….so why am I STILL so happy?

Okay, I’ve shared some of my thoughts about how love’s most gentle influence can one day overcome fear’s more violent control. I’ve highlighted the Bible verse from I John 4:18 that reads: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” And yet I last posed the question of why we sometimes resist letting go of our fears, even when something tells us love is right and fear is wrong. Why do we sometimes hold onto fear and let go of love? Even when it’s not in our own best interest, or anyone else’s, to do so? And especially when love makes us so happy, and fear more likely makes us miserable?

To attempt an answer of such questions, I’ll share on where it is I believe fear comes from. As a therapist for those 25-30 years in my practice, I typically referred to fear as a sandwich emotion. That is, it lies in between our hurt and our anger. Adding a different metaphor, fear is like the fire that lives in between the spark (hurt) and the smoke (anger). In terms of common human experience, some hurt in our life or that of someone else we care about triggers our fear. Fear always has a trigger. Something always has to spark the fire.

I used to believe that our fears stemmed from only our own hurts. Clinically, it’s very common to see people who were traumatized in some way now having post-traumatic fear, worry, anxiety, panic (choose your word). But then I learned more about what is called “secondary post traumatic stress.” Exposure to another’s traumatic pain can induce the same symptoms of anxiety as if we’d been the actual victim ourselves. So generalized human trauma can produce some generalized human anxiety and stress. That’s what I now believe is true. It’s like a house fire that spreads to the house next door, even when the original spark was faulty wiring in house number one. Fear, like fire, has a way of spreading “out of control.”

Our first and most natural defense mechanism against fear is to “get in control.” Control everything around me and I’ll be safe again. Let me have control and then I can relax. Remember the metaphor of the sandwich with hurt and anger covering the fear in the middle? Anger energizes us to fight for control. Interpersonally, anger is about gaining control over someone who may, we fear, be trying to control us. Think of your last “road rage” episode, if you will.

In an earlier blog, I sought to understand who we feel more loved by: someone trying to control us, or someone trying to influence us (in a softer, more subtle way). Here, I would proclaim, God is the most loving of all. God never tries to control us, for control is a “fear” behavior. God does not fear us; hence God only tries to influence us out of a deep, DEEP love for us. Lovingly, gently, not in angry shouts but soft whispers.

Consider this: we all have a certain amount of fear in our lives. It’s called being human in a world of hurts. There’s lots of pain out there, so we have secondary fear. And we all want to be in control. Just ask Adam & Eve and every other sinner who ever lived! Now here’s the ultimate irony: controlling people and things around us cannot cast out our fears. No. Our controlling behaviors in relation to other people, places and things can only perpetuate the lie that “I’m not afraid anymore because I’m now in control.” The truth is that, A) we are not in control of the world around us, and B) even if we could be, we would then live in even greater fear (worry, anxiety, panic) of losing that control.

Bottom line for today: We resist love and hold onto fear instead, because we choose not to let go of control. Human fears tell us “I don’t have time for loving influence, I need CONTROL and I need it NOW!!!!!” That’s a lie. Satan is at it again. It’s a temptation to eat the apple all over again to prove that, by God, we’re still in control. The truth that frees us, that casts out all fear, is God’s perfect love which provides not control OVER us but empowering influence WITHIN us by the Holy Spirit.

Next blog will then be about God’s Holy Spirit and how it has the power to communicate love, rid us of fear, and bring lasting peace and happiness. It will be more of why I am STILL so happy.

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so why am I so happy then?

My summer sabbatical’s coming to an end. Flying home tomorrow. Already missing these Colorado Rocky Mountains that surround our little one-bedroom condo here at Granby Ranch. But I like Ohio, too. Still no place like home!

Time for one last blog post. Have been reading a lot these last couple weeks, but for me the most helpful read of all is still the Holy Bible. My way of reading it is based on two things: how I was trained at Ohio State as a clinician, and how I was trained at United Seminary as a theologian. In reverse order, here’s how it goes. My own theology places Jesus squarely in the body of God’s Holy Trinity. Father is God’s mind, Holy Spirit is God’s soul, Jesus is God’s body. As God’s body whose behaviors are recorded in, appropriately, “the (good news) Gospels,” Jesus is “the way” to come closest to seeing God, understanding what God is like. In this sense, Jesus is God’s living Word even as the Bible is God’s written Word. Both are born of the same Holy Spirit, and yet come to us through human authors and the womb of a human mother. God loves to use our human abilities. Even that is good news, isn’t it?

How we understand the Bible depends on how we understand God. I know, it’s really circular, chicken and egg kind of stuff. But think about this: if God reveals Himself through Jesus, we know that God speaks in symbols, parables, allegories, metaphors, abstractions, and poetry. If God speaks that way through Jesus, then God consistently speaks that way through the Biblical writers of even the Old Testament (Hebrew) Bible as well. In other words, God is not a literalist in His communication with humans. We humans misunderstand both God and the Bible when we take Him literally. God speaks an abstract and not a concrete language. To know God’s language is to know God. Thank you Jesus! Thank you Holy Bible!

All that said, here’s how I read the Bible based on my training as a clinician. Every passage of the Bible is a solution to some universal human problem. All of my preaching of the Scriptures as a pastor can be summed up in one standard outline: 1) What’s the common human problem these people in this passage were having? 2) When have I had that same problem in my own life experiences? 3) When have others had it? 4) When have you (congregation) had it? And, 5) if we’ve all experienced this same problem in life, then what is God’s solution for us according to this passage? How do we see this solution in this passage, and how do we see it best of all through Jesus in the Gospels? That’s always my bottom line if I’m doing a sermon. Clinically, I must assess the problem, socially relate to it, and then uncover God’s prescription as our Great Physician and ultimate Healer. No other book does this as well as God’s Holy Bible.

If Jesus could summarize the entire Old Testament with the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” then my attempt to follow Him with a NT summary is this: “Do not fear. Do love.” Can’t break my own faith down any simpler than this. Not my own theology. Not my own psychology. Not my own joy and happiness and meaning and purpose in life. Nothing beats loving God and others, and using that love to cast out fear. Next blog from Ohio will be about what we have to let go of when our fear is cast out by love, and why we sometimes mess up and choose to let go of love and hold onto fear instead. I’m inviting you to follow.

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the sorrow of Michael Brown’s death

Have you ever entertained the thought that “there goes an accident waiting to happen” and even said as much out loud to whomever would listen? If so, perhaps it was a situation you personally had no control over. Maybe a car, truck, or motorcycle speeding around you at 90 mph on the freeway weaving in and out of traffic. Or maybe you can think of a better example. You can see what’s about to happen, but you alone can’t stop it or even slow it down. It’s a bad feeling, isn’t it?

It’s a feeling I have noticed in myself to an increasing extent while, of all things, I’m on vacation this summer. The trigger for it is that I’m taking time to read and to pay attention to things going on around me. Other day I blogged about Robin Williams’ death, sensing that even his death was a suicide waiting to happen, very preventable, but……… I later remembered my years of volunteering for Dayton’s Suicide Prevention Hotline and the many times I would gently say words such as, “one trouble with suicide is that it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

Suicide is sometimes like the predictable but much less preventable accident waiting to happen.

But so is homicide, which takes me to today’s new topic. And to the death by police homicide in Ferguson, Missouri of one young, unarmed and unthreatening Michael Brown.

For me, the book of the year has to be Lisa Bloom’s “Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It.” If you’ve not yet read it, I hope you will soon. It’s a literary masterpiece. Or, if you’re not into books but do carve out time in your busy schedule for a few blogs, I hope you’ll read http://reknew.org/tag/michael-brown/ and see what Pastor Greg Boyd has to say today.

Friends, I feel bad even saying this but “America is an accident waiting to happen.” We presently have a terrible “fear problem” in our land. Bloom absolutely nails it in her book. There is undeniable evidence of it if we allow ourselves access to any external reality these days. One source of external mask-removing access I have is that I get facebooked from both friends of the right and left alike. That word “friend” is quite curious when the content below is a post from some rightwing or leftwing source of, well, absolute hate. Upon reading back and forth, with recent events in Ferguson, MO as a kind of epicenter of danger, I find myself repeating silently and now aloud here, “America is an accident waiting to happen.” One foot in a renewed Civil War between red and blue, and the other foot on a banana peel.” Both sides have tremendous fear. And then there’s the mathematics of gun ownership, where guns are estimated to outnumber even automobiles in our nation by 50,000,000. That’s right, million. To think I was worried about the car passing me at 90 mph the other day! Gun deaths already outnumber automobile deaths in America. I can’t stop or even slow down the predictable suicides (highest risk being white males over 60 like Robin) or homicides (highest risk being black males under 30 like Trayvon and Michael) but I can pray. Will you pray with me by simply reading as follows here:

Dear God, we feel sad when we hear about suicides and homicides alike that we cannot stop from happening each day. We lament the gun deaths of innocents such as Michael Brown. We confess that, lacking the power of control over other people, we don’t even try to influence them. We don’t even post a comment here or there or raise our own voice in protest against evil and injustice around us. We don’t even try to prevent the predictable. Instead, God, we choose our own blindness, our own deafness, we put ourselves on mute. Yet, we expect you to soon drop out of the clouds and rescue us, Jesus, just as the ancients pled with you to come down off the cross and show yourself to be their Messiah. Forgive us, Lord. Forgive us for seeing injustice and evil and crying out for you to “Do Something.” Help us to see, dear God, that you created us to do something about the accidents waiting to happen here in our own land. Supply us with the resolve today to let your perfect love cast out America’s great fear, so we might truly become one nation, UNDER THE(OS) INFLUENCE, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL. AMEN.

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the sorrow of Robin Williams’ death

Have to admit this blog is motivated entirely by sympathy I’m feeling for those now mourning the death of Robin Williams. I’m taking off my pastor hat this a.m. and putting on my therapist one simply to offer reassurance that depression, the illness widely blamed for his suicide, is not typically fatal. This is not to take away anyone’s expressed sorrow and other emotions. It is only to attempt a possible “help” for those wondering why depression sometimes kills. “Why” questions are normal with any amount of mourning. The normal curiosity of why someone would take his or her own life if “depressed” can easily lead to faulty beliefs about depression as an illness, after which people begin feeling more depressed and anxious themselves than is at all necessary, even in a state of mourning or bereavement.
It may possibly help to understand that depression is the common cold of mental illness. We all get it from time to time, and strangely there is some element of contagion represented in both. Genetics play a factor, as does lifestyle, in both a sinus “cold” and in mental “depression.” Mostly, these common ailments make us miserable for a few days and then go away, sometimes lingering longer than we’d like in terms of symptoms. However, for some persons depression can linger for months on end causing us to need a doctor, who can prescribe medication that effectively treats our symptoms. For others, the depression becomes chronic, not unlike the person who often catches cold, sees it turn into bronchitis or even pneumonia, and may need hospital treatment at some point(s). Rarely does a cold, or depression, turn fatal. Both are highly treatable with therapeutic medication, although I’m biased in believing counseling/psychotherapy is also important for depression sufferers.
Robin Williams is said to have suffered from bi-polar depression. Here’s what is so important to understand about this disease in particular. The person who dies from pneumonia does not just have a bad cold. Nor the person with bi-polar disease a bad case of depression. A bi-polar major depression is so severe as to require medication often managed within a hospital setting. It is often co-morbid, coexists with, substance abuse or self-medicating of one’s suffering moods. For instance, too much (hyper) mania and its insomniac state is often self-medicated with copious amounts of alcohol (a depressant drug). Bi-polar depression is, like severe chronic pneumonia, not going away without proper and adequate medications, many of which have negative side effects – though less risky than the side effects from alcohol and other OTC drugs.
In my own practice with bi-polar patients over the years, I’ve noticed that the period of highest suicide risk seems to be not within the depressive episode itself, but when leaving depression and entering a new manic episode. This may or may not explain Robin Williams’ own death, but for those where suicide does occur, their manic energy empowers them to carry out the very thing their depressed mood repeatedly told them to do: “Just kill myself and get it over with.” Then they were too exhausted to even craft or carry out a suicide. Now they finally have the energy to do exactly that. Of interest to many clinicians like myself over the years has been the tendency anti-depressant medication has itself in triggering an end to depression and a new beginning of mania. Also, sobriety from alcohol, a depressant drug, aids to lifting depression and ascending one’s mood into mania IF ONE TRULY HAS BI-POLAR disease. This is why I’m more inclined to recommend bi-polar patients have a therapeutic level of some mood stabilizing drug (usually an anti-convulsant) in their systems as they work at their mood management and sobriety. It’s counter-intuitive but intensive counseling is most important when depression begins to ease off some and sobriety is continuing.
I have no way of knowing what drugs and medications Williams may have had in his system yesterday, but I would contend that death from bi-polar disorder is entirely preventable. The key is the patient’s own compliance with a realistic treatment plan. And the treatment had better be not for just “depression” any more than the treatment for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary pneumonia should be for just a “common cold.”

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Under The(os) Influence

Writing today in response to couple readings. One is Phyllis Tickle’s book, Emerging Christianity: What it is, Where it is going, and Why it matters. Other one is a facebook post by my friend, Linda Mattila, a new pastor serving a small congregation in crisis within an aging subdivision outside Dayton, Ohio. That church’s name is Good Shepherd United Methodist. I’ve enjoyed speaking and fellowshipping there several times in recent years.
Tickle references a publication by the Anglican Church back in 2004 which is available for free download using http://www.chpublishing.co.uk/uploads/documents/0715140132.pdf. To me this publication is worthy of discussion by any church such as Good Shepherd that is tasked with envisioning and planning for a 21st century church. That document’s full title is: Mission Shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions of Church in a Changing Context. In her own book, Tickle references the 3 mission fields available to the Mission Shaped Church: 1-The un-churched who know very little about Christianity and are basically neutral, 2-the non-churched who are basically for Christianity but very neutral to the idea of church attendance, and 3-the de-churched who are former Christians so turned off by the institutional church that they have basically tuned out period.
In light of my own blog theme I’m calling “Under The(os) Influence,” I offer up the opinion that we Christians, like God Himself, have no control over other people’s minds and bodies. Out of our fears, we may attempt such control over others. But fear is not what God’s about. Rather, God is about loving others in ways that attempt to influence them to become their best selves for eternity. That’s Christ’s own mission and His call to the church as His missionaries. So question one, if one buys into the tri-fold mission fields of the Anglican Church report is: who can we best influence with our love in this community: the un-churched, the non-churched, or the de-churched?
The first act of love for anyone we wish to influence is the act of listening. Hence, I would suggest any church interested in being “mission shaped” for the future might want to have a focus group of persons who self-identify as un-churched (don’t know and don’t care about Christ or Church), non-churched (know Christ but don’t care about Church), and de-churched (knew Christ and knew Church but no longer care about either).
I’ve always liked that old line about folks not caring how much you know until they know how much you care. Best act of love and caring may well be listening to what others do care about and why, plus what they don’t care about and why. Perhaps that comes from questions at a focus group. Perhaps from a panel presentation at a retreat. Either way, to me a key piece of practicing Godly influence in the example of Jesus rather than what we wrongly imagine to be Godly control (doesn’t exist) over peoples’ minds and bodies is to listen to people first, pray for them second, and plan with them third.
Church planning, or Church planting, for the 21st century will succeed or fail based on this choice each local church must make today: will we live under God’s loving influence, or will we live under our own fearful control? Bottom line choice is between fear, which drives us to seek control over people, places, and things; or love, which frees us to live out God’s own influence over people, places, and things. Today’s prayer: Dear God, which of these did you choose when you were incarnate here on earth in the body of Jesus? And which of these would you hope we will choose for ourselves in the days ahead? Amen.

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Is God more like a-hyphen or a (parenthesis) in our lives?

While on vacation in the Colorado mountains, I will be entering posts more frequently and continue on with the theme of living under God’s influence. My wife wisely advises me to ditch the the-os in title because it confuses her (and likely you as well). Will try the(os) instead to see if that helps clarify. But I do owe any followers or readers at least some explanation of what this whole living under God’s influence theme actually means to me.
You see, before I became pastor dan I was therapist dan for 3 decades in which I worked quite hard to help people understand themselves better. As a therapist or clinical social worker, my aim was to help people see their problem in a new way that would make it more solvable for them than before. Understanding people, helping them understand themselves in a new and more practical or healthy and even happy way, is still important to me. I came to believe over the course of my 30 years in practice that everyone is living under some kind of influence. I don’t mean everyone is addicted to something, but for sure everyone’s life is driven under some influence. We’re all DUI victims of some sort until we learn to become DUI survivors. If that makes any sense to you.
My current role as pastor dan was made necessary by this core experience in my prior role as therapist. The healthiest and happiest any of us are ever going to get is when we learn to drive our own lives under God’s influence. God is love, and God’s wisdom comes to us not in the form of any external control (imagine a hand reaching down from heaven and moving us as puppets here and there) but rather an internal, spiritual influence. We become filled with love when living under God’s influence. Or, to borrow the Greek word for God, Theos influence. The influence we can choose to live under is the-os influence; make that the(os) influence.
To me there is an important connection between understanding ourselves better (psychology) and understanding God better (theology). And it may first help to understand this: God’s influence over our mind’s thoughts and body’s behaviors is much like a hyphen or, now at least, a parenthesis. God’s parenthetical influence is easy to miss. It’s a bit obscure and doesn’t quite fit with the world’s own influence that we’re otherwise driven under. Our choice to leave behind our experience as a DUI victim and become a DUI survivor under God’s empowering influence requires us to read inside the parenthesis, or the other side of the hyphen if you happen to prefer that.
Perhaps less confusing? I can only hope so.
What this means in terms of my future blogs is that I intend to help us all, myself included, better understand ourselves by better understanding God. God being the subtle force of love and wisdom that comes to us sometimes parenthetically, experienced not as control but rather as an influence. A common thread in all my posts will be the understanding that God is not in control over our lives if, by that term, we mean our human life of mind and body. God will never do our thinking and choosing for us. We choose our own thoughts, make up our own minds, and cause our own consequences. God is, however, in control over our souls. There he is sovereign in this world. Which means that living under God’s influence is when our minds choose to listen to our souls and tap into that spiritual wisdom from our higher power. It’s not easy. The physical world impacting our mind tends to speak in shouts of control. The spiritual world impacting our mind tends to speak in whispers of influence. We see the physical world but cannot lay eyes upon the spiritual world. So we are easily drawn to the former. The latter becomes something on the other side of the hyphen or within the following parenthesis. Life under the influence is easy. Life under the-os or the(os) influence is hard. Hard but worth it in terms of our own health and happiness. Hard but worth it in terms of the benefits of being survivors, not victims of DUI.
Next post will contain more of my thoughts about making the hard choice of living under God’s (higher power) influence easier in the future than it was in the past.

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Noah under the-os influence?

Finally saw the movie, “Noah,” last night. Avoided the rush. By about 4 months. If you’ve seen it, or not, you may find my comments interesting enough to read here. Hopefully, you’ll feel free to comment yourself.
By now, Noah-blogs are probably old and stale, but since the movie is fresh in my mind, I do have this to say. First, didn’t Russell Crowe look great for a man 600 years old upon entry onto the ark? Or is it possible Hollywood took liberties with the Biblical text? An absolute Duh!
The movie was nothing much like the book, at least not in any literal sense. That much is a given. But for shock and awe, let me climb out onto the limb and say it was even better than the book. Hooray for Hollywood is something I rarely say, so please take note. Here’s why this time.
Assuming you did see the film, you’ll note that Noah was raised up in a culture of fear, violence and evil. That’s the lifestyle he knew. And God was none too pleased with such a culture or lifestyle. Violence and evil was so pervasive that God grieved having created life. Nothing in the Bible or movie suggests why God had it in for the plants as well as the animals. Nonetheless, God was out to destroy everything. Implied in both Bible and movie is God’s fear that the world is totally corrupt, and it’s time to reboot, restart, and use Noah et al to try again. God’s fear causes Him to take control over all life forms, Noah included. God’s angry as hell and out to punish the wrongdoers and then some. Children, even babies, are going to drown, no matter the anguished cries of their mother’s. Only Noah and his clan will escape God’s wrath.
I find some people still thinking this way today. They’re waiting for God’s wrath to take control. The beatings are about to begin, as Bill Cosby might say. If he were really God. Time to fear God!!!!
Noah built the ark because he was afraid of God’s anger, and God’s violence in taking control over all life forms, including women with infants. Because God hated pretty much everybody, he’d better do as God says. And build the ark to God’s specifications. Or else!
The Bible says “Noah walked with God.” Which, according to the movie, meant Noah identified with God in his hatred for all humankind, even himself and his own offspring. So near the movie’s end, Noah is brought to the point of imitating the God he so identifies with by threatening to kill his own grandchildren while they were in the arms of their anguished mother, Noah’s daughter-in-law. God did it by drowning the kids, Noah would do it at knife point. But walking with God meant doing as God does, taking control and kicking some serious butt. On this point the Bible and the movie are not far apart. The book holds only that Noah, at the end, simply banishes this son, Ham, into slavery. Far less violent, unless you’ve come along as a negro slave centuries later and the Christian masters speak with certainty of their having to control Ham’s descendants by whatever violent means necessary. (I was quite relieved Hollywood didn’t cast Ham as a black man!)
And now for my questions.
Is it possible God never was nor is today afraid of our worldly corruption to the point of taking violent control over us? Is it possible Noah, both in the Bible and in Hollywood, had God all wrong? Is it possible God has never wanted us to fear Him but love Him? Is it possible Noah confused God’s walking with him in his fear, anger, violence and control over others per Noah’s cultural upbringing, with what it would mean to walk with God instead? Walking in God’s love?
Is it possible God in saying “Noah, build an ark” really meant, “Noah, build my Kingdom” where all fear and it’s consequential anger, violence, control over others, is cast out by perfect love? Where fear of God is replaced by love of God? Where God acts not to control persons, places, and things but rather to lovingly influence our human minds into making good, positive choices that bring successful, world-peace kind of consequences? When we walk with God, identifying with Him rather than expecting Him to identify and walk with us in our cultural lifestyle of violence, do we really walk in fear and anger, or instead walk in love of enemy to the point of forgiving them for they know not what they do?
My own bottom line answer to such questions is from the Bible, not Hollywood, and it goes like this: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” I John 4:18. That’s where Noah got it wrong according to the Bible, and even more so according to the movie. The movie simply drove home the Bible’s point more strongly than I had ever seen it before. Thankfully, we can learn from Noah’s mistake. We can love living under the-os influence and not have to fear living under God’s violent control. That’s what I call a rainbow covenant!

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