Sunday, February 4, 2018

Living in a Low Trust Culture

We are all on edge and all on our guard. That is the downside of living in a low trust society. A while back, Stephen M.R. Covey (son of the more well known Stephen Covey) wrote a book called Business at the Speed of Trust. In it, he refers to a trust tax. A trust tax imposes a broader penalty of a tax in every relationship, every transaction, every communication, and every dimension of life. When I turn on the t.v. to watch a game and I see that every other ad is for a personal injury lawyer, I have to question whether we have truly disintegrated into a low trust society. When the default mode for relationships is suspicion, then we are living in a low trust society.

A lot of people don't realize the implications of the trust tax. The economics of it are that everything costs more. If there are chronic lawsuits, the cost of defending has to show up somewhere and it is reflected in the price of things. A number of years ago, my daughter was in a fender-bender type accident at the age of 17. My mail started filling up with requests to represent us for the "pain and suffering" my daughter experienced. There were no injuries, just car damage. Some letters implied we should invent injuries.

Do you assume people are at their best or at their worst? Have you ever questioned the motivation of people that ask you for help? I would rather be defrauded and assume the best in people than live with the constant suspicion of others. In Covey's book, he also refers to a trust dividend which is the benefit of living in a high trust society. You may be wronged and likely will be. But you will live a life free from constant suspicion and people may surprise you.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Why Are Millenials Dying?

My day job is running a cool software company that transforms public data into actionable insight.  I write a weekly blog that analyzes issues around community health and postsecondary education. These past few weeks I have been writing about the alarming trends in the mortality or death rates. Last week I wrote on the causes of death that have spiked up in recent years which include external causes such as substance abuse and behavioral disorders. This week I wrote about the death rates among ages 15-44 which have spiked in recent years, and especially the 25-34 year old age group which has spiked 19% from 2014-2016 as noted in the following graph. There is an associated video blog on the topic.

As the parent of three millennials, I was staggered by this, but not totally surprised. Why is this generation in essence killing themselves over just a three or four year period?  My prayer is that these thoughts spur yours and cause you to reflect.
  • This generation is the first full social media generation. There are some really good things to like about social media. It has enabled me to reconnect with old friends for example. But it is not social and it has rapidly devolved into a platform for shouting my opinion. I believe it has ruined the ability to practice empathetic listening. We as a culture have rapidly lost the ability to listen to others. Terry Pluto wrote an excellent article where he deemed this the age of rage.
  • Millenials by and large that I talk to (I am also the parent of three of this generation) have a very strong interest in making the world a better place. But they are also the same generation that expects rapid results and they become impatient and frustrated when they can't effect change. Because millennials seem to be less interested in filling gaps with tangible things, this breeds a deep self-reflective cause of frustration. 
  • We as a culture simply no longer take time to reflect and meditate. Deb and I were just discussing this today. My phone cries for my attention. I get deeply busy, but I lose a little piece of cognitive awareness and self-reflection with each battle for my attention.  
  • But I believe the biggest reason by far is this generation is the first to believe that a personal, creator God has no interest in them and they have no interest in a personal, creator God. The most recent Pew study cites a large rise in "Unafilliated" rise in religious identification. They are the "None" generation as Andy Stanley calls them. 
It comes down to a set of foundational beliefs that occur in a critical order.
  • A belief in a personal God who created me and gave Himself up for me 
  • A priority in building into that same relationship
  • Because of the vertical relationship with a holy God, there comes a priority on horizontal personal relationships with others who are created in the same image. 
  • A focus on listening empathetically (something that I am working on). This is why Jesus said the first and foremost commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself". 
  • Putting a priority on anything that might drive a wedge in either of those relationships. For example, while I have an opinion on the events of our day, I try to stay away from anything that will alienate or drive a wedge in those relationships.  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

99 Homes and the Moral Line

Recently watched the movie 99 Homes. This is a painful movie to watch and it is not the type of movie you would likely watch twice. Spoiler alert if you plan on watching the movie. The story-line is about a young unmarried father (Dennis Nash played by Andrew Garfield) who lives with his young son (9 something) and his mom in a house that gets repossessed. Nash then in turn, because he is so good at so many things and in desperate need of money, joins the real estate company of the slick man (Rick Carver played by Michael Shannon) who repossessed his house. Along the way, he continues to do shadier and shadier things. It was hard enough to evict people from their homes, but then there were the numerous ways they continued to stretch and then outright cheat the system.

At the very end there was a moral line that Nash could not cross. What was intriguing to me was his realization that the line simply carried too much human cost. His mother had moved out with his son and there was another family that would be forever damaged by his action. So he briefly crossed that moral line, confessed it, and the movie ends abruptly. We are left not knowing what happens after that and I think that was intentional.

I had two major takeaways from this movie. First, moral lines are like boundaries. When we keep moving them, the lines get easier and easier to cross and the size of the offense gets greater and greater. Exaggerating leads to small lies, which lead to bigger lies. When you get away with one, it seems easier to break bigger ones.

Second, there are always consequences. Early in the process, the offense was depersonalized. Nash was cheating the "system" or the "government". There are no faces. But as the lying and the moral line got further crossed, there was a personal toll. In fact, every moral offense has a personal toll even if it is just to yourself. That is the minimum. Then it works it's way outward. That is what happened in the movie. The lying and the cheating revealed itself over time and those closest bore the cost.

I have to catch myself in the moment when I am prone to even the smallest lie. I have to nip it in the bud.  It is so easy to start and so easy to continue going. I have even started to tell someone a lie or exaggeration and stopped confessing it on the spot. I do that not because I am so moral (because I am definitely not) or because these lies would hurt the other person, but because I know it will hurt me.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Back... Moving Forward

It has been really cold here as it has in many places. The other day Deb was getting one of my heavier coats. She stuck her hand in the pocket and found this surprise.

Yes, it is a very rare find. It was the last playoff game that we attended by the Browns in 1994. Yes, playoffs and Browns rarely go in the same sentence. We would be happy just to win a game. But then I digress. It caused us to remember the game and the details of it. One little factoid - the Browns head coach that year was one Bill Belichik and the defensive coordinator was one Nick Saban (now longtime head coach at Alabama).

On the last day of the year, we love to look back. But then tomorrow, we start to look forward. We make our plans and New Year's resolutions. I have been fond of using something I called Be Goals which I have written about before. It is the concept of setting personal goals of internal change and transformation. But as I look into next year, I also want to be content in just living day to day. I want to approach each day with a fresh set of eyes and expectantly looking forward to just what God is doing that day. I also want to be thankful. How much God has indeed blessed me and how much I take for granted. I am talking about blessings of family, relationships, and most of all faith. God has indeed been good to me all year and I know, no matter what he is a God fully worthy of my trust.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Wonder of Christmas

I love those Sports Sciences videos that break down the athletic marvels like this block by Lebron James into incredible science nuggets.

For example, in this video it talks about the reaction time of the block being .20 of a second, about the same amount of time to pop a champagne cork (not sure why they picked that one).

Do you ever marvel at the wonder of Christmas? If I were going to script it out, I would not script out the way God did. God, the infinite creator of the heavens and earth enters our finite time and space,  He enters the birth canal of the same woman He created. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes into a completely impoverished family and born in abject poverty in a non-descript town (Bethlehem). He is raised in a town that is not known for much of anything (Nazareth). He takes on a trade that is reserved for the common man (carpenter). He is obedient to fallible parents. He is an itinerant, homeless preacher for three years. He suffers tribulation and trial just like we do. He suffers a ghastly execution reserved for the worst of criminals. He endures hell for three days.  That is just a sampling. The highest of the high becomes the lowest of the low.

I can't get my head around this. And that is a good thing. If I got it, it would lose its amazement. But what I love is, I can't say I am deserving. I marvel, I wonder at the perfect sacrifice of Christ. And that is worth celebrating.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Lust and Transformation

I am old enough to remember when Jimmy Carter infamously said to Playboy magazine in 1976, "I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times." It was ranked on Time Magazine's Top 10 Unfortunate Political One Liners. Carter has been ridiculed many times for that comment. Some just think it was goofy (of course men lust) and others thought just too information. But I appreciate Carter's honesty and being honest with ourselves and before our creator is the first step towards transformation from lust.

Last week I talked about the problem with sexual dysfunction in our society. It is not at all a shock to me that accusations against prominent men are coming out of the woodwork. There is a problem in the male community that rarely is spoken of. How we view women is a byproduct of many things. If there is a root problem, there has to be a root solution. 

  1. Do you see that you actually have a problem with how you view women? If you don't think you do (which is a very small percentage of men), then read no further. 
  2. Are you committed to a relationship with your spouse? Again, the answer has to be yes. You have to believe that marriage is a covenant. 
  3. Do you view that lust is damaging to that relationship? And I am talking about just viewing other women in that manner. BTW, this is damaging also to friendships you can have with women. 
  4. Commit to taking it to the Lord and asking him to change your heart. This has to be done daily. You see, there is an adversary that would long to see you mess up your life. Ask God to protect the sanctity of your marriage. Paul says "No temptation has overtaken you, but such as is common to man, and God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide a way of escape so that you may be able to endure it." (2 Cor. 5:17). 
  5. Aggressively guard against that which comes into your eye-gate. Deb and I love movies and we know that part of our movie watching process is to avoid any movies with erotic stuff and fast forward through parts as they pop up. There is a reason Paul says to flee immorality. Put that into the vernacular of our modern Internet society and it means we must be fiercely resistant.
Step 5 is precarious without Step 4. Humans are notoriously weak. I know some well-meaning Christian men who have accountability groups. This is in and of itself a good thing, but absolutely not enough by itself. A man cannot be transformed by other men and he can't will himself out of this problem. I find that if I am on the right track, I am naturally looking at women differently than if I am on the wrong track. I also know it does not take much to get on the wrong track.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Root of Sexual Dysfunction

In the past, allegations of sexual misconduct might occur maybe a few times a year. Now, it is seemingly several times a week. Matt Lauer, Al Franken, Trent Frank, John Conyers, Roy Moore and the list goes on and on. What is going on?

To some level, much of what has occurred happened in a much earlier time and women are increasingly emboldened to speak out when in the past they might have been afraid to. I wonder how much of this has occurred that we don't know. But I happen to think the insidious nature of how we look at sexual relationships goes way beyond specific situations to a society that is absolutely saturated with the wrong images of sex.

As much as 20% or more of Internet searches involve pornography. It is so readily available and so easy to get. Free and paid T.V. also glamorize sex as casual and fun. Virtually none of this occurs in the context of traditional marriage. The goal in pornography is self-satisfaction. The other party is simply the means to this end.  It glamorizes how women can exist to pleasure men. Men in particular are really good at storing these mental images in their computer brain and the images intensely cloud how they look at the opposite sex. The can no longer look at them as people but as pleasure makers.

I participate in a number of close knit men's groups and the vast majority of them have struggled with exposure to Internet porn. One pastor I spoke with said 90-95% of the young men (as early as middle school) are purveyors of Internet porn. No wonder we have dysfunction with women, and especially our wives. Sex in the form of marriage is all about other-satisfaction and complete transparency. I wrote about this in my previous blog on intimacy in response to the death of Hugh Hefner.

There are damaging consequences to this behavior. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says that we are to flee immorality. The word used here is the word porneia which is where the word pornography comes from. He goes on to say that every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body (1 Cor. 6:18-20, emphasis mine). In other words, no other sinful behavior has the capacity to wreck a man physically. I believe that is what David was dealing with in Psalm 32 when he said, "when I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long". The woods are full of people who have messed themselves up. And the list of those that could mess themselves up is the vast majority of us.

Fortunately there is a solution and I will explore this in another week.