Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media:

What’s wrong with US? Over the years I’ve faced bouts of depression related to religion that probably – at least in part – are traceable to my childhood years falling asleep on a cot in my parents’ bedroom while – as my father worked the overnight shift at the phone company – my mother listened to the lunatic rantings of a fire-and-brimstone preacher on the radio. The nightmares that guy implanted in my mind left lasting wounds.

Over the years that I struggled with those thoughts, I was simultaneously blessed with a family that loved me (including my mother who had no idea how her radio habit was affecting me), good and loyal friends who stuck with me and some wise Catholic priests who understood the downside of negative religion. I truly appreciate all the love and support that came my way.

I was also blessed with a passion for writing stories and producing TV programs with themes of kindness, forgiveness and optimism that connected me to the Spirit of Original Grace that lives within my soul.

As I moved on in life, I mostly walked toward the light but the voice of darkness – of negative energy – was a persistent companion. Sometimes the voice was so low I was barely aware of it, But then, at other times (usually when I was on the verge of major progress), something would trigger it and it would come roaring back with a vengeance (almost like it resented being ignored). When I was smart (which was more and more as I matured), I ignored it and avoided feeding the proverbial beast. But, a few years ago (when things were going almost better than I ever imagined possible), I stumbled and fell. I allowed the voice to find a foothold in my brain and, instead of letting it go as nothing more than an echo of my long-gone past, I  engaged it and let it sap my energy even as it grew larger in my mind and, seemingly, stronger. Like a person stuck in quicksand, the more I struggled the tighter its grip on me became.

I sought to unburden myself by talking about it to others (including, unfortunately for them, close friends and family members) but, whatever value talking about it might have had when I was younger, it was not the answer anymore. That’s because I was literally old enough to know better. It was time to move forward and transform my negative experience into something good.

By the Grace of God, I had maintained and built strong relationships with good people, made some good decisions (especially about whom to marry) and stumbled my way into some positive opportunities. I made some pretty stoopid mistakes (yes, “stoopid” with two Os) but God always seemed to have a way to put me back on the right track. The trick was I had to learn to not dwell on my mistakes. Negative energy, on the other hand, would have me define myself by them.

So, long story short, after coming way to close to blowing everything, I finally realized (again) that the way forward is, indeed, forward. I had to take what I learned from sometimes hard experience and apply it to the present and future. I had to understand (again) that you only defeat the monster of negative energy by refusing to get down in the quicksand and wrestle with it. Such engagement is how the beast gets its temporary, but destructive, power.

I also had to not just understand but believe three simple truths. 1.) The God of Freedom is good and desires good things for myself and others. 2.) Flowing from that, I am God’s child – free and, though sometimes given to error, also capable of learning and empowered to accomplish positive things. I am, in essence, good. And 3.) The truth that applies to me applies to everyone, including those I fervently disagree with. For each and every one of us, God’s Grace is merciful, eternal and empowering.

Thank God, I have come through my latest battle with negative energy and am once again walking toward the light. There likely will be other battles to come but, with God’s help, I will meet them with a more a more strongly-rooted positive faith. Gratitude for how far I’ve come is my shield as I face the future.

So, what exactly is negative energy? I’ve come to view it as something of an autoimmune dis-ease of the mind. According to Healthline.com, An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body. The immune system normally guards against germs like bacteria and viruses. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them.”

That’s what depression – the psychological manifestation of negative energy – does to the mind. It infects the brain’s discernment mechanism for filtering unproductive and destructive thoughts and instead uses an individual’s innate idealism to attack the very faith, passions and optimism that empowers a person to become who he or she was created to be. It doesn’t change who people are in reality. It just distorts their perception of reality (and themselves) to create the conditions for negative energy to temporarily flourish. I use the term “temporary” because the impact of negative energy may painful but it is only temporary, lasting only as long as we give it life. Who we really are – children of God – is eternal.

Perhaps negative energy exists so that we have something to turn away from as we freely choose – and appreciate – God-given freedom. I don’t know. What I do know is that – while it can, for a time, complicate life and slow progress – it has no real power over me. Or you.

I share all this now because I actually think it pertains to what is happening right now in our country. The battle that was going on in my head (and has gone in millions of heads over the centuries) is now playing out on a national stage. Like an autoimmune dis-ease, negative energy is using America’s historic ideals not to propel us forward to the Promised Land of peace and justice for all but to drag us back to the darkness in which it thrives.

The heinous killing of George Floyd appropriately united Americans in a call for police reform aimed at rooting out bad cops. As terrible as the incident was, it opened the door for a much-needed concerted national push to make needed change. But it is precisely when such opportunities arise that negative energy rears its truly ugly head.  That’s because negative energy hates unity of positive purpose. Negative energy must find a way to twist it and create the division it feeds on. And it will use our very ideals against us. Then, if we are susceptible to rage, it will trigger rage. If we are susceptible to self-righteousness, it will trigger that. If our weakness is self-destructive shame, it will use that.

The net effect of all is to stir up anger, bring out the relatively-few actual racists among us and silence meaningful discussion. Beyond that, among some, it induces self-doubt, self-loathing and a general sense that America doesn’t even deserve to exist, let alone be defended.  All in all, not a recipe for peace, justice and prosperity.

America is, obviously, not perfect. It never has been. At the same time, the country has been on a rough, consistent path toward living the truth that all people are created equal and endowed (by God, I believe) with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that aren’t given by government and can’t be taken away by government. Some Americans of the past fought and died to preserve slavery. Others fought and died to end it. Thank God, the latter side won. Where you look is what you’ll see.

In any event, it’s wise to keep our eyes on the prize – a better future for everyone.  The struggle goes on but we’re moving in the right direction. It certainly seems fair to say there is more opportunity open to all Americans now than there ever has been. And, yes, we can do better.

Before we light the fuse to burn down America – or simply let it burn because we don’t believe in it, or ourselves, anymore – we should think long and hard about whether what is apt to replace it will be an improvement.

To me the answer appears obvious. America, for all its faults, is a free country that, though sometimes given to error, is also capable of learning and empowered by God accomplish positive things. America is US. We’re all over the map in terms of where we all are in moral development. That’s freedom for you. But America is, in essence, a good country – and, IMHO, on the right side of the long arc of history.

It’s been said that “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” I think that’s true – at least humanity’s sometimes narrow definition of perfection. By the same measure, perfection (aka unforgiving judgementalism) is also an ally of negative energy. Maybe it’s actually even the essence of negative energy.

One of the truest titles I ever came upon is that of Rabbi Brad Hirschfield’s book You Don’t Have to be Wrong for Me to Be Right. The reverse, of course, is also true – I don’t have to be wrong for you to be right. We all come at issues from different perspectives. When we put our heads together – as opposed to butting them against each other – we can get a sense of the big picture and actually solve mutual problems. It’s true that injustice against anyone is a problem for all of us. We can overcome our problems together.

Right now, we are scarred from years of what amounts to a cold cultural civil war. Our overarching problem is finding a path to national healing.

That path lies in the establishment of a Healing Agenda. I, personally, see 12 items on that agenda.

1. Triaging the current racial unrest and building a foundation for a more just and harmonious future
2. Getting through the current COVID-19 crisis
3. Maintaining confidence in the security and trustworthiness of our elections and courts
4. Creating citizen empowerment and building a true social safety net
5. Passing tax reform that protects American workers, rewards entrepreneurship and reduces wealth inequality (without targeting or demonizing the rich)
6. Passing budget reform that keeps America solvent for future generations
7. Passing immigration reform that is strong, reasonable and compassionate
8. Keeping Americans safe from crime and violence
9. Establishing a foreign policy based on thoughtfully promoting world peace, human rights and America’s legitimate interests
10. Protecting the environment
11. Reasserting tolerance for differing opinions as a national value
12. Checking the growing and dangerous power of unprecedented multinational corporate media/technology behemoths and online mobs

Those are the big challenges facing us from my perspective. Tackling them in a balanced way will probably require utilizing some ideas from the conservative tool box and some from the liberal took box, as well as some ideas that are just out of the box. I have my own thoughts on these issues and will be sharing them in coming blogs. You can, of course, disagree without being evil or a bad person.

I’ll close by declaring what I believe in my heart to be the truth. Black, white, gay, straight, Democrat, Republican, believer, skeptic, whatever, whatever, we are not each other’s enemies. Our common foe is negative energy.

Finally, I’ve linked this classic Star Trek parable before but Day of the Dove‘s take on the insidious manipulative power of negative energy and how not to get played by it is as true today as it was when it first aired on November 1, 1968 (another year of extraordinary social unrest).

If there is a lesson in all of this it is that our Constitution is neither a self-actuating nor a self-correcting document. It requires the constant attention and devotion of all citizens. There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.” The brevity of that response should not cause us to under-value its essential meaning: democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health.
Happy Independence Day, everyone. May the Fourth be with us for generations to come.
More from Beliefnet and our partners
previous posts

Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media: Continuing my list of the 25 Most Inspiring/Feel-Good TV series in the history of broadcast television… The rules: Each show chosen has to have aired for free (the way TV should be), feature ongoing characters, have a positive theme and, especially, be liked by me. […]

Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media: Continuing my list of the 25 Most Inspiring/Feel-Good TV series in the history of broadcast television… The rules: Each show chosen has to have aired for free (the way TV should be), feature ongoing characters, have a positive theme and, especially, be liked by me. […]

Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media: Continuing my list of the 25 Most Inspiring/Feel-Good TV series in the history of broadcast television… The rules: Each show chosen has to have aired for free (the way TV should be), feature ongoing characters, have a positive theme and, especially, be liked by me. […]

Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media: It’s the dog days of summer in a year that will go down as one of the stressful in modern American history. Between the pandemic, crippled economy, soaring crime rates and a media and politicians that seem more intent on fanning racial and cultural divides […]