Judas Iscariot, promiscuity and Eric Clapton

Over the course of the past several months, a few experiences made me want to discuss personal responsibility. Some of this is going to be satirical, some theological, some philosophical; all of it will be real to me, and I hope you enjoy the “diversity” in this post. For my non-Christian readers, don’t run away so fast – there are some lessons here I think all can enjoy.

It all started in October at a church conference. A leader of the LDS Church, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, gave a talk discussing personal responsibility and submitted we should quickly consider our role in situations we experience. He began by discussing the night Christ fellowshipped with his disciples for the last time:

It was our beloved Savior’s final night in mortality, the evening before He would offer Himself a ransom for all mankind. As He broke bread with His disciples, He said something that must have filled their hearts with great alarm and deep sadness. “One of you shall betray me,” He told them.

The disciples didn’t question the truth of what He said. Nor did they look around, point to someone else, and ask, “Is it him?”

Instead, “they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”

In a time (today) where pride is often in the way of responsibility and blame is easier than personal reflection, most of us (Christian or not) can learn something quite valuable from this part of Christian history and the lesson it teaches.

While I believe in Christ – that He is man’s Savior – I fully recognize the belief isn’t shared by several of my readers. I am going to address this story and the lesson we can all learn (including me) in a fashion hopefully all people will have an open mind to, without dismissing it due to the faith-based foundation it carries.

Here we have a leader who freely allows His followers to come and go with no requirement, no coercion, no force of government to stay. He teaches and doesn’t rule. He offers spiritual guidance, not earthly gain. Whether the reader believes His words or not, his followers apparently do… to the point of leaving their earthly possessions behind to follow Him, learn from Him and fellowship with Him.

Imagine that amount of dedication to a cause, doctrine, and man. Imagine you are so sure of what you’re being told that in your heart you are willing to leave all that you have known behind, be chastised and ridiculed publicly, and still follow.

Now, imagine the man you had that much faith in says, “Hey, one of the dozen of you are going to betray me.”

(On a personal note: I have been truly betrayed one time in my life. It hurt so terribly bad; it took quite some time for me to come to grips with the fact it had been done. I say that to say betrayal is no small matter to me.)

Now back to the story at hand.

So here we are: a teacher teaching a foreign doctrine that is feasted upon by twelve disciples who are willing to leave everything they have in the belief that following His teachings will bring eternal exaltation. Now he is saying that one of the twelve of them will turn their back on him in the worst way imaginable.

Place yourself in this position. How easy would it be to take pride in your faithfulness and hope in what this teacher has taught to brush aside the idea it may be you who actually betrays Him? Yet, in this situation, each of these disciples personally reflects, is concerned with their dedication, and questions their own loyalty.

“Is it I?”

Not, “Surely it’s not me… which one of these rascals is going to do this?”

How meek. How humble. How “poor in spirit.” How much we could learn from this lesson, regardless of our theological doctrine. How different would the life we live and relationships we have be if instead of dismissing the possibility of us being wrong, we look at ourselves first in disagreements we have with our significant other, disputes with our employers, differences with our children.

“Where am I wrong in this situation?”

“What if I’m completely misguided in my position?”

“What have I done to contribute to this problem?”

What a phenomenal shift in relationship dynamics we could all experience.

Fast forward about 1,985 years!

Not long after this talk, I read a blog by Matt Walsh, a cynical and sarcastic blogger who addresses everything from politics to relationships. He calls them thoughts on “absolute truths (and alpaca grooming tips)”. Yes, much of his writings are amusing; all of them are very logical and thought provoking. The blog I’m discussing here, Ladies – it’s time to take responsibility for your failed relationships, is very crass – but something to think about.

The article was prompted by a woman who emailed him in reference to a previous article of his about men and their need to man up.

The lady emailed him, very bluntly, writing all about how men are to blame for her relationship failures and how the last “first date” she had didn’t even offer to give her a ride home in the morning.

WAIT WHAT?! Yeah, read that one again!

Matt so wonderfully responded to her via his article. What he says isn’t as profound as the fact that he said what so many of us would be thinking had we read any similar letter addressed to us. Her real problem is obvious.

What does he say that I’m sure this lady’s parents, family and friends probably wouldn’t say to her? “Sweetie, you’re creating your own world full of non-virtuous, disrespectful, childish, video-game obsessed men by the choices you make. By the way, that mouth on you isn’t doing you any favors.”

Seriously, the lady rants for quite some time with foul language, assumptions and accusations that ensure any reader the woman has no concept of what her choices have done to her “love” life.

But her love life isn’t the point right now… though I would encourage you to read the article (for a head-shaking moment if nothing else).

The point is she is representative of so many people I have come across over the past few years. Not necessarily with people’s love-life problems, per sé, but in general it’s the fact many people seem to think that their problems are typically due to the actions of others.

Sad; truly very sad. I say sad because people that refuse to self-reflect are ones that continue making choices that bring their life to the same conclusions that are self defeating. It’s almost an addiction to severe emotional self-destruction; the first sign of the addiction is denial. You do something, the results make you hurt/mad/sad, you blame others for those feelings and that outcome, then turn around and do the same thing again.

I want to take a minute to clarify that I did specifically say, “I have come across [these attitudes] over the past several years.” It’s not that I just now started to encounter these things; it’s that before these past “few years” I was the same type of person. I didn’t notice it in me or others – it was a subconscious way of life.  So, as much as I’m talking, I’m talking to myself – a reminder of what can happen to me if I’m not vigilant of my own flaws.

Here’s the point: for us as individuals and as participants in relationships (and society) to continuously seek self improvement, we have to be willing to nakedly look at our self. Our flaws. Our faults. In every situation we happen to experience, regardless of success or failure of outcome, we need to consider the true impact we’ve had on the situation.

Don’t over overcompensate for pride in success; don’t ignore reality to save face in failure.

The fact of the matter is that we can accuse others, we can blame a ubiquitous adversary, we can even blame “luck” or “fortune”, but the reality is that we can only control our own actions, behaviors and attitudes. To assume luck, fortune or others can be changed easier than we can change ourselves is about as “non-virtuous, disrespectful (to ourselves) and childish” as it gets.

Let us all take a hint from one of the masters of music, Eric Clapton: Before we accuse others, let us look at ourselves.


The Light at the End of the Fight

“For those who fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.” -Unkown Soldier at the Battle of Khe Sanh

It has been a few weeks since I’ve had the time to sit down and write; but the reason has been a good one – or so I hope you’ll think.

Several months back I was approached by the Veteran’s Center in Springfield, Missouri. They explained a new certification the Missouri Department of Mental Health recognizes, and this same “title” is one the VA is trying to capitalize on to help veterans of the United States military, and in particular veterans of foreign wars.

A “Peer Specialist” is one who is certified through the Missouri Credentialing Board after training and testing, similar to a counselor, but with one caveat: the Peer Specialist has experienced the same issues psychologically that they are helping others with.

In my case, the issue is Post Traumatic Stress (commonly referred to as PTSD), from experiences I had in Iraq and some elsewhere. I completed the training and am preparing to test for my board certification. I truly look forward to helping other veterans (emphasis will be put on Iraq and Afghanistan Vets) who have come home to find a different “self” and need encouragement dealing with the issues they face.

I am also humbled to know the Veteran’s Center sees me as having made enough progress with myself to be able to help others.

But that isn’t what this post is about. What is it about is the humbled spirit I have after being with two Vietnam Vets and one former Navy SEAL for a week. These guys reminded me of the fact that while I may have my experience, to know what they went through truly makes me feel honored to have served under the same flag and for the same country these fellows did, albeit at different times.

While humbled and honored, I was encouraged. To be around these guys that carried themselves as former service members often do (confident, secure, and not to be messed with), I found that underneath I was with a group of loving, caring, understanding men that truly want to help those that still struggle with “demons” from experiences in war.

The experience made me see hope in mankind that I often miss because of the rough and grueling schedule I have, and I’m sure most of us have. It reminded me of a thought I had several times after coming home from 47 missions in one of the more rough areas of Iraq: “War, it will definitely show you the worst man has to offer; but it also shows the best man has to offer as well.”

I don’t know if there is a specific intent in this post other than to say that the experience I had with the guys I was with while we all trained to become Peer Specialists reminded me of the camaraderie and esprit de corps I often miss – feelings that are only shared by those who experience situations in which life depends on one another.

Moving forward and being in the position I’m about to be in, I sincerely desire to make a difference in the lives of those who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel because of the barriers in their way from the experience they had… it may have taken me six years, felony charges, a lot of money and humiliation to realize it – but the light is there and it is attainable.