A Year of No Likes: Mad as Hell

IMG_2761 (2)

I don’t like anything anymore.  Oh sure, I still like unicorns and rainbows, but that’s where I will draw the line.  If it appears that I like anything else, it’s an illusion.  A giant smiley face painted over the cracking, crumbling walls of a dam.
The worst part is knowing that this pervasive, underlying state of pissed-offedness exists and feeling trapped within it.  I have been the nice guy for so long, that I don’t know if anyone would understand how to respond to a change. And the problem with that?  I care what they think.  Or at least I have.  Being the steady, always-available, people-pleaser has run its course.  And the end result is that I’m mad as hell.
I cannot even begin to understand why I’ve been bombarded in these past three weeks.  Whether preparation or refinement, I cannot make heads nor tails of what it is.  Part of my motivation in writing this is to have a record to look back upon once God shows me a little more of the plan.  In short, anyone who has talked to me regularly has thrown something significant at me.  I’ll try to recall the rough sequence as best I can.
– A woman I have grown to care about deeply fell and tore ligaments in her knee.
– My ex-wife called out of the blue to apologize for any wounds she has caused me; words I waited the better part of eight years to hear.
– A young lady who has become like a adopted daughter called me in tears, ready to quit school and life.
– One of my best friends sat with a loaded gun in his lap ready to end it all.
– My best friend’s wife has been asking how to save her husband and her marriage, racked with guilt.
– A good friend had a physical fight with her cousin.
– A good friend had her heart broken when a man she liked drunkenly kissed her sister in front of her.
– Another adoptive daughter made a steady decline until she texted me that she had just swallowed all of her medication.  I was powerless as I listened to her crying on the phone saying she couldn’t breathe.
– The friend who had the fight let me know that I had failed to be properly available and went silent.
– The woman I have cared for deeply told me that she has chosen her former lover rather than meeting me to explore what could happen in our relationship.
– A good friend who is going through a divorce is still fighting for parenting time, a process that has been more than two years without resolve.
– A family member had a mental break and is presently hospitalized.
– A third adoptive daughter called me to ask me to rescue her runaway younger sister and then, a little later, her mom who had an abusive man in her home.
– A friend told me he and his wife will be soon divorced on paper for financial reasons, though they nearly did for marital reasons a year ago.
I wish I was making some of this up.  That would be easier.
In the meantime, all I had to do was finish a semester of three classes, continue parenting my very active sons, cover Mother’s Day for my mom and the mother of my sons, release three puppies to new homes, find a new home for one of those three, fund an adoptive daughter’s driver’s license test and gas money so that she can start working, and realize that there is no one to listen to all of this.
Except God.  Yes, I get that.  Frankly, that’s part of the problem.  Not God, per se, but just our communication.  This crumbling and cracking has been a long time in the making.  My Pleasantville childhood, where everything went according to plan, is a distant memory that sits like a foreign country 100 miles away.  Work with sexually, physically, emotionally abused children, divorce from a mold-breaking interracial marriage, life as a single parent who always keeps one foot in the single door, bouncing from job to job unsatisfied, being fired for following God and not policy, watching my name be tarnished and my friends fade away – this is long overdue.
I know that I’m not mad as hell.  I’m mad at hell.  But the way it has been coming out doesn’t like that way.  My vocabulary has grown uncomfortably profane.  I dislike the church service that does everything but worship God.  I can’t stand the sermon that sounds like a self-help message.  And this overlying anger, covering the hidden wounds, has made me a pressure cooker unchecked.
When the young man on a bike cuts in front of me as the light turns green, I’m mad.
When the neighbor’s chihuahua sneaks into our yard for the third time in a day, I’m mad.
When the organization that fired me sends me their colorful newsletter in spite of my request to stop, I’m mad.
When robocalls ignore the do not call list and continue to operate without consequence, I’m mad.
When ignorance pervades on social media, I’m mad.
The list could go on, but I’m grateful that no other examples come immediately to mind.  If this present string of events is meant to be a course correction, then I will stop and wait.  And I will start my stopping by engaging in some new behavior patterns.  No more likes.  I won’t favorite your tweet.  I won’t like your post on facebook nor on Instagram.  I won’t even swipe right on Tinder.  Social media has given me everything that I want, and yet nothing that I need.

God, with your help, I will no longer be mad as hell.  If it is your will, I’ll be as mad at hell as you allow.  Something must change, not with you, but with me.  Change my heart to change my eyes.  Let me see as you do by loving as you do.  And when I break, restore me.

Our Virtual god: It’s Not All Equal

I remember when I first signed up for facebook – yes, it was that monumental. I had not participated in MySpace and I didn’t really understand what we now freely call “social networks.” I blame my sister for the fact that I participate. She was studying in Scotland and living with a family there, so she often was not available by phone. My mother mentioned that my sister was also using email less because “she’s using facebook.”
With a reluctant sigh, I signed on for something that I deemed a trend. I became a facebook user and found my sister. Apparently facebook was created by the manufacturer of Pringles because it did not stop at just one connection. More than a decade removed from high school and my home town, and nearly a decade removed from college, I became overjoyed at finding a new connection to old friends. I remember being fascinated at the possibility of chatting with friends around the world. For a historical perspective, email became popular when I was in college and our first idea was to send messages to people who lived in the same dorm. We’ve come a long way, baby. Or have we?
After finding connections with almost every name that I could remember (and a few who I couldn’t), I began to notice a dissatisfaction. I had, perhaps incorrectly, expected that having these connections would reinvigorate friendships of years gone by. Not so much. Although it was good to find out what certain people were doing after years of not knowing, their lives were not changing significantly on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Neither was mine. Friends from school were all reaching the same point in life: family, career, stability. And that family and that career required attention. Connecting on facebook did not restore a friendship to the same level as it had been when both parties were single and had nothing more to worry about than whether or not to study for a history test.
Fundamentally we recognize that. Although facebook makes no distinction between friends (unless you bother to categorize them for yourself), we would not say that we have the same connection to all of them. We might even call that impossible. Your pastor is not connected in the same way as your brother, and your close friend is not the same as your coworker who felt obliged to “friend” you.
However, even though we recognize that there are very real differences in our friendships with others, we’re slowly slipping to a point where distinctions are more difficult to distinguish.
When we interact virtually, we have to assign the value to the interaction. Or, as often happens, we simply treat it as information, holding no different value whatsoever. Allow me to use Yahoo, a popular search engine, to illustrate. If I go to their website right now, I can find top stories such as “Message for Pumpkin Thief” (in which a mother posted a note with profanity on her porch) next to an article noting “Japan Returns Chinese Threat.” In terms of space devoted to the information, two countries using phrases like “act of war” is just as important as a clever mother’s curse. What is wrong with this picture?
It’s not all equal; it never has been. But we are so connected to information, and so accustomed to processing data without value, that we can grow more animated about a protest over a jury’s verdict in Florida than the fact that young men in our own cities are being killed without anyone ever being convicted. We would rather virtually join someone else’s cause than fight for our own. The connection, or perceived connection, is often all that we want.
Remember the first connection? No, not the one where I found my sister in cyberspace, but the one where God created Adam and then Eve. Remember that? Or was that the first time you thought of God today? I’ll jump to the front of the confession line and admit that I have had days where I have noticed more in my news feed than I’ve noticed God’s presence. The God we believe is omnipresent – always with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit – is often just one more possible connection we can access for information.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6
That God. Not the God you “like” on facebook in order to get a blessing. Not the post you share to virtually prove that you are unashamed. The God who is with you right now. The one who holds your very life in his hands. The one who has dried every tear and comforted every loss. The one who loves you so much that he sent his son to die for you and your sins. The one who resurrected his son in order to give you life.
It is not all equal. Words and actions hold different weight depending on the nature of the relationship. So I ask you, have you noticed the weight of God’s words lately, or do they show up like a post that you can like or ignore. Pumpkins and war are not the same. Our connections to our friends are not all the same. What have you done with your connection to God?