August 5, 2020

The Year That Wasn’t

A quick perusal of my Facebook posts, and you would have a pretty good idea that my year went pretty well:

  • Lots of hiking and visiting with family and friends
  • Building five new garden beds for flowers and vegetables
  • Enjoying the resultant garden bounty
  • My son’s engagement to a wonderful woman
  • Celebrations of birthdays and holidays (including my Dad’s 80th, and my Aunt’s 70th.)
  • Jam making!  40 jars of Saskatoon Berry or Wild Grape this year
  • A high school graduation!
  • Watching my children star in musical theater, or succeed at school or employment
  • Celebrating with my brother as he wins awards with his first book
  • The Raptors winning the NBA championship!

Except it didn’t. Here is what you didn’t see in my Facebook posts:

  • An unexpected death in the immediate family
  • Anxiety
  • Job loss
  • Loss of health care coverage (I am a type 1 diabetic)
  • Two youth suicides two days apart, including one youth whom I had previously criticized
  • Increased Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bad side effects from medication including extreme fatigue
  • Stress
  • Anxiety attacks – (no Hockey or Basketball watching for me!)
  • Multiple blown job interviews (related to all the items above)

For those of you wondering why I suddenly stopped writing for Internet Monk last year, now you know.  My last post was sandwiched between the two suicides.  I was pretty much completely non-functioning for a month and struggled for months afterwards.  Even after obtaining new employment, I was so fatigued by the end of the week that I would sleep between 30 and 50 hours each weekend.

I am doing better now.  My medications were adjusted.  My energy is coming back.  I have a job that I enjoy.  I have always had a wonderful wife and family. I can watch hockey again!  Go, Leafs Go!!!

This past year has left a lasting effect on me. I realize now that I really have no idea what people are going through. My criticism of the one youth will probably haunt me for the rest of my days. I do think however that this past year has changed me for the better. I try to be more considerate and kind to others when interacting with them, both in person and online. I will be faster to compliment, and much more hesitant to criticize. I no longer argue or debate for the sake of debating. I find that I can now identify and empathize with others who are struggling in ways that I could not before. In fact, I have been making an extra effort to encourage those who need encouraging.

Here is my first of two thoughts:

Let’s try together to make Internet Monk more of a place of encouragement this year. I know that I could certainly use it, and I know that many of you are going through difficult times as well. Let us try to encourage each other with our comments, and try to find the good in what others say. Let us restrain ourselves from jumping on others comments, and from deliberately provoking others with our own comments.

My second thought is this:

Although I intentionally try to not spiritualize my posts, I was reading Matthew 26 on Wednesday night and saw some immediate parallels to what I have written here. As we are in the season of Lent, I thought it appropriate to share them here.

Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his death and he is clearly distressed.

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will…
My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.

I realized that Jesus suffering as he did helps us relate to him in our suffering, just as I am now able to relate with to others in their suffering. In many ways the incarnation of Christ, is as important as the crucifixion and resurrection, because in the incarnation he was one us: Walking with us, eating with us, tempted like us, and suffering like us.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Mike Bell

Comments

  1. David Cornwell says

    Mike Bell, I’m glad you are back with us. It makes me happy that your health is returning and the job picture is better. You are right about the incarnation. We tend to forget on the human side of Jesus and that he was a real person in every single way that we are. This is the only way that he could really become our savior and our friend.

    This past year has been a hard one for me also. I’ve wept every single day for at least the last two years. I’m at an age where loss is very real and with so many now who have crossed over to be with Jesus. And words can’t describe how much I miss my younger brother who died about 18 years ago. And my parents, my dad who I dream about so often. And almost a year ago Marge, my wife, partner, and friend for fifty-six years. My life and those I’m closest to are in the past. Plans for the future involve months now — if that — and not years.

    Politics and religion have split part of our family. Those with whom I was previously close can no longer discuss differences. I remember a past where political differences weren’t life or death matters. Our family had friends on all sides of the political spectrum. Same when I was in college. I watched the Nixon-Kennedy election with close friends who supported both candidates. These things didn’t divide us. They gave us memories of discussions that ranged into the night. All of that is gone. Civil discussion — seems dead. So you are right about trying to practice it here.

    • senecagriggs says

      I don’t think you can overestimate the curse of the Internet.

      • David Cornwell says

        I think you are right to an extent. But it’s more how we use the internet that’s the problem. Anything can pose as a source of valid information, thus seeding propaganda or false accusations. We need to pay attention to our sources if we are going to use the internet.

        • senecagriggs says

          I was thinking more of people’s behavior on the internet – where cruelty is often celebrated

  2. “I no longer argue or debate for the sake of debating.”

    This reminds me of something striking that Jordan Peterson says about his evolution: (I’m paraphrasing): “I realised that most of the time I was just arguing to win, not because I really believed what I was saying. A little voice in my head would say “you don’t believe that”, or “that’s not your thought, you’re just repeating it”. I resolved to not say anything that the little voice wouldn’t agree with, and I found that for weeks I pretty much said nothing”.

    (https://youtu.be/Z6F-jyrSBgg?t=371)

    To David: isn’t it terrible that people can elevate politics over relationships? I do wonder whether our post-Christian society hasn’t shifted all its sense of guilt to environmentalism, and all its sense of morality to “Political correctness” or the “Culture Wars”.

    • David Cornwell says

      ” I do wonder whether our post-Christian society hasn’t shifted all its sense of guilt …”

      I’ve never thought of it exactly like this but it is a possibility. Thanks.

  3. Given the circumstances, I will honor Mike’s request and hold off on debating some of the things brought up so far. But I will say, we do NOT live in peaceful times. And it does NO good to not say things are going bad, or to not say that there are massive divisions between us about fundamental things.

    • Agreed, Eeyore. I find that our times are a reflection of a societal psychic debt coming due.

    • Are you sure those things are really so fundamental?

      Imagine that wherever you live was cut off from all news sources, such that you didn’t even know who the new president was in November. Would it really change that much, practically-speaking?

      Maybe I’m not reading between the same lines as you, but it seems that a lot of energy is wasted arguing on opinions about things over which we have absolutely no control, and which mostly don’t influence our existence. Straight out of Screwtape’s playbook.

  4. Michael, I’m glad to know that things have turned around for you. Only had an inkling of your difficulties before this post.

    “This past year has left a lasting effect on me.”

    I very much resonate with that statement. I’ve been struggling with problems that I thought had been problems for the past couple of years only to be told that the issues stretch back at least 10 years. I am devastated and apprehensive about continuing fallout. Like you, this has made me less likely to argue and more sensitive toward others.

  5. Radagast says

    I am glad things are going better Mike Bell. As for elevating politics over relationships – too much of that. I am for the positive and constructive. Because of our system of government politics is a moment in time. I wish all could discuss like my liberal friend and I (a conservative) do when at the gym, respectfully, knowing each is intelligent and has their points, and each of us leaving the conversation knowing we just solved all the problems of the world for that day.

    My heart goes out for the youth, my seven kids are now in their teens and twenties and they seem to struggle a lot more than I remember doing…. is that my warped memory or influence of social media/internet?…. nothing that sitting under a tree on a mountain wouldn’t solve….

    • David Cornwell says

      “…. nothing that sitting under a tree on a mountain wouldn’t solve….”

      My favorite occupation when I can do it! I love going to the mountains, walking, and maybe just sitting. I did that about around 3 years ago and it was one of the most refreshing and renewing things I’ve ever done. It makes you want to shout to God about the wonders of His creation. Or to just sit in silence and take it in.

      • Dana Ames says

        David, here are some Orthodox parishes in Indianapolis with services in English:

        Sts Constantine & Elena, 3237 W. 16th
        St John the Forerunner, 1421 S. Blaine Ave.
        Joy of All Who Sorrow, 1516 N. Delaware

        Also, just north of Lafayette there is St Alexis, 2115 SR 225 East, Battle Ground.

        Any of them would welcome you; each will have a different flavor. If you go, a nice way to start is with a Vespers service. Look them up on the Internet for times. During Lent, there is a special Vespers on Wednesday with Communion that is very beautiful, so a bit longer than regular Vespers; it’s called “Presanctified” (The bread and wine are consecrated on Sunday -beforehand, so “pre”- and reserved; there is no weekday Divine Liturgy during Lent, as the Liturgy is so Resurrectional in character.) If you’re okay with driving at night, or can get someone to go with you, either type of Vespers would be a lovely, peaceful service by candle-light. Since it’s the beginning of the liturgical day, the opening Psalm is 103, all about God’s creation and praising him for it.

        Dana

        • David Cornwell says

          Dana, thank you very much. However, I live further north, nearer Goshen, Elkhart, and Fort Wayne. I am interested in attending some Orthodox services. I like your approach to theology and it seems to avoid some of the problems I see with the Reformation. And, truthfully, I like your worship. But I may be too liberal on some social issues to make a change. I’ve never been one to do church shopping and have only been a member of two denominations my entire life.

          There is a little country church near Goshen that I’ve been sort of checking out. I haven’t attended any services yet, but may in the future. It’s Saint Mary’s Orthodox Church. Vespers sounds wonderful.

          • Dana Ames says

            Looks like a nice parish. Hope you feel at home there. Do get to know the priest.

            D.

  6. I tried to search how far I go back here. I know I go back to 2001 on Jesus Creed when it was on beliefnet. So here would be close because I always go to both daily. I believe that there was more of a variety of comments back in the day. Just because I’m getting older doesn’t mean I believe the good old days were better. But I do wish more people would “speak your mind” today.There are implications about this in today’s post. Perhaps encouragement or understanding others are ways to foster this. I do know that “for weeks I pretty much said nothing”. Way back when Michael Spencer shared on mental health(2005)….Deborah, who had suddenly encountered depression, ended her comment by saying that she was glad to see the different perspectives on the subject and “I hope everyone continues to share on the subject”. I’m emphasizing different perspectives because it is so much better than the echo chambers that are around, whether you encounter them on the net or the media( be it left, right, or whatever).

  7. Klasie Kraalogies says

    This post resonates strongly with me. Mike and I know each other, and I was aware of some of this. I am so pleased that he shared this. We are prone to forget that the people we argue with ar either flesh and blood humans with fears and concerns and loves and heartache etc etc.

    Social Media Life is a very poor reflection of real life. Let’s remember that!

    • I remember seeing some pictures of you and Mike out in the woods…. sounds like another road trip is in order as food for the soul….

  8. Burro (Mule) says

    If it is any consolation, I have been noticing a tiny, ‘no larger than a man’s hand’, movement towards respect and civility, a desire to ratchet down the rhetoric and listen to the other guy. The constant demonization of the ‘bad guys’ was, and is, wearing everybody to a nub.

    This past year hasn’t been particularly benign for me, but neither has it been an unmitigated disaster. A contract terminated unexpectedly before I could get another one lined up, but a valued friend with cancer has been in remission for six months. My son found work he enjoys. We have a roof over our heads and clean water to drink. Our churches are open, even though both are facing grave financial challenges.

    It is so odd. The Greek Cathedral is an aging congregation and as its membership ages and retires, giving drops, and it gets harder to continue the upkeep. The Pentecostal congregation, oddly, is suffering from gentrification. The congregation is composed of a lot of former down-and-outers rescued by the pastor’s William Booth-like ministry. As long as the neighborhood remained hardscrabble, they could find housing and employment. Now that affluent white Gen-Ys and Millennials are moving in, they can longer afford the rents and have to move out to the suburbs. The gentrifiers want nothing to do with the hallelujahs.

  9. Thanks for sharing your story, Mike. I was blessed to read it.

  10. Thank you Mike.

    I look forward to your continued contributions to this site.

  11. Michael Bell says

    I want to let everyone know that as usual I am at work today. I do want to respond to a number of comments, but don’t want to rush with my responses. I hope to add some thoughts this evening.

  12. Dana Ames says

    Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.”

    (Not Philo, but the Scottish pastor and author John Watson, aka “Ian McLaren”.)

    Thank you, Mike. I’m glad you’re going to be writing more; you have important things to say to our community here.

    Dana

  13. Rick Ro. says

    Nice to have you back “more full time”, Mike… and sorry for the year you’ve had.

    –> “I try to be more considerate and kind to others when interacting with them, both in person and online. I will be faster to compliment, and much more hesitant to criticize. I no longer argue or debate for the sake of debating. I find that I can now identify and empathize with others who are struggling in ways that I could not before. In fact, I have been making an extra effort to encourage those who need encouraging.”

    I agree with you, but my struggle is with the view of “God through the OT lens” vs. “God through the NT lens/Jesus.” There are times in the OT where God simply isn’t kind. In order to keep His chosen people pure and true, He has them do some Gawd-awful things to neighbors. I think this thinking/theology seeps into some of the Christian mindset these days, where the “purity” and “holiness” (as defined by the Bible – OT and some of Paul’s epistles) becomes more important to them than treating others nicely (as modeled by Jesus). And who can deny that line of thinking/theology when the OT God certainly seems to commend and encourage such “bad” behavior? “I’d rather be right and true to God than show compassion” is certainly a kinda characteristic God Himself shows at times. And I hate it.

    –> “I realized that Jesus suffering as he did helps us relate to him in our suffering, just as I am now able to relate with to others in their suffering. In many ways the incarnation of Christ, is as important as the crucifixion and resurrection, because in the incarnation he was one us: Walking with us, eating with us, tempted like us, and suffering like us.”

    Amen. This puts God in a whole different light, does it not? Instead of “OT view of God,” who seemed to be above it all, and telling His chosen to keep separate from the heathens around them, we now see Him wrapped in flesh and willing to die. And I love it.

  14. Rick Ro. says

    Not to steal your title or water-down your past year, Mike, but with the covid-19 virus seemingly proliferating more and more, and more and more things being shut down to stem the spread, THIS could be the year that wasn’t.

  15. I think the comments above speak well of you and the commenters. You do add to the site from the little I know of it.Your honest account of your struggles and hardship aid others in their journey. Life always sends us a curve ball but it seems you are destined to get the bell curve ball. At least today you made the site an encouraging site, only 364 more days to keep it up. I think you are in good shape for the future as bell bottoms are a thing of the past.

  16. “I don’t mean to cling to you my friends
    It’s just I hate the day to have to end
    Never enough time to spend
    I haven’t done enough for this to be the end

    There must be more… more…
    More songs more warmth
    More love more life
    Not more fear not more fame
    Not more money not more games

    There — you — coming through the crowd
    Blue light silhouettes your head
    I want to shout your name out loud
    But I shout inside instead

    There must be more… more…
    More current more spark
    More touch deep in the heart
    Not more thoughtless cruelty
    Not more being this lonely……” Bruce Cockburn
    His mercies are new every morning…and/or year.

  17. Mike, thanks for sharing this. I know it’s hard to do.

    While I haven’t encountered some of the pain that you’ve mentioned in your second list, I get it. The distance between two sets of lists is partly why I haven’t posted on my blog in several years.

    My wife keeps writing a Christmas newsletter (I try to stay out of it lately) and I comment on her goshwow style of writing (as in “Gosh!” and “Wow!”) that tries to be upbeat (first list) and ignore anything on a second list. I’ve been saying, “Oh, can’t we just do a photo page this year and leave it at that?”

    Sometimes she calls me a prophet of gloom and doom. She’s right, of course. But I do appreciate your statement, “Let’s try together to make Internet Monk more of a place of encouragement this year.”

    A couple of questions, since you’ve referenced Gethsemane.

    1. Did Jesus suffer depression?
    2. Is depression a sin (akin to sloth, or despair, for example)?

    I suppose we could ask also if depression is useful, but that could take longer and invite the question “Is sin useful?” That question itself would be a sin to some people.