Sunday, January 31, 2016

Black History Month: Off the Beaten Path

Tomorrow is the beginning of Black History Month, or African-American History Month.

Quick, name me a famous African-American!

Odds are, you just said Martin Luther King.  Or Barack Obama.  Or the name of an African-American in the entertainment industry, or in professional athletics.

I want to change that.  I want you to think of some other people, not necessarily the "go-to" people we think of when we think of famous African-Americans.  Several years ago, I thought about what I would do if I were a teacher during Black History Month.  What I decided I'd do was to give my students two assignments:

1. Research and write about a famous or accomplished African-American.  You may not write about any of the following:
a. Martin Luther King or any member of the King family.
b. Barack Obama or any member of the Obama family.
c. Any professional athlete.
d. Anyone in the film, TV, or music business.

2. Research and write about whites who were active in either the abolitionist movement or the Civil Rights movement.

The reason for the first assignment?  To give my students an idea of African-Americans that are famous or accomplished and who are not sports, entertainment, or athletic stars; or who are not Martin Luther King or Barack Obama.

The reason for the second assignment?  To show my students that white people are not necessarily "the enemy" when it comes to black people.

I'm not a teacher, so I can't give that assignment.  But I am a writer, and I asked myself:  why not write up a series of blog posts about this very subject?

So this month, I will be writing a series of posts going "off the beaten path", as it were, profiling some African-Americans that aren't as well known as Martin Luther King, or Barack Obama.  I'll be talking about scientists, amateur athletes, preachers, and other such people.  I'll also be writing about white people who sided with African-Americans in their struggle for freedom.

At the end of the month, I'm sure I will have learned a great deal.

I hope you will, too.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Family Friday: Hubert, Elmer, and me

I recently wrote a blog post about living with obsessive-compulsive disorder.  The form I deal with is called "pure O", the obsessive thoughts without the compulsive actions.

An OCD discussion group I sometimes post in suggested, "Give your OCD a really wimpy name," as a way to lessen the power of the OCD.

So I named my OCD Hubert.  (My apologies to anyone who reads this and who really is named Hubert.)

A few days ago, I wondered if the same strategy would work with my depression.

So I named my depression Elmer.

Hubert and Elmer's mission (and they have definitely accepted it) is to make my life as miserable as possible.  They've been around since I was about 14.  The first time I remember feeling sad enough to be depressed was when I was about 14, and I think it may have been either that same year or the next when I started dealing with the OCD.

Hubert's strategy is to attack me with vulgar, disgusting thoughts.  For years, I fought him, and I felt embarrassed to admit that yes, I thought that way.  Now I'm trying to accept the fact that yes, I have those thoughts.  And sometimes, I take those thoughts to extremes.  "Oh, you want me to think swear words in church?  Okay.  Not only will I think swear words in church, I'll say them.  I'll stand up and interrupt my minister's sermon with the most vulgar speech I can think of.  Our ushers will politely ask me to leave, and when I keep swearing, they'll have me forcibly removed, they'll call the police, and have me arrested for disorderly conduct.  Take that, Hubert!"

The idea is to take the thoughts to an extreme conclusion and thus, reduce their power. Paradoxically, the more you fight the thoughts, the more they reoccur, and the more anxiety that surrounds them . . . which leads to compulsions to get rid of the thoughts, which makes you feel better for a while . . . until the thoughts return, along with the anxiety, which leads to the compulsions . . .

No, I do not plan to start swearing in the middle of church.  Nor do I plan on following through with other thoughts.  Thoughts are just that--they are thoughts, and the fact that they drop into a person's head isn't a sin.  Pursuing those thoughts and planning to act on them . . . that's when it gets dangerous.  (And if those thoughts are suicidal thoughts, that may be a signal to get help, pronto.)

Elmer likes to convince me that I am worthless, bad, unlovable and ugly.  I think he's behind my favorite self-insult:  "Idiot!"  He's unfortunately had plenty of ammunition from childhood bullies and spiritual abusers, and he's also helped by the chemical makeup of my brain.

He and Hubert work together to paralyze, demoralize, and deingrate me.  They are uninvited, unwelcome tenants who don't even bother to pay rent.  Instead, they demand payment from me in the form of sleepless nights, worthless feelings, negative self-talk, and other forms of self-debasement.

My weapons against them include medication, which works to change my brain chemistry; surrounding myself with supportive people, attempting--as much as possible--to avoid negative stimuli, and using humor.

Some days, Hubert and Elmer win the fight and go snickering off into the darkness and slap high-fives with each other.  Then, I have to go and reload my ammunition in preparation for the next battle.

But, there are the days when I get to win and they get to run off like a cowardly dog!

As long as I live, I suspect that Hubert, Elmer and I will do this dysfunctional dance of depression and OCD.  Then at death, they get booted down to hell, where they belong, forever to be tortured in the lake of fire.

In the meantime, I think my stockpile of humor and positive stimuli is running low.  Let me see about replenishing my supply.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Worship Wednesday: An encounter with God?

She's not sure, but she thinks she had an encounter with God at a McDonald's.

No, she didn't see a vision like Paul did on the Damascus Road.  Nor did an angel appear to her, like Monica and Tess in Touched By an Angel.  There was no dramatic music involved, nor cheesy special effects.

She'd gone to McDonald's to think, to be alone (and, admittedly, because McDonald's will let you buy a drink of any size with free refills for only one dollar.)  She took a journal with her, and she started writing.  Writing is a good outlet, and she needed this outlet, desperately.

She hadn't been well lately.  She's struggled with numerous problems, physically, mentally, and relationally, and she decided to dump on God.  That's one of the other problems she's had lately as well--problems with believing God really cares about her.  Because if He did, he wouldn't have saddled her with all of those problems, would He?

So she got her Coke, sat down, and started writing.  She wrote a number of pages, a number of angry, accusing pages, pages where she vented her frustration.

In the middle of her writing, something interesting happened.

She started feeling better.

She still isn't sure whether it was just simply a chemical combination that made her feel better, or if it was a cathartic result of the writing she did.

And then she found herself saying--not aloud, but still saying--"Satan, you piece of *&^$!  You piece of excrement!  He's the one who's after me, and I don't want him to catch me.

"This is not of God.  The pain, the doubt, the accusing, the anger . . . this is not of God.  God is love.  Satan is the author of this confusion, this doubt, this anger.  Not God.  This is not of God."

She left McDonald's, got in her car, and started talking aloud to God.

She told him that she wasn't sure.  Had she just had an encounter with God?  Had God met her, given her grace when she needed it?  Had God cleared up her thinking at that moment, when she so desperately needed to think clearly, so desperately needed truth?

She's still not sure.

She doesn't believe that her physical illnesses have been automatically healed, nor does she believe that her questioning, anger, doubts, or other negative things have been permanently banished or healed.  Because she knows that God does not always work like that.

But, if this truly was an encounter with God, if God met her at a place where she needed meeting, if He was the one who reminded her that God was love, and Satan was the accuser . . .

Well, then, she's willing to accept it as a gift from God.

And she's willing to thank God for it.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Manic Monday: Dear Sarah . . .

Dear Sarah,

Last week you endorsed Donald Trump for President, and the conservative community is up in arms. Some agree with you and they're glad you're on board.  Others think you have betrayed your conservative principles.

This is a free country, and you certainly have the right to endorse whoever you wish.

But as a wife, mother, and fellow Christian, may I make a suggestion to you?

Go home.

Go home and be with your husband, who's done single parent duty plenty of times, and who I'm sure misses you and needs you.

Get Track the help he needs, especially if he truly is suffering from PTSD.  At the very least, get him to a good counselor.  If he's committing acts of domestic violence, he desperately needs help.

Show Bristol that being the single mother of two parents isn't all it's cracked up to be.  While I know you love your grandchildren, and you love Bristol, she needs to understand that her actions are going to have consequences that will be passed down to those children.

Help Willow and Piper with the challenges they have being young women in today's world.

Most of all, be with little Trig as he faces the challenges he will have as a child with Down's Syndrome.  I have a child with special needs also.  We both love our special children dearly, and we know that they can be hard to handle at times.

Go home, Sarah.

Donald Trump does not need you.

Your family does.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Manic Monday on Wednesday: Easier or better?

(I've been dealing with fatigue and didn't get to write this on Monday.)

In discussing the upcoming election, I read a Facebook post saying that the US would be better off with "a man of God" at the helm.  The post was greeted with at least one "Amen!" and several agreements.

I posted in response that while I understood the sentiment, the early Christian church grew during a time when the person "at the helm" was far from a man of God.  It might be easier for the US if a "man of God" was at the helm, but would it be better for us?

This is a bit related to my other post today, asking if what we want is our good or our convenience.  It would be convenient if a "man of God" was at the helm of the US, but I wonder if it would be for our good.

First off, what do we mean by having "a man of God" at the helm of our country?  Do we want someone who is visibly Christian, who makes a point of showing that he/she goes to church every Sunday and who invokes the name of God at every opportunity?  Do we want a member of a "high church", such as Catholic or Presbyterian; or do we want a member of a "low church", such as Baptist or Pentecostal?  If a Catholic got into office, would the Baptists protest that a "man of God" was NOT in the Presidency?  And what about vice versa?

Second off, what else "proves" that this person is a "man of God"?  If he/she sends troops into a country, or withdraws troops?  If they advocate for more social programs, or for fewer?  If they speak out against gun violence or remain silent?  If they support #blacklivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter, or #alllivesmatter?

Third off, if a person is a Democrat, does that automatically mean that he/she is NOT a "man of God"? Can only a conservative Republican be a "man of God"?  Can only a white, male, conservative Republican be a man of God?

Fourth off, will this "man of God" have to support prayer/Bible reading in schools in order to be considered a "man of God"?

The early Christian church began during a time in history when the person "at the helm" was definitely not a "man of God".  The ruler in the Roman Empire, where the early Christian church began, was a Roman emperor whose word was law and whose word was enforced at sword point. Christianity also began in an area, Judea, where Jewish law reigned supreme.  It was in this context that the Apostle Paul enjoined fellow Christians to "submit themselves to the governing authorities" (Romans 13:1) and to pray for those in authority over them (I Timothy 2:2).  I Peter 2:17 also tells Christians to "fear God, honor the emperor".

Granted, the Bible does also share the stories of those who did defy those who ordered people not to preach and teach in the name of Jesus (see Acts 4 and Acts 5).  Paul himself was arrested for putting his hope in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:6, Acts 24:21).

This was the context in which the early Christian church grew, a context where the government was tolerant at best and hostile at worst.  No "man of God" was at the helm here.

I admit to worrying about the future of this country, and perhaps we would be better off with "a man of God" at the helm.

But do we want to be "better off", or do we just want to make life easier for ourselves?  Do we want to have our Christian culture, where we can drive with ease to the nearest Christian bookstore, church hop on Sundays until we find one to our liking (which, too often, means "one that makes me feel good"), turn up our Christian music, and put our fish magnets on the back of our car?

Or do we really want to be "better off", where "better off" may mean having our faith tested and challenged?

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Worship Wednesday: Good or convenient?

I was suppposed to have a doctor's appointment on Monday.  It got rescheduled for Thursday.  This particular doctor is very allergic to strong scents, and when people make appointments with her, they are told not to wear perfumes or smelly lotions.  Her house suffered a sewage backup (probably related to the recent rains we had here) and she had an allergic reaction to the chemicals used to clean it up, bad enough to send her to the hospital.

The first thing I did upon getting that phone call and getting the appointment rescheduled was think, "Good.  I haven't slept well for the past couple of nights.  I can go back to bed and take a nap!"  (That didn't work very well.  I was able to rest but not sleep.)

Then I thought, "I wonder if God worked it out that way.  He must have known that I needed some rest, so he arranged for my appontment to be rescheduled."

It made me think about the verse in Romans 8:28, where "all things work together for the good of those who love God".  When I think of "things working together for my good", however, do I mean "for my good" or "for my convenience"?

Did God somehow arrange for my doctor to get sick just so I could have the rest I needed?  And if she hadn't gotten sick and I'd gone to the appointment, would God not have been "working for my good"?

Sometimes I wonder if we see God as a micromanager, working out all of our circumstances for our convenience.  I know that plenty of my prayers are often for my convenience, "please let my circumstances work out the way I want them to".  Not that it's wrong to pray those prayers.  I think God hears, and God acts according to what is best.  But what I think is for my good may not be what God thinks is for my good.

I have a child with autism.  I have the days where I despair about his future, and where I get very frustrated with his constant talk about game shows, crime shows, and his other interests.  There are certain things I pray about regarding my son.  If God does not answer the way I want him to, does that mean that he's not working for my good?

Or, if I pray for a particular parking space and I don't get it, does that also mean that God is not working for my good?

Is what I want for my "good", or is it only for my "convenience"?  Sometimes I don't always know the difference.  And I pray to be able to discern that.

Because God will work for my good, but just not always for my convenience.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Family Friday: My word for 2016

I first heard of this idea of a "word" for the year from Brian Hardin, host of the Daily Audio Bible podcast.  DAB has a free app in iTunes and Android for download, and it's well worth it.

Other Facebook friends of mine have a "word" for the year.  Last year, I thought I had one: "declutter".  Well, that didn't work too well, because my house is still as cluttered as ever.

This year, though, I think I have a word, and it's one that may seem a little odd:

Dissatisfaction.

I don't mean that I'm unhappy with life, or that I want more stuff or more money (although more money is always good :-) )

Rather, I'm not satisfied with several things in my life, especially my relationship with God.

There has got to be more than just going to church twice a week, doing the fill-in-the-blank studies I do with my ladies' group (although we do have a lot of good discussion there!), rote, legalistic "quiet times" or "devotional times", rote, recited prayers where we start with, "Dear God," "Heavenly Father," do a quick "thank you", ask for prayers for the sick, for "traveling mercies", and other things; ask God to "be with," "bless", "lift up," and the other phrases we use in prayer, pay lip service to "Jesus' sacrifice on the cross", and then ending prayers with a sing-songy sounding, "In Jesus' name I pray, Amen."

I'm not satisfied with shallow, superficial religion.  I just want something more, and that's why I say I'm dissatisfied.

I probably sound rather critical.  It is not easy to lead public prayers.  I've led prayer in my ladies' group before, and I wind up falling back on the pet phrases I so detest.  It could be that I expect too much to hear a "fresh-sounding" prayer every week.  And nothing's wrong with our prayers for the sick, or for people on the road.  In fact, I can think of a long list of reasons why we should pray for the sick, and/or for the other requests we pray for.  And a scheduled time with God is good.  If I want a deeper relationship with God, this "something more" that I want, then I need to put time into it, and if it's not somewhere on the schedule, it's not going to happen.  Printed Bible studies are also good.  A relative of a friend of mine wrote a Bible study recently.  Trying to write lessons for people isn't easy. (It's also something I've never done, so I probably don't appreciate the effort that goes into a Bible study lesson.)

But isn't there something more than just all of the above?

I wrote a blog post recently about the trappings of Christianity.  We have our Christian culture, Christian words and phrases ("quiet time", anybody?), our pre-packaged Bible curricula, Vacation Bible School, Bible and prayer apps; and we scream about "prayer in schools" and how much better it would be if only "God were allowed back in schools".  A Facebook post I recently read said, in reference to the presidential election, that America would be better off with "a man of God" at the helm. I surprised myself with my response, because there was a time that I probably would have said the same thing.  The gist of what I said was, the first century church began in a time where the person "at the helm" was far from being "a man of God" . . . and yet, the church exploded in growth.  It might be easier for us if the person in charge was a "man of God", but would it be better for us?

The early Christians had the apostles, some written words, and their gatherings.  And yet, they spread the word everywhere they went.  We have the whole Bible and modern technology, and I wonder if we're doing the same thing.

I just want something more out of my relationship with God.

And that's why my word is "dissatisfaction."

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.