The band, Pink Floyd made this question famous on their 1979 album, “The Wall”. Under the haunting drones of synth chords and samples from the TV series, Gunsmoke, the listener is confronted with the question, “Is there anybody out there?” The question is repeated as the melancholy of the soundscape rises and finally breaks into a ethereal acoustic guitar melody accompanied by lonely violin. It provides some relief but not quite enough. The question still lingers about the mind, “Is there anybody out there?” It’s truly a genius two and a half minutes of music.
In the Pink Floyd movie “The Wall” this song plays at the point where the bitter and alienated Pink (the main character) is attempting to reach anybody outside of his self-built wall. The repeated question “Is there anybody out there?” suggests that no response is heard (1).
I remember back to my music and DJ days when I would be in the DJ booth playing records to a packed club of hundreds of people, yet there was an underlying sense of alienation. I could see people around me – but why does the question still gnaw at my soul? “Is there anybody out there?” Does anyone even care?
There have been seasons in my life when I’ve felt alone. Even when I had family and friends around, I suffered from disconnectedness. At points, this lead to depression and anxiety. Its hard recognize from the outside. By God’s grace and the love of family and friends, I don’t suffer like I did so many years ago. However, there are shadows of how I felt in those seasons that remain as a remembrance. I think it is important that I remember rather than forget what it’s like to feel alone. There can be no deep ministry to others without memories of our own misery.
Today, many people feel alienated and lonely in our technology-driven, pseudo-connected, over-stimulated, hyper-autonomous and instant gratification-focused cultural moment. We’ve relegated our relationships and existence to online platforms, how can we not be driven to alienation?
I think a dangerous new religion is emerging in the West. It’s called Alienation.
It has its own doctrines of disconnect and loneliness. We carry our slick, shiny, flat-screened idols in our hands all day. It’s sacraments are dopamine drips through a communion of ‘likes’ and screen scrolling. It’s worship is seen on the altar where authentic human relationships go to be sacrificed. Alienation has its own cathedrals built for one. It has its own hymns and liturgy and even ideology and emerging politics. The enlightened state of the religion of alienation is loneliness and ultimately, despair. This despair brings some to their own end at their own hands – the ultimate sacrifice.
“Contemporary man is alienated. He is alienated from the past because he has no cultural roots anymore. He’s been taught to despise the past. He is alienated from a real vibrant society – his social ties are thin and few. That shows up in his sexual habits which seem to have no meaning beyond that of the pleasure or the despair of the moment. He has very little connection with the natural world – the outside world.
If I could jump into Pink Floyd’s 1979 masterpiece, I would add one three letter word at the end… “Yes!”
Yes, there is someone out there, just like you. In fact millions, just like you. Human beings all over our world just wanting to connect in an authentic and meaningful way. But how do we overcome alienation that has become so pervasive?
It starts with a light switch. We begin by turning on the lights in the dark room for those who are lonely so they can see that there are others in the room.
We must recognize alienation and loneliness and label them as enemies of what is good, true and beautiful about the human experience. Humans are hardwired to connect with others. When humans don’t have connections, they can’t live meaningful lives of vibrance. We need relationships – we need each other. Our creator designed us to be in relationship.
We must restore what has been lost in this current lonely age.
If we do nothing, I fear that history will see this chapter as the loneliest in western culture. It doesn’t have to be this way. But it starts with you and me. Whether its the kitchen, the campfire or the nursing home on the holidays, we must be intentional about bringing life back to life. We bring hope and connection to the lonely lives of others and ourselves.
Restoration overcomes alienation. We must work to rescue one another from the cold grip of loneliness and despair. We restore lives through relationships.
To the haunting voice that asks, “Is there anybody out there?” We must break through self-built walls and shout, “Yes, we are here!” and “You are not alone!” and “God loves you and so do we!”
Now, go and do. The cure for alienation is real-life personal connection. That connection needs to be restored.
“And he (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’…” (Acts 17:26-28a)
The Bible says, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” “It is the law of the cross, it is a sacrificial law. Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest… Heavy luggage is a cure for weary hearts.” So, we must bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
– F.W. Boreham
What does it mean to be a man in this cultural moment?
This all boils down to answering the question, “what does it mean to be human?”
This is a worldview question and depending on one’s worldview, will render different answers.
Worldview answers these questions:
Metaphysical – what is real?
Epistemology – what is true?
Origin – where did I come from?
Meaning – does life have meaning?
Morality – what is right or wrong (good / evil)?
Destiny – what happens when I die?
Identity – who am I and does my life have purpose?
Every worldview must answer those questions in ways that correspond to reality and have coherence.
A secularist-atheist, Muslim, pantheist, Christian, etc will all answer these questions differently. Worldview drives behavior and how we see ourselves in our place in the world. What I believe about being a man in this cultural moment is shaped by my worldview. In the west, The contours of our body ethic are rooted in a worldview and philosophies emerging from Rome and Greece – that were both reshaped and reformed by Christian worldview.
As the Christian ethic is jettisoned for a more naturalistic / materialistic worldview, we don’t actually move toward something new, we move back to something old – Rome.
Therefore, this shift will change how we define our place and purpose in the world, man and woman.
I believe the definition of a man is rooted in biology, theology and character.
What does it mean to be a man?
He does not give in to passivity
He takes responsibility
He leads sacrificially
He defends the weak
He is a voice for the voiceless and a father to the fatherless.
He is faithful
He loves mercy and does justice
He loves well and leads well. (Notice none of these attributes have anything to do with a man’s physical strength, violence or abilities).
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28)
Note: The content above was taken from a reply I wrote to a friend’s post on Facebook. This is an extension of my recent work in the Colson Fellows residency has helped me crystalize and communicate the contours of what shapes our worldview particularly in America today and our definition of man.
In times of cynicism, banality, negativity and outrage there are two kinds of people. There are those who race to the bottom and make things worse. Then, there are those who elevate the cultural conversation and take action.
A few bad actors don’t make an entire group of people bad.
Don’t judge a philosophy by its misuse.
What is meant for good can be used for evil and vice versa.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.
Worldview matters. A vital key to understanding reality is to know what is good, what is true and what is beautiful. Only when we know those core essentials can we create a vision of restoration and act on it. C.S. Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”
Engage reality – create solutions, combat evil, restore people and relationships.
Ask these four questions
1. What is good you can celebrate?
2. What is missing you can contribute or create?
3. What is evil you can stop?
4. What is broken you can restore?
Develop these three life skills
Wisdom (the art of living well in light of objective truth – in community, in our cultural moment)
Discernment (identifying the nature of things – good or evil)
Moral Courage (the will to stand for what is good, true and beautiful)
Goodness, truth and beauty find their source in God. When you look at a world in crisis, ask yourself; What is Good, True and Beautiful? When you experience brokenness, understand that it’s not supposed to be this way. Ask the four questions before racing to the bottom.
Elevate the conversation and respond with your heart set on restoration.
Practice – Training
Next time you sit with your family for dinner, ask each person to share something good, true and beautiful they’ve experienced today. Challenge them to focus on these things over the next week – to see their reality differently. When we know what is good, true and beautiful – we can frame solutions to all the bad stuff and negativity in our world. Our ministry is based on a good, true and beautiful God. Its from that foundation that we deal with sin, brokenness, evil and pain. Our mission is reconciliation and restoration.
*Note: The ideas in this post flow from Colson Fellows course study and talks given by John Stonestreet (Colson Center). I am thankful for those who stir the hearts and minds of men to think carefully in our culture.
Can I have your undivided attention for 8 minutes?
Can you really believe in what you see? Did you ever think you could be the star in every Leonardo DiCaprio film? Now you can! It’s called ‘Deepfake‘ AI technology. Rather than trying to explain the technology, just click play on the video below. Posted by Allen Xia on Twitter, he uses an AI app called Zao to superimpose his face on Leo’s body in various movie scenes. Generated in under 8 seconds, this video uses a thumbnail photo of Allan.
In case you haven't heard, #ZAO is a Chinese app which completely blew up since Friday. Best application of 'Deepfake'-style AI facial replacement I've ever seen.
Having viewed the video above, imagine the face of your child superimposed on to someone else’s body using AI technology. The scenes are made against their will and beyond your knowledge for the benefit of those who exploit and harm children. DeepFake AI technology can be used to create images and videos by those who wish to bully, blackmail, exploit, entrap, or groom our children. This is the worst kind of identity theft.
Artificial Intelligence commonly referred to as ‘AI’ is quickly transforming from a sci-fi fantasy into a current reality. It will impact every human-being on the planet. AI is a powerful technological tool. Will it be for good or evil, for benefit or detriment? We don’t know yet. However, law enforcement is concerned, the Federal Government is concerned, nonprofits and NGOs are concerned. Should parents be concerned? The answer is ‘yes!’
As many of you know, I advocate for internet safety and vigilance when dealing with these new forms of technology. In particular, understanding how our children (minors) interface with smartphones, internet capable devices and social media is vital. In addition, we must understand and address their vulnerabilities and our responsibilities on an ongoing basis. We must understand threats and risks of offering this powerful communication portal into their lives to early for the wrong reasons. These technologies are changing us as humans. But, that discussion is for another time.
My family practices internet safety by limiting where my wife and I post photos of our children on Social Media. We ask the same of the rest of our family. In doing so, we raise awareness of the risks in our community.
Having served for 3 years on the leadership team of the 5 Stones Anti-Trafficking Taskforce under the Ft. Worth Police Department, I am well versed in the child exploitation and trafficking space. Smartphones, unlimited internet access and Social Media platforms can be a risky if not deadly for our children. If this frightens you, it should. I’ve seen dozens of cases where children are being exploited online by bullies and pimps. The children come from every demographic, ethnicity, socioeconomic sphere, all ages and every neighborhood. Exploitation is not limited by borders or wealth (see Jeffery Epstein or visit your local law enforcement officer). We know the risks of sharing data and photos online. We know the risks of devices in the hands of children. Heck, I have a hard time putting down my smartphone.
We need a paradigm shift in our thinking. Parents must lock arms and unite against technology’s ability to allure our children (and us).
Imagine posting a public photo of your child the same way you see an advertisement on a public billboard. You are putting your prize possession on display for the world to see. With the current advances in AI technology (DeepFake), someone you don’t even know can transform an innocent image of YOUR child into a degrading and disgusting pornographic film by superimposing your child’s face onto a video image. By the time you discover the exploitation, its too late. Thousands of perverts, traffickers, sex-buyers and criminals will have viewed the video. Videos spread on the dark web and in private chat rooms where they are bought and sold. There is nothing you can do except prepare to deal with your child’s lifelong trauma.
Imagine your child on an auction block to be sold. In short, this is happening on the dark web and social media sites. But, you can mitigate the risks. You are the solution. You can be a hero for your child. It will require GRIT and discipline on your part as you talk with your children and partner with them as they grow older and demonstrate responsibility. Encourage them to lead in the family and school.
Solutions: Be Vigilant not afraid
Be aware of what you post online.
Be careful to post using proper privacy settings when using Social Media.
Use internet filters and monitors on your child’s devices for school and home use
Consider delaying giving your child a personal smartphone until 16-17yrs old (depending on their maturity and responsibility).
My alarm goes off at 4:45am. I get up and get moving toward the coffee source. I gather my gear and head to swim practice with the local US Masters team that kicks off at 5:30am. I do this two to three times per week. It keeps me in shape and typically brings me a good deal of pleasure.
The swim team is a great group of folks of various ages, ethnicities and skill levels. There are some very talented swimmers in the pool every day.
Over the last year, I have been struggling with my swim and a cloud of frustration seemed to lay over me. I didn’t notice how bad it had gotten until a couple days ago. I mean, swimming is my favorite sport. I really enjoy it. Or do I? The thought of ‘hanging it up’ had crossed my mind a couple times over the last couple months. That has never happened before.
Every morning when I show up to practice, this hotshot college swimmer jumps into my lane. He seems to only show up to practice when I’m there. Sometimes, I’m warming up in a lane alone and he jumps into my lane. He is way faster than me and he lets me know it.
Boy does this cocky punk get under my skin. Everyday I’m in the pool, he’s there talking smack to me. I get pissed off and begin swimming harder and harder – not concentrating on my stroke. I’m just pounding the water and feel like I’m treading water or (worse) swimming backwards! He just laughs and blazes right passed me, leaving me in his wake. He steals my enjoyment with every lap.
After Tuesday’s practice, I had a conversation with a guy who’s about my age and swims on the team as well. He’s a solid swimmer and continues to swim competitively. I was complaining about my swimming and shared my frustration. You see, I swam competitively in high school and college. I wasn’t always the fastest swimmer but I was a good and I could hold my own. I was sprinter. Short races were my specialty. However, at 44 years old, I was frustrated and I expressed that to my teammate.
He said, “I’m not as fast as I was when I was younger. But that’s okay – I focus on the future.” We parted ways and I went home not thinking much of it.
A couple hours later it hit me! I admitted to myself that the hotshot college punk swimmer in my lane everyday was ME. I was trying to compete with a 20 year old me. There is no way I can do that at 44 years old. Do you know what? That is just fine. There are a ton of things I can do at 44 that I could not even dream of doing at 20.
When I jumped into my lane this morning, the college punk didn’t show up. I focused on swimming into the future. It was one of the most enjoyable swims I’ve had in a long time. I stopped my teammate after practice and thanked him for his encouraging words. He said, “We just need to keep reminding each other to focus on the future.”
It’s interesting how we let our self-talk influence our mindset. How past experiences, both positive and negative affect our lives today. Sometimes it takes a few words from someone else to open our eyes and change our outlook.
Do not let the younger you criticize you today. Past mistakes, failings, triumphs and victories do not define you today. Focus on the future. As your physical strength quotient declines, your wisdom and experience quotient increases. There is more joy to be had in the future than in the past.
Focus on the future, Encourage someone else today and NEVER EVER QUIT!
“Your own performance is either improved or diminished by the other people in your scenario.”
Your dynasty will perish by self-inflicted wounds of unlearned lessons from the past. You sit upon the limb of a great tree, yet you saw the branch on which you perch.
Do not make the mistakes of your predecessors. They demolished the foundation on which their empires stood. Understand, you will die a failure, in a failed state leaving a legacy of failure.
The ‘strong men’ of broken empires past and empires falling today are nothing but ‘foolish men’. The fool is marked by pride. His hubris crushes him in shame. Are you such a fool? Does wisdom not call to you from the streets of your empire? Ah, but you think it wise to suppress the voice of truth and ignore the cries of the helpless.
Look to the great north! There is a ‘strong man’ where an empire once stood. It’s economy is in shambles. The Czar’s castles crumble in self-delusion and a philosophy tried and left wanting. He is an autocrat cornered by his own pride. He is food for jackals and ravens.
The parable says, the foolish prince’s pride is his folly. He is deficient in wisdom and humility. He’s defiant of truth – even when empirical evidence points to the coming failed state. History is replete with examples of this futility of the mind and disjointed governance of peoples.
In 50 years, your empire has risen on the tide of the Christian worldview and ethic. The freedom and virtue of that ethic undergirds the very economic foundation on which you rest and enrich yourself. The entrepreneurial spirit does not arise from atheistic materialism, Confucianism or totalitarianism. In fact, the worldview you vainly espouse is rooted in envy.
Envy destroys everything.
Envy says, “If I can’t have what you have, I will destroy what you have and neither of us will have it!” Envy is therefore folly and leads to mass misery. Your worldview was born of envy and the will to power. All are folly and futility.
Your system is bifurcated. You benefit from economic flourishing and freedom but you attempt to crush the very spirit that brings them about. Are you so short-sighted? You can’t have it both ways. Your economic engine is stalling and falling. Your people and the heritage you claim to cherish are fading into the darkness (again). Your future is a failed state in the ashes of human history.
When you are alone, you indulge in the proclivities of your heart. Your thoughts are dark and you must crush the hope you cannot possess for yourself. Your will to power leaves you empty and power-less. You enslave others because you yourself are in bondage to darkness. Therefore, you attempt to snuff out the light to ensure ALL are forced to live in darkness.
Wisdom stands at the gates of your empire and mocks you. Folly is there too. Folly beckons you to follow the crooked path of darkness not knowing over that which you stumble. To see the world through your eyes is to see utter darkness.
“One child for one family” was your empire’s evil decree. Murder was rampant in your midst as little girls were sacrificed on the altar of your materialistic god. Today, your “god” has blessed you with too many males and too few females to replenish your land. You are a dying nation – a dying culture.
You lay siege on the church as you foolishly ignore history. Don’t you know the gates of your hell will not prevail against her? History proves that persecuting the church fuels the fire of its own growth. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” The old emperor of your land once proclaimed, “I have rid this empire of Christ and His church.” It begs the question; Who is dead? Is the church dead? Is it not your old emperor who is dead? The old dead emperor is rotting in his grave as the church is mighty in your empire. He was a fool thinking himself to be wise.
Don’t be so foolhardy to follow such empty ideas and crooked paths. They all lead to death. One day you will meet death. It will come upon you like thief in the night. Your body will cease functioning, you will soil yourself, draw your last and be heaped into a hole in the ground to rot and feed worms. You will have lived and died a fool. Is that what you want, sir?
If you heed the voice of wisdom, a new day will dawn for your empire – prosperous new day when the emperor understood that he is but a mist.
Don’t be deceived. Humility, not hubris is the mark of a true leader. The choice is yours. Choose wisely, for he who enables your heart to beat will not be mocked. There is a more dangerous emperor and judge waiting in your path. He can fell you with a word. Or he can redeem you and bring peace to your land.
An ancient king was struck down on his throne 2000 years ago “because he did not give God glory.” There is a more powerful and dangerous emperor who hears the cries of the poor. He has whetted his sword of justice and waiting for you. There is no escape. Will you meet him as friend or foe? The choice is yours.
Listen to wisdom this day while it remains today. There may not be a tomorrow for you. Early morning rains are the sweetest and most refreshing. A messenger has been sent to you with good news that you may not perish. Behold, even now, there is a knock at your door…
This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.