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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmastide

And the tasks of the season,
Both expected and unexpected,
Now jockey for soulspace,
Fighting in desperation to become real memories,
Like puppies fighting to nurse,
And the satisfied,
And the tired,
Mother does not bother to say,
"There is enough,"
For there is always enough -
And these baby memories will grow,
Into joy,
Into hope,
Into peace,
Into love.
We will say, "remember,"
And these full grown memories
Will bark,
Will yalp,
Will howl.

For in the resolution of Christmastide,
We no longer execute the tasks,
For they have been accomplished,
Rather, we accomplish the final task,
And we do not wait,
We do not toil,
We do the only thing left that we can possibly do.

We assign meaning;
It is the food of memories.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Provision and welcome: A prayer

Oh God, this road you have given us -
What joys, what sorrows;
A life of constant response;
Though mysterious, is not unknown;
Though unpredictable, is not random;
Though challenging, is the road of ease.
Oh God, this road you have given us.

We ask for all we need on this road;
When temptation seduces, give us wiser souls;
When anxiety threatens, give us peace-filled souls;
When anger sears, give us thoughtful minds;
When guilt burdens, give us grace-filled hearts;
When distraction points, give us steady eyes;
When despair oppresses, give us hopeful hands;
When doubts clouds, give us faithful hearts.
We ask for all we need on this road.

We ask for all we need on this road;
When we have plenty, let us share;
When we have success, let us celebrate;
When we are together, let us embrace;
When we have are songs, let us sing;
When we have stories, let us speak;
When we have talents, let us shine;
And when there is a new day, let us give thanks for every one of them;
We ask for all we need on this road.

We ask for all we need on this road;
For nothing is safe and little is good;
For your promises are true and your redemption sweet;
For pain is instructive and pleasure a balm;
For each loss sets a part of our soul into eternity;
For each experience is an act of creation;
For this road is short and we will walk it once;
For we must leave meaning to those who will come later;
We ask for all we need on this road.

Oh God, this road you have given us -
What joys, what sorrows;
A life of constant response;
Though mysterious, is not unknown;
Though unpredictable, is not random;
Though challenging, is the road of ease.
Oh God, this road you have given us,

Let us walk it in faith for we will soon come to see:
You were with us all along;
Heaven began before death, before life, before time;
And though this road ends,
You do not end
We do not end
And we come to learn that we were welcomed, always welcomed,
And that welcome never ends.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

GLAPA - Gun Liability And Portability Act

Although this is vastly incomplete, it is the first attempt at meaningful legislation that might place a more shared responsibility to gun violence. I am sharinig this in order to get all kinds of feedback. Please be positive whether your comments are supportive of something like this or critical.

I am not really sure what I think of this, but I am just brainstorming creative alternatives to the following:

1. Do nothing.
2. Ban guns.
3. Blame everyone else.

So, here goes:

Liability:

1.      All guns purchased or owned must be registered.
2.      All ammunition purchased or owned must be registered.
3.      Gun possession without registered ownership is illegal.
4.      Gun owners must carry a gun liability insurance policy for every gun they own (similar to auto insurance).
5.      Gun owners must carry their proof of current insurance with them.
6.      Gun owners must disclose all “users” of the gun (like auto insurance).
7.      All disclosed “users” must follow all requirements of GLAPA.
8.      Gun owners must state the intended purpose for each gun owned (hunting, home safety, recreational range shooting etc)
9.      Gun owners must register each owned gun annually (like auto registration).
10.  Gun owners must pass a safety, storage, and use proficiency test on a regular basis (like auto drivers).
11.  Gun owners must renew their liability policy every six months (like auto insurance).
12.  Gun owners be assessed for the following risk factors for each renewal:
a.       Drug (legal, prescription, and illegal) and alcohol use
b.      Stress events (e.g. divorce, job change, etc)
c.       Mental health screening
d.      Criminal background
e.       Other known or suspected risk factors often associated with gun violence.
13.  Gun owners must submit to randomized drug tests in each 6 month period of coverage.
14.  Gun owners must have a complete liability policy in place for 48 hours prior to the purchase of a gun.
15.  No one may operate or handle a gun that is not registered to them or is not a designated “user” of that gun.  
 
Portability:
1.      Gun owners must not transport guns and/or ammunition outside of the stated use (e.g. guns designated home safety should never leave the house).
2.      Guns owners who live in one state, but use their guns and/or in another state must carry policies in both states (like fishing or hunting licenses).
3.      Guns owners who will cross state lines with their guns must notify both states of their transport 48 hours prior to travel.
4.      No one may carry a gun into a designated gun free zone
 
Enforcement:
1.      Law enforcement agents who have reasonable suspicion of any violation of GLAPA may use the same measures law enforcement are permitted to use as spelled out in the Alabama Immigration Law.
2.      Breaking GLAPA is a felony.
3.      Fraudulent claims are subject similar law on insurance fraud
4.      Federally recognized law enforcement and military are exempt from GLAPA while on duty.

Claims:
1.      Victims of gun violence may make a claim against the policy of the gun owner.
2.      Victims must not:
a.       Be engaged in gang violence as a gang member or associate while being shot
b.      Be intentionally or willfully a victim
c.       The victim of suicide or suicide attempt
3.      Claims may include:
a.       medical care costs
b.      mental health care costs
c.       associated damage to property
d.      associated damages such as lost income etc.
e.       funeral costs
4.      The validity of claims will be determined by policy informed and by law (this will have to be very detailed so as to define fraud and prevent abuse).
5.      Claims must be related to the gun violence (pre-existing conditions will not be covered)

Premiums:
1.      Premiums will be set by the following:
a.       Relative risk each type of gun owned based on research
b.      Relative risk of the gun owner PLUS the risk of all disclosed “users” as per the bi-annual risk assessments
c.       Relative of the amount of ammunition owned, purchased or possessed.  
d.      Fair and customary estimated profits for the insuring company.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Social Narratives of Violence and Mental Health

The tragic mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut is both heartbreaking and disturbing. We all ache and share the trauma of this unthinkable event. In the shock and grief, we are filled with questions. Some questions seek facts – what happened? Some questions seek the Divine – where was God? Some questions seek understanding – why did this happen?

In times of such pain and uncertainty we want answers sooner rather than later. We hope that perhaps answers will provide a little balm for the soul-wound we all feel. In our urgency to know, we run the risk of being satisfied with simple and incomplete answers.

Mental illness such a personality disorder and neurocognitive disorders such as Aspergers Syndrome (an Autism Spectrum Disorder) have been discussed extensively in media accounts of the Sandy Hook tragedy. In less formal conversations I have heard people defaulting to saying, “he was crazy.” It understandable to default to mental health answers in our urgency for the relief answers to impossible questions can provide, but we must also consider how these mental health social narratives impact the vast majority of people with mental illness or neurocognitive disorders who are not violent.

If we arrive at the simple conclusion that “he was crazy” or had a mental illness and go no further in our thinking or understanding, then what we have done is to situate anyone with a mental illness as potentially or likely dangerous. It will result in the social construction of stigma creating an environment ripe for discrimination, dismissal, and violence against people who fight daily against mental illness.

In order to help with the conversation about the intersection of violence and mental health, here are some facts:

· "…the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses”

(American Psychiatric Association, 1994)

· “People with mental illness are much more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrator.” (World Psychiatry. 2003 June; 2(2): 121–124)

In short, people who struggle against mental illness are not to be feared, but rather protected and advocated for. Here are a few tips on helping the conversation of mental health and violence.

1. Avoid simple answers that serve only to soothe our own anxieties, but do little by way of helping.

2. Put unhelpful words like “crazy” out of the social narratives of mass violence.

3. Engage in activities, organizations, and relationships in such a way that promotes the mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health of yourself and everyone around you.

Prayer in Schools

Student led and private student prayer is perfectly legal in 100% of schools in America. I encourage all students who pray to pray.
Pray on the bus to school. Pray between classes. Pray in the lunchroom. Pray before tests (probably already doing that).

Pray for your friends. Pray for those students who you think they think are better than you. Pray for your teachers - even the mean ones. Pray for that lonely student (and befriend her or him). Pray for the janitor. Pray for the hurried principal. Pray for the food service people.
Pray for the aching hearts, angry hearts, broken hearts. Pray for the scattered minds, frayed minds, distracted minds. Pray for the lonely souls, anxious souls, lost souls. Pray for the ostracized and traumatized. Pray for the oppressed and depressed. Pray for the confused and confounded. Pray for the rejected and neglected.
Just pray.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

An Open Letter to MFT and Counseling Masters Students: Mental Health and Violence

Dear Graduate MFTs and Counseling Students,

The news of the mass killings in Newton, CT at Sandy Hook Elementary School is heartbreaking and very disturbing. Everyone wants to know answers to the deluge of questions that arise in situations such as these. Some questions are simply factual - what happened? Other questions are theological - where was God? Still other questions are about understanding - why did this happen?

As we ourselves struggle with these and many other questions, I want to encourage you to think through this situation as a mental health professional. You are being trained in such a way that sets you apart from the rest of the population. You are gaining knowledge, insight, and more importantly, a way of understanding the world that is different that the average person. As a mental health professional, you have the responsibility to view events such as these through the lens of mental health.

Why does your understanding matter in situations like these? It matters because you are being trained not merely to treat people who struggle with their mental health, relational health, and spiritual health, but you are an advocate for truth when it comes to mental health.

The way in which stories such as these are reported are generally done without the understanding you have about mental health. Media reports events such as these in such a way as to capture a story. Sadly, the way in which the media capture stories often leaves so much overgeneralization completely uncontested. It could easily be understood from events such as these that mental illness is the cause of violence. There is simply no empirical evidence for such a claim. As a professional, you have the responsibility to speak about the truth of the link between mental health and violence.

Your voice matters in the social narrative of the mental health and violence. Mass violence is a complex issue that has complex origins that cannot and should not be pinned to mental health without a fuller and more robust understanding of how a mass killing could develop.

I would encourage you to think systemically about this event integrating biological, psychological, social, and theological antecedents. Take some time to understand this event. Get your facts straight and be able to talk accurately, coherently, and generously to others about this event and others like it. Defend those who struggle with mental health issues who have no violence in them (which is almost everyone) and help to reduce stigma.

Here are a couple links with some good information on mental health and violence.

Link 1

Link 2

Peace,

Chris

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent: The Cast

When God came in the flesh, the incarnation could have happened in many different ways. God chose a curious cast of players. Also chosen were some people not to be included.

The religious powers of the day did not even know about God's arrival. The Jewish leaders were oblivious. They were not included in the cast.

The political powers of the day only knew of the arrival of God indirectly through the Magi. And when the political powers learned of the arrival of God in the forma of a baby, there was not disbelief or dismissal - the was fear. Herod decided to kill all babies just in case he missed out killing the God-baby.

The two classes of the most privileged people were ignorant or afraid of the God-baby. Why would God not come to be incarnated in political or religious power and privilege? There is much to be I'd for the way God entered the world. The birth of Jesus anticipated the ministry of Jesus.

So, excluded we're the privileged, but who was included?

Mary is clearly central to the story - a woman. Gender redemption

Joseph was honorable, but of little means. Not enough money or influence to even get a hotel room. Economic redemption.

Shepherds were a motley bunch - a tolerated class. Class redemption.

Magi were not even believers in God. They were most certainly "other" when it came to religion. They were astrologers. And yet God talked to them in a way they understood. God came to them on their terms, but at the same time shared a message that challenged their terms. Religious redemption.

The Magi were also "other" ethnically. Ethnic reconciliation.

So, even in the way in which God came to humans as a human, the goal appears evident that privilege systems developed by humans were not the pathway God chose to use while at the same time, the was significant effort at indicating that the oppressed, the others, the dismissed were to have access. The ministry of Jesus began before his birth.

The cast of Advent anticipated the trajectory of followers over a couple thousand years and thousands of years to come.




Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Myth of the Perfect Church

The hunt for the perfect church is like looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or trying to find the Fountain of Youth. It is trying to get your three wishes just right from a disinterested genie in the bottle. It is the search to get something for yourself that is magically delicious. It is a fabled and mythical journey for something that is supposed to answer some deep and aching questions about what it means to be human and spiritual and who God is.

Questions of Humanness: We have a lot of questions as humans. We want to know what it means to be human. We want to understand the meaning of life, our place in this life, and how we make a difference. We want to know what to do with our bodies, our minds, and our passions. We want to know what it means when our bodies, minds, and passions don’t agree with each other or go in directions that make no sense or are embarrassingly selfish.

Questions of God: Who is God? What is God doing? How does God relate to us? To me? How does God communicate? How can I understand this communication? Is God completely good? Completely powerful? Completely willing to act? Does God even know what is happening? If God is good, powerful, and willing, then why ___________? We have lots and lots of questions about God.

Questions is Spirituality: We have questions about what it means to be spiritual. How does this life in flesh connect to the divine? What happens when we die? Is there really an afterlife? Are the spiritual life and life in flesh one in the same? Different? A mystery to remain unresolved?

There are places we search for answers to these questions. One of these places is church.

Let me be clear: The search for the perfect church is a process that hinders these questions from being answered. It is impossible to answers these questions in a socio-spiritual context when the requirement for a church is perfection. The bar is just a little too high.

The search for the perfect church may be more a demonstration of theological and social procrastination than it is a legitimate pursing of the real and weighty questions of life. I avoid these weighty questions by pretending to find a place to ask them.

In the search for the perfect church, what will be found is far from perfection. Instead of perfection, you will find the following three things:

Messy people. People carry with them their moral blemishes, relational aches, and broken assumptions. We all do. We all come from families of origin that have their stories of pride and stories of shame. We carry within us secrets that we hope no one ever finds out and accomplishments we hope everyone finds out. We have beautiful moments of sacrificial kindness and ugly moments of blinding narcissism. We carry in us an inconsistent bundle of mixed motives at varying levels of self and other awareness into everything we do and avoid doing. People in churches are a mess.

The search for the perfect church has an inherent question buried in it: Are the people here perfect? If perfect people are a requirement for church, then no one is qualified. The search will never end.

Instead, we come to learn more of what it means to be human by being with a lot of humans who are acting human, living human, and performing humanity as it is – imperfect. How could anyone answer the big questions of humanity by hanging out with a bunch of perfect people – humans acting inhuman? The perfect place to seek the understanding of humanity is with imperfect people.

It is in relationship with imperfect people that we can seek answers to questions of humanity.

Messy theology. It took me 20 years to accept that the theology into which I was born was flawed. It took me another ten years to accept that all theologies are flawed. I was on the hunt for the right theology, the right way to understand God. I failed to find it. I have so many critiques of the beliefs of the fellowship to which I belong. There are contradictions, blind spots, omissions, and systematic problems that are impossible to individually or collectively resolve – at least not quickly. And yet with a theology, there is something in place with which to wrestle. We have a framework of understanding God which can be shaped and molded – which shapes and molds. We come to increasingly better understandings of God in wrestling with a theology.

The search for the perfect church has an inherent question buried in it: Is the collective belief system perfect? If a perfect belief system is a requirement for church, then there is no church qualified. The search will never end.

Instead, we find that learning about the nature of God does not come so cheap as a systematic theology. God is not so small or simple that understanding could result from a set of propositions. What we find is that we come to understand God in seeking to understand God together. When scripture, experience, each other’s stories, and inspiration collide, new understandings of God emerge.

It is in imperfect theology that we can pursue questions about God.

Messy practice. How a church implements its beliefs is sometimes even messier than its beliefs. There is a theology of equality, but some blatant violations of that theology. There is a theology of simplicity and the practice of too much consumerism. There are mission efforts implemented with good heartedness that sometimes resemble colonialism. We want to be pure in doing good, but we are not pure. Sometimes the  implementation simply falls apart. And yet, in the practice of moving beliefs into action, we find the link between humanity and the divine.

The search for the perfect church has an inherent question buried in it: Is the ministry this church does perfect? If perfect practice is a requirement for church, then there is no church qualified. The search will never end.

Instead of perfect practice, we are perfecting our practice. If the move of God in this world is a process of redemptive motion over time, then the idea of perfect practice is at best premature. What does it mean to be spiritual? It means improving our practice, it means participating in the redemptive motion of God to better the world in which we live.  We find spirituality might be defined as performed goodness in the world. We might find that spirituality is that divine nature we all have that puts into redemptive motion the animal nature that we all have.

It is in imperfect practice that we can pursue questions of spirituality.

Finding a church home is certainly an important task as you are in a sense, casting your lot with these people. And there are certainly churches to avoid as they are fronts for absolute corruption (Westboro Baptist Church). However, if the search for finding a religious body to belong to turns into the hunt for the perfect church, then there will be disappointment that may fester into cynicism and even a crisis of faith. The big questions of life will go unanswered or at least not answered as well as could be.

The hunt for the perfect church will prevent the discovery of the good enough church. It will prevent being situated in a socio-spiritual context meant to pursue answers to the big questions of life.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I Would Be Happier if I…

Pursued wisdom more,

Confronted myself before others had to,

Confronted myself before I hurt others,

Constructed redemptive meaning in all things,

Forgave more, 

Gave people less cause to have to forgive me,

Invested more effort into the changeable,

Released worries about the unchangeable,

Had more confidence,

Had less arrogance,

Spent more time unplugged and in nature,

Spent more time with people I love,

Created more,

Gave more to those who have less,

Soothed my own aches rather than assign them to anyone,

Felt it an honor to receive critique,

Withheld unproductive comment, initiative, and efforts,

Made meaning from pain,

Became good at holding together paradox, ambiguity, and uncertainty,

Held my life in tune with my faith,

Quit deflecting and rejecting compliments.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Harding University - A New Era

Harding University played an important role in my life. I enrolled as a Freshman after my junior year of high school. It was Fall 1987, the same year Dr. David Burks took the lead role as president of Harding. I was immature, eager to escape from something to something else, and severely undercooked. I needed a place to belong and Harding provided exactly what I needed. It was an exciting time and President Burks made a significant impression on me - a good one.

At age 17, I entered Harding with an eager faith, but a fragile faith. I needed so much help, and there it was awaiting me at Harding. I loved my Bible classes with Jimmy Allen, Neal Pryor, Jim Woodruff, and James Walters. I loved chapel. I loved peak of the week with Mike Cope and really appreciated Harding for letting Mike do his class in the Administration Auditorium and then in the Benson. I loved my social club, the English Department, the kindness and patience of Larry Long and Dennis Organ. I loved being the RA on 3rd floor of Keller dorm. I loved doing skits with Conquerors and going on spring break campaigns. I loved that I had friends when my heart broke. I loved that learned how laugh hard, play hard, ask hard questions of myself, God, and the church. I learned that God would be there for me no matter what. I learned that grace was more powerful than what I could muster up in my efforts to be right about everything. I look at my years at Harding as the single greatest span of positive spiritual development and spiritual formation in my life.

I count Harding among one of my successes - quite possibly one of the best choices of my life. I believe that I was guided there by God, that my experiences were Spirit led, and that I graduated from Harding not having lost faith, but rather deeply nurtured it. God is doing so much more at Harding than some of its theological statements let on.

I love Harding and have tremendous respect for how God used it in my life. The leaders there are sincere in their devotion and prayer.

I wish the best for Dr.  McClarty, for Harding, and for all the students who are there and will attend in the McClarty years.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

David & David: A Theology of Infidelity and Redemption

I’ve already heard the comparisons on NPR radio between two great military leaders: General David Petraeus and King David. A reference is made to II Samuel when King David was supposed to be off to war, but outsourced the work to General Joab. Maybe David was bored, maybe he was contemplating life, or perhaps he regretted not being out fighting and leading as he had always done so well. Whatever the case, he noticed Bathsheba.

After much hailed success in strategizing the wars in the Middle East, David Petraeus has been head of the CIA for a while and not so connected to military operations. It was during his time as CIA chief that the affair occurred. Seems like a similar story of Davids up to this point. However, the similarities end here. The Petraeus affair and the King David affair are very different in quality – King David’s being much worse. Neither of them is in any way acceptable, but each is redeemable.

In her book, “A Woman Called,” Sara Barton offers a shocking interpretation of King David’s affair with Bathsheba. There are various interpretations of the story, but a common one is that Bathsheba strategically situated herself to be seen by the king and essentially seduced him (she’s bad) and the king in his weakness gave in to her seduction (he’s bad). Seems fair – two people behaving badly. She’s just as a bad as he is.

Barton offers up an interpretation that grinds the traditional interpretation top a nub. It wasn’t an affair, it was rape. Rape. The word itself is hard to stomach. It is worse connected to revered and honored King David. It is hard enough to endure his affair. We find ways to bypass murder. But this is rape. When you thought it couldn’t get any worse – it’s rape. We can contort it all we want – it wasn’t violent rape - it wasn’t forcible rape (or was it?) - it wasn’t fill in the blank with mildly soothing modifier rape. It was rape rape. It was sexual relations with another person against the will of the other person.

We can’t hide behind “well, things were different back then.” Was God different back then? God is now, was then, and forever will be 100% and completely against rape. Rape is the most egregious violation of the gift of sex.

Is there redemption for the rapist? My kneejerk reaction is, “No way in Hell!” Scripture may show a pathway, but it isn’t easy.

In Psalm 51 we find King David as broken as a person can get. He’s begging for mercy. He knows his sin as it is so clearly laid out before him. He is humiliated, contrite, and broken. He is a suffering man. He is man who will suffer the rest of his life because the consequences are lived out in other people’s lives, in other people’s deaths, and in the undeniable and unfixable soul knowledge he has. His only redemption is sustained surrender, humility, and vulnerability and firm commitment to accept whatever consequence come his way. He did not opt out of consequence because he was king.

The affair of David Petraeus has significant consequences as well, but perhaps not as longstanding as David (The Petraeus affair will not be record in scripture for all eternity). His affair has ruptured his marriage, betrayed the trust of millions who saw him as a paragon of virtue, and perhaps set a nation’s security at higher risk. The consequences live large and are never going away. My hope for this David is that he can learn something from the other David about a pathway to redemption.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Images and Random Thoughts on Grief

My father-in-law died June 29th, 2012 at 5 am. It is a significant loss. He was a good man. I am in grief. This grief is not an exclusive experience. No, it touches the lingering grief that stays with me from losing my father in 2006, from losing my mother-in-law in 2011, and other smaller losses that have decided to take longer than I have years in me to heal. Grief is cumulative. Below are some raw random thoughts on this grief.

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My thoughts are confused like layers of hurried clouds headed in different directions just before a storm. My emotions are pent up like billowing clouds laden with water, but refusing to rain any of it out. There are lightning stabs; there are thunder starts. And invisible dam defies gravity and holds it all up. It roils and churns looking for a weakness, some way to burst forth.

My soul is pregnant with grief. But there is no relief in giving birth to a tornado. The unpredictable swirl of winds destroys this and has mercy on that and there is no explanation There is no way to know when it will swoop down for a heart crushing appearance.

There is a loneliness in a grief storm that seven billion people can't solve.

There is a numbness so deep that all the pain in the world can't produce a sensation.

There is a pain so deep that a bucket of novocaine can't numb.

There profound awareness of Nothing occupies too much space.

Words scurry away like roaches under the quick midnight kitchen light and meaning runs away with them. They exist, but they cannot be found.

Memories disappear like a power outage.

Hope gasps as its own existence flashes before its eye.

"I want Nothing" is a sick song stuck in the soul.

"I want Nothing" is the ironic state of a grief-smudged life - the more I get of it the less I have.

Running away from grief is like running away from air. It's everywhere and is it required.

Oh, if grief were merely being sad, it would be so easy. It would be understood. It would be unambiguous.

Grief has a Protestant work ethic. It never sleeps and never takes a vacation.

Oh grief, must we become friends?













Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ramblings on Life and Death: The Spectrum of Death

Life and death seem to be polar opposites. Death is the absence of life, and if there is some life, death is nowhere to be found. Life and death are a dichotomous reality.

There is plenty of evidence for this sort of dichotomous understanding of life and death. People buried in cemeteries stay there. No one wonders whether those bodies are coming back. My grandfather died of heart attack when I was 10 years old. He was alive and then he was dead. Just like that.

And yet, death and life are not always so easily categorized. Anyone who has a debilitating disease, serious mental health disorder, or has a loved one in hospice, can see that there is life and there is death co-existing – competing as it were, for dominance.

People wrestling with major depression sometimes describe the experience as a weight on their spirits, as thought death itself were gnawing away at their still living soul. People with long term or terminal illnesses or fragile health conditions are aware that death is not only near, but sometimes encroaches in, even when life is very much active. In hospice we see the relenting of life in an often gradual transition to death. Death occupies more and more while life vacates more and more.

Life and death is more like a spectrum with a point of no return on the death side. Unless the person has crossed the point of no return, there is some life, but there has been some death as well.

This idea that there is a little death in all of us is hard for many to accept. We want to be fully alive until we are fully dead, but this is not the reality for most people. We assert our science and our technology in efforts to eliminate the death end of the spectrum – or at least stretch it our further than it is. We assert art and literature in efforts to understand this spectrum and this mystery of death, to define it, to control it just a little.

Theology enters in differently than art and science in that theology does not accept death as an end to the spectrum, but rather a transition into the next portion of the spectrum. It is the great reversal where life is launched from death itself like the very dead seed germinates when conditions are right.

Science and art seek to deal with death on its terms while theology deals with death on other terms.

As we sit with my father-in-law at in home hospice, giving him medicine for comfort, we see this spectrum playing out. We do not believe that his death is the end of the story, that there is no more life once death captures his entire body. We see death as a transition. His weak, broken, leaking body is the seed of something wonderful about to germinate.

Our lives, everything out our fleshly existence happens in the dirt of heaven. Only when we die can we live above the dirt.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Song of the Northern Pacific

I tried to get the attention of the ocean. I wanted to listen to what she would tell me. I introduced myself and asked a questions, but she would not answer. In fact, I was completely ignored. I knew she had much to say, but she would not speak to me, not with words. No. The ocean does not stoop and the ocean does not waste. Words fail as they leave far too much room for interpretation.

The ocean does not speak, but she does sing and she does dance. She sings not with words, but with unending experience. She performs her music - she dances.

She didn’t notice me. I rode a massive boat over her skin and she didn’t notice. I exploded onto her with all my might, with all my fury, with all my sound. I churned her waters with a mighty churn, like pools under Niagara. White foam waked from my ship, cutting a thick line through her surface. I rocked her with all I had. 

Within seconds, the will of the sea recouped my little flutter and she became untouched once again – not even tickled. She was unamused by me, not because I was unamusing, but because I was not consequential enough to be noticed. My greatest barbaric yalp melts into silence, into nothing, into the sea.

The sea is not big on empathy. She’ll open up and swallow a boat without remorse. She offers no condolence. She’ll let a whale launch through her surface without need for applause. She is impervious to cursing and to affirmation. She has never walked a mile in your shoes and never intends to. She does not bless and she does not curse with any sense of benevolence or malovence. She provides, but not because she is giving. She is violent, but not because she is evil. She is simply being who she is and will not agree to be otherwise.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Rally of a Lifetime

The ump should have called the game for fog in the 4th inning. A dense fog had settled into the late night game at the  St. Louis Park ball field that hosted the Minnesota state tournament for the 13 year old Babe Ruth league. It was a losers bracket game in the double elimination tournament – Apple Valley against St. Paul Battle Creek. Apple Valley was down 7-1 in the 4th inning and we were grumbling about the fog.
The umpire wasn’t about to call the game. It was already past ten o’clock at night and the winner had to play a double header the next day. The tournament schedule was already way behind. Barring tornadic activity, the game was on.
We were a powerhouse that year. When the season ended, we had won 64 games and lost 10. It was demoralizing to be down to a patsy team like Battle Creek, a team that played bush-league ball and kept on with the infantile baseball chants bad coaches allow their teams to do. We were too old for the “belly itcher” chant.
We fought out way back to a score of 7-4, but now it was the bottom of the 7th inning. This was it. If we did not come up with three runs, it was the last game of the season. We would go home and privately cry.
Battle Creek was low on pitching. There was an inning limit per pitcher and their good pitchers had all burned through their allotment. They brought in some kid to pitch that last inning who had probably played second base all year hoping for a chance to pitch, but never gotten one because frankly, he wasn’t that good. He walked the bases full for our number 5 hitter, Harry Anderson.
Harry had prematurely already grown into a man by the age of 13. He was regularly shaving and weighed over 200 pounds. He had already hit a ball over 400 feet earlier in the season. It was called the “condo shot” because he hit it off the roof of a condo past the left field fence. Harry was capable of ending the game with a grand slam. He was also capable of ending the game by striking out.
With two outs in the bottom of the last inning, down by three runs, Harry stepped up to the plate with a I-am-going-to-be-a-hero look on his face. It was the look that made it most likely for him to strike out. The first pitch came in like watermelon. Harry swung for the fence, but completely missed the ball. Brian Davidson was on first base and clapped, “Let’s go Harry, no need to be a hero.”
The next pitch came in as fat as the first. Harry swung again and missed. It was his NASA swing as he was going for the stars, which were completely obscured by the dense fog. In fact, during Harry’s at bat, the fog intensified. We could barely see where the outfielders were. The stadium lights just made the fog bright, but didn’t help in seeing much.
Harry looked at the next pitch. A ball . He looked at two more. ball two – ball three. Now it was a 3-2 count with two outs in the bottom of the last inning of the losers bracket game of the Minnesota state tournament. The next pitch carried a lot of weight.
The pitcher threw another watermelon and Harry went NASA again, only this time he connected. He sent the ball straight up into the fog and it disappeared. Everyone ran. The second baseman backpedaled, but looked confused. The right fielder charged, but with shoulders shrugged. Harry rounded first like a freight train laden with cargo. our coach John Sherman screamed wildly, “Run, no one knows where it is!”
The ball landed in shallow right field almost hitting the right fielder on the head. Harry lumbered into second base as the rest of the bases cleared. The game was tied. The bench went berserk. Harry stood on second base pulling his batting glove off finger by finger with an I-knew-it-all-along look on his face. Only this time it didn’t annoy anyone. Harry was the hero.
Tim Kraft stepped to the plate next and lined the first pitch into right center field. We heard something hit the chain link fence which we only assumed was the ball. The right and center fielders disappeared into the fog haplessly chasing the sound of a ball. Harry lumbered home and scored the game winning run as the team rushed home plate and tackled him. We would have lifted him onto our shoulders, but he was just too big. We all hugged. It is times like these when men can pour on the hugs.
It was the rally of a lifetime. 

Monday, June 04, 2012

Healing From Privilege?

Healing from privilege? What does that even mean? How is privilege a wound? What’s wrong with getting ahead? Having some entitlement? having a little leverage in life? It’s not like I am a bad person to have resources or authority or get a pass on a few things others have to account for, am I? Am I?

Privilege in and of itself is not a wound. There is nothing wrong with having privilege, per se. However, there are significant vulnerabilities that come with privilege that initially hurt other people and ultimately hurt oneself.

There are at least three significant areas in which people with privilege need to heal.

Mono-awareness. People with privilege do not have to be aware of much outside of themselves because in large measure there is little need to have to be aware of it. Nothing is contingent on needing to know how others (gender, ethnicity, wealth…etc) live because they are (in the short term) unnecessary. People with privilege do not have to get to know anyone unlike themselves. Therefore the privileged seem to gain nothing for stepping outside their comfort zone. It is the exact opposite with the less privileged.

Healing from mono-awareness means first and foremost becoming aware that one is privileged – that not everyone lives like they do. What is easy for them is difficult or impossible for others. Then it means being intentional about learning the lives other people who are very different than themselves. It requires learning enough to be able to grow empathy for other people and be able to connect in their less than privileged status.

Leveraging for self. People with privilege have, in general, either learned how to leverage the system to their advantage or were simply born into a leveraged situation. There is power in their status or resources which make increasing their status or resources easier than less privileged people. There is a certain logic to this leveraging that may or may not include greed for more resources or lust for for more status or power. Whether there is greed and lust involved or not, the very act of leveraging all of one’s power for oneself is a wound.

Healing from leveraging for oneself means to find meaningful and sustainable ways to leverage one’s power, resources, and status for the benefit of others who have les privilege. It is an intentional act that should not be reactionary, guilt-based, or a mask for further leveraging as so much philanthropy is today.

Narcissism. The world revolves around the privileged. Attention, resources, trends – any pathway toward maintaining relevance seems to require a little if not a lot of narcissism. It is an accepted part of the game. Be as narcissistic as possible without looking like that is what you are doing – who you are being. You can get away with a whole lot of it without penalty with some extraordinary payoffs.

Narcissism is a wound in need of healing. Gaining perspective that any world that would decide to revolve around you is a pretty sick world is a good place to start. Being willing to release and abandon the narcissistic striving required to maintain one’s place is a major component to healing the would of privilege.

A final word. Healing the wound of privilege does not require a vow of poverty. It requires perspective, empathy, and action.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

To Heal or To Hurt; To Be Healed or To Be Hurt

Life is consequential. Everything matters, even if just a little bit. Every single human interaction serves as a mutually constructed change of trajectory for everyone directly involved in the interaction, not to mention those indirectly involved.

Presence Matters. Each individual’s presence matters – always - in every situation in which they are present. People are simply incapable of not behaving and therefore incapable of not communicating and therefore incapable of being inconsequential. Presence is influence of some kind. When we are in the presence of other people we are constantly in the process of making their experience of the moment different than it would have been otherwise.

Absence Matters. Absence matters just as much as presence and sometimes even more. There are contexts and situations in which a person is expected or needed or wanted to fill a role. When that person is absent, their non-presence is felt. Absence is still a behavior, still a communication, and still an influence.

It should be noted that there are two kinds of presence/absence. Physical presence is the kind of presence we think of most often. It is obvious when someone is physically present. However, there is another kind of presence that is a little less obvious – psychological presence. Psychological presence is when someone is felt, whether their body is there or not. A parent facebooking while their child is telling them an important event of the their day is being physically present, but psychologically absent. Being apart form someone on a special holiday could be a situation ion which a person is physically absent, but psychologically present. When physical presence and psychological presence are incongruent, there may be stress or relational ambiguity.

Intentionally Present. Intentionality of presence or absence is important because it is consequential. Deciding to be present or absent in any moment is the first step of influence and being influenced, of healing or being healed, or hurting or being hurt. Simply being aware that presence or absence matters is part of what it means to be intentional about making a difference in this world…about deciding how this world will make a difference on yourself.

Making Presence Matter. When the decision to be present occurs or when you find yourself present in a situation that was unplanned, being intentional with the way that presence is spent matters. Will this be an experience in which your presence helps the other present people? Will you be a healing presence for others? Or will you be a hurting presence? It is impossible for your presence to be neutral. Even in the slightest way, people will be better off or worse off because of you.

Making Meaning of every Moment. Everyone else’s presence and absence has an impact on you as well. No one is neutral. Whether the presence of absence of others hurts or heals has two important factors. The first is the initial impact of their presence or absence. Does it heal or does it hurt immediately? What is the reflexive internal or external response before you even get a chance to think on it? The second factor is how the experience is framed – essentially, what meaning will you decide to make of it? Events are events and have an initial impact, but the post-event meaning making shifts the influence from the sender to the receiver.

Viktor Frankl used this power of interpretation and it saved his life. He developed logotherapy as a way of healing and living.

Our lives matter. We cannot not have meaning for ourselves and for everyone else who connects with us in any way. We are consequential people in that we impact and influence others. We are particular people in that the influence we have is unlike the influence anyone else has or could ever have were they to put their entire effort into it. We will heal or hurt. We will be healed or be hurt. And best of all, we have some say so in all of this.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Naturepreach

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Nature is constantly telling the truth. There is a conversation nature is having with us, and if we dare to listen, we might hear a truth that can change our lives. In nature, we might just hear the voice of God. Here are some of the truths I heard nature tell me in a recent trip to Fall Creek Falls, a state park in Tennessee.

  • Life is normal, but so is death.
  • Beauty is free, but not unlimited.
  • Freedom demands wisdom and refuses to protect a person from bad decisions.
  • There is room for lots of different creatures.
  • I am small.
  • I am huge.
  • There are forces that exist that are impossible to resist – and most of them are good.
  • There is song, laughter, and applause that does not depend on the presence of humans.
  • Nature enjoys a relationship with humans more than ownership by humans.
  • Nature is generous.
  • The story of life is told once a year and the storytellers are the trees.
  • Nature doesn’t require an audience, but doesn’t mind one either.
  • Nature isn’t worried about death or taxes.
  • Beauty can induce a blessed and refreshing forgetfulness.
  • The storehouses of inspiration are unlimited.
  • When everyone does what they are meant to do, no one gets exploited.
  • There is enough.
  • Process outlasts content every time.
  • Nature is self-cleansing, self-restoring, and self-contained.
  • Respect is always appropriate.

To be healed and to heal

I was late to a research meeting in McNeal Hall on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. Stressed, scattered, and trying to recall what it was I was supposed to have prepared for this meeting and how I might pass in front of everyone else as prepared when I was not, I entered McNeal Hall. Entering on the ground floor level of the Southside entrance, I went up the stairs two steps at a time, mumbling something to myself like a confused and agitated man who could thank caffeine for taking the edge off of the effects of perpetual insomnia. That’s when it came out.

  “The purpose of my life is to be healed and to heal others.”

I said this single sentence out loud, with clarity, and confidence – a trifecta. It made more sense to me than anything I had ever uttered before in my life. It felt profound when I said it. A relief. I believed it without uncertainty. I had spoken truth.

So what did this mean? I was being formed, sometimes rather reluctantly, into a social science researcher in the premier Family Social Science Department in the world. How would being a researcher accomplish such a goal? I was already a licensed marriage and family therapist. Could I not accomplish this goal in life without the multiple agonies of getting a Ph.D? So why this moment of clarity in this place? At this time? With this perceived life trajectory?

And what were my wounds? How would these wounds inform my call to heal others? Who would the “others” be that I should help to heal?

There are many ways in which healing occurs, as many ways as there are to be wounded, I suppose – perhaps even more. There are so many kinds of wounds a person can experience. There are physical wounds, of course, ranging from bumps and bruises to losing limbs and traumatic brain injuries. There are psychological wounds as well. The DSM 5 catalogs a whole bunch of them. There are relational wounds, spiritual wounds, wounds of oppression, injustice, identity, sexuality, privilege, grief & loss, betrayal, dismissal, missed opportunity and regret. There are so many different kinds of wounds and we all experience some of them. There are no unwounded people.

Everyone is dealing with their wounds. I am dealing with mine. I deal with them first off by trying to be aware of what they are. An unattended to or unknown wound can become what is called, “normal,” and yet it is not healthy. I am also seeking to observe my own reflexive efforts to attend to my wounds. How am I coping with my wounds when I don’t even realize that is what I am doing? (why do I drink so much caffeine?)

I want to move from reflexive to intentional in the way I deal with my wounds. I want to move from reactive to responsive. From fear-filled to pr0active (courageous). From wounded to healed.

It is from my wounds that I more likely to spread my pain to others. Untreated wounds become infectious. The wounds I carry with me which go unknown are the wounds that have the highest likelihood of hurting someone else.

The reason I must heal myself and all the healing processes to influence me is not only that I might live with the benefits of healing. If that were the case, however, it would be enough. But there is a larger reason to enter into healing. The more healed I am the less my wounds will negatively affect others. I bless the public world by healing my private world.

Personal healing is an act of social justice because it is not possible to quarantine one’s own wounding. The person who believe they’ve successfully isolated their woundings is living a life of na├»ve unawareness of the extent and influence of their wounding. They spread their wounds without knowing.

Beyond healing for one’s own sake and for the sake of others, I must go about helping others to heal as well. I must do this in whatever context I find myself in.

Each would I experience myself is instructive of the wounds many others have experienced. Each of my wounds wounds tells a story as do the wounds of everyone. Perhaps our stories merge a little and we each feel less alone.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Evaporating

I was an ocean;
I surged and crashed,
I raged torrent fits
Against rock and sand;
I shaped shores,
I smoothed stones,
My tidal tantrums
Educated poets,
Hypnotized artists,
Drown sailors,
And made people into lovers.
-and the sun shone on me.

I was a lake;
I shimmered and stirred;
I held fish and birds;
I lapped shores;
Stoneskippers paradise,
My quiet mystery
Educated poets,
Hypnotized artists,
Drown city noise,
And made people into lovers
-and the sun shone on me.

I was a puddle;
Gathered drops and drips;
I held moments and mud;
Potholes and lowspots;
My ephemeral existence
Educated poets
Hypnotized artists,
Drown sneakers,
And made grown-ups into children
-and the sun shone on me.

I was a tear;
I kissed and told;
I held hearts and souls;
I fell into laps;
My impassioned ache
Educated poets,
Hypnotized artists,
Drown hopes and fears alike,
And returned people back to flesh
-and the sun shone on me

Monday, April 09, 2012

Face time with the Risen Christ

If you had been dead three days and then had been raised from the dead, who would you go show yourself to? Who would you want to know you were alive? Who would need to see the proof?

Jesus had some decisions to make upon being raised from the dead. He would walk the earth a few more weeks and then “ascend” to Heaven (as though Heaven we up there somewhere). One of the important decisions he had to make was who he would intentionally show himself to.

Pilate. Were I in Jesus’ sandals, I might be tempted to go to Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who had legal authority to approve of a crucifixion. Pilate was really wishy washy and gave in to the force of the mob in order to have Jesus killed by his own order. What might he do seeing that man he killed stand face to face? What might Pilate say? Could it be that all Pilate needed was to see Jesus once again? Would he believe differently then? Perhaps Jesus would have some new credibility in Rome and leverage the entire Roman empire for the sake of his mission. Why miss out on such a brief window of power?

But Jesus didn’t go to Pilate. Jesus never had much respect for the power of the Roman empire. He did not ever feel compelled to use any of its power for his mission on earth. In fact, although the power of Rome was vast in it reach and might, it failed to be the sort of power that would sustain the sort of movement Jesus was about. There is no military might, no geographical control, not economic power that is suitable to sustain the mission of Jesus. So Jesus had no motivation after his death to show himself to Pilate because at best there was going to be a divine, “I Told You So,” and frankly Jesus had better things to do.

Sanhedrin. If I were the resurrected Jesus I would have been tempted to go back to my own religious group and point out their errors and mistakes. I would have wanted show up in the religious gathering and shock them all. I would have looked the chief priest in the eye and asked him impossible questions. I would have wanted to rescue my own group.

But Jesus didn’t do this either. There was nothing there for him. Jesus knew that the Jewish religious system, the very system into which he was born (the one he initiated with Abraham), had become as corrupt as Roman politics. Each system had responded to his mission with murder – wouldn’t it just be more of the same response to the mission which had not changed in death?

No, Jesus had no time for Rome and no time for the Sanhedrin. They were not part of his mission before he was crucified and they were not part of his mission after he was crucified.

Friends. Instead of making his resurrected presence known with power political and religious leaders, Jesus went back to the nobodies he had been hanging out with for the past three years. He wanted his friends to know he was back. He knew that the people who believed in him and followed him, flawed a crew as it was, before he was crucified were going to be the people most likely to reproduce his subversive ways after he was raised. He also knew that they were the most likely to have nothing to lose. They had no split allegiances.

Had Jesus gone to appeal to the power of Rome, his success in his mission would not only have looked like Roman and taken on its power structures, it would have experienced the decline and fall of Rome and be done itself. Had Jesus gone to appeal to the power of the Jewish religious system, Christianity would never have been more then a Jewish sect.

Jesus did not come to bless the Jews only. He was not only the Messiah to the Jews, but to the entire world.

In short, Jesus couldn’t allow himself to think as small as Rome or as small as the Jewish religious system of the day. His vision was more grand than that of vast political and religious systems. His vision was something more enduring and powerful. Jesus started his mission with friendships.

Feast

God of this world, Divine of Heaven

How complex life is

We roil and shuffle trying to spell meaning

With thoughts and feelings rushing in unexpected

With patterns of life rushing around us

Whispers catch our attention in one hundred different directions

We live in the whirlpool of complications and challenges

And yet, you are the God of order

You are the God of meaning

You live between the galaxies

And you live between the neurons

And though you are always everywhere,

You have thrust freedom upon us,

We are freer than we know

Yet fettered,

But fettered by freedom

So we ask in humility,

We ask in hope,

We ask in desperation,

What shall we do?

Who shall we be?

I want to be everything you set the parameters of my life to be

I want to gather my gifts and find a right place to set them

I want to step and my footprint look like yours

I want to have made meaning in this world

Free me further still

From my pride

From my distorted thinking

From my imposing emotions

From my self-absorbed tiny little world

From my grandiose beliefs

From my self-righteous judgment

Here, take this, it is my best, it is moldy bread.

Make a feast.

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Sunday, April 08, 2012

Easter

He is risen. He is alive. He is my hope.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Hunger Games Easter

After watching the Hunger Games, I might actually go ahead and read the book. It easily ranks up there with The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, and The Chonicles of Narnia in ripeness with theological implications.

There is good and evil. There is the fake or gilded world and then there is the real world. There is a narrative of death that is powerful and seemingly irresitible and the strength needed to live the counternarrative is not only difficult, it is dangerous. The story of "live the narrative of death or die" wears relentlessly against those who are honest, free, and hopeful.

"May the odds be ever in your favor," is the twisted blessing that is spoken to encourage everyone. It is a diabolical sort of "God bless you" with God being replaced with a wicked game of chance. It gives some kind of sense that if your name is not drawn to go into the annual death match, you were in some way favored. However, the oppressiveness and deceit of the statement imposes on everyone because everyone is forced into the anxiety having the chance of kill or be killed.

Everyone is objectified. Everyone is equally worthy of death. And yet it is even more sickening than just death. For the masters of death, there is value in keeping people alive for sport, for the entertainment of the powerful. Just like in the Matrix, providing the masses with some minimal life satisfaction to believe they can live or are living serves the powerful. The oppressed must live just enough to provide a resource to be exploited by the powerful, but they must not be allowed too much hope or it gets out of control and the oppressed may believe they can have freedom, may pursue great freedom.

Jesus was situated in the political superpower of Rome and the religious superpower of the Jewish religious system. Each of these systems had powerful control mechanisms that served the powerful for the exploitation of the masses. Systems of death were used to control. Jesus may have been more aware of his freedom than Katniss, she was not far behind. Her innocence in loving freedom is refreshing and it isn't too hard to think of her Messianic archetype.

Jesus lived within these systems, but was not beholden to them. He neither bowed to Caesar nor did he run from Caesar. He neither obeyed the Sanhedrin nor did he fear them and flee. Jesus operated on a completely different power system. He called it the Kingdom of God.

Whatever metaphor might now better fit what Jesus was doing 2000 years ago, it was about freedom and taking the side of the oppressed.

When the systems of death were ramped up by Rome and the Sanhedrin, they killed Jesus. And yet even in death Jesus was defiant. There is a difference between being killed and being willing to die. Jesus took the power out of the hands of his killers by freely dying. Jesus' death actually created more life in the lives of the living.

Here in the Easter season, Christians think of how Jesus died and how Jesus defeated death. In the Hunger Games, life and death is the up and running theme throughout. Even though there are political, religious, economic, and media systems of dehumanization, of objectification, of oppression, of death, freedom and hope cannot be snuffed out.

We must be not give in to the systems of death that swirl and seduce us. We must live. Being yourself, the image of God that you were made (and helping others do the same), is the most powerfully subversive initiative you can take.