Chasing Dots

I confess: in days past I’ve used a laser pointer with our family cat.

You know the trick. A jiggling laser dot on the floor can entertain us and frustrate a bewildered pet for minutes at a time. It only takes a bit of human perversity and the cat’s preying instincts to have Mitsy pouncing after a photon mouse—and never succeeding.

So here’s our question for the day. Are we ever like Mitsy? Chasing our own phantom dots that we’ll never catch?

It’s a problem that isn’t so innocent as my cat confession suggests. Consider a short list of dot-chasing realities common today. There’s the promise of something for nothing. And the promise of satisfaction through actions that never satisfy. Yet another is the promise of glory through inglorious pursuits. The list goes on.

Let’s consider the something-for-nothing scheme. It’s a favorite device of scammers. And Ponzi scheme promoters. If, for instance, you want to get rid of unwanted pounds just buy a mechanical vibrator, or pungent ointment, or mysterious “body shaping” device and rub, strap, or tie the promised thing to your fatty waist and wait for the change.

Guess what. It won’t work. You’ve invested your money in a bit of dot-chasing because the true “something”—weight-loss—can only come through serious dietary and exercise efforts.

There are lots of other dot-making strategies used in marketing—schemes that identify our strongest felt needs or appetites. It may be our desire for good health, financial security, dignity, love, sex, meaning, relief from pain or fear, guilt resolution, and more.

These are dot-making options that manipulators love to use. The sharper the longing, the greater the draw.

But first, is marketing wrong? Does every merchandising promise represent some measure of manipulation?

No, of course not. The question really has to do with the alignment of promise and fulfillment. Marketing integrity relies on a business supplying a benefit to a customer who needs what they’re offering.

So the space for manipulation occurs at two levels. One is a breach of the promise and fulfillment linkage. And the other occurs when what we actually “need” is fiddled.

In our cat analogy the promise is never met. But what about the need? The cat’s instinct is to catch mice to stay alive. And in rural settings good “mousers” in a barn are still needed to keep rodents from taking over. Domesticated cats still have that instinct.

We, too, have our own God-given instincts. He made us to be worshipers; and world-keepers; and family-builders; and neighbor-loving friends—to have active lives. And to fulfill our roles we need help. Good advertising then helps us connect our efforts with those who offer services.

And here is where dot-flashing-manipulators find room for mischief. They usurp the sound exchange of needs and services; and they distort our real needs by stirring false appetites.

The ultimate manipulator is the Devil. Paul, for instance, linked Satan’s rule over humanity to improper desires—as “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:2-3).

Paul’s view was aligned with the teaching of Jesus in John 8:44 where Jesus confronted some unbelieving “believers”: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” He warned them that only those who love him and abide in his words are freed from false desires.

His disciples certainly got the point. Paul, for one, pointed to the Spirit as our indwelling companion who helps us avoid a dot-chasing life of empty desires—“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:23-24).

Paul especially saw how financial desires have humans pouncing from dot to dot and he warned Timothy accordingly—“But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:8-10).

Peter says much the same in 2 Peter 2 where he even uses the metaphor of “irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed.” Here he is speaking of demonic leaders who are “blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant” and who have “hearts trained in greed.”

So with warnings in view let’s return now to our imagery of poor Mitsy, desperately pouncing on photons it can never catch. Each of us is a Mitsy at some points in life!

So here’s a suggestion. Whenever you see dots flashing—the impulsive desires that don’t make eternal sense—be sure to adopt some dot-chasing antidotes. Visit quiet spots. Find a friend for a conversation about something meaningful. Enjoy an hour of Bible reading.

The key is to taste and see God’s goodness—an experience that actually has substance.

It promises to keep us from imitating bewildered cats.

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About R N Frost

R N (Ron) Frost is a student of history, especially the history of Christian spirituality. Ron served for more than 20 years at a Portland, OR, college and seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was a professor of historical theology and ethics. Ron is now a pastoral care consultant with Barnabas International. In this role he provides care, coaching, encouragement, and educational services to those in overseas cross-cultural ministries. This involves a number of trips to worldwide destinations each year, each by invitation. All his services are gratis, so ministry partners are needed and welcomed. Go to Barnabas International for more information about this unique ministry and for a link that offers support options.