Category Archives: Christianity

A Tale of Two Attitudes

It’s been the best of days. It’s been the worst of days. Sorry Charles Dickens. I couldn’t resist.

But my twist to the opening to that great 19th century author’s wonderful novel “Take of Two Cities” does aptly describe today.

As I write this in mid-afternoon, I have experienced both agitation and peace. The former has come from circumstances, the latter from accomplishing the proper attitude in response.

The disturbances in my heart have not really been a big deal. The first was especially minor. The Internet was very spotty in one of the coffee shops I frequent. The second incident occurred when I could tap into it. I read an Email from an employer about a job I had applied for. It included this sentence:

This message is to inform you that the search for this position has been failed which means it will not be filled at this time.

Talk about creative denial. Using the passive voice is not a problem to me, but using the verb “failed” in this context is just….what can I say? Someone has been looking at too many “fails” on YouTube.

I finally did get up to leave, especially after my complaint to one of the servers didn’t alter the Wi-Fi capability of the place. After all, I go to coffee shops to have fun, and I was not enjoying my frustration at not being able to access websites. . Although I am not a girl, I empathize with Cyndi Lauper. Boys just want to have fun, too.

The final aggravation came about during my planned walk in town after the Joe stop. Twice I had cars park themselves right in the crosswalk as I tried to claim my pedestrian rights in accordance with what the signals were saying.

One of my legs is a bit tricky right now, so I have to be aware as I cross streets. These people were not helping and in fact creating a dangerous situation for me. That they were violating traffic laws right next to to the town hall, courthouse and city police station only added to my disquiet.

Since I was right next to the police station I went in to complain. The desk officer was very nice in taking my verbal complaint. I did wonder though when he said,”The people just aren’t paying attention.” Was he excusing their behavior? That’s how I took it I guess.

I responded with,”Well, these people need to get a ticket.”

The officer said he would pass my  comments on to the traffic police. He wished me well and said be careful out there” as I walked away. He was so nice that he for the moment altered my negative stew.

As I ambled into the warmer-than-usual winter day and headed toward the river, I thanked a policeman getting out of his car for his service. It was then I realized that had been accumulating a series of offenses in my mind and getting wound up. If you had been walking with me you might have said “it’s much ado about nothing” and you would have been right.

As Dickens intimates, our world is a mixed bag. Some are wise,while others are foolish. To get to the spring of hope, we must endure the winter of despair. I can either walk in unbelief or have faith.

I do have a belief system that provides principles for dealing with the kind of hindrances I encountered today. It wasn’t until I crossed over the river and into some gardens that I realized I was not following my faith tradition’s tenets.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, what came to my mind was a statement he made to his disciples which has recently meant a lot to me. He said,

“If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”

Now I am not a bitter clinger to a religion, as our outgoing president once said of his opponents.  The only thing I am clinching in my fists is my personal rights.

In my mind today were the ideas that the world was here to serve me and that it should be run perfectly in that purpose. Walking along the path it came to me that the truth is that neither of these  supposition were based in reality.

The truths I live by tell me that my thoughts were the opposite of these ideas. The doctrines of my faith tell me that I am trodding this soil to serve others for Jesus’ sake and that this earth and the people in it are in a fallen state. It’s not paradise.

I can wish for valhalla on earth, but it’s not going to happen. As my departed Dad like to say,”Wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first.” Given the state of things, I should be happy when things go right.

With the principles of my two fathers (my heavenly and earthly ones) in mind,  I improved my attitude. I sat in a park after my walk and thanked God for a coffee shop to go to and a police force to protect me. I also expressed my gratitude that He had my destiny regarding employment in His hands. Better His than those of some poor sap who can’t write a sentence.

So while I thought about hitting the trifecta and writing the personnel director of the employer that sent me the aforementioned Email, I didn’t do so. I decided to drop it because I knew the only person that my missive would affect would be me, and not in a good way.

This isn’t to say that I should just let injustice go.  But If I am to avoid losing my sanity, then I have to learn to pick my battles. The things that happened to me today were not that important. They fell under the categoty of “inconvenience.”  .

In summary, while I was in Dickensian terms going the opposite direction from heaven this day, my God stepped in and turned me around.  I had created my own little season of darkness, but He made it into a season of light.

I learned some things today, which made it a good day. Anytime I can feed this value, I am happy. The application for tomorrow and the next day and the ones after that is to assist my mind by enjoining it from noisily insisting that my current waking period be received in superlative degrees only.

My times are not the best or the worst. They are what I allow God to make of them.

 

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Film Review: Manchester by the Sea Asks if Redemption is Possible

Looking at his wife in the film “Manchester by the Sea”, Lee Chandler points to his chest and says,”There is nothing there.”

If this film provides an image of anything else, it is what happens to a man when  as author Gertrude Stein said  “there is no there there”. Lee is an empty vessel.

The vibrancy in Lee leaves him early in the tale after he makes a huge mistake. Thereafter, he is a shell.

Lee’s persona is fine as long as he can keep to himself. Indeed, he seems to prefer it.

When we are introduced to him, he is a custodian at an apartment complex in the Boston area. Lee is a good janitor, but he is not exactly a person who wins friends and influences people. When he encounters a crabby woman who has a water leak in her apartment, he curses at her, and gets himself into trouble with his boss.

The only reason Lee’s boss relents from disciplining him is that he convinces the man how good he is at taking care of the four buildings in the complex. The janitor is a jerk, but at least he is good at his job.

“Manchester by the Sea” uses a series of flashbacks to fill in the reasons as to why Lee has become the man he is and the effects of his massive mistake on him and others. I am no psychiatrist,  but it seems that like a lot of men Lee takes refuge in his work to escape from himself and the anguish bubbling inside of him.

Casey Affleck is masterful as Lee’s, reflecting his internal angst in his facial expressions. In general, he is a curmudgeon before his time and almost completely uncommunicative. Lee only talks when he has to.

However, an event occurs which forces him out of his isolated existence. Lee’s brother Joe (played by the wonderful Kyle Chandler) dies, which is not totally unexpected since in one of the flashbacks we are told that he only has a life expectancy of a few years.

For Lee, though, what IS unexpected is that Joe has made him the guardian of his 16-year old son Patrick. Out of the blue he has to be responsible for someone besides himself and a bunch of flats. In addition, he has to return to the town where he is a pariah because of his terrible blunder.

The best aspect of “Manchester by the Sea” is the acting of Affleck as suggested above. He offers a portrayal of Lee that shows the changeable parts of the character’s personality.

The flashbacks show that Lee was not always a sullen jackass. Before his massive error, he could laugh, party with his  friends and play with the younger Patrick with gusto.  Affleck manages the difficult task of depicting the influence of his character’s personal disaster on his personality with great talent.

The tragic story is a good one, but its telling is hindered by what seems to be a hurried attempt to tell it. The audience is led quickly from flashback, to scenic views of the town Manchester-by- the-Sea  to point of view shots of Lee driving through town. At times I felt like I was viewing my grandfather’s Super 8 home movies.

Furthermore, I had difficulty identifying the roles of the characters. The film does not have too many characters, but I still had trouble discerning who was who during its initial section, partly because of the hurried pace. In this respect, “Manchester by the Sea” goes to the extreme in attempting to correctly show us the story instead of telling us. Key details are unclear.

As a believer I also was unhappy with the tired old mechanism of portraying Christians as people who belong in an institution.  Despite my personal distaste for his task, Matthew Broderick as Jeffrey, the new man of Joe’s unbalanced wife, pulls off  the part of the creepy Christian quite well. Patrick’s meeting with him leads to a brief but humorous discussion of who is a Christian with Lee on the drive home.

Despite these drawbacks, Affleck’s performance carries the film and makes it worth seeing. If he is not nominated for an Oscar for best actor, then there is no justice.

As for the story itself, it is not uplifting, but it does deal with an important issue. The difficult question “Manchester by the Sea” poses is if a man who has done something awful can experience redemption. What the film and Affleck reveal is that it takes not only a village for that to occur, but also the man himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus and Dr. Who

In one of the earlier seasons of the popular sci-fi series “Dr. Who”, the time lord and his charges end up on a space station orbiting the Earth 200,000 years in the future. This is not any ordinary vehicle. It houses the central source of news for the entire planet.

In order to access the vast knowledge of what amounts to the Internet in that time, higher level reporters buy a chip which is implanted in their heads.  When information is desired, the chip pops out of their forehead and a huge ray of light transmits all knowledge.

What they don’t know is that the information they receive is controlled by a malicious alien on the floor 500 of the space station.  The whole episode, even though broadcast over a decade ago, seemed to be aimed at taking a shot at fake news before we even had the term.

As I ponder the birth of Jesus celebrated today, I realize that this event was the greatest news in history. Of course, like in the Dr. Who episode and the falsehoods posing as news today, the narrative about Jesus has been determined over two millennia by who is writing it.

As a follower of Jesus, I tend to rely on what I read in the Bible about him. What it says about Him is that He was God who limited himself by taking human form.  In a supernatural miracle, the Holy Spirit created human life in the womb of his mother Mary.

The entire episode in theological terms is called the Incarnation. As I thought about it today, I was fascinated.

It is really hard to define in my own limited brain. The reporters in the Dr. Who show I watched  were a faulty analogy.  What it DID imagine is the inputting of huge amounts of knowledge into the brain of a human. But I risk heresy if I use that scenario as an accurate portrayal of what the birth of Jesus meant for us. The Incarnation was so much more.

Whatever the nature of the Incarnation, it was a seminal event in the journey of mankind. It changed everything; it altered history. Sometimes that term is altered into “His Story.”

In church today and on a Catholic website  I was exposed to the following description of how important the Incarnation was in the human story.  My priest read this Christmas Proclamation from the Roman Catholic liturgy.

The twenty-fifth day of December.

In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;

the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;

the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;

the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;

the one thousand and thirty-second year from David’s being anointed king;

in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;

the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;

the whole world being at peace,

in the sixth age of the world,

Jesus Christ the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,

desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,

being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception,

was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, being made flesh.

–From Roman Martyrology

One may quibble about the dating, but even so this piece does reflect how Jesus appeared in history, as we were minding our own business.

Once He did, we didn’t have an excuse for business as usual anymore.  

 

 

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Guest blogger Tom Perkins

OF PULPITS, PUNDITS, & PRESCRIPTION DRUGS

In obtaining a graduate degree as a counselor, our state requires a basic pharmacology course. It provides a working knowledge of brain chemistry, its functions, and how drugs, prescription or illegal, affect the body. The intricate interplay of chemistry, electrical impulses, and brain tissue is a wonder to behold. Understanding the microscopic choreography of neurotransmitters, neurons, dendrites, the synaptic gap, and re-uptake ports is undeniable evidence of a Greater Source at work.

Ten years ago, within a couple weeks of each other, my boss and my family physician delicately asked if I would be willing to try an antidepressant. If they asked that question ten or even five years earlier, I would have brushed them off. My wife has had a lifelong struggle with an Obsessive Compulsion Disorder. A year before I tried an antidepressant she took Paxil, a medication that works well with those struggling with OCD. About six weeks into her medication she looked up at me one morning and said, “So, this is what normal people feel like?” I could not agree more. The change in her was dramatic. I realize that is not true in every case, but for her, it was a miracle.

I make my living meeting one-on-one with people. Sometimes it’s in a small group. For several years, I found it increasingly difficult to meet with people. I am an off-the-charts extrovert. Struggling to meet with people is not something I ever encountered. Even more discouraging was my unwillingness to answer the phone. In fact, when it rang a deep sense of dread came over me. Days would go by before I had enough emotional energy to pick up the phone and get my messages. Not surprisingly, some messages were terse for not calling back or even answering the phone. That would make it even more difficult to call them back. Hindsight, of course, is twenty-twenty. I can now see what an incredible funk I was in. “Funk”, as in clinical depression. You literally could not see the surface of my desk. I would do just enough administrative paperwork to keep myself out of trouble. I was simply hanging on.

Although the science of brain chemistry is still quite new (1950’s +) and knowledge about the workings of some neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine) incomplete, researchers are beginning to understand that our emotions are regulated through those “Big Three”. Specific chemistry is released when experiencing specific emotions. Probably the most commonly known neurotransmitter is adrenalin. Working late one night you stop at the grocery store to pick up a few items for dinner. While putting groceries in the trunk of your car you hear footsteps quickly approaching you. When confronted with a perceived threat, adrenalin is dumped into your bloodstream via the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal cortex. Your brain computer races through a series of options and, depending on the threat, you initiate a “fight or flight” response. That’s just one chemical initiating one emotional response.

Scientists have discovered that the neurotransmitters that engage our emotions can be depleted. In some cases they are never restored. In addition to alcohol, there are three other major transgressors in chemical depletion: illegal drugs, age, and trauma. Here is a micro-synopsis of that process:

Alcohol and illegal drugs mimic and then hijack neurotransmitters. Like pouring gas on a bonfire, ecstasy, cocaine, meth and the like flood our brain giving our emotions an exponential rush. This is followed by a “crash” or depression and loss of neurotransmitters – some permanently.

–  The aging process causes our external bodies to break down and our internal organs follow the same path. As bones, thyroid, and our metabolism are depleted through time, so brain chemistry is no exception.

Trauma and its relationship to neurotransmitter depletion are gaining much attention. Scientists are beginning to understand that ongoing trauma in a person’s life contributes to the stripping of our emotional stability. That is, the big three neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, noreprinephrine, and a host of others) that give us balance and perspective become depleted. The more ongoing and severe the trauma, the faster the imbalance occurs.  Childhood abuse, occupational stress, combat, divorce, rage, rape, hatred, and bitterness all contribute to a loss of emotional stability.

When doctors recommend a prescription drug to restructure emotional balance they are attempting to create a fairly exact replication of the neurotransmitters that are lacking in some patients. Like adding motor oil to an engine or taking vitamin B12 for the body, so “brain drugs” replenish what has gone missing.

And we need to know this because…?

It is most discouraging in the counseling community to hear a church leader, parachurch leader, or well-meaning Christian state that mood-stabilizing prescription drugs are not what God intends for us. This can be followed by “The Bible and the Holy Spirit are more than sufficient in healing those with troubled minds.” The collateral damage done by those statements can be tragic. What unwise counsel we give others in the name of Christ. Flippant clichés and cost-me-nothing quotes can have devastating results. Those thoughtless, un-researched remarks, given to those who are struggling deeply with depression or mental illness, may result in the taking of their life or the life of someone else. Exaggeration? Sadly no. The documentation of this is damning to the Christian community.

Except for a few cults, no one counsels his or her friend to stop taking insulin and trust God. There are some people born into this world with a lack of insulin. There are some people born into this world whose bodies stop producing insulin later in life. Do we condemn these folks? Do we ever tell them that all they need is the Bible and Jesus? There are some people in prison today for offering that sage counsel.

Why is it so difficult for us in the body of Christ to wrap our heads around the possibility that some folks are born with fewer neurotransmitters than others? Why is it so difficult for us to believe that some people lose those chemicals later in life? What is so threatening for a pastor or lay leader to acknowledge that prescription medicine can heal a hurting brain? Possibly, it is a lack of understanding regarding our physiology and specifically the interplay of our brain and emotions. Even the phrase “chemical imbalance” conjures up all kinds of mumbo jumbo and rationalizations for not “poisoning” the brain.

The sad irony of it all is that the person who most needs medicine to balance out-of-control emotions steadfastly refuses to take any pill that would cause them to “lose control.” It bears repeating. The solution that would bring harmony (control) into that individual’s life (and those around them!) and thereby give them mastery of their emotions is instead seen as a terrifying entity – as if he or she would no longer have control. This could well be the enemy’s doing – a stronghold keeping believers in bondage to their fears. The second saddest irony is that pastors unknowingly can be in collusion with the very enemy that is attacking their flock.

We hear very little from the pulpit and in Christian journals talking about psychoactive drugs. Even hearing the pros and cons of “brain medicine” would be a great start. It is important to state that chemical replenishment is not a silver bullet. Much is still to be known about psychoactive drugs and how they help an individual lead a productive and normal life.  Sometimes it takes weeks, even months, to get the right dosage. It’s like tuning an engine or deciding what grade of gasoline and oil is best for that engine. Finding the right mixture can be a process. But once the correct prescription is identified, the results can be stunning. For many, these medicines have provided true emotional freedom and the ability to think and act responsibly after years of deep discouragement and hopelessness.

Tom Perkins is a staff representative for the Navigators,  an international, interdenominational Christian ministry established in 1933.  He lives with his wife Ann in Virginia.

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Should High School Students Work?

With two kids in high school, and especially having a daughter who wants to work,  I did s little research on the subject of high schoolers and employment this week.  My sources were a couple articles and some key individuals I trust.

I subscribe to having a work ethic and believe it is important that kids work to earn money. I am guessing that my views are common with men of my age group.

My daughter is a hard worker and is no stranger to doing odd jobs, having done tasks for pay  for people over the years. In addition, she is highly respected and has had a stellar academic record to date.

However, my wife and I have been discussing the impact of a job on her schedule, and most importantly, on her future academic performance. Furthermore, having a job we believe  (or should I say, my time- management expert spouse believes)  will be a damper on things like regular exercise. It is to be noted here that my wife hails from a European country where health and fitness is high on the list of personal values.

As part of my research, I looked at two articles which published the results of a study in a 2011 issue of Developmental Psychology. What I learned from a piece in USA Today is that students who work more than 15 hours a week are prone to not finishing college. As this is a goal that both my child and her parents have, this article set off little alarm bells in my head.

Another article in a University of Michigan publication which summarizes the  study indicates that there is a connection between part-time work engaged in by high school kids and a list of undesirable behaviors.  These findings also made  my brain ring.

There does seem to be a correlation between the working activity of high schoolers and lack of sleep, poor eating habits and lack of exercise. Considering that one-third of American high school students work more than 20 hours a week, we must have a lot of beat up kids in this country.

My own anecdotal research was done by sending Emails to a high school principal, a mentor of mine, my pastor and the leader of a high school church ministry. I asked them for their opinions on the subject.

The principal flat out said that high school kids should not work. He added that high school juniors should definitely avoid it as this particular year is crucial in obtaining scholarships for college.

One respondent, who himself worked his way through both high school and college and notes the emphasis given by young people today to such things like computer games and other leisure,   emphasized the need for setting priorities. Knowing my daughter is a person of faith, he wrote that personal devotions should be number one, followed by academics and then work. What would slide it seems would be family fun times, time with friends and church activities. Another suggestion was to have my daughter set goals for things like academic performance and finances.

All my respondents suggested limiting the hours of work to a few a week.  Other advice included making the possibility of  work dependent on academic performance.

I am grateful for these caring men, all who responded within a  couple of hours of my Email. If I learned nothing else from this exercise, it is to not remain a loner when you have tough decisions to make. I surely don’t know it all, and should be seeking the advice of wise people.

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