Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Performance v. Grace

This post from Peacemaker Ministries about communities of performance versus communities of grace has some really great points that I think we all should consider...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lack of Voter Responsibility

Yes, I'm joining the crowd of people commenting on the election. However, I want to do it a bit differently and in a way more relevant to this blog. One of the things I have particularly realized this election season is how much people vote (either direction) based on selfishness and a desire for others to take responsibility for themselves. We often vote for things or people that will benefit us, even if it's not the right thing. A non-election example was during my undergrad experience. Students were up in arms because of a tuition increase (it was a UC, so the increase really wasn't that much compared to private schools). Sure, none of us wanted to pay more. However, there hadn't been an increase in years. While I didn't want the increase, I also didn't find much reason to complain about it because it seemed fair.

How often do we vote for something we don't like but think is fair? Rarely, I believe, but I also believe it's important.

Similarly to faith, I get frustrated when people don't really think through their political beliefs. The current political system doesn't help. We get a soundbite argument, and we think the conclusion and solution is obvious. We want to help the environment? Obviously go with the Green Party or the Dems. Don't like abortion? Clearly the Reps should have our support. Don't like the war in Iraq? Obviously pull the troops out immediately. Think our economy is failing? The government clearly should bail us out. Support a free market? Then the Libertarians or Reps have it right.

The problem is we don't think about the ramifications of any of these actions and don't think about alternatives. Do the Greens or Dems have the best solution to environmental problems? Do the Reps have the best abortion policy? Is pulling troops and bailing out banks really the solution to these problems? Are the free market solutions proposed by Libertarians and Reps really the best support of a free market?

There is some talk about this, but honestly, it's lame talk. The debates are shallow and based on fear tactics and pulling at our selfish emotions than really making us consider what's right and wrong.

We don't want to take the time to think about it. And we also like the idea of the government coming in and solving all of our problems. Even if each party has good ideas, we also often fail to ask if their implementation through the government is the best option. I saw a great sign the other day, which stated something like, "Lacking of planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on my part." We need to remember that when it comes to the government. It can feel good because it removes responsibility from ourselves, but I personally think, particularly based on the Bible, the buck stops with each of us individually. Shall we take that responsibility and hand it over to politicians and the government with a vote and some tax dollars, or are we willing to get a bit messy and get involved ourselves?

What I ask is that when you vote, you vote having really thought through your decisions, not simply believing what different campaigns tell you about different policies. The best solution is not always the obvious one...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Stages of Faith

Recently, I went on a spiritual retreat, where Jon Paulien, Dean of Loma Linda University's Faculty of Religion, spoke. During this time, he discussed the stages of faith. I'd heard of them before, but this time something else deeper hit me with it. It also clarified some of the purpose of this blog.

Paulien explained his description of the stages of faith are based on Hagberg and Guelich's The Critical Journey, although he dicussed the stages a bit differently and made some adjustments. I like and agree with his changes. I'll give a summary of Paulien's version here with some of my thoughts and commentary, but if you want to know more about the original version (or even deeper into the stages), I found a diagram from Hagberg's website, a nice summary chart, and then a more detailed narrative description.

One of the keys to the stages is that people can get stuck in any one of the stages, which obviously prevents full spiritual development and a closer relationship with God. Another important element is that we can only really understand people one stage ahead of us. Get two or more stages ahead, and we don't understand others; or others don't understand us if we're ahead. But we can understand those behind us. A third element is that these stages can also describe organizations and churches. I think this is really important to understanding a lot of what's happening in the institutional church, as I'll describe more later. Finally, while I'll use language to apply this to Christianity, these stages have been observed in all faith traditions.

Stage 1: Encounter
This is the quintessential conversion experience. It's when we have our first deep, meaningful encounter with God. I think those who get stuck here are the ones who are people who have continual conversion experiences and never really grow. I think the fault of a lot of this falls with the Church for not helping develop these people.

Stage 2: Discipleship
This is the stage when we learn about our faith and theology. We learn about the Bible and what it means to be a Christian. Getting stuck in this stage often leads to fundamentalism.

Stage 3: Success
Things are going well in our development, and we are able to effectively lead a "good Christian life." We seem to be blessed by God, and we are experiencing "success."

Dark Night of the Soul 1
Just as things are going well, we experience a dark night of the soul. This generally happens between ages 30 and 50, which should give you an idea of the length of each of these stages. St. John of the Cross described the dark night of the soul, explaining it can be a time of purging sins and bringing us closer to God. It can be a time when we are tempted, feel disconnected from God, do not enjoy things we used to enjoy, lose hope, and, significantly, doubt a lot of our prior beliefs.

Paulien explained that Jesus' 40 days in the desert was His first dark night. I hadn't heard that interpreatation before, but it fits well and makes a lot of sense.

Paulien also explained that in his experience, when a dark night hits, about 50% of people try to go back to the success stage and just do whatever seemed to work before. We like the success stage, obviously, and the dark night can be very uncomfortable. However, this leads us to get stuck in the success stage and lead to a lot of problems. I personally think this is where a lot of evangelical churches have landed.

Another 25% of people facing a dark night come to the conclusion that the problem is just the institution of the church. So people leave the church and try to find their own way. I think a lot of the emerging church falls in here, although not all of it.

Finally, the last 25% push through the dark night and emerge into the fourth stage...

Stage 4: Inward Journey
As the dark night has deconstructed a lot of our beliefs and ideas about God, the world, and faith, we now take a journey inward, in a way that seems similar to much of the contemplative and mystical movements in Christianity. Through this journey, we rediscover God and our faith.

Stage 5: Outward Journey
As we have rediscovered our faith, we begin doing things for others again, taking outward actions that can look a lot like the success stage. However, we are doing things for different reasons. This is a stage where people in the success stage don't understand these new reasons. Things seem to be going well again, and then we again hit a...

Dark Night of the Soul 2
This dark night is one in which we realize good actions are never understood or supported by everyone. It is also a very rare dark night. Few people make it to this stage. While we can have mentors who have gone through the first dark night help us through that, we often have to rely on Scripture and other historical writings of great spiritual people to help us through this dark night because it is so rare to find someone who has gone through it. Paulien described Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as His second dark night. Once we move through this dark night, we emerge into the final stage.

Stage 6: Unconditional Love
Interesting, true unconditional love does not occur until this point. It takes a lifetime, and most people do not get here. Jesus moved into it after His second dark night and showed the quintessential example of unconditional love on the cross. This is a good reason we cannot fully understand or act in unconditional love because getting there takes a lifetime process.

Relevance to Jacob's Café
What I realized is that Jacob's Café is particularly aimed at people going through a dark night, especially the first dark night. So often in the church, we are condemned for doubts and struggles. Yet they are a gift from God. We need support as we go through it. It can be a very scary, but life-giving time. Gary Barkalow described something similar, I think in his October 1, 2008 e-letter. I pray this is a place where people can find some rest and comfort in normalizing their experiences while also having a safe place to struggle through their doubts and move into and through the inward journey.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bible Interpretation, Part 2

So I've been finding it's been a lot harder than I had expected to continue this blog while on internship. I get home, and I'm just too tired to write out my thoughts... :) But I'm going to attempt to write a few posts right now and schedule them to post over the next few days.

The first post is a follow-up to the Bible Interpretation post from a couple of weeks ago. Some of the reason that I think a new way of approaching the Bible than by using it as a manual of principles and a manual for life is because anyone can use the Bible as a proof text for just about anything. Do I think they are all valid uses and interpretations? No. But approaching the Bible from a proof text perspective will pretty much never lead to a consensus. There are just too many ways to argue about and interpret the texts.

Martin Luther discussed the "plain meaning" of the Bible, stating that a believer need just read the Bible, and it is obvious what the text means. Frankly, I just don't agree. It is a complicated text with a complicated history. The people who tend to use it as a proof text haven't really examined the Bible well in most of my experience. That goes for me, too. Once I started examining the Bible, I saw the futility of proof texting. We are often left with no clear absolute, unless we impose our own existing perspectives and ideologies onto the text rather than allowing God to shape our perspectives and ideologies from the text. That is why the principles/proof-texting approach to the Bible is rather ineffective.

That does NOT mean it is any less valid or useful. But perhaps we are just approaching the Bible in the wrong way. Seeing the Bible as a God-inspired text of stories of people walking with God to guide us in our quests from a journey perspective fits much more of the style and heart of the Bible. I also think it fits a more accurate theology. As John Eldredge says, we need to have the Holy Spirit in our hearts to know what to do. We need to know these stories well in order to internalize the heart and spirit of the Bible. Otherwise, we'll turn out like the Pharisees, who are more concerned with law than with life with God.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Emerging Church & Politics

This is an interesting article discussing the relationship of emerging theology and liberal politics. One of my biggest pet peeves is the assumption many people have that people who ascribe to emerging theology also ascribe to liberal politics, but it's still an interesting article. Actually, this blog is somewhat devotes to breaking down just about any assumption... :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bible Interpretation

How we approach the Bible makes a big difference in our interpretation of it and then how we use it and apply it to our lives. In many evangelical circles, we view it as a manual of principles and a manual for life. I've been seeing and feeling recently that that is not a very accurate description of the Bible. A manual is defined by formulas and clear steps to take. That's not the Bible. It's mostly stories. And that does not diminish its value, importance, or impact. It just means we need to use it differently. John Eldredge describes some of this perspective (below). What do you think?

Find a Few of His Friends

Hopefully you will find a few folks who walk with God to also walk with you through the seasons of your life. But honesty – and Scripture – forces me to admit they are a rare breed. Few there are who find it. All the more reason for you to make the number less scarce, by becoming someone who walks with God and teaches others how.

Look to those who have walked with God down through the ages. Certainly that is why the Bible is given to us. If God had intended it to be a textbook of doctrine, well then, he would have written it like one. But its not; it’s overwhelmingly a book of stories – tales of men and women who walked with God. Approach the Scriptures not so much as a manual of Christian principles but as the testimony of God’s friends on what it means to walk with him through a thousand different episodes. When you are at war, when you are in love, when you have sinned, when you have been given a great gift – this is how you walk with God. Do you see what a different mindset this is? It's really quite exciting.

And there are those who have walked with God since the canon of Scripture closed. Here is an Athanasius, a Bonaventure, a Julian of Norwich, a Brother Lawrence, a Tozer – here is how they walked with God. When it comes to time and place, temperament and situation, they could not be more different. Julian lived in a cloister; Tozer lived in Chicago. Athanasius fled to the desert; Lawrence worked in the kitchen. But there is a flavor, a tang, an authenticity to their writings which underlies whatever it is they are trying at the moment to say. Here is someone who knew God, really knew him. This is what its like to walk with God, and that is what its like as well.

(Waking The Dead , 107, 108)

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Insignificance and Importance

Here's something that has been a core struggle of mine. John Eldredge describes the depth of this struggle well:

What Has Life Taught You about Your God-Given Glory?

“How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame?” (Ps. 4:2). These blows aren’t random or incidental. They strike directly at some part of the heart, turn the very thing God created to be a source of celebration into a source of shame. And so you can at least begin to discover your glory by looking more closely at what you were shamed for. Look at what’s been assaulted, used, abused. As Bernard of Clairvaux said, “Through the heart’s wound, I see its secret.”

Let me put it this way: What has life taught you about your God-given glory? What have you believed about your heart over the years? “That it’s not worth anyone’s time,” said a woman. Her parents were too busy to really want to know her. “That it’s weak,” confided a friend. He suffered several emasculating blows as a boy, and his father simply shamed him for it. “That I shouldn’t trust it to anyone.” “That it’s selfish and self-centered.” “That it’s bad.” And you . . . what have you believed?

Those accusations you heard growing up, those core convictions that formed about your heart, will remain down there until someone comes to dislodge them, run them out of Dodge.

(Waking the Dead , 118)

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Life has taught me that I am insignificant unless I produce amazing results. Do fantastic things. Achieve a lot and impact millions of people's lives in remarkable ways. Any one else have this struggle? I think it's deeply entrenched in our society, and even in our faith.

If we are given talents and gifts, then we should use them to the best of our abilities. Touching more lives is better than touching fewer lives. The conclusions I have learned from these points is that we need to kill our hearts in favor of production. While working one-on-one with clients is all nice and dandy, writing books and speaking so that I can touch many more lives (theoretically in the thousands or even millions) would be the more faithful use of my talents and skills because the production value, the results, appear better. Being a psychotherapist, I can only impact a certain number of lives, but being an author and speaker, I can impact many more.

But how deeply? This, I believe, is the cause of the dichotomous experiences I mentioned earlier about my publication and my client. I've recently found several newsletters and blogs that have reinforced my view that numbers are not always the most important thing (the importance of quantity and results probably derived through the Protestant work ethic, as described by Max Weber, which I can go into if people have the interest).

One of these comments was from a peacemaking newsletter that stated "Faithfulness is not a matter of results; it is a matter of dependent obedience." I love that. The relationship, the obedience to God (which is in part determined by listening to our true hearts), is critical.

Max Lucado described an instance that probably every parent has had. Sometimes the simple things are more important than the "great" things. Jamie O'Neal's
Somebody's Hero (music video below) hits this point dead on the head.

The pattern among all of these examples, it seems, is love. The true greatness is not in results, but in the love with which we do things. This is why I love the Mother Teresa quote that is at the top of my blog is my latest motto (in many ways it a reminder to me). The quote is "We can do no great things; only small things with great love."

The things we do are not in and of themselves great. They may be more or less unique, but that in itself is meaningless. It is the love that has the potential for making anything and everything we do great. I can write an article or chapter that is very good according to academic standards and may actually influence others. But if I do it more out of obligation than love, then it is really not all that great. The love I have is for clients. What do you love?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Books & Input

Last Sunday, Bobby talked about study and mentioned some books that he recommended for certain journeys and questions. I added some in a comment to his blog, if you'd like to check it out. Several of mine have been a source from where I've gotten a lot of questions, felt encouraged to seek answers, been uplifted through the journey and struggle, and even found some answers.

On that note, I'd like to encourage readers of this blog to contact me with questions, doubts, struggles, etc. they have and would like to see discussed here. It will help me come up with more content and also be relevant to people's need.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Church Basement Roadshow

I missed the Church Basement Roadshow when it came near, but they just posted it online! It's really awesome, and I highly recommend watching it. Just leave yourself enough time; it's about 100 minutes.

Church Basement Roadshow from Steve Knight on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fighting & Surrendering, Part 3

For another day in this series, I want to use another Ransomed Heart devotional that addresses this topic. One of the core values this ministry has is that we are part of a story, a journey. That journey can be scary because of the unknown.

We can take control out of God's hands and try to plan everything in our lives to the nth degree. I do this a lot. I do believe in planning, but anxiety creeps in when I stress a lot that something will go wrong. That's the piece that I need to surrender to God.

Life is scary. The future is unknown. No matter how hard we try, we cannot control everything in our futures. Reading devotionals like the one below have helped me remember to calm down and enjoy the ride. Also, meditating on particular verses has helped me recenter my focus:
  • Jeremiah 29:11: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
  • Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, have been called according to his purpose."
  • Psalm 46:10 : "Be still, and know that I am God"
What have you tried?

I Will Go Before You

I will go before you
and will level the mountains;
I will break down gates of bronze
and cut through bars of iron.
I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. (Isa. 45:2–3)

God’s imagery of going before us lets us know that he desires us to go on a journey. This is not so frightening. Most of us are aware that the Christian life requires a pilgrimage of some sort. We know we are sojourners. What we have sometimes not given much thought to is what kind of a journey we are to be taking.

Not realizing it is a journey of the heart that is called for, we make a crucial mistake. We come to a place in our spiritual life where we hear God calling us. We know he is calling us to give up the less-wild lovers that have become so much a part of our identity, embrace our nakedness, and trust in his goodness.

As we stand at this intersection of God’s calling, we look down two highways that appear to travel in very different directions. The first highway quickly takes a turn and disappears from our view. We cannot see clearly where it leads, but there are ominous clouds in the near distance. Standing still long enough to look down this road makes us aware of an anxiety inside, an anxiety that threatens to crystallize into unhealed pain and forgotten disappointment. We check our valise and find no up-to-date road map but only the torn and smudged parchment containing the scribbled anecdotes and travelers’ warnings by a few who have traveled the way of the heart before us. They encourage us to follow them, but their rambling journals give no real answers to our queries on how to navigate the highway.

(The Sacred Romance , 127–28)

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ecumenical Rosary

I came across this ecumenical rosary today. Rather interesting. The picture helps make the process make more sense to those of us not familiar with the rosary. While many Protestants could see the prayer as many evil or superficial things, I can see how it could be quite helpful in maintaining focus and routine, even a rhythm, as Bobby discussed on Sunday. Any thoughts?

Fighting & Surrendering, Part 2

Continuing from yesterday's post, I wanted to mention another way fighting may manifest in our lives, again taking an example from my own life.

I have realized that I feel the need to always be productive. This tendency of mine recently caught my attention with the fervor over the Olympics. I was trying to understand it (I still am). I watched some of it with my family, as they had it on, but I didn't watch the opening ceremonies because I didn't know the Olympics had even started. Some of my family was shocked I didn't know who Michael Phelps was. I don't get the draw to sports. I've never been a person who has been into sports. I prefer the arts.

As I was watching the Olympics, I was trying to justify my disinterest, and the first argument that came to mind is that at least the arts are functional. They move us, they reveal God's love and beauty in the world, they are means of expression. I don't see any of that in sports (maybe it's there and it's not my means :) ).

Again, coincidentally enough, I got the devotional below the same day. It reminded me that life does not always have to be functional. It can simply be beautiful. Life can simply be because life itself is beautiful.

Yet I fight against this idea every day, trying to find another way to be functional in every second of my day. Why? If I'm functional, I get more done, allowing me to have a better chance at being perfect, and therefore believing I am acceptable. Slowing down and simply accepting God, God's beauty, and myself is remarkably relaxing and connects me to God more. It's hard to do, but I'm trying to do it. Have you ever had this experience of trying to make everything functional?

Beauty Is Absolutely Essential

I (John) just let out a deep sigh. That we even need to explain how beauty is so absolutely essential to God only shows how dull we have grown to him, to the world in which we live, and to Eve. Far too many years of our own spiritual lives were lived with barely a nod to beauty, to the central role that beauty plays in the life of God, and in our own lives. How could we have missed this?

Beauty is essential to God. No—that’s not putting it strongly enough. Beauty is the essence of God.

The first way we know this is through nature, the world God has given us. Scripture says that the created world is filled with the glory of God (Isa. 6:3). In what way? Primarily through its beauty. We had a wet spring here in Colorado, and the wildflowers are coming up everywhere—lupine and wild iris and Shasta daisy and a dozen others. The aspens have their heart-shaped leaves again, trembling in the slightest breeze. Massive thunderclouds are rolling in, bringing with them the glorious sunsets they magnify. The earth in summer is brimming with beauty, beauty of such magnificence and variety and unembarrassed lavishness, ripe beauty, lush beauty, beauty given to us with such generosity and abundance it is almost scandalous.

Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful. Stop for a moment and let that sink in. We’re so used to evaluating everything (and everyone) by their usefulness, this thought will take a minute or two to dawn on us. Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful. Which is to say, beauty is in and of itself a great and glorious good, something we need in large and daily doses (for our God has seen fit to arrange for this). Nature at the height of its glory shouts, Beauty is essential! revealing that Beauty is the essence of God. The whole world is full of his glory.

(Captivating , 23–24)

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Fighting & Surrendering, Part 1

Despite being on a sort of summer vacation (although still working), I've realized that I've been feeling rather anxious a lot. This weekend, I suspected that this might be due to feeling like I'm fighting all the time--not interpersonal fighting, but fighting to do everything right and get everything done and and and... Anyone ever feel like that?

In seeming confirmation of this suspicion, I received this devotional. It concludes with the point that we often are fighting all the time, suggesting that we are likely fighting against God, and we need to surrender. I think that is often true. We can fight against God when we try to do it our way, and surrendering is the only way to get true freedom.

However, how do we know if we are truly fighting against God? What about fighting against the world, evil, or even ourselves?

We can surrender ourselves to God and still fight and get exhausted from those fights. I would think Martin Luther King, Jr., surrendered his life, but he was a fighter, not against God, but against the world and evil. Mother Teresa fought for the things she believed in and surrendered her life for. She had some clear struggles of faith. Was she fighting with God? Not necessarily, but possibly with herself. Martin Luther, too, struggled with his faith, and I would argue he, too, was fighting against himself, not God.

My fighting usually relates to perfectionism. I beat myself up when I make a mistake. I have to get things right and constantly do and do and do (can anyone relate?). One could make a legitimate argument that I need to surrender these things to God. Well, one response could be easier said than done. At the same time, my experience of these fights do not seem to be as much related to surrendering these activities to God (I don't have huge confidence in my ability to do them without God's help), but to fighting against a belief I have about myself.

Perfectionism is not always about doing it yourself. For me, I think it relates more to having to be perfect in order to be valuable and simply "okay." Interestingly and coincidentally (are there coincidences), there was a good post today examining the difference between perfection and wholeness.

I recently listened to Ransomed Heart's The Good Heart again. I highly recommend it to everyone. In listening, I realized that while I believed that Christ transforms our hearts and makes our hearts good once we accept Him, I have not fully accepted that belief and integrated it into my life. I act like I have an evil heart, therefore I must act with as much perfection as possible in order to show that I'm not all that bad. It's a failing model that never achieves its goal, or at least the goal doesn't last long, if achieved.

In this case, it doesn't seem to be as much about fighting with God as fighting with myself about my views of myself... Has anyone else experienced this same thing? How do you handle it?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Attack on Joy

*This is a bit of stream-of-consciousness. I was talking to Laci last night that some of my posts have been more personal than heady theological stuff. However, I've done that a bit intentionally because I've found my own formation has been better affected by people sharing their stories and struggles than brilliant theological insights.

On the heels of yesterday's post, I'm feeling a bit of an attack on any joy I may have. Actually, while writing this, I'm realizing how much of a directed attack it seems. One of the core points of Ransomed Heart and John Eldredge's works is that there is spiritual warfare that aims directly at our hearts. I must admit that I have struggled with the idea of a conscious, intentional evil at work, but Eldredge's comments matched with experiences such as this make for some interesting considerations, to say the least.

Yesterday, I talked about two things specifically that have brought me true joy: my wife and my clients. Last night, I had a dream that Laci died in an atomic bomb attack. I survived somehow. Pretty unrealistic dream, I know, but it has still affected me throughout the morning.

Then I was faced with comparing myself with others. Again. I tend to do that often. I always feel like I have to do more. I have to make the spiritual insights that will change millions of lives. Only then will I be worthy. Having only one or two degrees of minor separation from some people who are well-known and influential, I often question my own path. Am I doing enough? They're so much more important than me.

A few minutes ago, though, I remembered another revelation that hit me a couple of months ago. If you've been reading this a while, you'll know my first professional publication was finally published. Particularly for where I am in my career, this is a big deal. Many people may read it. It's my opportunity to share great wisdom with the masses (yes, I'm being a bit facescious, but the point stands). I should be flying high. Yet I wasn't. I got a nice thrill when I opened the mail with the book in it. It was fun bragging to family and friends, and I got many pats on the back and congratulations. But it faded fast. Real fast.

Then I compare a client I terminated with about the same time. By the end of our very short number of sessions, she was crying that our time was over and that she was so grateful to me because for the first time in her life, she believed in herself, which was more important than her graduation. That was the hardest termination I've had to date. And that conversation has stuck with me for months now. It is for those reasons that I do what I do. It is those conversations that keep those of us in the psychological field going. This is my calling.

The problem is I forget. We all often forget things like this. We get side-tracked. Our focus gets changed. We believe other things are more important. We lose sight of our humanity and the humanity around us. And then we die. As Eldredge has said, that's the goal of the Accuser.

I doubt this struggle is over for me. I don't feel fully resolved from this particular instance, anyway. However, I will try to remember. God showed me today that He will come in and remind me, too. I just have to be open to being reminded. And I think we should have ways of reminding ourselves often. Interesting how finding ways of remembering is such a central motif throughout the Bible...

Thursday, August 7, 2008


I've been making my way through Walking with God recently, which I highly recommend. Last night I was reading a section where John Eldredge was talking about how we have forgotten that joy is such an essential and necessary part of our lives. He stated he forgets about joy through busyness and getting through the various requirements of life, like paying bills. Life is more about surviving than joy.

Reflecting on this, I realized that I have come to live the same way, trying to survive life and make the best out of it that I can instead of discovering and enjoying true joy. I realized that a lot of my perfectionism, organization, and Type A personality comes from fear. If I don't make sure everything's perfect and in order, everything is going to collapse. But if I keep things going, then there's a chance I'll succeed.

Interestingly, I don't really believe that I'll succeed if I just try hard enough. I actually don't believe it was me who made myself successful. And I don't mean that in a pseudo-humble "good Christian" way of "It's God, not me." Honestly, most of my successes have been a surprise and usually in spite of myself. I had no plans to actually attend UC Berkeley; I thought I would be attending UC Irvine. Then I visited, and I knew Cal was supposed to be my school. I had hopes of having the opportunity to graduate early, but did not plan it. I took classes that sounded interesting in order to find my major, but making sure they would fulfill requirements. To my surprise, I fulfilled almost all my general ed requirements my first year, making it easy to graduate a year early. My internship that I'm starting next month was absolutely dead last on my interest list. I almost didn't apply. Then I interviewed and fell in love with it. I'm thrilled to be going to Loma Linda every day for the next year and am convinced I am supposed to be there.

These are just some of the "big" examples of things working out excellently in my life. Yet I still worry. I still have to stay busy. I have to keep doing things. If I'm not doing something, that must mean I'm lazy and therefore I'll fail. At what? I dunno. Even what I'd be working for is not what brings me true joy ultimately. I do get joy working with clients and seeing transformations. Yet I don't have to be well-known and perfect and do all the prestigious things in my field to do that. In fact, those things could hinder helping others, my true calling.

What has helped me in the last half day of thinking about this is remembering joy. True joy. When was the last time I felt it? Do I even remember?

The instance that sticks out the most is one morning a while ago when I woke up before my wife. We were cuddling and our kitty came up, snuggled, and fell asleep purring. I was with my girls. I felt like I could stay there forever. If that's the joy that God wants for us all our lives and I have the opporuntity to have it if I just slow down enough to accept it, why do I focus so much time and energy on making sure everything else is planned and lined up to the nth degree so I have no time for myself and my family?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Anniversary, Theatre, and Ministry

Today is my first anniversary! :) To celebrate, I surprised my wife with a trip to a dinner theatre. It was a wonderful evening we got to spend together.

The relevance to the blog is that this dinner theatre is actually a ministry of a local church. There were Christian items in the theatre, like free Bibles, and they mentioned that they were ministry, but that was the extent of the "traditional" explicit ministry. As they stated many times during the night, their goal was to make the night as enjoyable as possible.

And enjoyable they made it. It helped us connect better to one another and experience the Incarnational love of God through our hosts (and other guests who congratulated us on our anniversary).

So often we think of ministry as needing to include an explicit preaching of the Gospel or some sort of aid to someone who is in obvious financial, physical, or spiritual need. A dinner theatre isn't exactly that, but that's why I think is so awesome that it is a ministry. It does fill a need. It does touch people's lives. It is a clear example of Incarnational theology. And we need more of it.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr.?

This is, in part, a follow-up to my post a few days ago that included a Ransomed Heart letter. John Eldredge makes an excellent (and I believe correct) argument for creating a distinction between people/groups/organizations. Okay, he didn't say that, but in many ways, that's a conclusion from pointing out a difference.

At the same time, there is a TON of dialogue at the moment about reconciliation and bridging differences. How many commercials and PACs are there right now emphasizing a joining of the major American political parties? It's quite amazing, actually. Even my research has focused on interfaith peacemaking and the similarities between disparate people. The movement in American society, it seems, it toward reconciliation rather than emphasizing differences.

And this is often presented in a way that makes comments like Eldredge's seem negative and unholy. Conflict is viewed as evil.

Yet conflict is not evil. Viktor Frankl (I take my psychological theoretical orientation from him) stated that conflict is not only good, but necessary to find true meaning in one's life. A Christian peacemaking organization also recently posted some ideas about the necessity of conflict and adversity. The grant that led to my aforementioned research was entitled the Conflict Transformation Grant. I commented on this during one of our meetings, noting that our goal is not to remove conflict, but transform it into something glorious rather than disastrous.

I begin to think about people we look to as the quintessential peacemakers, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, and Mother Teresa, all of whom won the Nobel Peace Prize. They were not exactly afraid of conflict. In fact, the first two created a LOT of conflict. But it was holy conflict. It was calling out evil for good.

But when it comes to the church, such calling out is not viewed positively in today's time. In never really has. We seek ecumenicism and the breaking down of denominational boundaries (which I largely am a strong proponent of). Yet it seems that we sometimes promote this to the extreme, being more devoted to the organization than Jesus Christ, as Eldredge ends his letter with.

Martin Luther was one individual who faced this exact criticism. Many people agreed with his ideas, but disagreed with his methods because the methods would lead to the fracturing of the church organization. The Catholic Church actaully tried to assassinate him because of his actions. If you ever read his works, he had an incredibly firey tongue. He was not a person I would want to get on the wrong side of. Frankly, I doubt he would ever be a contestant for the Nobel Peace Prize because of these things.

My inclination is to think that is quite sad and wrong. As a Protestant, I think he was a holy impetus to the Reformation (I say impetus because many people for a century had the same ideas, but were often silenced or killed; Martin Luther was in the right zeitgeist). He actually did attempt to the reform the Catholic Church first, but left it when he saw it was a hopeless endeavor (until about 100 years later when the Church accepted most of his reforms). He was more committed to the True Gospel of Jesus Christ than the organization. For that, I kind of see him as a peacemaker.

As I was planning on writing this, I saw more of a dichotomy between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr., with the latter being more "passive." As I'm thinking about this more, I'm not so sure that's the case. However, my sense is that history views MLK as more of a bridger and Martin Luther as more of a separatist. Separatists are not viewed as peacemakers, in part because of biblical versus, like "You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in."

That's fair. However, sometimes separation and divide is necessary. Often we do things to "keep the peace." Is it really peace, or is it maintaining the status quo, which makes things feel more comfortable? For those who know me, I'm often not one to just "keep the peace." I don't like the status quo for the sake of the status quo.

In that way, I feel more like the "insurgent" and "revolutionary" Martin Luther than the "passive" and "peaceful" MLK. I put those words in quotes because, again, Martin Luther wasn't one to pick up a sword; he took actions that seemed a lot like passive resistance. And MLK, while nonviolent, was very aggressive with his words and was a revolutionary. He definitely divided people.

So when is it appropriate and acceptable to be divisive versus unitive?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Important Questions

I came across this video today, which I think raises some very important questions every church and ministry should ask of themselves. I'm quite impressed by the leadership of this church...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Not All Gospels Are Equal

I was cleaning up the piles of paper on my desk this weekend (one of the reasons I hate paper--I put it somewhere to deal with later, and I never come back to it), and I came across this monthly letter from Ransomed Heart again, written by John Eldredge. I remember particularly liking it when I first read it, and I feel the same way again, but it touched me in different ways. For instance, his final sentence particularly resonated with me with regards to my Identity post. I'm planning on writing more about the letter, but since it's longer, I'll leave that for now... :)

Read this document on Scribd: Not All Gospels Are Equal

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I am realizing that a lot of what I do is motivated by obligation. Not by true desire, love, joy, etc., but feeling obliged to do this or that. Especially when it comes to the church (with the little "c," referring to the organization, whereas big "C" Church refers to the large Church, the people, at least in my usage). It's not a great way to live. Actually, it's no way to live at all. It's a way to die under burn out and resentment.

I know God does not want us to act from obligation, but from our hearts overflowing with love. One parable (I don't remember the author--perhaps GK Chesterton--and don't want to feel obligated to look it up at the moment :) ) essentially talks about how a king (God) dressed like a peasant to court a girl so he would know she truly loved him rather than showing the appearance of love due to obligation. I'm noticing that as long as I continue to live like I'm obligated to do so many things, it makes it difficult to love God and love others freely.

Writing less and somewhat sporadically on this is a way for me to practice ignoring obligation and listening to my heart more. Every day I think about things I could write. I often feel guilty for not writing more (not sure why). So if I feel God telling me the desire is out of obligation, I decide to not write it. However, other times, I sense God saying it something I should write. Those are the times (like this one) I get more excited to write. They're probably better posts, too... :)

I'd love to hear if others struggle with the sense of obligation (I'm assuming yes) and you handle it...

Friday, July 18, 2008


Identity is a strange thing. It's core to who we are (duh), yet it can be very elusive and confusing. Our identities can change over time, and we can spend a lot of time and energy pursuing a desired identity. Other times, an identity is bestowed or forced upon us.

I think the struggle with identity is core to our faith. The Israelites spent a lot of time struggling with their identities, through the desert and through the time of the judges, requesting a king. Acts and the letters of Paul particularly shows the struggle early Christians had defining their identities.

I've been struggling with my identity recently, yet I only just really realized in how many ways I am. I was debating about writing about this. Then I got a devotional email from Ransomed Heart entitled "Identity is Bestowed" (copied below), which talks a bit about the power of identity in our lives. That sent a message to me that this is an important topic in my life right now and that sharing my struggles with it may help others...

Some history in my conscious struggle with identity. I grew up in a small mountain town in Southern California. It took at least 30 minutes to get to any urban area that included such things as movie theatres and malls. Going to UC Berkeley for my undergrad degree was a big change in many ways. My senior year in high school introduced me to politics through my government class, and this field fascinated me. Going to Berkeley, a politically intense place, would give me a lot of opportunities to engage in a field that I could not have participated in in my hometown.

I joined the Berkeley College Republicans, worked for our conservative magazine, the Cal Patriot, as an editor, and interned in the California Assembly. My political affiliation became core to my identity. I realized this in particular when in my Spanish class I became known as "the Republican." Even the professor would often say, "Well, let's ask what the Republican thinks about this," referring to some political issue.

I didn't like being identified like that. Political affiliation and perspective should not define me; I should define it. Plus, the political realm was starting to really irritate me. I decided that if I was going to be defined by something by others, I would want to be defined by my faith. So I began getting more and more involved in my church. Declaring Religious Studies as my major helped this new identity, which worked well through my graduation.

No big changes or struggles with my identity seemed to occur through grad school, except for normal professional identity development associated with my theoretical orientation and comfort in becoming a therapist. However, less than a month ago, classes ended. For good. I have one year of internship and then I get my doctorate. Yet I realized a huge part of my identity was being lost. I had been a student since age 5. I'd always been in school (minus some summers). School was what I did well in and was something I took pride in and got a lot of confidence, comfort, and identity from. I would need to find a new identity, which would probably be a good thing.

In the last month, I have become more involved in my church. Formal ministry is a great thing and a great way to develop a holy identity, right? In part. But as I have preached for so long, I am having to remind myself that various forms of Incarnational, implicit ministry are just important as being employed by a church. Further, I am realizing my identity, including my faith identity, is becoming too defined by my church affiliation. I think this happens to many of us, unconsciously, because it looks like it's a good thing. However, I am realizing we begin to have problems when we begin to have our identities too tied up with any organization or institution.

This has literally been something that just I realized in the past day. I'm not sure where it will lead me. I think this transition is going to be exemplified by NOTW's "No Religion, Just a Relationship" saying. Unaffiliated faith, being a husband, being a daddy to my kitty. Those are identities that are a lot more meaningful, purpose-driven, and enduring than other identities...

Identity Is Bestowed

Deep within the Arrows stay, poisoning our self-perceptions, until someone comes along with the power to take them away, free us from all the false selves we use to weather the world’s weather, and restore to us our true identity. Identity is not something that falls on us out of the sky. For better or for worse, identity is bestowed. We are who we are in relation to others. But far more important, we draw our identity from our impact on those others—if and how we affect them. We long to know that we make a difference in the lives of others, to know that we matter, that our presence cannot be replaced by a pet, a possession, or even another person. The awful burden of the false self is that it must be constantly maintained.

We think we have to keep doing something in order to be desirable. Once we find something that will bring us some attention, we have to keep it going or risk the loss of the attention.

And so we live with the fear of not being chosen and the burden of maintaining whatever it is about us that might get us noticed and the commitment never to be seen for who we really are. We develop a functional self-image, even if it is a negative one. The little boy paints his red wagon a speckled gray with whatever Father left in the can after putting a new coat on the backyard fence. “Look what I did!” he says, hoping for affirmation of the wonderful impact his presence has on the world. The angry father shames him: “What do you think you’re doing? You’ve ruined it.” The boy forms an identity: My impact is awful; I foul good things up. I am a fouler. And he forms a commitment never to be in a place where he can foul things up again. Years later, his colleagues wonder why he turned down an attractive promotion. The answer lies in his identity, an identity he received from the impact he had on the most important person in his world and his fear of ever being in such a place again.

(The Sacred Romance 86, 88)

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

RIP Sir John Templeton

Sir John Templeton, remarkable philanthropist and supporter of the connection between religion and the sciences, died today. I pray that his family and friends find comfort in this difficult time and that the world continues to have people like him.

Sex Offenders

Continuing from yesterday's post on sexuality, I want to make some comments about the way we treat sex offenders. I want to clarify that I am not excusing any of the crimes, but I also do not believe we treat the offenders fairly, in large part because of the taboo on sexuality.

One of my classmates allowed me to upload her presentation on sex offender housing. It includes some stats and background information on sex offenders, which you may find interesting. You may have also seen some articles on a recent law passed in Georgia that bans sex offenders from engaging in church volunteer work. Yes, you read that correctly.

The arguments for these bans and for housing restrictions on sex offenders usually rests on the emotionally-charged plea to protect our children. Fair enough. These people violated others, and children are vulnerable.

It's not that simple, though.

Most sex offenders did not do anything sexual to a child. Most are disgusted by the idea and would defend children against child predators. Yet the law makes no distinction between a child rapist and the college mooner. Both must register as a sex offender for life, cannot live near schools ever, and in Georgia, cannot formally exercise their faith doing church volunteer work.

Something is seriously wrong with that.

I understand and agree with the heart of these laws. However, I believes the laws are wrong. They need to be more specific and tailored to do what they actually aim to do. We also need to remember that sex offenders are still people. If we become a bit more informed as to what qualifies as a sex offense, we may not judge "sex offenders" so harshly right away because many offenses are not as high on our hierarchy of sin...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Dan Kimball & Sex

It looks like Dan Kimball and Vintage Faith are doing a good job of balancing a commitment to their values, accepting and loving people with open arms, and inviting and encouraging open and honest dialogue. Great question at the end of his post!

Taboo: Sexuality

This is a big taboo, particularly within American Christianity. The sexual sins are often considered the worst. Now, I'm not making any comments here about what is appropriate and not appropriate sexual behavior. Rather, I want to focus more on how we treat people who fall outside of our expectations of what is sexually normal appropriate, whatever our norms are. As a Church, we usually get caught up debating the rights and wrongs of behaviors (from a propositional Christianity standpoint) and forget that we still have to deal with the people who fall. Regardless of our judgments of right and wrong, I want to focus on the process of dealing with the people.

A perfect example of this was by someone who once told me, "I could be next to a murderer in church, but I could never stand and worship next to a homosexual." Wow. Again, regardless of perspective of homosexuality, I think this is just plain wrong. It's bad theology and bad relationships.

Where does the Bible state that sexual sins are the worst? My theology has always stated that all sins are equal, the "little white lie" equaling murder because all sins separate us from God. So where do we, as mere mortal humans, get off creating a hierarchy of sin? It's probably safe to say that all societies have a hierarchy of sin (put into other words), but why are the sexual sins so high up in our society?

This isn't anything new, for people who think our society is just prudish. Old Testament theophanies always avoid the genital regions, usually interpreted as occurring because the Jewish people did not believe God could or should be sexualized. God can have a full body, but not genitalia. The asexual perspective of Heaven is satirized in the movie Dogma, with a lack of sexual apparatuses in the angels.

And it's not even appropriate in most circles to think that Jesus may have ever gotten an erection, ejaculated (even in his sleep), or been physically attracted to anyone, despite Him being fully human. Gasp! I think that's why there was so much uproar over the idea that He may have married. That would mean that Jesus had a penis! Oh, my! How terrifying!! I don't think Jesus married, but it's not because of a lack of sexuality (this is another topic for another time).

The taboo on sexuality causes a lot of problems, not the least of which is sexual dysfunction and fears within the Christian community. The need for Christian counselors is huge, probably because people want to talk about sexual issues with someone who shares their values because it is unacceptable to talk about sexuality in the church. How sad. It's a major part of our lives. One could argue an entire book of the Bible (Song of Solomon) was dedicated to sexuality. Yet we can only disucss it in propositional terms. The church does not accept discussion about the mystery and journey of sex in all its forms.

I think we need to re-evaluate our taboos...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Relationships Heal

The most recent newsletter from Emergent Village featured an interesting article about a soup kitchen. I loved the focus on St. Francis Inn's mission statement that emphasizes relationship. It relates to what I said a couple of weeks ago about social work and change. This article reaffirmed my belief that relationships heal.

I hope you enjoy the read. And the colloquial names for St. Francis are just hilarious! :)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Propositional Policy

Okay, I don't really know if those two words go together appropriately, but it sounds cool, right? ;)

I recently received this daily devotional email from Ransomed Heart, which can further the discussion about policy. There is a lot that could be discussed from the email, I'm going to stick with the topic from yesterday: policy.

I believe policy is derived from a propositional approach to life. Make enough propositions and water down life to those propositions, and morality and life can be easily dictated by policy. I'm not going to say that the propositions are necessarily wrong. However, focusing only on them reduces life (and the Gospel) to something too simplistic. It doesn't allow the mystery and journey of life. That's where we find God.

A “Propositional” Christianity

We have lived for so long with a “propositional” approach to Christianity, we have nearly lost its true meaning. As Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen says,

Much of it hinges on your view of scripture. Are you playing proof-text poker with Genesis plus the Gospels and Paul’s epistles, with everything else just sort of a big mystery in between—except maybe Psalms and Proverbs, which you use devotionally? Or do you see scripture as being a cosmic drama—creation, fall, redemption, future hope—dramatic narratives that you can apply to all areas of life? (Prism interview)

For centuries prior to our Modern Era, the church viewed the gospel as a Romance, a cosmic drama whose themes permeated our own stories and drew together all the random scenes in a redemptive wholeness. But our rationalistic approach to life, which has dominated Western culture for hundreds of years, has stripped us of that, leaving a faith that is barely more than mere fact-telling. Modern evangelicalism reads like an IRS 1040 form: It’s true, all the data is there, but it doesn’t take your breath away. As British theologian Alister McGrath warns, the Bible is not primarily a doctrinal sourcebook: “To reduce revelation to principles or concepts is to suppress the element of mystery, holiness and wonder to God’s self-disclosure. ‘First principles’ may enlighten and inform; they do not force us to our knees in reverence and awe, as with Moses at the burning bush, or the disciples in the presence of the risen Christ” (A Passion for Truth).

(The Sacred Romance , 45)

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*I did receive written permission to copy devotionals from Ransomed Heart.

Friday, July 4, 2008


I think part of the problems with symptoms is that we don't trust our or others' hearts. We don't believe that God really transforms and purifies hearts when we accept Him. Ransomed Heart's ministry is focused on this point.

About a year ago, I listened to a great conversation between some of the leaders of Ransomed Heart. Unfortunately, I can't find it now, so I can't reference it or quote it directly. In any case, one of the men made a comment that policy is created because of this fear of people's hearts. That has stuck with me for a long time. As I have seen more and more policies at work in more organizations, I have realized how true this is and how damaging it is. (There is a similar statement on Ransomed Heart's website under the What We Most Desperately Need section.)

Policy can be helpful to standardize procedures and ensure safety. However, policy is usually taken to the extreme to prevent any risk. As John Eldredge often states, no risk also means no life and no growth. In general, I believe policy is unhealthy and causes more problems than it attempts to prevent. A lot more can be said on this, and again, I do understand the need for policy in some circumstances, but there has to be a better way to create safety.

The implications of this can be seen in politics, organizations, businesses, and THE CHURCH.

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it." --Thomas Jefferson

Happy Independence Day!!

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Yesterday, I talked about my frustrations with the symptom focus of the new hands-free law in California. Today, I want to expand the need to not focus on symptoms.

So one of my struggles in my field (psychology), particularly with the more medicalized aspects, is the over focus on symptomatology rather than the root of the problem (or strengths, gasp). I have found psychiatry (the medical part of the field) tends to focus only on the treatment of symptoms, with little concern for the persistent presence of the actual disorder (slight hyperbole and separating symptoms from disorder is difficult and another discussion). My hyperbolic bias would be to ignore the symptoms and treat the underlying problem. Qualifying this, symptoms must be addressed. Anyone who has had a urinary tract infection would probably be excited that antibacterial pills are treating the underlying problem, but also want something to treat the pain now. The problem is that in the medical field, the symptoms are the primary focus.

The same is true in the Church. We look at people's behaviors and just want them changed. When someone looks holier, then they must have had some powerful influence from the Holy Spirit. And if someone is struggling with some behaviors, then they need to get closer to God. While I would agree there are correlations between relationship with God and behavioral holiness, this is not a 1:1 ratio. We struggle through life and various circumstances, no matter how close we are to God.

We need to qualify the holiness movement with remembering Jesus' words about the inside and outside of the cup. It's a lot more important to have the inside clean than the outside. It's more important to have a sinful-looking person who is close to God than a holy-looking person who doesn't know God from a doorknob.

This is hard to do because a person's relationship with God, the mind, and the existence of a medical problem without symptoms cannot be measured. So we focus on what we can point to, which can be helpful. We have major problems, though, when we reify the symptoms as the problems themselves.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

New Things

This post by Dan Kimball illustrates some of the ideas I had about technology in a different light--music. We are scared of change, and anything new must be bad. Until we get used to it, then it's good...

Hands-free Silliness

Well, those of us in California have now been under the new hands-free driving law for over 24 hours. This is a nice reference from the DMV about the law. While I completely support the use of hands-free devices (I've been using them since I had my first cell phone), I really think it's a silly law overall.

Okay, I might be overstating my position a bit, but this law frustrates me because it shows the focus on superficial fixes to situations. Yes, driving while talking causes accidents, but forcing someone to use a hands-free device won't stop the accidents. Further, this law does not outlaw texting or other uses of a cell phone. You can stare at your phone and use both hands to text, ignoring the road completely, but if you hold your phone to your ear while watching the road, you're in violation of the law. I'm not understanding that.

Further, I think cell phones are not the biggest distractions. Ever ridden with a bunch of kids (or teenagers)? Gasp. Ever sung showtunes at the top of your lungs as you're driving down the road? You are transported to another place entirely. And that's not even talking about food. Two girls from my hometown died when one choked while eating and driving...

Try and outlaw any of these. We're too comfortable with them. We like them too much. But something new, well, that we can blame the problems on.

We do that a lot in society. We go for the quick fix, but it's too often a band-aid, not a true solution. This is like my comments on throwing money at social problems. We do something to make ourselves feel better, but it's really not doing much.

And we cannot scapegoat technology. It may augment or show us problems in a new way, but they are deeper problems than just the technology.

The Church needs to remember this, too, because churches often either over embrace or over reject technology just because it's technology. Now, I love technology, but technology for technology's sake ain't good. We need to find purpose and meaning in what we do. Let's look at our problems, the width and depth of the problems, not just the symptoms and examine what we can do at a soul change level, not a behavior change level...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Taboo: Suicide

Nice happy title, right? :) Being in the field I'm in, I've been educated about suicide more than the average person, which also means I get annoyed more than the average person about misperceptions about suicide.

Suicide is a major taboo, even though many inroads have been gained over the years. An excellent example has been Dr. Robert H. Schuller's response to his friend's suicide a few years ago. Traditionally, Christianity has stated that suicide means a straight line to Hell. Schuller has nicely reframed it as a "cancer of the mind," providing a new way of looking at a horrible situation that gives us a new way to look at our theology. I could say more about this, but it is an interesting topic to struggle with, and I encourage everyone to do so.

I've noticed two in particular that have irritated me a lot. They often happen in the media, so they may not be representative of the general population, but still:

1. Did he/she leave a note?
This is often asked from a skeptical loved one who cannot believe the individual committed suicide. The emotions are fair enough, as is the desire to find any way of debunking the possibility that the death was by suicide. However, most people do not leave suicide notes. Some do, but as satirized in Analyze This, such notes are not definitive of suicide. The presence or absence of a suicide note does not give absolute proof of suicide.

2. But he/she wasn't depressed!
It's amazing how well people can hide depression (it doesn't always look like sadness). But beyond that, suicide is not always caused by depression. Depression is a major cause, but there are many reasons a person may commit or attempt suicide. Sometimes death is even accidental. Some of the other mental illness-related causes of suicide are a manic episode (for instance, a man believes he can fly and so jumps of a freeway overpass to his death--it's suicide, but he wasn't depressed). During a psychotic episode, people can also commit suicide, again for a variety of reasons.

There are volumes and volumes of work on suicide, so if you are interested, do some research. But in any case, please don't assume someone who committed suicide was depressed and left a note. It's a LOT more complicated than that.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please seek help right away. New Hope is an excellent resource. They can be reached online at that link or by phone at (714) NEW-HOPE or (714) 639-4673.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Professional v. Perfect

Related to my post on thing being no big deal, there is a lot of thought connecting perfection with professionalism, particularly in the Church. One of the things I appreciate about many emerging churches is the attempt to separate those two. Professionalism does not mean perfection. Things do not have to go just right and look wonderful in order to be professional. In fact, I think the most professional people are those who can deal with unknown while maintaining a clear sense of and direction toward purpose.

There is a certain amount of quality that goes along with professionalism, and that varies by industry. I think professionalism relates more to using resources wisely and to the best of people's abilities. Too much focus on perfection, though, makes us forget about our true purposes. I see that happen a lot. I'd rather forgo perfection, even professionalism, to maintain a clear sense of purpose, meaning, and good intentions in what I do.

Related to the Church, Sunday morning gatherings should be focused more on connecting with people and providing ministry than putting on a good show. This isn't anything new; many people have said it. However, many people also say they agree with this statement, but continue focusing on superficiality in the name of professionalism. Professionalism while sacrificing ministry is not worth it. Thoughts?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

No Big Deal

Okay, I have an confession to make. When I mentioned I was looking at different web browsers and social networking sites, it wasn't that simple. I kept feeling a lot of anxiety about having to make a decision about what I would use... because evidently it would be the final decision about what application or site to use, all of which are free.

I do this a lot, does anyone else? I go into something, believing I have to make it perfect. That makes it really hard to enjoy or explore. Particularly because most of the decisions we make are not final ones (there are of course notable exceptions, like having a child). Things like a web browser. So I try it for a while, and if I don't like it, I can switch. No big deal. I can try a social networking or bookmarking site. If I don't like it, I can stop. No big deal.

Approaching everything like this seems to take the power out of God's hands. We have to have control over everything. Even our experiences. And we don't even realize we're doing it. If you find yourself doing this also, try to remind yourself that it's not a big deal. Mistakes happen. If you see me doing it, you can remind me of it, too! :)

And frankly, even with critically important decisions, we still need to acknowledge, accept, and embrace the unknown. Brad Paisley's Make a Mistake was something I listened to a lot to remind myself that mistakes are okay, even good and even in big decisions.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Maintaining Connections

Related to my post on endings, I was going to make some comments about how technology is helping us stay connected, rather than the contrary, as popular opinion has long proposed. I then noticed my friend, Rich Samuels, posted something similar, so I want to reaffirm what he said.

While I have actually not be a fan of the social networking websites, I just started trying out a couple of more... because of my nerdiness. Yes, that's right. I was looking at different web browsers and came across Flock, which is based on Firefox, but has a lot of neat features built in, including blogging functions and social networking. It helps bring everything to you. Since I could use new fun technology features, I thought I would try some of it, and I realizing that it can be a very nice way to stay connected to people.

One of my struggles with social networking and forums before is that you have to constantly go somewhere else to check it, whether or not it's updated. It seems like a waste of time and energy. But with this new browser, the info comes to you, like email, and I like that. I've also started getting into the RSS realm, and it has really helped me stay in touch with people, news, and commentary. As I talk about conversation being important here, I recommend these tools as ways to keep up-to-date and involved in the conversation, particularly when things like Flock make it easy to do that!

I also constantly maintain that relationships are the primary purpose in our lives and the means for spiritual formation, so I guess I have little reason to keep resisting these formats just because of their popularity (why do we do that sometimes?). In fact, they can help our spiritual formation and keep us focused on our purpose in our lives. Just like Rich Samuels said in one of his comments to me about business, these social networking technologies can also help us keep focused on the higher goal of technology--to keep us connected and in relationship rather than just efficiency and productivity.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Following, Not Perfection

Christianity Today featured an interesting article today, exploring a new diagram for sharing the Gospel.

Now I'm not a big fan of diagram evangelism. It often seems too formulaic. However, Mr. Choung, the creator of this diagram, makes an excellent point that I think helps make this diagram successful. On page 3 of the article, he states:
Jesus' invitations into the kingdom seem to be summed up in a couple of words: "Follow me." Jesus didn't always require people to see the depths of their sin before they started a journey with him. They just needed to be willing to change.
How true is that?! I've never thought of it in those terms, but that's probably part of my problem with the over-focus on sin that often occurs. Just like I had talked about in my message at The Gathering a few weeks ago, change is a process, which includes a time of being unaware of what needs to be changed. That includes aspects of our spirituality.

So why do we expect others to instantly see all of the ways they need to change just because we gave a nice speech on sin and salvation? It's not that simple, and God Himself didn't even do it that way. Being willing to change, on the other hand, is very different. That includes a lifelong process and journey. That's what Christianity is really about...


Last night was my last class. Ever. Done. I haven't not been in school since Kindergarten. I'm not sure I'm ready, to be honest. It's so familiar. It's how I've identified myself.

But beyond that, my doctoral program has been unlike any other. It's been intense, not just academically, but emotionally and relationally. I have been with the same group of about 20 people for four straight years. We have gone through a lot together. For me, I've gone through one of the lowest points of my life (my aunt's death) and one of the highest (my marriage), with these friends lifting me up the whole time. Some of the faculty, too.

Sure, we'll see each other when we walk next May (I don't graduate until I finish a one-year internship) and at various events, like weddings. But we're used to seeing each other twice a week for six hours at a time.

Last night I couldn't get it to sink it. It felt like any other class. But it wasn't. I don't know when I'll see many of them again. We'll talk, but it's not the same. We're all thrilled to be done with class, but it's still sad.

In therapy, we try to make the end of treatment as smooth as possible and talk it through. It often feels odd because we don't do this in the rest of our lives. We don't do this with school at all (graduation ceremonies help, but not really). Most of me wants to just pretend nothing has changed and let things dissolve away. It's easier. For the moment...

But endings happen in our lives. They're a critical component. And they have spiritual implications, which can be positive or negative, depending on how we handle them. But in order to make a positive impact, we must handle them, which is not easy. Having people around to help you through them is an important way of getting through them, I believe.

I've had a lot of endings in the last couple of months, and I think more are coming soon. I think it will be helpful to have some time off of my biggest responsibilities to recuperate. We often don't let ourselves have the time to adjust. Let's see how well I do (my guess: not as well as I should :) ).


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).