Category Archives: Christianity

Out and about with the down and out

Comedian Dennis Miller was recently asked by now-disgraced pundit Bill O’Reilly how things were going in his home city of Santa Barbara, California.

Miller said something to the effect,”I tell ya Billy. I only go out when I have to. I leave home, do my business and scamper back to the compound as quickly as possible.”

Hisstatement comes as a surprise considering that he lives in a resort city with a Mediterranean climate. The inference from Miller was that the world has just become too full of nutcakes  who make modern life just completely unpalatable, even in a place like Santa Barbara.

Yesterday, after I had spent some time in downtown Los Angeles and nearby Pasadena, my brother asked me how it went. My response was similar to Miller’s.  I mainly was trying to get a laugh out of my brother because in truth yesterday’s experience was different than the comedian’s, even though I did indeed meet up with what most people would say is a strange dude.

After dropping my brother off at work, I traveled to Pasadena and took the light rail to Union Station with a friend to view a Nordic exhibit featuring food and nature scenes from the region. We were both interested because we had once lived in Finland.

Before I had even looked at one image, a fellow was in my face. My normal response over the course of my life when accosted by strangers in public transportation centers has been to flee the scene as quickly as possible. But for some reason, this time I took a different approach. I carried on a conversation with Jorge.*

We talked and I think at first I didn’t understand that this middle-aged man might be mentally ill or perhaps homeless.  We quickly got into details of our personal lives and I found we had a lot in common.

However, at times my new friend seemed a bit unhinged, at least for my taste. Jorge hugged me twice, which made me a little uncomfortable because I am not a “hugger”, especially with men. Fiat times came close to breaking into tears when I shared something about myself that moved him.

In addition, he tended to drop f-bombs regularly, complained about security at the train station harassing him and made comments to passing females.

Although my pal claimed to have a job, a wife and a home and also said that he had just come from a doctor’s appointment, he seemed to linger at our venue. His backpack was parked over in a seat in the station lounge.

Further, Jorge’s demeanor wasn’t one you would expect from a person you had just met. He followed me around the exhibit and kept talking.

Unusually for me, I took it all in stride. In fact, although I don’t think I did anything untoward, I think he might have wearied of me. He said he had to go to the rest room and left, never to be seen again.

I jokingly told me friend that perhaps I had been more overbearing than Jorge was and he had had enough.

I believe my newly minted view toward talking at length to strangers, even those who seem down and out, has come from my own encounter with setbacks in life. I guess what they say is true, that life tends to keep you humble.

It’s not that I have totally objected to talking with unfamiliar people in public places before I met the train station man. In my travels in the US and abroad I have grown bolder.

Just this week I introduced myself to an old age pensioner in Starbucks. He was wearing a hat with the moniker “Sisu”emblazoned above the lid. The term is Finnish and is loosely translated “guts” (i.e., courage, determination and toughness).

Having lived in Finland and knowing that the language isn’t exactly common in Los Angeles, I was curious. I figured the man must be from there or at least had traveled to this out-of-the way place.

Turns out he was that Los Angeles rarity: a transplanted Finn. Heikki and I had a lengthy conversation about his homeland, California and our lives in general.

I was amazed when he explained that he was born in Rovaniemi, a city on the Arctic Circle pillaged by the Germans in World War II and had to flee to Sweden at the age of one. I have a relative from there who had the same experience.

It was interesting to learn of his travels in Europe after the war and his eventual location to California to become an engineer. He told me he worked for decades in the aeronautical industry and even for the C.I.A.

The reason I was willing to approach Heikki was that we were in a Starbucks frequented by paying customers. Unlike loiters in bus and train stations, I could expect that the inhabitants of the coffee shop were not threatening. (I hope Heikki had the same expectation. He could have had questions when I walked across the room to introduce myself. I don’t always look that approachable.)

I noticed that I was tempted to revert to my unwelcoming attitude toward the debilitated when my friend and I returned to Pasadena. On the train back I held a mildly negative view toward a peculiar fellow who felt free to impose himself on our conversation about the fascinating local natural phenomenon, the Jacaranda tree. But I didn’t hold my disdain for long. I was mostly amused.

I was less amused when a young man came by our table as we dined and asked for food. When another clearly homeless and aging man sat on the sidewalk and directed some unintelligible verbal ire toward us as we exited the restaurant, I also wasn’t pleased. But to be honest, I was more annoyed with the restaurant for allowing these men to harass its customers.

It’s not that I lack compassion. It’s just that I feel a bit put out because I don’t personally have the wherewithal to deal with all of society’s less fortunate.

I know there are government and private institutions out there that will help them.  They don’t need to be harassing the general public as they go about their business. I tend to get unhappy when  I face off with these folks because I feel they are choosing to take this approach to dealing with their lack instead of making use of the resources available to them.

Even so, I hope my attitude from yesterday’s meet and greet with Jorge at the train continues and grows. As a Christian, I walk around with the subliminal question “what would Jesus  do?” floating around in my brain when I face off with the distressed.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the way I handled the situation with Jorge yesterday was more in line with how Jesus would have responded. In fact, while taking the time to talk with him, I was briefly able to share my faith and perhaps move Jorge toward faith.

In the  final analysis, the state of his eternal soul is more important than improving his physical and mental condition.

 

 

 

 

*(name changed to protect the innocent)

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Christianity, Finland, Homeless, Jesus Christ, Media, redemption, religion, Uncategorized

Curses! Don’t be the source of them

Beetle Bailey

Monday morning I was sitting in my den, drowsily watching a replay of the NASCAR race from Kansas, when I was shocked from my stupor by images of the flaming number 10 car of Danica Patrick.

She got caught up in a fiery wreck with Joey Logano and Aric Almirola, the latter who plowed into them from 10 positions back. All three cars were engulfed in a brief inferno. Thankfully, today’s race car is built for safety and includes fire retardant material.

Patrick and Logano escaped injury, but Amirola had to be cut out his car and taken to the hospital. He suffered a broken vertebrae in his back, but wasn’t torched.

Repeated clips of the collision showed Logano clipping Danica from behind after his brakes failed, sending her into a spin which put her into the track wall.  Thus, the incident wasn’t her fault.

The only female driver in the Monster Cup series, Danica is always at the focal point of media attention. It doesn’t hurt that’s she’s “hot” either. (Not my words. Those of her boyfriend and fellow driver Rickey Stenhouse, although I agree. He also has said that she can cook.)

So of course the Fox Sports people talked Patrick afterward about the accident.

“I just don’t understand why so much bad luck happens,” she said.

Danica told her interviewer she couldn’t believe a brake rotor designed to withstand a lot of pressure could cause her demise. The rotor had broken on Logano’s car, causing him to lose control and smack her.

“Why?” she asked in dismay at her misfortune. “What else can I say?

“On the other hand, I was having a really good night and that’s what makes me the MOST mad…is that every time I’m doing better something STUPID happens. It’s just killing me.”

Patrick talked about her sense of foreboding over her repeated accidents on the NASCAR circuit.

After wishing Almirola well, she said, “One of these times one of these accidents is not going to go good for me. I’ve been very fortunate so far. One of these times it’s not going to go well.”

Danica wreck

Danica isn’t the only one worried about her future. Danny Peters of Frontstretch.com wonders if she is done.

“All told, Danica has no wins, no top-5’s, a measly six top-10 runs and just 57 laps led in 165 races across six seasons. Put another way, her results don’t match her level of equipment – not by any stretch of the imagination

“My overwhelming takeaway to what was, to be fair, a ‘heat of the moment’ response? This will be her last season.”

I hope Danica doesn’t quit. She’s still young for a NASCAR driver (age 35) and is fast. But if she believes she is cursed, maybe she will, or perhaps she will get fired because of her self-fulfilling prophecy about her “bad luck”.

I don’t know whether Danica is correct about her personal driver’s curse or not. Good men disagree on whether our troubles can be caused by God, the devil or other humans invoking doom upon us.

In the hit TV show “Frasier”, the series’ namesake and his fellow psychiatrist brother Niles have a discussion about whether or not “destiny” conspires against his success every time his high school reunion comes around.

Niles tells Frasier his concerns are “folderol”.  Frasier disagrees.

“Every time my reunion comes around it results in a severe downturn in my life,” says Frasier. He notes that his reunion has coincided with his being dumped at the altar, his divorce, and falling into a patch of poison ivy. Now that the reunion is again nigh, he is sure it was the cause of a recent job loss at the radio station where he hosted a call-in show.

Furthermore, Frasier believes he will not get a new job he will interview for in the next few minutes because of the reunion.

“How can you know that?” Niles asks.

“Because Destiny won’t allow it,” replies Niles.”I feel like I have a curse on my head.”

Niles seeks to reassure his brother and convince him of the folly of his position.

“Frasier, you are a man of science. You know curses don’t exist. There’s a perfectly rational explanation for all of this. You tripped and fell into poison ivy; your radio station changed formats; your wife didn’t love you.

“The only reason why you’re giving credence to this curse mumbo-jumbo is because you’re nervous about your job interview.”

Frasier's Curse

Niles tells his brother Frasier that his belief in a curse on him is “folderol”.

As a Christian, I am interested in my faith’s point of view on the existence of curses. But again, as Michael H. Brown indicates in his article “Are there Really Such Things as Curses: Can someone affect you by what they say or think?”, there is even disagreement among believers in Jesus:

“It’s a controversial aspect of Christianity. Some say they see no biblical basis for it. Others argue that there are repeated references to just such a thing from Genesis through the New Testament — not only from God, Who is often mentioned in the way of cursing sinful men, but also the curses of others. In Proverbs it says that a curse without cause can not have an effect but implies that there is indeed such a thing and that it can come from others.”

Where I think Brown may be on target is in his belief that we can afflict others with great evil even if we don’t mean to.

“Knowingly or unknowingly, we have all cursed others,” he says. “When we dislike someone, and worst of all, when we hate a person, it’s like throwing a spiritual dagger.

“And it can have physical results. In some cases people take sick (think of the term ‘ill will’), and often we find ourselves in frustrating bondages. No matter what we do, we can’t succeed. We can’t make ends meet. We can’t finish a job.We can’t succeed at school. We can’t find good relationships. We can’t reach peace in our families.”

Brown notes that the reversals people encounter are mostly due to the normal suffering of life, but he thinks “there are occasions when it’s because of ill will.”

“The fact that we can curse people without even knowing it is why we’re called to constantly control not only what we say, but what we THINK.”.

That’s a tall order. As someone who wants to use words to influence people for good, I know I need to do better at reigning in my speech towards others. I concur with one of Brown’s associates, a minister named Victoria, who says that “words are power.”

“When we call someone dumb or bad or ugly,we can be casting a real shadow on them,” she says.

Perhaps Frasier carried around such a cloud of condemnation with him due to his school days. He was known as the “Bryce Crier” and throughout the series it was clear he was bullied in school.

Charlie Brown dread

Yesterday as I viewed the blue/green ocean surf I cringed at the name calling I have engaged in during my own life.  I regretted my own ill will toward others, also.

In a time of prayer I asked God to forgive me and to take away my curses. What is more, I asked Him to negate the curses put forth against me.

I wanted to do something to symbolize my request and to demonstrate that I was serious about repenting of my loose tongue and heart. Therefore, I began to think how I could make a spiritual landmark at my spot on the shore.

Given that the place was rocky and had no trees or large boulders where I could leave permanent graffiti, I decided to do what tourists do: I took a souvenir. Instead of  seashell (there were none anyway), I picked up a rock that looked different than the rest.

IMG_20170518_144850111

My “memorial” stone

I am convinced there is spiritual evil at work today despite the dismissal of such things by so-called “modern” man, especially people in the secular media .

No, I don’t look for the devil behind every rock, I just don’t want to be the source of someone’s . Would that we all learn to keep our mouths shut and our emotions in check. The world might be a better place if we did.

         

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Stopping America’s Slide to Self Destruction

Crying I cannot believe the world that I see
Is not for me
Praying please take me home
I’m here all alone and slowly I fade
If you could see my misery
Would you believe in opacity?-Ebony Tears

I am no philosopher. I don’t have the mind for it. But I know I have to have some understanding of this field of study because I am pretty sure the current problems between people in my country boil down to  differences in world view.

Even this non-intellectual can see that there is an underlying cause to the self destruction going on in American today.  In my lifetime, we Americans have gone from a people who had a basic faith in God, country and each other to a certain nihilism.

It has gotten so that I don’t want to open up news sites on the Internet anymore, although I am an avid follower of world events. I try to avoid following the news too deeply because I become anguished. It brings me evidence of the condition of the human soul in the 21st century.

The media tells me that political nihilists are using violence to do away with the previously established order in American society. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the culture I was born into is no longer there and has been gone for many years.

For example, I heard the sermon of a now-deceased pastor yesterday describe how an asinine judge (his words, not mine) entered a judgement against a man who had shot an intruder. The latter had sued this man, minding his own business in his own home, and won. This was 30 plus years ago.

I confess that my own basis for life comes from the Bible. From the Scriptures I can tell right from wrong, although I also admit that I am not always good at following their instructions. That a man could win a lawsuit against someone who was defending himself and his loved ones in his own home just seems completely upside down and definitely violates the tenets I have garnered from the Word of God.

By definition (I am informed by a group called “All About Philosophy”), nihilists reject the values I believe in. In fact, they oppose any values or truth at all, believing that values are worthless and knowledge of truth is not possible. Further, those nihilists involved with politics believe if any good is to come they need to do away with religion in addition to political and social orders.

As I contemplated these philosophical thoughts the last couple of days, the New York Times published a column by Pankaj Mishra which basically confirms my idea that nihilism is alive and well in America. Mishra finishes his discussion, entitled “America, from exceptionalism to nihilism” by noting that America has accelerated it. He calls nihilism our country’s “most insidious tendency”and that we are helpless to stop it. His article is worth reading for his tracing of how we have arrived at this point in our history.

In my view America’s plight is primarily a spiritual issue. Many of our people it seems have so rejected God that they are incapable now of accepting truth.

This situation is not new. Swedish death metal band Ebony Tears discussed the condition of such individuals in lyrics published 20 years ago. In their song “Opacity” they describe a person full of hate, confusion and pain.

Today some of these folks portrayed by Ebony Tears are out on the street dressed in black and covering their identities in masks, lashing out at the institutions and people they believe have caused their demise. They are living through a nightmare and involving the rest of America in their haunted ordeal.

It’s easy to throw up the hands over the darkness around us in America today. But as one who believes in a living God I know He is powerful and I therefore can be hopeful of renewal in the nation that I love.

Evangelical pastor Greg Laurie noted a few years ago in the Christian Post that America has had four spiritual awakenings in its history, all during tumultuous times: during the formation of the nation; during the expansion to the West when lack of love and sexual sin was common; at the time of a stock market crash in the mid-19th century; and in the 1960s when the Jesus Movement took hold in the midst of the assassination of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr and the debilitating war in  Vietnam.

Given the prevalence of evil our current times are surely a candidate for revival. Only the intervention of God and his truth will overcome the closed hearts of today’s nihilistic Americans.

How do we get to revival? I do know that revival starts with the individual. I cannot influence what others do, but I do have control over myself. So I can begin revival by starting with myself.

I can also ask God for it. Over 40 years ago Phil Keaggy, one of the greatest musicians America has ever produced wrote about how God can effect my own personal transformation:

All my life I have been searching
For that crazy missing part
With one touch You just rolled away
The stone that held my heart
Now I see that the answer was as simple
As my need to let love in

Keaggy further describes the consequences of opening the heart that has heretofore refused to allow God’s light and love in:

Like waking up from the longest dream
How real it seemed
Until Your love broke through
And I was lost in a fantasy
That blinded me
Until your love broke through

I don’t have to continue living in a horrible dream. Neither do my fellow Americans. All of us– progressives, conservatives, libertarians, and even the nihilists can allow God’s love to break through and change our dark, self loathing, destroyed hearts.

With a nationwide heart change, one caused by a turning to God, Americans can stop the self-inflicted damage we are causing to our country and turn it around.

 

 

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Filed under Christianity, Jesus Christ, politics, Temper of the Times, Uncategorized, United States

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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