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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Impostors.

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.

Nope.

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?

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So why do I love Jesus?

My last posting was a bit of a John 6:66 moment for me.

I sense those who did try reading it may well have given up and walked away scratching their heads. I do have that effect on people sometimes. It’s no small consolation that Jesus also had perhaps as many John 6:60-66 days as he did John 4:39-42 days. Sometimes we lose ’em even faster than we can win ’em!

One place I may lose folks is my own particular referencing of this body-mind-soul imagery that likens us to our creator.  To many this may seem to be discounting the body’s position in this trinity. As if to say that our human emotions and senses in relation to the outside world aren’t  really all that important. Or to say that our human fears are to be minimized; perhaps denied, rejected, cast out. If so, let me correct that impression.

To minimize our fears and other bodily emotions that impact our human mind is to minimize Jesus. Nothing could be farther from my intent, for to minimize Jesus is to negate the very Gospel I’m trying my best to proclaim.

Jesus, to me, represents the human side of God and God’s ability to relate to our world or social environment. Jesus is all about the body, the senses, the emotions, that we share here as humans. And the reason I love Jesus is that he teaches me everything I need to know about my own feelings, my own desires and fears, likes and dislikes. He is my coach, my teacher, my role model. He is my example of how to be a child of God. And, for this reason, he is my Savior.

That is why I love Jesus.

In no way should our bodies or our emotions or our fears, for instance, be discounted. They represent our children and, as Jesus might say to us, “of such are the Kingdom of Heaven.” To deny our feelings is to forbid the children from coming. To ignore our fears is to silence our own children as if they have nothing important to say, or have nothing truthful to tell us. To refuse attention or care of our own bodies is to refuse Jesus himself.

As God’s body, or God’s inner-child as I view it, Jesus was not always in agreement with God’s mind (which I call Father). Nor with God’s soul (that I call Holy Spirit). When Jesus says in Matthew 26:41 that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, the context is his own impending crucifixion. He was in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples on the night before he was to be tortured to death. He was sweating profusely. He was beyond fearful.

God’s own mind knows what it’s like to be conflicted.   To hear his own soul saying “yes” while his body is busy saying “no”………..or make that “hell no!!!”

There is nothing wrong with Jesus being afraid. It would be wrong for him not to have fear. It would be a gross denial of his own humanity and the ultimate rejection of his own body. To face the cross meant facing his fear. To face death, for Jesus and everyone else, means facing fear. Especially when that death comes about as slow physical torture lasting for hours!!

Here’s what I love so much about Jesus. When he finds himself on the wrong side of his own soul, he pleads with his mind as if to say, “please don’t make me drink this cup!  Please!!”   And then Jesus does what I should also do when my body feels scared to death. He trusts his mind, in consultation with his soul, to make the final decision after all.  Even though he first makes it clear exactly how he, in all reality, feels!

For Jesus, it wasn’t a matter of telling his Father what to do, as if he knew better. It wasn’t a matter of telling his Father that the Holy Spirit was wrong about this whole “love your enemies” thing when it came crucifixion time.  Rather, it was more a matter of Jesus saying, in effect, “I won’t like it, and in fact I’ll definitely hate it. But I’ll do it anyway, because I’m the child. You’re the Father, and the Holy Spirit, in whose love and grace I place my own child-like faith.”

That’s the Jesus I love so much!

That’s the side of God, indeed the child of God, I can identify with. The one who can best reconcile and at-one me with God.

Jesus.

The child of God who faces his fears and voices them openly. And who goes to the cross of Calvary not because he feels like it. But because he chooses to have faith in his own mind and soul to make the final decision together.  A decision to drink the cup. A decision to love enemies. A decision to resurrect. A decision to save. And a decision to set the example for all of us to follow as children.

For to such belongs the Kingdom ..………. on earth as it is in Heaven.

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