The Death of Empathy

I study human psychology. One of the most remarkable things about the act of murder is the death of empathy required to commit it. The thing that jumps out at me from the #GeorgeFloyd murder video is Derek Chauvin’s cold persistence in the face of the victim’s cries for mercy, for breath, for mama.

Did Chauvin not, at times in his life, cry for mercy, breath, for mama? For to persist in cutting off a man’s air supply for eight minutes when all he had to do was put him in the police car and take him to the station like any other arrest, he must have forgotten.

To understand this death of empathy, I turn to the index drama of the human story, the Cross. We see the death of empathy everywhere in this story. But let’s focus on Pilate, who, for legal, judicial, and humane reasons, initially resisted the idea of crucifying Jesus. Here’s how Pilate subsequently forgot empathy: An idol rose up to eclipse all else.

 

Pilate told them he found no fault in Jesus. When the people roared back that He’d called Himself the Son of God, Pilate felt his breath stop. That statement aligned with Pilate’s impressions of Jesus–preternatural, holy, innocent. He drew Jesus aside to ask, “Where are you from?”

Intuiting that in messing with Jesus he was messing with God Himself, Pilate tried again to release the Savior. But the mob cried, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar!”

They pulled the Caesar card.

That was Pilate’s idol. His position. It eclipsed all else. The death of Pilate’s empathy was a death by eclipse.

What idol rises up in the hearts of men who kill their fellow men?

What idol rises up in your hearts when you engage in softer acts of inhumanity?

No time like the present to reflect.

This article was written by Jennifer Jill Schwizer and published on her Facebook news feed May 31, 2020.  She is an accomplished author, musician and counselor.  Click on the button below to access her website.

Mental Health and Sports

According to a 2015 study published by NPR, only 25% of adults over 30 play sports although 73% of them played when they were younger.  The top sports played by adults are “golf, basketball, baseball/softball, soccer, and running or track.”  I am a runner although, I must admit, when I get busy I slack off.  Men are more than twice as likely to play sports than women although that gender gap does not exist among the youth.  By the time adults reach 50, only 20% play sports.  Lower income are half as likely to play as upper income.

Half of the adults that play sports say they do it for their health.  I know that is my reason.  A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity discovered the greatest benefits to physical activity kick in when moderate activity is done for 150 minutes a week or intense activity is done for 75 minutes a week.  That comes out to 30 minutes, five days a week for those in the moderate activity category like me. 

“This study concluded that there were many different psychological and social health benefits reported, with the most common being improved self-esteem and improved social interaction/integration, followed by fewer depressive symptoms.”  They found “sport represents a chosen leisure-time activity and aims for recreation, enjoyment and social interaction which promotes well-being. Furthermore, these improved levels of well-being are not associated with physical activity that implies compulsion which to an extent, housework and active transport do…  They found significant benefits of participation on reduced psychological distress for all types of activity with participants only needing a minimum of 20 per week to have significant differences in mental health measures”

Playing sports or exercising with friends is the best way to stay motivated.  “There is consistent evidence that club-based and team-based sport participation, when compared to other individual forms of physical activity, is associated with better psychological and social health outcomes.”  There is a caution here for those trying to live a spiritual lifestyle.  Many people in sports clubs are secular and self-absorbed.  It is a great place to witness for God.  However those that are weak in their faith can be lead down a path of materialism that will damage the spiritual life.  The ideal situation is to find a spiritual group of friends to play sports.  This will provide physical, psychological and spiritual benefits.

 

References:

NPR. Sports & health in America.  Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (June, 2015)

Eime, R.M., Young, J.A., Harvey, J.T. et al. A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for adults: informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 10, 135 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-10-135

Handling Toxic People at Work

Toxic people can cause anxiety. A toxic person shows one of the following traits excessively. They are negative, pessimistic, cruel, critical, play the victim, gossip, self-absorbed, control freak, dramatic, jealous, judgmental or inconsiderate. They are contagious when others are not aware. The goal in dealing with them is to neutralize them so their bad attitude doesn’t spread.

1. Don’t join their pity party. Limit the amount of time listening to them. Be polite but excuse yourself from the discussion.
2. Decrease interaction with them. A certain level of interaction is required with co-workers yet try to decrease it. Email and texting can be less emotionally draining than in-person or voice communication.
3. Forgive the person. If they have done something offensive, forgive but remember their toxicity. Continue to set boundaries.
4. Don’t feed into gossip. When someone is talking bad, don’t add juicy details. Furthermore, try to act as if you are not interested and have better things to do.
5. Watch your physical health. Limit caffeine and get enough sleep.

Living A Balanced Life

Life is often a roller coaster of emotion.  The ups and downs cause many to suffer from anxiety and others depression.  However there are things one can do to level out the ride.  

  1. Find time to be alone and meditate.  Yoga and transcendental meditation are not the only ways to meditate.  Reading a daily devotion in the morning or reading from the Bible is also a form of meditation.  Establish a routine. Get up fifteen minutes early, make a hot cup of tea or coffee.  Say a prayer and spend some time in meditation alone.
  2. Treat your skin to some pleasure.  Take a hot bath.  Add some Epsom salt to it.  Let your shoulders sink down under the water and just soak for twenty minutes.  Play some soft relaxing music in the bathroom.  If married, rent a hotel room once a month, get away from the house and children and escape with your wife for a night of uninterrupted romance.  If you are not married, get an hour-long full body massage once a month.
  3. Balance out negativity with positive things.  Avoid negative TV shows or the news if it upsets you.  Listen to uplifting music, talk to friends with positive attitudes, read self-help books or listen to them as an audio book.
  4.  Balance out the time you spend at work with social time.  If your church doesn’t have a lot of socials, ask some friends from church to do social things with you.  If you have a family, do activities with other families.  Play basketball at the park.  Go to the zoo, Hike in a nature park.  Get together and play a board game.  Cook a healthy meal together and watch a wholesome movie.
  5. Avoid self-pity.  When tempted to feel sorry for yourself, look for someone worse and help them.  Visit a nursing home and make a friend with someone who never gets visitors.  Volunteer at the Salvation Army.  Ask your pastor if there is anyone sick and stuck at home that needs a visitor.

Elijah’s Struggles

Have you heard the story of the widow and her son who gave the last of their food to the prophet Elijah? He found her gathering sticks to cook the last of their food before resigning to starvation and death. When the prophet asked her to cook for him and serve him first, she went to her flour jar and used the last of her flour. She went to her oil vase and used the last of her oil. She gave the food to Elijah and he told her to go and make some for her and her son. The flour jar had flour again and the vase had oil. They never ran out of food until the famine was over. Then one day her son got sick and died. God, through Elijah, raised the boy back to life.
 
Elijah was a real person but he was also a symbol of Christ. Christ multiplied the two fishes and five loaves. Christ also raised a widow’s son to life. As great of a prophet as Elijah was, he still had issues with anxiety and depression. His example can encourage us when we struggle with emotion. God was faithful to Elijah and God will be faithful with us. When our spirit is uneasy and we feel life is shaking us hard, let us draw near to the God that fed Elijah, the widow and her son. His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

The Illusion of Control

Life may not turn out the way we want it to even if we do all the right things.  Each person naturally seems to want to control their lives.  Many try to achieve control by playing by the rules and doing things the way society and their faith teaches.  However even when we follow the “rules” life can still throw us a curve ball.  Life is full of too many variables for anyone to be able to control their destiny.  There are just too many things we cannot control and very few things we can control.

We cannot control other people.  We cannot control what our teachers will put on a test or how well they will prepare us for a test.  We cannot control what kind of mood our boss, secretary or co-workers will be in.  We cannot control how bad the traffic will be on our way to work.  We cannot control the weather.  We cannot control the reactions of other people to us – including our spouse and children.  Life is just full of things out of our control.  And yet so many of us strive for control and go to great lengths to get it.  Some of us even think we have control… but that is an illusion.

Our control is limited.  There are some things we can control.  For the most part, we can control our diet.  We can control our forms of entertainment.  Many are able to choose the type of industry they work in or even the city they live in.  We can also control something else.   We can control who our master will be.  In Matthew 6:24 Christ’s words are recorded saying this: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”  We can decide if we are going to follow God or follow the devil.  Those are the options.  The devil would have us make self the center of our lives.  The devil seeks to fool us into the idea that we can somehow have control.  In John 8:34 Christ is recorded saying, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”  So control is an illusion.  Some that do not follow God think they have control over their lives but that is not true.  They are being lead by the deceiver of souls and are thus under his control.  Each is either following God or following the deceiver.  Our only real control can be demonstrated by deciding to follow God’s will for us and by so doing, let Him have control over our lives.

Finding Wisdom

“Look inside yourself and you will find wisdom,” are words often repeated in movies and by some well-intentioned people.  But is there really wisdom inside of us?  Or is the source of wisdom outside of us?  And what is wisdom?  The Biblical meaning of the word wisdom is a spiritual experience with the true God.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7).  This spiritual experience cannot come from within us because God created man – not the other way around.  Wisdom, in the Biblical sense, is more than just knowledge.  Wisdom comes as we experience the true God in our lives.  That happens as we trust Him by living obedient lives.  Let’s paraphrase the verse quoted above.  The fear of the Lord, or acceptance of the true God, is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise the spiritual experience (wisdom) gained by following His instruction.

 

God spoke to us through the prophet Isaiah saying, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”  The wisdom so many of us long for is not deep inside of us.  It comes from God who is a separate and divine Being.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, God says, “Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots? Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil.”  Pride rejects this type of reasoning.  Pride looks for self-sufficiency.  It is self-flattering to believe there is some inner-wisdom inside of us that we simply need to access.  However the Bible teaches we need a new birth – a spiritual birth.  This new birth results in the “fear of the Lord” which is the beginning of knowledge.

 

It is interesting that Solomon personifies wisdom in Proverbs 8.  Solomon lists six traits of wisdom that are also traits of Christ.  In verse 35 he wrote that wisdom is the giver of life.  Speaking of Christ, the Apostle John wrote, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.”  In Proverbs 8:15 it says that wisdom grants kings their power.  There are many places in the Bible where it is stated God sets up kings and brings them down.  Jesus Himself said that to Pilate.  In verse 17 Solomon says wisdom is sought after.  Of course, God too is sought after so this is yet again another divine trait attributed to wisdom.  In verse 18 wisdom is said to be the source of riches.  In Deuteronomy 8:18 we are told that God is the source of riches.   In verses 27 to 30 Solomon identifies wisdom as being present with God during creation.  That sounds much like what the Apostle John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Then in verse 30 to 32 wisdom communicates with men.  The Apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, wrote, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  Jesus is the member of the Trinity Who communicates directly with mankind. Just as the Apostle John wrote, “God is love” it seems Solomon, in chapter eight of Proverbs, is writing, “Jesus is wisdom” which would mean to reject Jesus is to reject wisdom.

 

Solomon presents two paths to the readers of Proverbs.  The first is the path of wisdom.  That is the spiritual experience one gains from submitting to and obeying the true God.  The other path is the path of folly.  Those choosing the path of wisdom are told to forsake folly in Proverbs 9:6.  Folly seeks it own.  Folly leans on its own understanding.  Those following the path of folly are as the Apostle Peter stated “willfully ignorant.”  They flatter themselves with their own knowledge.  The Apostle Paul contrast these two groups in his first letter to the Corinthians.  “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.  ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”