Last week was Father’s Day, and I shared with you a few insights brought into focus by the day I had planned to spend with my kids. Father’s Day has come and gone, but I’m still enjoying the company of my children. We are on a camping trip in Washington, D.C. For me, it is exciting.
The Coastal Courier often displays photographs of Liberty County residents who travel to far-away places and bring along copies of the newspaper. If I did that here, however, they would have a picture of me holding a paper in front of a tree.
Anyway, en route to our undisclosed camping location, I was listening to the radio when Harry Chapin’s "Cat’s In the Cradle" came on the radio. I’ve heard it about a million times, but this time — still elbows deep in my Father’s Day adventure — the words took on a more specific meaning.
The song describes how a father raised his son in the midst of his busy life, often neglecting what later proved to be the most important things. And later, when the child was grown, the boy developed the same problem — he was too busy to build relationship with his dad.
The tune reminded me of something that I have been trying to instill in my children and in my congregation. The world you live in is the product of the life you lead. In this day and age, where there is a reason (excuse) for everything wrong that happens, in this era where someone else is to blame for all of life’s stressors, we have lost sight of the fact that our world is a product of the lives we lead. We are "culturally obese."
I often hear people talk about how society has deteriorated and made it harder to live, raise your children and walk righteously. Pastors talk about the deterioration of society and how it has led to the deterioration of the church. My kids learn in school about how culture is shaped and the effect it has on our daily lives.
The reality is this: Our culture is the product of what we have allowed. Yes, it does affect our lives, but only because we have allowed it to grow to that place of prominence. Consider this analogy: I go to the doctor because my back and legs hurt. I have no energy, and I am tired all the time. The doctor says, "It is because you are carrying way too much weight." I now fall into a depression because my body has unfairly been assaulted by this problem. However, the problem was of my own creation.
Years of traveling around the globe, coupled with a taste for fast food, led to the belly that created the current problems in my life. I could blame my lifestyle, my schedule, my inability to cook or anything else. But in reality, I chose the burger over the salad to the point that my belly now controls me.
The solution: sacrifice some of what I like in order to "eat smart." Parts of me (like my taste buds) paid a higher price. But the parts that keep me alive and functioning (like my heart and my brain, which were being taxed at much higher rates than my taste buds) were relieved of their burden and could return to the task of managing my arms and legs.
In short, life has become about preferences, and preferences are always costly. Looking at our culture, there are things we have embraced — preferences — that have proven to be costly and detrimental to our lives and to the life of our nation. The "gotta have it now" syndrome has led to trillions of dollars in national debt and has crippled much of our nation, making it dependent on medicine to survive "economic and social obesity."
As for the church, it is under tremendous pressure from the government — something that goes mostly unnoticed in this day and age. My concern is that it will not be noticed until the church’s proverbial hands are tied in its efforts to continue to offer help to people in need. But beyond that, pastors talk about how hard it is to keep people on "the straight and narrow." Teachers talk about how society has prevented them from being effective leaders in the classroom. They have to spend more time on politically correct crowd control than they do educating their students.
Parents are hamstrung in trying to raise their children with a moral standard because the compass of culture refuses to point north and society has spent millions convincing the next generation to follow an incorrect compass.
Almost everyone will tell you that change must occur. The deception is that change must occur "out there." Society must change. The truth is, society is what we allow it to become as individuals. If we are "culturally obese," it is because we have swallowed too much of the wrong, unhealthy stuff.
The offspring of our society has become that which we taught it to be through our own lives. If change is to occur, it has to start inside each of us.
Dr. Byler is the Senior Pastor of Bethesda Church in Hinesville.