Monday, November 5, 2018

Anxiety and Depression


Anxiety is what happens when we place our faith in fear.  Depression is what happens when we place our doubt in love.  And these two walk hand in hand. 

What would cause me to think and say such a thing?

Anxiety and Depression come in all types and sizes.  To suggest any kind of “one size fits all” here is more than a bit disingenuous.  But, I’ll invite you to read on anyhow.

In my new book, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” I assert that there are two primary forces working in conflict within the human mind.  One is fear and the other love.   I also contend that facing future uncertainty is universally met with faith that is based upon past experiences of fear and love.   Everyone who believes there will be a tomorrow lives with faith.   Those deeply frightened by past traumatic stressors find it natural to have faith in fear where tomorrow’s uncertainties are concerned.  Their faith in fear produces some level of anxiety in mind and body.    So I can probably connect the dots between past trauma and future anxiety with at least that much rationale.  

But where does this notion of Depression being our doubt in love come from?   Why would I even think to go there?

Traumatic stress triggers both faith and doubt, I believe.   Only in reverse order to what had been before, which is why it is called trauma.   Whether we experience a life-threatening incident ourselves, or in relation to a loved one, we entertain doubts where faith once proudly stood.  We wonder if love will really last forever.   The biblical promise of I Cor. 13:8 that “love never ends” begins to seem “too good to be true.”    Faith in love’s fairness and future assurance gets lost in the mess of traumatic stress.  Doubt begins to take over and create what I then call a faith vacuum where the future is concerned.   Rather than despairing about our future uncertainties without any faith at all, we defensively develop a faith in fear itself.  This takes over in our minds where doubt in love leaves off.   Out of our Depression comes new Anxiety.

Clinically, when our Depressed mood turns into feelings of profound fear and anxiety, we may use the term Major Depressive Disorder to diagnose what is happening in our minds.    We may notice changes in our minds.   Or, if not, we may experience Major Depression as a bodily change replete with jitters, hyperventilation, or other panicky sensations in our bodies.     Not to mention utter fatigue, or a drained feeling of emptiness in either mind or body.      

Treating such misery as is found in our experiences of Anxiety and Depression is not easy, though it is simple.  Simply producing more doubt in fear and more faith in love accounts for successful outcomes.  But that’s never easy.   Possible, yes.  Easy?   No way.

Many people look for a pill to swallow that might magically cure us.   Not that easy, as a rule.   Rather, what works with or often without any pill is something called “cognitive behavioral” therapy, where we learn to assess our fears in line with the facts.   This helps us challenge our old faith in fear’s story for our future.   We begin to doubt that our past traumatic events had the power to kill love in our lives.   We begin to see that love still remains alive.   And we go on to doubt that fear of tomorrow’s uncertainties will have the power to kill love in the future.   From these doubts in fear’s ability to destroy us past, present, future, we begin to regain our sense of faith in love.  Our future can now be restored or re-storied from one of fear to one of love.  Anxiety and Depression can be most effectively treated and relieved in this way.  

So why am I bringing up this topic now?

Because tomorrow’s US election day is filled with uncertain outcomes, whether in the short or long range future.   And many of our friends and neighbors are anxious.   They fear the worst, especially if they experienced the worst possible outcome in a past election.   In the run-up to tomorrow’s actual count, which could extend into days in some places, there are people on both sides of the partisan divide who are afraid of America’s future.   Their faith is in fear.   And, regardless of the count, some will then find themselves doubting in love’s certainty against a backdrop of our national uncertainties.              

If you are one of the many who are feeling anxious about tomorrow’s election results, here are some questions you might ask yourself yet today or tonight before going to sleep.   If the worst possible results should happen to occur, how will you be personally affected?   Will you be afraid to go on living?   Will fear have the power to stop you from loving or being loved?   Will fear have the power to control your thoughts every day?   Will it have the power to stop you from helping and influencing your close friends or even unknown strangers?   What can love help you do in the future that fear may try stopping you from doing?    When love and fear have their future arguments inside your own mind after this election, which side will you take?   How will that make a difference in your future regardless of this election?  

You see, in a very real sense every day is election day in our world.   Everybody is voting one way or the other inside their own minds.   Some will take sides with fear against love.  They will place their faith in fear, and their doubt in love.   Some will instead vote for love against fear.   But life is one grand election and we get to vote again each new day.   Every day is election day.

Tomorrow’s results are no more certain than the next day’s or the day after that.   Uncertainty demands faith.  And doubt.  Those are givens.   But the best given of all is that we can choose between the truth of certain love and the lie of uncertain fear.   And in that sense, our own preferred side can win every future election.



Monday, October 29, 2018

America’s Wildfire of Fear


Scared people scare people.

This year’s season of Halloween is special, and I say season because it is no longer regarded as the singular night in our American calendar when as a child I would don some homemade outfit such as an old bedsheet (always white in those days) to go in search of the neighbors’ sweetest of treats.  It affords us, children of every age that we truly are, a great learning opportunity.   We are all afraid.   Our nation and our world seem in many ways more out of control than perhaps ever before.     Death is in the news, with last week bearing witness to racially and politically inspired murders and potential murders.

Scary times we live in.  This season of Halloween that won’t end.

Until.

We learn about how fear feeds upon itself, and how we can personally go about starving it instead.   This is a learnable lesson.   Now is a teachable moment.   It’s Halloween.  So let’s take another look at fear in our world, our nation, and ourselves.  

Writing from my own perspective as a geezer who has first studied and then served his time as therapist and even pastor for hundreds of folks over the years, permit me to offer this perspective.   Fear feeds first upon ignorance, or let's at least say misunderstanding.   To begin with, we are often ignorant of fear’s presence, our minds distracted instead by the hatred our fear produces.  It’s as if we are blinded by hate from being able to sometimes even see our own fear.  

I liken fear to fire.   Hatred is the smoke fear produces.  And sometimes all that we see these days in America is that smoke.   And so we go about fighting smoke itself, for that is what blinds us to see the actual fire beneath.  Putting out the smoke is of little use unless we also learn how to fight the underlying fire.   Ours is not a smoke problem.  It is a fire problem.  It is not a hate problem.  It is a fear problem.   And the fear is so large and its smoke of hatred so dark that we had better use this season of Halloween to help get it out.  Pronto.

Yes, we need safe outlets for our hatred.  People are dying from inhaling the smoke of hatred resulting from our fire.    By some lever we must certainly open the hot damper door above our fireplace, to use that analogy.   There has to be a safe outlet for our hatred or it will truly blind us from ever finding the fear itself.  And suffocate us in the process.

Staying with the fire metaphor, fear is like a pilot light in our brain remaining lit at all times.  Fuels from outside our body can then feed that flame, but so can memories from within our brains.   This is where past traumatic stress comes in.   Past hurts.  Tragedies of disappointment, perhaps loss or even grief act as fuel for the fire within.   So just as underneath our angry hatred lies fearful anxiety, so underneath our fears lie all of our unhealed hurts from stressors past.   Yesterday’s traumas fuel today’s anxieties and potentially tomorrow’s explosions.   

Picture, if you will, an out of control wildfire whether in fields of grass or forests of trees.   Each blade of grass or each tree limb becomes a carrier.  Fires are like viral germ epidemics.  Get too close to the next burning object and the fire spreads to the next object, and so on. 

Scared people scare people.  Fear spreads.  Hatred then follows like billows of smoke.  And as we feel increasingly out of control, we resort to calling out to others for help as well we should.    We should indeed, in this season of Halloween, do as Fred Rogers was advised by his saintly mother and look for the helpers.   There will always be helpers.  But there’s even more to be done after looking outward for such help.   We need to then look within to locate our own souls.  There we will find a kind of immediate fire extinguisher we can begin using ourselves.  

Halloween for me as an aging child, who still feels my own fears within being fueled by the world around and my past inner memories of stressful and hurtful incidents, is a time for both looking outward in search of helpers and within my own soul to begin helping myself.   And I find this.

I have a Heavenly Father filled with love for me that is expressed in two ways.   One, this Father sends Jesus to be my outside helper.   For me, looking for the helpers means looking first for Jesus, the King of all helpers.   Secondly, this Father sends the Holy Spirit to be my inside helper within my soul.  My own fire extinguisher to use immediately in helping myself.  
             
The good news is we are all Halloween children of this same Heavenly Father, whether we know or understand it or not.   This same Father or Higher Power or God of our own understanding loves us all.   Sends helpers, like Jesus.  And sends soul mates, like the Holy Spirit within us.   And it is this love that then goes to work putting out the fires of our fears.   Just as November 1st is what we wake up to after October 31st comes to an end, and just as our season of Thanksgiving follows our season of Halloween, so does love awaken us to fear’s extinction.   It’s what comes next.   And it happens when the church of Jesus Christ in communion with the Holy Spirit seeks out her own primary mission.   An epidemic of love, spreading its relief throughout our world.

It's altogether possible.

Because loved people love people.   


Friday, October 12, 2018

Deciding to make the switch


It happens every year around this time.

Where we live in Ohio, the month of October predictably brings up a decision my wife and I must make here at home.   When to finally make the switch of our gas furnace thermostat from OFF to ON.  

Thankfully, we both have an internal thermostat within our own bodies that can cue the mind quite well when that time comes.   Yet, our minds are stubborn creatures in and of themselves, often choosing to postpone that switch of our furnace to ON just as long as possible each Fall season.   By habit, we drag out our sweaters from summer storage, pile another blanket on the bed, pull those warm slippers down in place of our summer flip flops, and about anything else we can think of to delay this simple switch of that furnace thermostat from OFF to ON.  But, every year, on some morning before October comes to an end, we agree to give in and make the switch.  

The switch from OFF to ON turns our cold house into a warm home seemingly in minutes, always to compensate for those mornings of cold discomfort we were determined to prolong each and every October.   Yet it also turns our summer memories into a kind of winter dread that is a bit harder to explain.  

In our case, we have the blessed assurance that the little pilot light on our furnace will stay lit and can be entirely forgotten for months on end.  No heat but no cost to amount to anything.  Just a tiny flame awaiting that moment each year when we make that eventual decision.  To make the switch from OFF to ON.  And to then listen for the big flame that bursts up within the furnace for exchange through our fan and filter into every room, every duct, throughout our newly warmed home in preparation for winter.   All this after going many days of resisting that switch and many months of taking that tiny pilot light for granted in the first place.       

Which reminds me of something else in life we might postpone, and also take for granted.

I believe there is a soul within each one of us that acts much like a source of warmth in our lives, and within that soul lies a tiny flame I call God’s Holy Spirit.  It’s our energy supply that, well, goes unnoticed for a period of time.   Why we may choose to prolong that period of time and leave that soul’s own thermostat switched to OFF is a question for the ages.   But, true confession, I’ve also been known to stubbornly refuse making that switch from OFF to ON before in my life.  Maybe I’m not the only one.  Maybe we’re in this one together.

Why is that, do you suppose?

Why is it we not only take for granted that the Holy Spirit’s tiny pilot light within our souls is even there, but why do we also resist that switch from OFF to ON even upon realizing our need for additional comfort in our lives?   Why do we resort to all other manner of comfort from head to toe and back again before realizing this Spiritual energy is clean, renewable, and downright free for the taking?  Here I’m talking about the equivalent of warm slippers, pullover sweaters, and heavy blankets.  Things like alcohol, comfort food, and shopping trips.  Anything we think might comfort us enough to avoid, for awhile longer, having to make the switch within our souls from OFF to ON.   And so we leave the Holy Spirit’s pilot light to just flicker away on its own, hesitating to actually fire it up again.   

Here’s my own thought as to why I, perhaps you as well, might resist.  You see, I prefer the times when the world around me is a warm and friendly place.  I’d like it to stay that way all year around.  And I rather hate the thought that it can turn into a cold and cruel place.  Yet, as the seasons of our calendars change and signal more warmth or more cold ahead, so our environment changes in ways that predict more cold cruelty from life’s storms and other terrors in this world, and, well, I resist that awareness.  I resent that prediction.   I angrily drag my feet at the thought that the warm and friendly world that I have known can seemingly turn on a dime into some place cold and cruel.   Then I reach for all manner of other comforts before considering my own soul’s energy source that lies ready to supply my body with its every need if only……………I will decide to make the switch.  Decide to pray.  Decide to switch God’s clean, renewable, free energy from heaven from OFF to ON.  To fire up within me through that tiny pilot light I call the Holy Spirit.   

And to strangely warm my heart even through the times when this cold, cruel world can no longer be denied or postponed.   

"I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend [comforter]so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!"   --  John 14:16-17 (The Message) 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

What possess us to stay here?


I’ve changed my mind about Jesus.

I used to think that the wilderness of temptation for Jesus was essentially limited to 40 days when he was alone in the desert.   After that the devil was said to have left him alone for a while, perhaps a long while.   So I thought all along that the temptations of Jesus Christ were what happened when he was alone, unaccompanied by friends or family or followers.   Perhaps unaccountable to anyone else.

No more.

I now believe Jesus was tempted as well when with other people.  Which was pretty much wherever he went, come to think of it.  Starting with his homies there in Nazareth.  In fact, it was there that the devil tempted him for the 4th time.

The 4th temptation of Christ?  Really?

I believe so, and for this reason.   There was something about going home to Nazareth that tempted even Jesus to be conformed to their world.   To be their homeboy.   To be Mary and Joseph’s son.   To stay home and take care of his own people.   To be……and here’s where it gets downright demonic…….possessed by his own past, and by his own hometown.    

If we will notice the places Jesus went, including his hometown, it was not unusual for the people there to want Jesus to stay.  Instead, he always left.  Oh, sometimes they wanted him out of town, but maybe more often they wanted him to stay.  Keep him all to themselves.   They wanted to possess him.   They hoped he would come and stay longer.   But he never did.  Ever.  At least that I can recall.  Always moved on.  No one ever possessed him.  Not even his own disciples, who wanted him to stay in Galilee instead of leaving for his ill-fated Jerusalem.  As in "get thee behind me, Satan."   

I believe Jesus was tempted, though.  Tempted to stay.  To be conformed to “their” world.  To fit in and belong with the people around him.   Call it his 4th temptation by the devil.       

And I have to wonder about ourselves in our own world today.  Are we only tempted when alone in some isolated wilderness where no one is around to hold us accountable?    Or are we also temped when with other people who want us to be conformed to their world?  To fit in and belong and behave like they do, to stay with them and not leave, and to be possessed?

People can be very possessive of us.   Where the temptation to conform is concerned, people can be downright demanding of us.   Stay the same as we were.   Stay where we already are.   Don’t leave.   Don’t grow.  Don’t change.  

Tempting?

Perhaps there is a Nazareth in everyone’s life.   Some place we go where we find ourselves tempted to just stay.   Conform.  Serve their needs.  Ignore that urge to move on, or that call in our lives to go out into all the world and serve the needs of others.   Perhaps we are more possessed to stay here than we ever are to go there.   Perhaps the most possessive people in our lives are those where we were or still are.   Perhaps this is our own 4th temptation to contend with.

Jesus resisted that 4th temptation in his own life, starting in his hometown of Nazareth.  So I believe we as followers of Jesus can face, and also resist, that same temptation.   Say no to conformity with the world of our own Nazareth, wherever that may be.   Refuse to be possessed by anyone, even our own friends, family, or followers.   Like Jesus, I believe we can say no to those who would hold us back in order to say yes to the God who calls us forward.  

Yes, when we face temptations in the lonely places of this world, we will most likely return to the familiar places of people where we can again be welcomed home.   That was true of Jesus as well.   But when we are then tempted to just stay home and not risk those further wilderness temptations ever again, let’s all try and remember Jesus.  Remember his refusal to stay in Nazareth.   Remember what he said about going out into all the world, to make new friends through baptism, to serve their needs, and to take along one constant companion wherever then and there happens to be.   Himself.

“Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20 TLB).      


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Pit Bulls and Presidents


I’m a dog lover.  But.

I’m the kind of dog lover who takes his Dachshund to the dog park and, upon seeing a Pit Bull running loose off leash, turns around and leaves.  Too risky, in my judgment.

Truth be told, I know there are some Pit Bulls that are perfectly safe to be around.   I’ve never owned or wanted to own a Pit but I have nothing against the breed itself.  I just don’t trust the people who do want to own a Pit Bull.   Call it my prejudice, or whatever.  Just saying.  I’m more leery of that breed of owner than I am that breed of dog. 

On a few happy occasions, I have met Pit Bull owners who were very loving and highly responsible.  They rescued or adopted a Pit and have one of the most loving and loyal dogs I’ve ever seen.     

But then on several more occasions, I have met Pit owners who had very different motives in mind.   They were afraid.  They wanted a dog who would fight for and protect them.  Love was not their aim; rather, it was self-protection. Their choice of breed was all about fear, not love.  And, hence, their dog was far more scary than loving.

Which reminds me of Donald Trump and the people who chose to vote for him as their President.     

No doubt some people chose Trump for the same reason they might rescue a Pit Bull.   They believed he could be reformed and could make a good pet.   Would be trainable.  Was smart.  Would learn on the job.   Would make a good president.

But then here comes my prejudice.  

Based on my experience, on far more occasions I have found Trump owners to have very different motives in mind.  They were afraid.  They wanted a president who would fight for and protect them.  Love was not their aim; rather, self-protection.   Their choice of president was all about fear, not love.  And, hence, their president is far more scary than loving.  

You see, in my humble opinion, governments are like public dog parks.   Leaders are like alpha dogs.   My dog and I have as much right as anyone to be in this public place.   My tax dollars help pay for this park.   But there are times when our own government is one where I’d prefer to just take my dog, turn around, and leave.   Alpha dogs that are unleashed are like unaccountable politicians.   Pit Bulls are like Presidents.   And I want to leave not because of the other dogs so much as the other owners.   They are the ones I have the hardest time trusting.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Getting unstuck?


Have you ever felt stuck in a situation you felt helpless to get out of?   Maybe a bad job?  A bad marriage or other close relationship?  A house or apartment, or a neighborhood?  A town or city?  A financial debt?   A chronic illness?    Or anything else from which you wanted to “just get away” but…………you couldn’t?  You were stuck.  

If so, welcome to the human race.   We’ve all been there.  Stuck.   Somewhere.  Wanting to get away, but maybe no place to go or any way to get there.   No way out.  Feeling helpless.  

There’s a Greek word in the Gospels of the biblical New Testament, apollumi, that is used to quote Jesus in at least two different places, John 3:16 and Luke 15:24.   In John, that word is translated as “perish” and in Luke, it is translated as “lost,” for it refers to the prodigal son in that famous parable Jesus told.   In the most general of terms, apollumi means loss of all hope.   In my world as a clinician, think “depressed.”  Loss of hope.  Helpless.  Stuck. 

Which is why I happen to believe God so loved the world of “stuck humanity” that he sent Jesus to be our difference-maker.  For the purpose of our getting unstuck.   And solving our universal problem of apollumi.     
  
Try reading the Gospel red letters sometime and notice the people Jesus came to and those who came to him.   They were people in the throes of apollumi.   They were stuck.  Dead end diseases without treatment or cure.  Blindness, leprosy, psychosis, paralysis, etc.  Dead end jobs working their Dad’s fishing boat.   Or collecting taxes and having to stay with it despite the abuse, because no other job would pay that well. People who were too short or too greedy.  Too female or too menstrual.  Too mulatto or too Samaritan.  Too Gentile or too Roman.  Too stuck or too helpless.  Apollumi.   That’s who Jesus came to.   That’s who came to Jesus.  For help to get away from their stuck places.  

So can Jesus help us get unstuck today?   And can we still come to him even today?

I believe he can.  And I believe we can.  

If.

You see, the question is if we are willing to convert from our present lifestyle of helplessness to a new lifestyle of helpfulness.  Are we?

If we are willing to convert from stuck to unstuck, from helpless to helpful, then we are ready to follow Jesus.   Those are the people Jesus called then.  And, I believe, still calls today.   

To be a Jesus follower means nothing more than to give up on being helpless, to take up our mat and walk, to just go and help somebody.  Anybody.   I love the analogy in Mark 2 of the paralytic’s mat.   To me, anytime we are stuck in a lifestyle of helplessness, can't stay sober, can’t get a job, can’t this, can’t that, we are paralyzed on one of life’s mats.   And Jesus calls us to take up our mat and walk.   Go help somebody.   Take up a new lifestyle.   That, to me, is the crux of the Gospel and the core of Christianity.  

I doubt that Jesus was sent to the world God so loves so we could argue doctrine, proof-text our apologetics, or get out of hell free on the day we die.   If anything, that’s the mat of paralysis Christianity itself needs to get unstuck from.   The real message of Jesus for the world both then and now is get up and walk.   Convert.   Throw out the old wineskins of helplessness and hopelessness.   Take up a new lifestyle of helpfulness.  

If we follow Jesus into this new lifestyle, more than we can ever imagine we will be helping other people, apollumi people, in also getting unstuck.            
  

Friday, August 31, 2018

To Help or To Rescue?


When faced with hard times in life, would you prefer someone coming along to help you get back up and on your own two feet or someone coming to take over and rescue you?  Letting you sit this one out.

Some of us have consciously considered this.  Others have more likely kept this question and its answer at an unconscious level.  But, either way, I wonder if it isn’t what partly if not mostly informs our ideas about God, about people in authority or leadership in our lives, and about ourselves in relation to others under our own leadership.   Not only are we either supporters or rescuers in our own right, but we seek out either supporters or rescuers for ourselves.

Or here’s another one.

Do you think love involves helping people out, ourselves included, or rather rescuing them?  Rescuing as in taking over for people who are overwhelmed by circumstances of any sort.   And now to get really personal here: do you feel more loved when someone enters your life to take over, or someone enters to encourage you to take over yourself?   And to support you in doing so?

The God of my own faith is a God whose love always helps but never rescues.  

You may believe in this same God.  Or not.

If you believe in a different God, whose love is controlling and does things “His” way or else just forget it, then you and I will arrive at very different answers and conclusions about how to solve a great variety of human problems.   We will espouse different ideas when it comes to marriage, parenting, politics, economics, of course religion, and just community life in general. 

And for us to resolve our differences, we will probably have to back up to square one and open up to each other about our answer to that original question:  would I prefer being supported or rescued when faced with hard times in life?  Notice I say when faced, not if faced.   You see, life is hard and there are two different ways to go in life: we can either make it harder still, or we can make it easier.    To me, being rescued makes it easier in the short run but harder in the long run.  Being helped?  The opposite.   Easier in the long run.   

The God of my faith, and of the Bible I read, is the God of the long run.   The God whose love is always aimed at making life easier in the long run.

Not the short run.   That may involve “like” but it doesn’t involve “love.” 

At least not in my book.

I believe God supports but doesn't rescue us even when this means our life is harder in the short run, because such support, indeed such love, is precisely what will make life easier in the long run.  

I believe God loves the world so much that God refuses to take control for us.  Over us.  Or to rescue us from our own hard times.   Rather, God loves us enough to help us help ourselves and take control of ourselves and get back up on our own two feet and, well, to then support instead of taking over for others.  That is, to love one another as God has loved us.  

So what do you believe?  Supporter? Rescuer?   Which is God?  And which are you?