Archive for October, 2017

500 years after Luther’s 95 theses, there’s still not much to celebrate

by David McElroy

Although my theological roots are completely on the Protestant side, I don’t have the romantic view of Martin Luther and the Reformation that many people seem to have.

Today is the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. That event was the start of a movement against the authority of the existing church. Luther challenged much that was wrong in the church of his day, but he got enough wrong that I’m uncomfortable holding him up as a hero for God.

Many Christians around the world celebrate today as Reformation Day and the 500th anniversary has taken on great significance for some, but I find myself looking at it in a different way. I don’t really see much to celebrate.

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Continued collapse of competence points toward decline of a culture

by David McElroy

I see the collapse of modern culture in this biscuit promotion at a fast food restaurant.

That might seem alarmist hyperbole, but I see it as a tiny symptom of something much larger. All around us, competence is dying. Incompetence is becoming both expected and accepted — and I can’t think of a more obvious early indicator of a culture’s coming death.

This sign has been in front of a Birmingham-area Burger King for weeks, but the problem is not just a local phenomenon. I see the same sorts of things everywhere, both in the physical space around me and in the incoherent mush of popular media.

The sign says “2 FOR 4 BISCUITS.” Are they offering two biscuits for $4? Or is it four biscuits for $2? If you happen to know what’s typical for Burger King biscuits, maybe you’d have a guess, but even then, it would be just a guess.

If this were unusual, I would just laugh at it and move on, but this sort of casual incompetence is everywhere today. It scares me and it angers me.

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How terrified would your child self have been of your current adult life?

by David McElroy

Halloween has never been especially scary to me and horror films have held little interest. The real world has monsters far worse than whatever fiction or fantasy can imagine.

What scared you as a child? Was it the monsters under your bed? Noises in your closet? A tapping sound on your bedroom window at night when it stormed? Or maybe just the fear that someone would leave?

By our adult standards, those are (usually) childish fears which wouldn’t scare us much today. But what if your adult self could go back 20 or 30 or 40 years? What if you could go back into your own mind when you were about 12 or 15? Looking forward into the future as you now know it, what would be your biggest horror?

I’d like to suggest that the reality of our daily adult lives would be more terrifying than anything else that child self could possibly see.

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Why can beauty hurt so much? And why do I see her face in the sky?

by David McElroy

The experience of beauty can be so intense for me that it hurts my heart — but it’s a joyful hurt that is full of the pleasure of experiencing something which is completely true and real.

I first encountered this idea when I was too young to understand it. A Star Trek episode quoted a line from English poet George Herbert which asked, “Is there in truth no beauty?”

I spent a lot of time pondering that line, because it felt important in an irrational way. As I read the various English romantic poets in college, I started seeing a glimmer of understanding, but I still wasn’t there.

I read about how the Greeks equated beauty and truth. I read the English poet John Keats’ line, “Beauty is truth and truth is beauty.”

And then when I experienced a deeper form of mature love, it all suddenly made sense. I still couldn’t explain the reasoning, but I could suddenly feel it. When I experience transcendent beauty — of the kind I experienced when I photographed this sunset Monday night — I experience something about truth.

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What is this old longing for home? It’s the need for unconditional love

by David McElroy

You want success, wealth and acclaim. I want freedom, acceptance and self-expression. Everybody’s list might sound a little different. But what if we’re all really looking for unconditional love — and we’re all pursuing it in the ways we were programmed to believe would get it?

Our fantasy idea of home is the thing we’re all looking for, because that is where we’ll be loved unconditionally. It’s where people will understand us and accept us. It’s the place where we will be able to open up to others — and experience something like a mirror of our own soul.

We’re looking for a partner who accepts and mirrors us — our thoughts, our values, our hopes, our dreams.

We’re looking for people who somehow feel like home — who feel familiar and who give us a sense of belonging.

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Can I talk myself into not wanting great things I fear I’ll never have?

by David McElroy

It’s been almost 30 years since I figured out — much to my surprise — that what I really wanted more than anything else vocationally was to be an artist. And I’ve spent most of the years since then explaining to myself over and over why this isn’t possible.

After enough reasonable explanation, I start getting numb to what I want. I forget what it feels like. I turn my attention elsewhere and tell myself that realistic people do other things. Maybe I can make filmmaking a hobby if I do really well for awhile at something I hate.

Doesn’t that make sense? I can make a few hundred thousand dollars a year as a real estate broker. How about that? Isn’t that more realistic? Sure. Why not. I’ll do that. It all makes so much sense. And it sounds so responsible.

And so I start burying what I know — every now and then, at least — that I want. Until somebody comes along and pokes a stick at something I try hard not to look at.

That’s what happened today.

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Most important thing you’ll do for your child is selecting other parent

by David McElroy

When I read today that 68-year-old singer Billy Joel and his 36-year-old wife are expecting their second child, my first thought was, “Well, there’s hope for me yet.”

I’ve known since I was a teen-ager that I wanted children of my own, but the time and situation have never been right for me to have kids. Although I’m certainly not as old as Joel, I’ve reached the point at which the clock is ticking. I have to get started if I’m going to.

But as I think about this again, I’m reminded of my problem. If I just wanted to reproduce with someone, I would be able to find someone and get started quickly. My problem is that I know the kind of mother I want for my children — and that woman is very hard to find and even harder to woo and win.

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We’re all trapped in our own heads, fearful of other people’s judgment

by David McElroy

The most fundamental error that we all make is assuming we can understand what it feels like to be inside someone else’s mind and heart.

It’s not a conscious decision to believe this. It’s just a natural assumption we start with to one extent or another. But the more I’ve become aware of this error — first by observing myself and then by observing and re-interpreting others — the more aware I’ve become how pervasive it is.

What’s worse, I’ve realized that almost all of the manipulators in our lives use this assumption to control us.

Imagine you are locked alone in a bare cell with a locked door. You can’t see anyone else. You can’t hear anyone else. You have no idea where you are or why you’re there. You just know you’re alone.

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Why am I shocked that a friend’s happy news makes me feel envy?

by David McElroy

“Have you seen Julie?” Matt asked me. “She’s pregnant and she’s sitting back there.”

Julie is a casual friend who got married last year. I don’t know her that well and I rarely see her. I had just walked into a restaurant for dinner Friday evening and an employee told me the news.

My first reaction was to express happiness for Julie and her husband, but I suddenly realized I felt something unexpected. My inner emotional mask slipped slightly and I felt … what was this?

Envy.

Instead of pure happiness for Julie — who will be a great mother, by the way — I felt something ugly in my gut. My heart felt cold and hard. There was a powerful hint of anger — self-directed? — and then I realized it was hard to put labels on the things I was feeling.

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Tradeoffs about values leave me feeling like ‘double-minded man’

by David McElroy

I feel like a contradiction lately.

I want to withdraw from the modern world — from the intellectual, psychological and spiritual rot that’s leading humanity down an ugly path — but I don’t want to give up the conveniences that have come with that modern world.

I suspect the internal rot which I see around me inevitably comes right along with the technological marvels we’re building for ourselves — and it requires some kind of terrible tradeoff that I don’t want to make. I want to have the shiny technological toys with none of the downsides.

It’s hard to know where to strike a balance. On one side, there’s an Amish-like life of being grounded in the warmth of community and personal connection. It’s the ideal or fantasy of country life — of being rooted to land and a slower pace and more traditional values. On the other side is a post-modernist life of shallow connection with little meaning, but filled with technological progress and urban excitement — along with opportunities for success and wealth and ego gratification.

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

Contact David

David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I rarely have the time to respond. (Sorry.) Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”

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