey, camel, or perhaps a horse. When there are great distances involved, especially while traveling on foot, you would want to walk the shortest route possible. In one instance, Jesus took the shortest route and crossed a major social barrier.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee and went through Samaria, which was the shortest route. “Now he had to go through Samaria,” seems like a pretty innocuous statement for a 21st Century reader, but in Jesus’ time, Samaria was controversial among the Jews of Israel. In fact, many Jews tried to go places by avoiding Samaria all together.

The controversy dates back to the Old Testament. Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, while Jerusalem remained the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judea.  The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC and deported many of the Jews. The Assyrians brought in Gentiles (non-Jews) to settle the land. These Gentiles intermarried with the remaining Jews, which created a “mixed race,” which the Jews of Judea did not recognize the Samaritan as “authentic Jews” for lack of a better term. The Samaritan Jews also believed Mount Gerizim was the holy site for sacrifice, not the Temple in Jerusalem, and recognized only the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) as Scripture.

Understanding the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans gives a different context to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which probably would have angered many in his Jewish audience that a Samaritan would be hero of the story.

I will not go through the entire story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), but I want to discuss some of the highlights. We live in such a divisive time, where people only read and listen to what confirms their confirmation bias, from which they do not budge. Let us take a look at the barriers Jesus crosses in this story:

-Jesus goes directly into what many consider “hostile territory.”

-Jesus, a Jew, speaks with people who are Samaritans.

-Jesus, a man, ministers to a woman.

-Jesus does not condemn the Samaritan woman for her past.

-Jesus does not debate doctrine, cast judgment, or threaten anyone with hell.

-Jesus brings a message of hope for all people, regardless of their background.

-Jesus breaks down the barriers of  institutional racism.

After Jesus ministers to the woman, she goes back and brings people of the town to see Jesus. Jesus and the disciples end up staying in Samaria for two days and many Samaritans come to faith in Christ.

I recognize that during my more fundamentalist days, I was a very divisive Christian. I have seen the error of my ways and I am now trying to break down these man made barriers. I believe the church and all of society can benefit from this example of Christ. Just because someone isn’t the same skin color as you, believes a different political philosophy, goes to a different church, or lives a lifestyle you don’t agree with, that doesn’t make them bad people. Everybody is just like you, in search of love and acceptance, which we need to provide. There is no need to condemn anyone for their past, because we all have a past. Let’s quit treating each other like dogs and rubbing our noses in each other’s mess. If we as Christians want to be more like Jesus, we need to be tearing down these superficial barriers instead of building  higher and higher walls.

 

 

The Power of Acceptance

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Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” – William James1

It is what it is,” is a popular American saying, which means “accept it because there’s nothing you can do about it.” While in the moment the expression sounds like a cop out of resignation, but within this cliché is a nugget of wisdom.
There is power in acceptance. Acceptance helps you come to terms with what happens in life, no matter if it is death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, or our own looming mortality. Acceptance allows us to grow. For example, I am perfectly fine with the man I am at forty-one and I do not grieve about not being the man I was at twenty-one. I have come to embrace who I am and what I have been through in this life. However, this does not mean that I have liked everything that has happened,but I have used these building blocks of character to form the foundation of who I am today.
Acceptance can also help bring us peace of mind and process life’s events, as my favorite philosopher, Epictetus, put it succinctly: “Don’t demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. That way peace is possible.”2
In fact, Epictetus put down a good foundation for us to follow concerning the power of acceptance.

Manage your expectations

Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”3

Be weary of attachments

Open your eyes: Seeing things for what they really are, thereby sparing yourself the pain of false attachments and avoidable devastation. Think about what delights you- the tools on which you depend, the people whom you cherish. But remember that they have their own distinct character, which is quite a separate matter from how we happen to regard them.”4

Attitude goes a long way

When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.”5

Manage your perceptions and judgments

What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance. Stop scaring yourself with impetuous notions, with your reactive impressions of the way things are! Things and people are not what we wish them to be nor what they seem to be. They are what they are.”6

Life will never be perfect and as Epictetus pointed out, will turn out according to our expectations. One of the most important lessons I have learned is to be happy with who I am. Don’t waste your time trying to make everyone happy, because you won’t. You are the one who lives this life with your mind, your perceptions, your experiences, your genetic makeup, and the consequences of your choices.Therefore, embrace this life because it is the only life we get. God bless you.

2Epictetus, The Art of Living, A new interpretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1994): 15.

3Ibid, 7.

4Ibid, 7.

5Ibid, 7.

6Ibid, 7-8.

What are You going to do about it?

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I’ve spent a lot of my life being angry- at myself, the condition of the world, unanswered prayers, disappointment, poor stress management, and seemingly hopeless situations. Anger is also a by-product and symptom of such things as depression, grief, illness, trauma, and the everyday frustrations of being an adult.

Anger is viewed as a destructive force which will eat away at us and rob us of any joy, as these quotes testifty:

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”-Buddha.

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“When anger arises, think of the consequences.” -Confucius.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” -Mark Twain.

When our anger becomes apparent to those around us, the question becomes Why are you so angry?

Sometimes we’ll spout off some surface answer, such as:

“I hate my job.”

“My boss is a jerk.”

“My kids won’t act right.”

“Politician X or party Y are ruining this country.”

“I don’t know how I’m going to pay these bills.”

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

However, what if in our attempt to figure out the cause of our anger, we are asking the wrong question? What if instead of asking, “Why am I angry?” we should ask ourselves, “You’re angry, now, what are you going to do about it?

***Disclaimer- this question does not imply that you bring harm to yourself or someone else. If that’s the conclusion you come to, then please seek qualified professional help.***

If we can ask ourselves about what we are going to do about the situation, we can reason through the situation. This reasoning can take time, as it depends on how much work someone is willing to go through to resolve the issue.

After asking yourself what are you going to do, ask yourself this question:

Is any part of this situation in my control? If yes, then implent change. If not, then realize the only things you can control are your responses, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and perceptions.

Let’s use the example of the fact you dislike your job and your boss. How can we better handle the situation better and  not be so angry?

-We could be thankful to have a job because some people don’t have jobs.

-We can be emphathetic to our boss because maybe he or she is under a lot of stress.

-If the situation becomes unbearable, we can speak to our boss about the issue. If talking doesn’t resolve it, then we can go to a higher corporate authority.

-We can ask our boss or coworkers if they need help with anything to ease their stress.

-We go to work and focus on our job and not worry about the stress around us.

-We can always search for another job or try to transfer to a different department.

-We could pursue a more fulfilling career.

-We could be in a state of prayerfulness or mindfulness concerning our attitude and responses.

This is just one simplified example, but I believe that any stressful situation is not worth our peace of mind and we must step back to get back on track. If you want to pursue a lifestyle change, then you must put in the time to change. Seek wisdom and find the inspiration within yourself. God bless.

Since Hypocrisy Abounds

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By Michael W. Raley

Since hypocrisy abounds,

Let us check to ensure

That the love we profess for others is genuine

And not lip service to a self-righteous high ground.

For I too have been numbered with the hypocrites

And it is not a pleasant truth to face:

When you demand to be right at any costs,

You have hindered true compassion and grace.

I see my ugly flaws,

As they are in plain view.

I must work on myself

Before I should give any advice to you.

Before you speak, give yourself pause

And think about what you will do and say.

Consider the cause

Search your soul and consider your ways.

Balance Out the Extremes

As a music lover, I believe that few things can stir the soul like the sound of an orchestra. All of the musicians and instruments can stand out while at the same time achieve a harmonious sound. There are no words needed to convey the emotions because they come across in the music. We must not allow ourselves to focus solely on the violins or cellos, for we will not hear the majesty of the horns or the whimsy of the woodwinds. The beauty of the orchestra is in the balance of everything coming together. I believe that in life, we too must find this harmonious balance.

I believe on important way to find our balance is to cut out the extremes in our thoughts, faith, actions, and interactions with others. As science and technology has progressed, there is something still in humans that keeps us in this territorial mindset, where we believe our group and our group alone is right. Though we are individuals, we seek community, often with like-minded people, because it makes us feel safe and comfortable. However, if we seek only people and groups who look like us, think like us, and talk like us, we will lose the chance to become part of the larger community.

When we insulate ourselves in this fundamentalist or extremist  “group thinking,” we will become ignorant and fearful of the world around us. People who don’t live like “us” are often perceived as a threat to our way of life, and a persecuted mindset takes hold. This line of thinking, unfortunately, leads only to more hate, suffering, and outright discrimination, which only sends us back as a society.

Have you ever stopped to realize that the person or group of people you distrust or fear- often based on superficial reasons such as skin color, orientation, religion, political affiliation, age, income, or anything else- simply wants the same thing you do? These people seek to live their lives in freedom, without having to face fear, bigotry, judgment, or persecution. What if we focused our time on being the best person we could be and not worry about trying to mold our neighbor into who we want them to be? What if we would be deliberate and pragmatic in solving the problems we face? What if we would shed all of these labels and see each other for who we are? That would be a start to finding the balance in the middle of the extremes.

A Morning Musing

What happened to the fine art of the civilized conversation? When did eloquence, reason, and logic take a backseat to emotion?

Most people today seem content to stand at the fringe of their ideological extreme, with only the sole intention of either crushing or converting their opposition; No middle ground will be sought. Both sides will declare victory, though nothing will be accomplished. When an event takes place and a “national dialogue” is started, the same rhetoric is heard over and over.

How can anyone listen when everybody is screaming at each other? To quote an old movie line, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” I believe that we have allowed others to control the conversations and we keep having these same conversations again and again. Rarely do we go beyond the headline, the social media post, or what gets repeated and eventually accepted as truth.

How much longer can we afford to be shamelessly pandered to and patronized by political propaganda? How many times have you heard these same generalized promises with no results? If we continue to allow the same institutions and politicians to stir up the same old prejudices and reopen closing wounds, then how can we truly make progress as men, women, and as society?

If we seek to change society, then we must first change ourselves. We must enlighten and educate ourselves, as we cannot rely on others to do it. If we allow others to be our sole source of education, then we will fall victim to their agenda. Do not simply accept what you hear, search out the truth. Do not allow negative emotions to dictate your position nor go for the low hanging fruit that is being dangled in front of you. Nothing will change the past- it’s over, that’s why it’s called the past. Make the most of the present time you have and make today the best it could be. Be wise and discerning of everything you hear and see. Search out the truth will all of your heart, mind, and soul. God bless you.

 

 

 

 

Romans 12: Love in Action

Perhaps the two most famous biblical passages on love are John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 13. John 3:16 shows us the extent of God’s love for us, while 1 Corinthians 13 gives us the true and ideal path of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NIV).

Love and relationships are hard work and take time. A relationship is two imperfect people trying to build the perfect life together coupled with stresses and storms of life. If you have fallen short of what the Apostle Paul put forth concerning love, don’t fret or despair. Every one of us has fallen short, but while we live, we can work to improve the depth of our love and relationships.

In Romans chapter 12, the Apostle Paul show’s us the application of love regarding our relationships to God, ourselves, and those around us. (I will simply cite the idea of the verse, as opposed to listing long passages of Scripture).

Our Relationship with God

*We are to be living sacrifices for God (Romans 12:1).

*We are called to renew our minds and discover God’s will for our lives (Romans 12:2).

*We are called to serve God with a spiritual fervor while being examples of service, faithfulness and hospitality. (Romans 12:11-14).

Our Relationship with ourselves

*We must exercise humility (Romans 12:3; 12:16b).

*If someone does us wrong, we must not be consumed with revenge, for God will deal with them (Romans 12:17-20).

Our Relationships with others

*Recognize that we are all children of God, but we are not gifted in the same ways (Romans 12:4-8).

*Our love must be of sincere devotion, despising evil and esteeming others above ourselves (Romans 12:9-10).

*We are called to serve others during good times and bad times, no matter their position in life (Romans 12:15-16a).

*We are to overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21).

We can take away three keys to being a more loving and graceful person:

(1) Introspection. When we see how far we have fallen short, we can come to God’s grace and accept His everlasting love. Our response will become to share the love we have been given. 

(2) We must change our “programming pattern.” Our thoughts, judgments, and perceptions are well within our control, but we allow ourselves to be influenced by the world’s negativity. Think of your mind as a computer. When we don’t change our thinking, we are allowing someone else to write our programming and operating system. 

(3) We must become more empathetic to others. We must recognize that everyone, no matter how they live their life, their politics, their skin color, social status, or nationality, deserves to be loved. We must be willing, as the old saying goes, to put ourselves in their shoes and help them through this life.

We are called to love and serve others. The time has come for us to quit tearing each other down and begin the rebuilding process. God bless you all.

 

 

Be a Force for Love

By Michael W. Raley

Evil exists in the world.

However, that is not an excuse

For it to dwell in you.

Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated

Into following the aimless herd.

You have been gifted with logic and reason.

Therefore, open up the gifts and put them to use.

Don’t join the angry mob,

But be a force for love.

Bitterness and hate are the caustic acids

Which will eat away at even the most docile soul,

Only to leave you in the pit of despair and regret.

Your time is limited and may run out any day,

So why choose to live in constant anger and seething rage?

Be a force for love.

We are all God’s children

And we must embrace every brother and every sister

Who comes our way each and every day.

The earth will remain,

But we will soon be gone.

Keep this thought in mind

In all you say, do, and think.

Go and live in peace.

Be a force for love.

 

 

Christ is for All

Could you imagine living a life without barriers? What would life be like without self-imposed and societal-placed barriers? I am not speaking of the abolishment of law and order or a misguided utopia, but what if we could remove the labels off of everyone? People, no matter where they come from, gender, skin color, body type, political or religious belief are simply people.

What if we could view our brother or sister as simply a fellow traveling companion who is on their own journey through life? What if we could stop expecting perfection from those around us? Where’s the grace for them? We certainly would want that grace in the event we make a mistake.

It seems today’s social dialogue is “I’m completely right, you’re completely wrong!” Friendly discussion has gone the way of the dinosaurs. I believe there comes a time when everyone must examine themselves and the direction of their life, so we may see the effect we have on others. For Christians, we have to do some deep soul searching. The questions becomes: “Is the world’s growing hostility toward the Church a direct result of the Church’s hostility toward the world? Are the barriers we put up towards others hindering the effective preaching of the Gospel? I believe so.

Jesus never turned away anyone who genuinely sought Him. Did people reject Jesus? Absolutely. Did the people who came to faith in Christ struggle with sin afterwards? I’m pretty sure they did. I believe that in order to experience growth as Christians and to show the love of God to others, we must accept people where they are at in life. We need to do away with this “us versus them” mentality, because Christ is for all.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is nether slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NKJV).

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and all have been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, NKJV).

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 3:9-11, NKJV).

As we live our lives and interact with the people God has placed in our path, remember we are to be salt and light, not judge, jury, and executioner. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin, not ours. We must not look to governments and institutions to solve our problems, we must look inward and pray upward for the strength to change ourselves. God bless you all.