How Hope Happens

Those who know me best are aware that I have spent a lifetime battling a kind of low-grade mood Depression clinically known as Dysthymia.   This is at least partly why I was drawn early on to the study of our human minds known as Psychology.   A few decades back I became a practitioner of what is now called Cognitive Behavioral therapy, which had originally been called Rational Emotive therapy by its own founder, Albert Ellis.   Along the way I also discovered the mood elevating benefits of a brain medication called Lexapro from within a class of anti-depressant meds called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors.


Still, I know all too well the dreadful feelings that come from hopelessness.   Perhaps the worst pain I’ve ever been in has happened during times of clinical Depression where hopelessness and helplessness seemed to take over my mind’s thought process.


That I can today declare victory over Depression is reason for me to believe others can do so as well.  Perhaps even better than I have done.   Hope happens for many if not most who battle hopelessness at times throughout their lives.


But how?


How does hope happen in a world where fears seem to be around so many corners these days?   


I’m still awaiting the release of my book, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” within the near future.   It’s my own spiritual memoir soon to be published by Higher Ground Books & Media.  In it I come to terms with how hope happened in my own life over the course of my now seven decades plus.  


One thing I have noticed about my own mind over the years is that it serves as a parent to my own body.    I sometimes call my own body “little Danny.”  It’s the part of me that applies all my bodily senses in reaction to the world around me.   And quite often that reaction spells f-e-a-r.   It’s a crazy world out there, and so my frightened body has been known to appeal to my mind to take control during times of greatest uncertainty.  As my mind has responded in a kind of parental role of responsibility, that part of me has known much failure.   I’m talking here about my failure to control the world around me that is scaring my inner child, my bodily “little Danny.”   Failure to control results in my occasional Depressed moods.  I feel like the bad parent who can’t calm one’s own crying child.   It’s a helpless feeling.   And it can drag on into a sense of utter hopelessness over time.


But if that’s the story of my own body’s inner child and my own mind’s failure-at-control parent, I’m here to tell you with great hope that there is more to my story.   You see, we humans all have a 3rd part of “self” that lives on in final victory.  Many of us refer to it as the soul.

Body.  Mind.  Soul.  Our universal trinity as created in God’s own image.  Body of the Christ.   Mind of the Father.   Soul of the Holy Spirit.   Three in one.   But take away the soul, and one risks a parent-child dynamic with a high risk for fear / control producing depression / failure.


For me, hope happens when the soul finds its voice within my mind.   I say “the” soul because I now believe there is only One in all the universe.   It is the indwelling Holy Spirit that constitutes the one and only soul within all of us and all of God.   The soul that whispers heaven’s own love story into the midst of our world’s own fear story.   That fear story which gets shouted into my own mind by means of my bodily senses leading to my failure-to-control resulting in my own Depressed mood of helplessness and hopelessness. 


Perhaps I’m not alone in all of this.


Perhaps you, too, may have noticed your mind tuned into the loud voice of the world’s fear story around you as communicated through your own bodily senses.    Perhaps you, too, have tried with your own mind to satisfy your own body by trying to control that which was, in reality, uncontrollable around you.   Maybe you, too,  have then found yourself failing-to-control and experiencing your own depressed mood with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.


If so, I’m praying that as you read this the Holy Spirit might whisper heaven’s love story into your own mind in such a way that you can find that part of your own voice.  Your soul’s stronger voice.   The voice that empowers your mind to place more faith in heaven’s love than in this world’s fear.   The voice that tells you, too, to trust that God’s love can cast out all human fear in the long run.


Yes, in the short run I still have fears.   Hey, it really is a crazy world out there and uncertainty really does surround me on all sides.   Of course, my body is sometimes afraid when appealing to my mind.  Just like God’s body, the Christ, felt fear while proverbally sweating blood in Gethsemane and appealing to his mind, the Father, to “take control” and remove his own bitter cup.


In the long run, I believe God privileges the soul’s own heavenly voice of love.  And resurrection.  And hope that springs eternal.   Which is how hope happens for any of us.   One mind at a time. One therapeutic breakthrough at a time.


May our minds find the soul’s almighty voice within.   And may that voice inform our own hope in love’s eventual resurrection victory.   Amen.




Redeeming God’s Kingdom

After finally getting my first and perhaps last book manuscript into the hands of a publisher in hopes for a release date next month, I’m already struck with something of a regret. The book’s title, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” deals in memoir form with what amounts to my own thesis for living.

My thesis begins with this premise: life in a world of future uncertainty requires faith. Faith is not optional. We all live by faith. What is optional is whether to attach our faith to fear or attach it to love. My personal theory as developed across the spectrum of my own first seven decades here on earth is that faith in fear is our earthly default as humans. Yet, over the course of time I’ve shifted my own faith to be in love’s power to cast out fear.  Faith in love is what I now call our heavenly, or “factory,” default. Metaphorically, the world is like a retailer that resets our default for life on earth as it is on earth. Faith in fear seems necessary for our survival. Yet, it is such faith that then produces our doubt in love.

Case in point?

Well, try placing your faith in loving enemies as a survival mechanism. Having any doubts yet?
Faith in “fear of enemies” is like a retail store setting of our default as necessary for our survival. Hence, the world has throughout recorded history known few years of peace. Wars and armies and weapons of whatever level of destruction have been our global norm.  By default.

What does this have to do with my regret in relation of this manuscript I’ve written and re-written seemingly a thousand times? Well, my final submission for this impending publication has failed to name the metaphorical retail store responsible for the high levels of fear that remain evidenced by, of all people, this world’s Christians.  We have in common our having shopped at a store named “God’s Kingdom.”

Yep. God’s Kingdom.

It’s like a telecommunications store for Christians. We all walk out with some version of a smart (???)  product by which to connect with the world around us.   But our connecting point has inadvertently disconnected us from the very people we seek to communicate God’s love to.  The jist of my own regret now is that the very word, “Kingdom,” is used to assert control over others whom we fear as enemies of God. Define  these enemies however you want, but a Kingdom default telecommunicates our Christian faith in fear and not our faith in love.

Which is not to say that Jesus introduced the wrong concept or validated the wrong default. By his actions, he demonstrated that Kingship means serving as opposed to being served. The cross itself was his final act of faith in love as opposed to faith in fear. But his redefinition of God’s Kingdom has clashed with the world’s own default definition, which goes back to having faith in fear and control over enemies as the best plan for survival and salvation.  The message of God’s Kingdom has, ironically, come to mean to the world that God fears us as his enemies and so must control us for his own pleasure.   We are “off message” when we then speak, or in my most recent case write, of that “Kingdom.”

Much smarter folks than I have wrestled with this term, God’s Kingdom, far sooner and better. But I failed to wrestle with it at all in my book, and I now regret that even before it’s actual release next month. I’ve liberally sprinkled the word throughout even my main thesis to imply a servant’s faith in love rather than in fear. But for love’s true resurrection, I’m now having early second thoughts. My main afterthought is that the very term, “Kingdom,” hits “send” without communicating God’s heavenly Gospel for earthly survival.

To redeem God’s Kingdom may require more than simply transforming being served into serving, as may have been the Gospel of Christ’s first coming. The Gospel of Christ’s return may require the very death of this word, “Kingdom,” in connection with God, Christ, heaven, or eternity. To crucify the God’s Kingdom is to, in my thought process even prior to releasing my life’s main thesis, is necessary for the resurrection of God’s Leadership, i.e. servant leadership, on earth as it is in heaven.

From this day on, I’ll speak of God’s Kingdom in the past tense as our own worldly faith in fear that has died so God’s Leadership in the future can truly redeem God’s heavenly faith in love’s resurrection.


Why it all comes down to interpretation

Communication is interpretation. Just as one cannot not communicate, so one cannot not interpret. Communication always comes down to interpretation.

Seems like pretty basic stuff for most of us, whether or not we’ve ever studied any dynamics of social interaction. Theories of encoding and decoding are hardly necessary to understand this principle we call communication. With our actions as well as our words, we are subject to interpretation by those who see or hear us in this world. That goes for seeing what we have written in this world. Think back, for instance, to a time when your class essay in school may have been, in your own mind, misunderstood or misinterpreted by the teacher, whether in part or in whole. Ever happen to you when you got your  graded papers back?

With that in my own mind now, I have questions about those who would presume to interpret the written words found in foundational documents such as the Holy Bible or the U.S. Constitution. This goes for what in the U.S. we know to be Federal Court Judges, the highest of these being the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

Debate is soon to ensue on President Trump’s nomination to our SCOTUS. In Senate confirmation hearings, there’s a chance we will hear this nominee use the word “originalist” to describe her or his own pattern of interpretation as involves our original Constitution and subsequent laws of the nation we call the USA.

Constitutional originalists, and even Biblical literalists, for that matter, follow a pattern of narrow interpretation. What this means to me, in my own interpretation of their interpretations, is that they work very hard at putting no additional words in the mouths or even minds of those original writers. This, again according to my interpretation of their work, is motivated by a fear of assuming too much about another’s thoughts. Such interpretations are considered safe. They seek to conserve the original author’s intent as fully expressed in the content of that particular document. An originalist might conclude, “if they didn’t write it, they didn’t mean it.”

As a follower of Jesus, who wrote no primary documents, I must rely on secondary source documents to understand what he said. One of those sayings according to a document widely circulated among early Jewish followers of Jesus known as Mattheans (sharing the Gospel of Matthew, one of the original disciples present with Jesus) was this: “Do for others what you want them to do for you. This is the teaching of the laws of Moses in a nutshell” (TLB).

Here is my point, in case you were wondering if I actually had one.

Jesus lived in a community where what we think of as “fulfillment of the law” was commonly taken to mean “correctly interpreting the law.” Abolishing the law would have meant “paying no attention to it” or just not bothering to interpret it at all. And so within his own context, Jesus made the crux of his own ministry about helping his fellow Jews understand (interpret) the difference between the narrower content of what Moses wrote as God’s law (Torah) and the broader intent of God when inspiring Moses to write that law. The broad intent of God’s law was for us to live in God’s Kingdom of love and empathy and altruism where people loved God best by loving neighbor and self better. And where loving neighbor better meant treating others more like we would want them treating us. (For example, how would I like my neighbor to love me if he or she noticed me after I had been robbed and beaten along a dangerous roadside?)

Throughout his ministry, Jesus emphasized how God wanted us to interpret his law not according to its narrowest content (the error of originalists and literalists) but rather its broadest intent. God is broad minded, not narrow minded. And, guess what? We probably are, too.

Let’s try a mini-experiment here.

Let’s say two different people came up to you and said those nice words, “I love you.” But one of those people understood nothing about you beyond what you had somehow written on paper or screen. If you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen. If you really intended it, you’d have put it in writing.  Get the picture?

Meanwhile, the second person read the content of whatever you had written to him or her, but also asked questions about what else you may have intended to communicate beyond your written words.  This person wanted to know about any good intentions or objectives you may have had at the time of your writing. Was there more you had in mind than just what was already documented?

So now practice interpreting for yourself the meaning of those original words “I love you.” Which of these two different “lovers” would you prefer having a closer relationship with? Or let me ask it this way, which of these two “lovers” would have done you “justice” in the best sense of that term?

I ask this because “we the people” of the United States are about to be governed in part by another highest court Judge who will be for her or his lifetime referred to as “Justice (name).” For if this new Judge, who will more than likely love the U.S. Constitution and its authors, fails to do justice to the intent, not just the content in question, then that “Justice” may by the accounts of Jesus come to “abolish” the Constitution instead of helping to “fulfill” it. This is why it all comes down to interpretation.  And this should send up all kinds of red flags for Christians in our United States of America.


So where’s all this anger coming from?

Like many others reading and watching the news reports of children being forcibly removed from their caregivers at our nation’s southern border, I find myself outraged. I’ve found myself accused on social media by others of self-reported faith as being “too emotional” about all this.

As Jesus followers, it should move us to learn what we can from Jesus about how and when to be emotional about things. The four Gospelists in our Bible all seem to agree that Jesus knew something about outrage himself. Fashioning a whip to drive out the Temple merchants was no small point of getting into an argument and raising his voice. He wasn’t just irritated to the point of being angry, he was angry to the point of being outraged by the Temple leaders in Jerusalem.

Too emotional?

Perhaps Jesus was accused of being such in the time leading to his crucifixion. Some may reason that if Jesus had only checked his temper at the city gate, he’d have come and gone from Jerusalem without his own crucifixion. But that’s not my point.   And it most certainly wasn’t his.

The point is that Jesus, per all four Gospelists, had a temper and he wasn’t afraid to blow his stack once in a while; Temple leaders and symbolic fig trees be damned!!!!!

But Luke teaches us something more uniquely important about the emotional Jesus, and I expect the rest of us can learn something more about ourselves in the process. The text is Luke 19. Specifically, try reading verses 41-45. Here it is below:

41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
45 Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46 and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” (NRSV)

Where the other three Gospelists reported this outrage in the Temple area, some more graphically than Luke did, there is a sequence here worth noting. Luke noted it, for sure.   You see, underneath all that anger in Jesus was a lot of hurt. Before lashing out in anger (v. 45), Jesus wept (v. 41). He was saddened to think that his own people would face destruction in the years to come, their own Temple destroyed by Rome in roughly four more decades. He was sad to think of the future that would come about. And then he was mad to think of how his own people were causing that very future by what they were doing now at the Temple. Jesus wept about the future result; he then became outraged about the present cause.

There’s something to be learned here, I believe, when it comes to managing our own emotions.

I wonder if we don’t all have a lot of hurt underneath our own anger. The hurt we have is, if we are as human as Jesus according to Luke’s account, related to a sense of helplessness we feel as we look into the future. Jesus felt helpless to protect the Temple from being destroyed by the Rome Empire in 70 C.E. That hurt him deeply to the point of tears. That is why he wept. And we all weep when we long to protect others from long-range destruction.

Because of my decades of working in mental health counseling to treat hundreds of adults who were traumatized as children and tormented throughout their futures by fears of abandonment and separation anxieties, I weep for the future of these children now in US custody after being traumatized by separation from their loved ones, their primary protectors. I understand that no amount of secondary protection or adoptive parenting or psychotherapy is going to undo the damage to the minds of these children. Four decades from today these kids will still be feeling their Temple destroyed by the American Empire. I weep because I am helpless to prevent that.

Helplessness hurts.

But we don’t have to stop at this emotion and live in lament or clinical depression. We have an option. And that option is for us to get angry and let our own leaders know we are outraged by what they are doing in the present to cause the future suffering of others. Because, although we are helpless to prevent the future and protect others’ future suffering, we are not helpless to now release our anger upon the present perpetrators of others’ suffering.

We may, just like Jesus, be helpless where four decades from now is concerned, but we can be helpful where today is concerned if we’re willing to ask WWJD? and then condemn our own leaders in no uncertain terms for making a mockery of our own nation. The United States is to be a place where refugees flee persecution and hunger in order to find safety and support. But our current administration in Washington, like those Jesus faced in his capital of Jerusalem, have made our nation into a den of robbers. Like Jesus, I intend to use my own outrage to help in any way possible to drive out the Republican majorities in Washington who are doing this in the present. I intend to curse the very people of our Republican Congress that fail to produce the fruits of liberty and justice for all just as Jesus cursed the symbolic fig tree of Jerusalem.

I hurt with these refugee families who are being delayed and denied justice at our borders.  Underneath my outrage is my deep, deep sorrow. But after my helplessness about the future comes my helpfulness about the present, even if I have to use a whip to drive out the politicians who have made our nation of hope into a den of robbers. Whether people call me “too emotional” or even crucify me at this point, I will be doing what the scriptures clearly say that Jesus. Would. Do.  Because that, more than anything else, is where all this anger is coming from.    


My 3 favorite 4-letter words

I am now so old that I can remember when George Carlin was young.

If you don’t even know who George Carlin was, it means you are now so young.

If you do know who he was, well, you probably can either recite the 7 dirty words you can’t say on television, or you may know someone else who can and does recite them. Only 5 of the 7 were 4-letter words. But they made George Carlin famous all the way to the US Supreme Court back in 1978.

My wife and I first saw Carlin when he was in short hair with a nice business suit and tie doing stand-up at Mr. Kelly’s on Rush Street in Chicago. It was the summer of 1970. His act was quite tame at that time. As in Al Sleet, the Hippy-Dippie Weather Man, if that means anything to you. Not so much as a single 4-letter word in his entire act, far as we can recall.

George Carlin went on to re-invent himself within the next couple years and, well, the rest is mostly “dirty words you can only say on HBO” history.

I have my own favorite 4-letter words. Don’t get too excited! They may b-o-r-e you next to the ones you had in mind. To me, though, they’re the most exciting words in the English language for reasons I intend to explain here.

My words are: LOVE, NEED, HELP. Those 3 can explain most of my 71 year life story to date.

You see, I grew up hearing expressions like “falling in love,” “take whatever you need,” and “just help yourself.” Like many things I heard growing up, I was rather overgrown before I got around to questioning them. Now, however, I wish I’d have questioned them a long, long time ago. Maybe on my 21st birthday would’ve been about right. If I knew then what I know now, my life might have been a great deal more productive.

Here’s what I mean.

The word most people are thinking of when they say “love” is not “love.” Not at all. It is the word “like.” Like is a feeling, an emotion, comes and goes, changes over time, and something we humans universally fall in and out of. Love is altogether different. Love is something permanent while like is temporary. Love is a forever kind of covenant. Like is a for-the-time-being kind of contract. Love is unconditional. Like is conditional. Actually, “conditional love” is an oxymoron. Try reading I Corinthians 13 from the Bible and substitute the word “like” wherever you see the word “love.” You’ll get the picture.

The word most people are thinking of when they say “need” is not “need.” Nope. It is the word “want.” Want is also a feeling, comes and goes, changes over time, and is something we humans associate with our wishes and desires. Most of us can be reasonably happy for a long time in life despite not getting everything we want. A need, on the other hand, is something we, well, need no matter what. Can’t live without it. And there aren’t too many of these when you really stop to think about it. Air. Water. Nutrition. Physical protection. All pretty basic stuff. Things that don’t change around over time. Needs don’t come and go. They stay or we don’t stay, simple as that.

Then there’s the word we often think of as “help.” And, no, we may not think of it quite like it really is, either. At least I didn’t growing up. While younger, I often thought of helping my parents as really “pleasing” my parents. I would strive as a child to please by helping. After awhile, I learned this was true of other people as well. If I wanted to help them, I would have to please them. And vice versa. If I really loved people, I would help them get everything they wanted in ways that made them happy. I’d be able to please people by taking care of their wants or desires. Then that would prove that I really loved them.

Au contraire.

How very messed up my mind was for all the years that I failed to question those 3 words. Love. Need. Help. Failing to question those words according to my own way of thinking meant failing to love the very people who needed my help.

You see, I was too busy trying to like the people who wanted me to please them. And you know what? I didn’t. I didn’t like having to please them, and I could never satisfy all their wants. So I was failing but never knowing why.

Until it finally registered in my mind.

I really did fall in and out of like with people. All people. I fell in like with them whenever I could please them by giving them what they wanted, and when I couldn’t I would fall out of like with them. I’d feel trapped in relationships with people I could never really please. Couldn’t meet all their desires and wants, so they’d be frustrated and they wouldn’t like me either. And, well? What a waste of my life until I finally caught on and started asking questions.

I’ve had to learn the hard way that my best life, my truest narrative, isn’t about liking that feeling that comes from getting what I want or giving what others want. Nor is it about pleasing others or even myself. It’s about loving others who need help. And it turns out these people are everywhere I go in this world. People who need help to just get by, or to stay alive.   That’s what like can’t and won’t give them but love always can and will.

Turns out that helping people who need to just live safely and securely is………..what I like the best, want the most, and get the most pleasure from in all of life. Jesus said, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Liking. Wanting. Pleasing. Those are the bi-products. The unexpected rewards that have come to me afterward. After my 3 favorite 4-letter words: Love. Need. Help.


Minding our own business

We can all gather a lot of different advice for our lives by reading the Bible. Most of it is good, I suppose. Some not so much, I’m sure. Much of it can be just plain hard to understand, let alone follow.

Here’s one I can I understand, but I have much trouble following. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). I’m about to explain why I’m having trouble following this.

To actually understand this or any other biblical advice, it’s best to understand the context. Context in itself is normally hard to understand. Especially when it belongs to the biblical writers and readers living so long ago and far away from us. But in this case, Paul the Advisor (aka the Apostle), made the context quite clear by writing it all this way:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was In the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…..” (Philippians 2:5-10).

Now I could say, kind of like Mark Twain, that the hardest part of the Bible isn’t what I don’t but what I do understand. But adding context even in these 5 verses to explain that one word of difficult advice, I still have to offer you this true confession.

About the time I go trying to follow the advice to, in effect, “think like Jesus did,” my own mind becomes aware of this problem that won’t go away. My mind is connected in relationship first with my own body and my own soul. And…….perhaps you’re not surprised……….my body and soul are very different from each other. They both seek to inform my mind’s decisions. And my own mind gets what we may call “triangulated” in between, caught in the middle, having to decide between two very opposing sets of information. In other words, my mind is conflicted. Decide it this way, and my body will be upset all the way down to my gut. Decide it the other way, and my soul will be kind of like quietly disapproving, if you know what I mean. Not angry or upset with me. Just not pleased with what my mind’s decision turned out to be.

Okay, so here’s what I’ve learned about how “not” to follow this good biblical advice. Are you ready for this?

My body is very narcissistic.

There, I’ve said it. My body wants to feel good. Sooner rather than later. It wants what it wants when it wants it. That includes bending my knees and kneeling when I want to kneel; preferably when my knees feel most comfortable doing so. And put a soft pillow down there first, okay?

Get the picture?

My soul is very altruistic. Wants others to feel good. To not be afraid, anxious, insecure. Wants whatever happens to be helpful for other people in doing and feeling well. Wants others to be all they can be. And I’m not talking pie in the sky by and by when they die. I mean now, here on earth as it is in heaven. Before they die.  My soul wants to empower others.

That’s my soul talking to my mind. Notice the difference?

If you do, then you can understand the difference between my mind and that of the Christ. You see, what Jesus Christ did with his own mind was that he chose to follow the advice of his soul at all times. When conflicted, and the Bible assures us he was conflicted even as you and I are, he always decided in favor of the altruist within. Oh, he had the same narcissist within as we do. But he just always sided with the altruist whenever he found his own narcissist opposing that inner altruist, whenever he found his body opposing his soul.

My mind doesn’t work that way. My mind likes to rationalize. Some would say I like to believe rational lies. I prefer to follow my body’s advice when it conflicts with my soul’s advice. And so whenever the Bible’s advice sides with my soul in times of those wilderness temptations and Garden of Gethsemane times of heavy perspiration, I’m not likely to think like Jesus. Not so apt to have the mind of Jesus in making my decision.  Not so willing to pray “not my will but yours be done” all the while my body is sweating like crazy.   Not so willing to humble myself and become obedient…….even unto death on the cross.

Up front I noted that not always is biblical advice good advice. Frankly, the writers themselves did not always have the mind of Jesus (hence the necessity of Jesus to come and speak for God in the first person; enough with that lost in translation stuff building up over time). Some not so good biblical advice privileges our body’s own narcissistic urges. Forget that altruistic empathy hogwash.  Yep. That stuff’s in the Bible, too. Hate your enemies is biblical advice. That’s the easy part to follow kind. And most easily understood.

Following Jesus. Taking his advice, and applying it in my own life.  Loving my enemy.  Altruism.  Empathy.  Siding with my soul that I’ll be with permanently rather than my body that’s only here for a relative “while.” Having his mind.

I’ve got my work cut out for me, but don’t we all? And when it comes right down to it, that is the business we’re all here to mind.


Rights or responsibilities: which come first?

Living as a child in a home where our parents are bitterly divided, aren’t speaking, aren’t listening, or where they are just shouting and blaming in anger can be terribly difficult. And where there’s a house full of guns? Well, that can be downright unsafe.

Some of you may know what that’s like from having personally lived such a scenario when you were a child.

Chances are if this was ever your life growing up, you know the feelings of helplessness and worry that came with your family lifestyle. And even if that was never your family, you may have known or at least heard of other families like this and felt your own lower grade helplessness and worry.

So now take that family situation and multiply it out millions of times and you have life today in these United States of America. Consider the lives of kids in that kind of a family and you now understand what it’s like for all of us as citizens of this nation in 2018.

And guess what that means?

It means, after throwing in the presence of guns inside millions of homes, we can’t expect to have a normal citizenship any more than children in such families can expect to have a normal childhood. Compared to citizens of other countries, we can expect to have more health problems, both psychological and organic, more education problems with lower test scores in school, and more acting out of aggressive impulses in the community. We have all of these as a nation in relation to many other nations. And we should not wonder why.

As a retired therapist who used to work with many sick families and marriages, I can tell you there is hope. The future can be better than the present. In my own past, it was not uncommon to find that the unbearable lives of the children themselves would lead to at least one of them doing something that landed the whole family in counseling. A family crisis would begin with the kids. Only then would the family enter treatment and begin resolving their horrible dysfunction.

Today our kids, most notably the kids surviving the February 14th crisis we now call “Parkland” are on the march to find a family therapist for us all as citizens of the United States. And we owe it to ourselves as well as them to join them in this noble quest.

Part of the problem in dysfunctional families, and larger societies such as the USA, is we don’t discuss functional topics. We only discuss those things that expose our dysfunction. Here’s an example: we talk about freedoms and rights. Or, more to the point, about my freedoms and my rights. Such conversations expose our dysfunction. So what else is there to talk about?

Perhaps we can try starting with a conversation about responsibilities. And before getting to my responsibilities, suppose we consider ours as a nation. Suppose we drop the “my rights” for awhile and try to figure out “our responsibilities” for once. Do we have any? If so, what are they? If not, then how can we expect to ever have “my freedoms” happen?

Freedoms do not drop out of some magical tree in the forest. Rather they grow up out of the ground of responsibility. Some responsibilities are ours and some are mine. Conservatives are very functional when it comes to counting up personal responsibilities. They are right to hold us all accountable for these. Liberals are very functional when it comes to counting up social responsibilities. They are right to hold us all accountable for these. And out of a national conversation around this functional topic of responsibility, I wonder if we might reach some common understanding of both “ours” and “mine” for a change. And if such a change were possible, I wonder if we might then find ourselves receiving those freedoms and rights we all care so much about in the first place.

Until then, well, let us at least take pity upon each other as citizens instead of fighting each other here at home. For we are all really like siblings growing up in a home where our parents are bitterly divided, aren’t speaking, aren’t listening, are instead shouting and blaming in anger. And where there’s a house full of guns.


The Power of Paradox

Do you recall that old expression of “reverse psychology” as used to reference such things as how to get a toddler child to eat his spinach? Order him not to eat it for it would make him too big and powerful. Or how to stop a teenager from smoking cigarettes by ordering him to smoke the whole pack at once in order to practice adult inhaling. Crazy stuff like that? Always sounded too good to be true, but made for an interesting fantasy.

The field of counseling psychology has long considered this a kind of “strategic” formula for working with oppositional and defiant clients otherwise considered unworkable or untreatable. The great Austrian analyst, Victor Frankl, used the term “paradoxical intention” to suggest there are indeed times when ordering the opposite seems to have the best chance for success. Order the couple complaining of sexual frigidity or impotence to refrain from sexual intimacy for the next two months, or the individual complaining of insomnia to refrain from any sleep for the next two nights. This amounted to a kind of “reverse psychology” when trying too hard had made things worse in the first place. Trying too hard in opposite direction became known as using “the power of paradox.”

Jesus, per the New Testament Gospels, reportedly used this very strategy to spread the word of his healing abilities. Tell no one what you have just seen, was sometimes his strongest advice.  And his least taken prescription.

So I got to thinking the other day about who it is that has the power to influence the policies of our current US President. This, afterall, seems to be a man who seeks his own direction at all costs. No one, whether we’re talking personal attorneys or party officials, can get away with telling him what has to be done. To such strong advice, he typically responds with “we will see what happens.” Translation: “I will do what I want to do when I want to do it.”

There are those in our country who look to the assigned special counsel of Robert Mueller as one who has some actual power over our President. But I’m not so sure.

From my own perspective, the only person who really has actual power over this President is our previous President. That’s right. President #44 seems in my mind to have the greatest power over the behavior of President #45.

Were #44 to privately call and advise #45 to, for instance, be very careful not to submit to any non-scripted interview with [special counsel], I think we might begin to see the power of paradox take shape. Were #44 to further advise that under such a circumstance, #45 must plead the 5th Amendment or else claim amnesia if asked to reveal any sensitive information under oath, the paradoxical behavior of #45 might actually take place. And for #44 to then go public with a televised pronouncement such as, “I have no doubt that [45] will weakly lose such a contest if he agrees to be interviewed by a strong champion like [special counsel],” would pose real power over the behavior of #45. As would such a public statement as, “when I was President, I’d maybe not have had the courage to meet alone with such a [special counsel] in an oral interview unless by subpoena and only then if I could have pled the 5th or else have conveniently forgotten when asked an incriminating question.”  Or perhaps another public statement such as, “knowing #45 so well as I do, I would most definitely expect him to fire the special counsel rather than cooperating with any request for an unscripted interview under oath.”

In short, the bigger deal #44 might privately make over why #45 has to avoid cooperating with the Mueller investigation, while then publicly stating this as a matter of protection against some exposed weakness and defeat, the more power he would actually have to drive #45 away from such avoidant behaviors.

And so, for my own part as a private U.S. citizen voicing my own opinion in accord with my 1st Amendment rights, I hereby order President #44 to under no circumstances say anything directly about why #45 should refuse to truthfully answer this special counsel’s personal inquiry. In fact, #44 should refuse comment if ever asked to publicly advise his successor about how to best protect himself from further scrutiny in the matter of this alleged, by #45 and his attorneys, Russian “hoax.” That is my final prescription as #44’s personal advisor.


A prayer for the people

Dear God, you have heard my prayers oft’ repeated asking you to help break our hearts by that which has first broken yours. Today our hearts are broken. But not as badly as yours.

Our hearts are often broken by the suffering of your children around the world who are poor and oppressed. But not as often as yours.

Our nation of the United States of America has been made great by those very occasions when we have welcomed ashore those who are tired, poor, and yearning to break free. Yet today, we are facing one of the greatest ironies to be found within our own history as a nation.

We have most recently celebrated your coming to the world in the body of your Son Jesus, for his own declared purpose of proclaiming good news to the poor and freedom for the captives. This was in fulfillment of your law and prophets so terribly misunderstood by the ancient nation of Israel and among his own people. He came to help break the hearts of your people by that which had first broken yours. The great irony was that his own nation was soon divided between those whose hearts were newly broken by their new understanding of your law and prophets as fulfilled by your Son Jesus, and those whose hearts remained hardened by their continued misunderstanding.

This same great irony now plagues our own divided nation, dear God.

We, too, as in the days of Jesus, are divided between those whose hearts are broken and those who remain hardened by their continued misunderstanding of your law and prophets.

If we ever caught onto the plot in the first place concerning the Christ of Christmas who clarified your divine understanding of your law and prophets to mean, “So in everything do unto others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12), we have in significant numbers lost it despite that Christmas season now barely behind us. And those who have lost this plot have sown division within our land and your world at large by their support of a President who would proclaim bad news to the poor and oppression for the free.

This has broken your heart anew, Lord, and so I pray anew that you will help break an even larger majority of hearts within our nation. Break our hearts so badly that we might work in unity to overcome those whose support of this President would continue dividing us. Break our hearts so badly that we might grasp anew the very plot by which your story becomes our story. Break our hearts until Americans of all races, religions, creeds and classes will finally do unto others what we would have others do unto us………….. if we were your world’s tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Break our hearts until we, too, can understand the very purpose for your coming to earth as the Christ of Christmas. Amen.


To Tell the Truth….about Christmas

I’m so old that I can remember back to a weekly game show on television called, “To Tell the Truth.” It was one of those shows where a panel of celebrities would be allowed to ask questions of 3 different people, each of whom was pretending to be the same person. I say “pretending” but, in truth, one was the “real” person and really was telling the truth about who he was.

Two out of three contestants on this game show were impostors.

That’s right. Impostors. Claiming to be someone, maybe having some of the right answers, but being outright phonies trying to stump the panel.

Just like Christians and Christ.

More than we realize, we who call ourselves Christians are really contestants on a stage with a panel of global citizens seeking answers. Who is telling the truth? Who is real? Who is phony?

In the old TV game show, it was rather obvious that the 3 contestants weren’t all giving the same answers or in agreement with each other on things. Somebody had to be lying, but who?

I thought back to this game just yesterday when I read of the voter demographics involved in Alabama’s special Senatorial election. I was struck by the contrast between white voters and black. While 70% of whites voted for Moore, 95% of blacks voted for Jones.

And here, in my mind at least, is what is most significant about that.

First off, whites make up the majority of Alabama voters. But the majority of Alabama’s white voters identify as evangelical, born-again Christians. While the similar if not even larger majority of Alabama’s black voters identify as………….ready for this?………….evangelical, born-again Christians.

Anybody besides me making a connection here with the game show yet? They’re both claiming to represent the real Jesus Christ. But they tell two different stories, don’t they? One or the other isn’t telling the truth. One or the other has no business claiming the name of Christian. They can’t both be Christian when it comes, at least, to choosing between these two radically different candidates for high office.

Not being from Alabama myself, I felt like a game show panelist when it came to Tuesday’s election there. And so here’s my pick. I believe the real Christian of Alabama is represented by the African-American voters who also self-identify as evangelical, born-again believers and followers of the Christ. The others? The white “Christians” who voted for Moore?


That’s my call as a panelist or observer. And yours may be different. But why it matters so much, especially in this season of Advent, is that we’re about to find out who the real God is.

That’s what Christmas is all about.

The real God stands up, as it were, and leaves the impostor “Gods” sitting down. The real God looks exactly like, talks exactly like, comes and goes exactly like, and is…………Jesus Christ. Not Abraham. Not Moses. Not David. Not Peter, Paul, James, John.


They may have good answers to panelist questions. But they can’t all be right. They may pretend to speak for God and seem altogether sincere. May fool lots of panelists. But there’s only one Christ. Only one who speaks for God in the first person. And Christmas is the day we find out who the real God is that has come into the world.

To tell the truth, all of us are really pretenders when it comes to speaking for God. Only the real Christ can do that. We can’t speak for God, but we can speak for the Christ whenever we claim the name of Christ alongside the large majority of Alabama voters. Are we going to tell the truth, or are we going to just pretend?

The world is a panel. And the panel is asking, waiting, watching, wondering……and guessing. The real God will soon stand up. That’s what Christmas is all about.

Then it’s up to us. Will the real Christian please stand up?