JFK

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country.”

 May 29, 2017, on this long Memorial Day weekend, comes the centenary of our 35th president’s birth. JFK 100? It seems impossible. For many of us he will perpetually be a youthful 46.

Nevertheless, pretty much everyone over the age of 60 knows exactly where they were and what they were doing the moment they heard of his assassination. I was standing in the hall outside of the Psych Dept offices at NMSU talking to another psych major about the football game the previous Saturday when someone shouted, “The president’s been shot in Dallas.”

An hour later I was home and glued to the TV with the rest of the nation when a somber Walter Cronkite announced that he had died. I was not interested in politics at that stage of my life and I was not particularly a fan of Kennedy or all the White House Camelot nonsense — but I remember being quite upset and teary-eyed. It prompted me to swear at my mother who disliked him immensely.  I said something to the effect that, “Your blankety-blank Texas reactionaries shot him.”

My mother worked for the Navy as a clerk-typist at White Sands Missile Range. Several weeks earlier Kennedy had toured the Range and made a speech there. Sitting in temporary bleachers she was within a few feet of him as he went to the podium. Her comment was that he was not all that handsome.

I’m not sure why my mother leaned to the right in her politics or why she so disliked JFK.  Perhaps, she was skeptical of his privileged silver spoon background.  Or perhaps she sensed that he was a sexual predator. As an attractive single divorcee who’d spent many years as a waitress in fancy country clubs she’d been hit on plenty by men like him. Nevertheless, I could see that she was shaken by his murder and by my cursing at her.

 Myself and others of us mark time by that fateful date: 11-22-63.  It was the day everything changed forever.  If our country ever had an age of innocence 11-22-63 was the end of it. Not much more than a month later I turned 21. About a year later the Beatles invaded, Bob Dylan showed up and announced “that the times they were a’changin”– and indeed they were. About two years later the Watts section of LA and then inner city Detroit erupted in urban warfare. LBJ went to war on poverty and North Viet Nam. There has been no turning back. We have more poverty now than when we went to war on it, and 58,000 young men never came back from ‘Nam.

“Incomplete” is probably the best adjective to describe JFK’s life and presidency. We will never know what kind of chief executive he would have been over a full eight years, but the promise of greatness was there. Though none were perfect, we were fortunate to have two decades of the inspirational leadership of giants — FDR, Truman, Ike and then Kennedy. I may be painting with the broad brush of nostalgia but it seems like what we have had since is a succession of dwarfs, scoundrels and incompetents.

Over the years we have learned very unflattering things about JFK and some of our other leaders deemed great. In the 1940s, 50s and 60s the press tended to be kind when it came to protecting the office of the president.  In that more genteel era we had TV censors that forbade a married couple from being depicted in bed together. Likewise, the press was silent about the dozens of trysts that JFK had while in the White House. He had been a serial philanderer with hundreds of conquests throughout his marriage with Jackie, but he was dead nearly a decade before his infidelities became common knowledge. Today, the president cannot utter an off hand word or gesture without it being subjected to microscopic scrutiny — and within minutes becoming part of a screaming headline on the internet and the 24/7 news channels.

I know how I feel about his philandering, but I’m not sure how much it affects my opinion of him. A part of me is very turned off but another part of me says, “Does it really matter in the big picture? And did I really need to know?” And another voice in my thoughts says we would be better off as a nation if some respect were shown to the office of the presidency.

For me, his flaws do not take away from his achievements. He was an inspirational leader. The quote that prefaces this blog would sound like insincere pandering from any of the leaders we have had recently.

He was an authentic war hero. However, there are those who will point out that if he’d been more competent as a skipper PT-109 would not have been cut in half by the Jap destroyer.

His administration championed care for the mentally ill and handicapped like none prior. He founded the Peace Corps.

He proposed tax cuts and the economy grew.

He handled the Cuban Missile Crisis masterfully.  After an early misstep on the Bay of Pigs invasion, he was the cold-warrior par excellence.

He was tough. He was a Truman Democrat — which is to say he would be quite out of step with the Clinton and Obama agendas.

RIP JFK 100

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Blah Blah O’Reilly. . .

or Who’s next

He was rude. He was crude and he cut people off that often had more substantive things to say than he did  — like Dr. Krauthammer.  But frankly, I will miss him. I haven’t watched Fox News in over four months. I gave up the cable in mid-Dec, but prior to then I would watch Fox a couple evenings per week.

I began watching the cable news channels about 8 or 9 years ago. I quickly wearied of the snowflakes on CNN and MSNBC, and I started watching Fox almost as an afterthought. They seemed to have a more colorful bunch of talking heads. Initially, I was turned off by Bill-O’s arrogance. I much preferred Greta van Susteren. She was bright, balanced and overall a class act. However, once I got used to him, Bill-O kind of grew on me — as he apparently did with many other people. His show was far and away the most popular on the telly.

One of the things I looked forward to was his “Talking Points” segment at the beginning of his show. It was generally succinct editorializing of current topics, and more often than not I agreed with him. He was not an ideologue. He was not a strict conservative. He was more like “old school”– a product of his Irish Catholic, working class, Long Island roots. And actually he was more “fair and balanced” than most of the other talking heads on the 24-7 news networks.

Very likely the allegations of sexual harassment against him are true. It kind of goes along with his persona. If they were not true then he and the network should have gone to court. Win one suit and the accusers would all go away.

Even if they are true, I don’t much care. I don’t care in much the same vein as liberals and Democrats don’t care about the sexuality of Bill Clinton or the Kennedy boys. I’m not condoning his behavior, but I’ll give him the same pass. We live in a hopelessly fallen world. O’Reilly claims to be a man of faith. Ironically, the same day Fox cut him loose he was in Rome and had a few seconds with the Pope. Is he any worse than the biblical David? As far as I’m concerned his confession and repentance are strictly between him and God.

I suspect he will lay low for a few months and then he’ll resurface. He will probably be working on some writing projects. Maybe this time it will be: Killing O’Reilly.  I have to admit that I was more than a bit skeptical of his “history” killing series.  But I picked up a copy of his Killing Patton and started reading it in a bookstore. The few pages I read caused me to order it from the library. It was a compelling read. I don’t know how much credit should go to him or his co-author Martin Dugard–but it was definitely well done.

Several months back Fox got rid of Greta and in my estimation hurt themselves tremendously.  Then several of the leggy blonde news babes left — some claiming sexual harassment. And now they’ve sanctimoniously cut the goose that laid the golden egg.  In my humble opinion Fox is cooked — no more number one.

O’Reilly’s fans will miss him on the tube. Maybe, he’ll just have a radio show. Maybe, like Oprah or Glenn Beck, he will start his own cable network. I kind of hope so. Maybe he will have time to introspect and learn something about sexual harassment. The world has moved on. Fox’s corporate culture, like Bill-O, seemed stuck in the 1950s. Hopefully, something positive will be birthed from his comeuppance.

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Lonely But Never Really Alone

“Alone prevents a sole pretense…”

The above was a line from a poem in the student literary magazine of New Mexico State University circa 1963.  It was written by a student a year or two older than I and it struck me as profound–and it stuck in my mind.

Around the same era there was a critically acclaimed Brit movie The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I saw it when it first came out. It popped into my mind during my 38-minute Sunday morning walk.  Well, I’m not a long distance runner and any more barely a long distance walker, but I guess it popped into my thoughts because per most holiday weekends I feel alone. Today is Easter, Resurrection Sunday.

My official Celebrate Recovery (CR) testimony begins: “I am an only child and I think because of that I’ve felt lonely most of my life. Both of my parents were seriously bipolar. They were married and divorced to each other twice before I was seven. In between marriages to each other my mother had a brief marriage to a small town eccentric named Paul.”  And so it goes. My point is that much of what has shaped me has to do with being an only child in a very dysfunctional family.

Well, when I was a kid I thought I came from a pretty big family and of course I didn’t realize that it was “dysfunctional” — as a kid you just accept what is and think it’s like every other family.  My maternal grandmother was my biggest source of emotional support. She came from a family of ten siblings, and so when I was little I attended several massive Murphy family reunions. They were Irish, French and Chippewa — exuberant, and heavy drinkers. They were always coming to visit from Toledo and Detroit and we were always dropping in on them. On my father’s side there were also family reunions, tho smaller and less loud due to their somewhat dour Scottish/German character.

Anyway, today all the principle characters of those memorable events are long dead and most of their descendants have moved far, far away.  By my late-50s I had lost both parents and all three uncles. My uncles were all childless and so there is a dearth of cousins.

What I have left is a few 2nd and 3rd cousins up in Ohio and my stepson and his family out in California. Today, I wish I were up in Ohio or California. My cousin Mary Sue will likely prepare a big traditional dinner and invite all the family, and out in sunny Cali my son and the grandchildren will go over to Grammy Nancy’s for an Easter egg hunt. Both events will be fun.

My “family” moment today will likely occur after church later this afternoon.  A group of six or seven of us Sunday-niters will go out to dinner after Northland’s five p.m. service. It will be a bit bittersweet as last Sunday Pastor Joel announced that in two weeks there will be no more Sunday nite services. Going to Northland Sunday evening has been my routine for the past 24-years.

Anyway, as I was walking this morning I kept rolling around in my thoughts the big “why?” regarding my lonely life. Sometimes it’s self-pity and sometimes I’m just puzzled. The alone feeling is enhanced when you feel like you’re facing big challenges like health or finances, but likely most of my present “challenges” are in my own mind — it’s what obsessives do.

I strongly believe that God is in charge of every detail and so my loneliness must have something to do with His will. And I think, “Well, maybe I’m not worthy of having another wife or a big family.”  Or nonsense like, “God is sparing some lovely woman misery by keeping me out of her life.” Anyway, I suppose its silly to think about another relationship as I’m well past my prime. My marriage ended 30-years ago. My son lived with me a few years back in the early-90s and in 2011, I had a roommate for a few months, but other than that I’ve lived alone.

But God has kept me alone for some very good reason. Those with a strong evangelical/missionary bent might say it’s so I can be more effective in ministry.  I’ve done a few this and thats that qualify as ministry.  Maybe Paul was right– but I ain’t the Apostle. . . or anything close.

Sometimes I think it has to do with growth. That’s where the quote that prefaces this blog come in. Being alone does tend to strip away all your pretenses — of which I have many.  Sometimes I think my life has been one long painful growth experience — God winnowing away layer upon layer of crud. Sadly, oft times new layers emerge. God wants honest people. Not that being dishonest precludes a life of ministry.  I could name a few both living and dead who’ve positively touched thousands of lives more times than I could ever imagine. Some not terribly honest, but the same God who can speak thru a donkey can use the most unlikely of people.

 Anyway, I know that God is always, always present. Sometimes He lets me know that He’s there and sometimes I have to tune Him in.  At its worst loneliness has been another idol but at its best it’s like the title of my book on depression, it has been another “Unwelcome Blessing” –and I also know God roots for the home team. . . and I think I qualify.

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The Want of Power and Control: Everyone’s Temptation

 

“The Christian must bear the burden of a brother. . . It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not an object to be manipulated.”  ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer’s statement poses a critical question for every Christian.  Are we here to love and to help our neighbors bear their burdens–or will our usual stance toward them be one of manipulation, power and control?

Just as Satan offered Jesus the whole world with all its power and glory (Luke 4, Matt. 4), so too are we all offered a similar bargain. In essence, it is whether we will serve the devil and all the malevolent forces of world and flesh — controlling others by our power, our status, our glory, our tricks, or whatever means we have–or whether will we allow other people the freedom to choose their own way in life.

The fact is that most of us to varying degrees choose to make captives of other people. Much of this is unconscious and easily forgivable –but some choices to manipulate and control  are deliberate and willful and desperately evil. Power, and its nefarious twin, the need to control, is the essential evil because it is the essential idol. It is the idol of playing god. It is the power that Satan sought when he rebelled against God the Father in deep antiquity.

The Truth and Freedom

Scripture tells us that shortly after the wilderness temptations Jesus announced in a synagogue (quoting from Isaiah) that he’d come to set people free (Luke 4:18). One wonders what that really means. It is doubtful that He was proclaiming freedom for the many slaves who populated the Roman Empire at the time. He was not advocating rebellion and this wasn’t some Lincolnesque Emancipation Proclamation.

Later, He told people that the truth would set us free. (John 8:32)  Most Christians know that verse. Some also know “that where the Spirit of the the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17)  But freedom from what one asks?

In Galatians 5:1, Paul says it is that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  Paul was proclaiming freedom from the law requiring male circumcision as a mark for believers. Also, in Ephesians 4:8 he tells us that Jesus, “led captivity captive. . .” More than just onerous legalism, I believe the captivity he is referring to is the prison of our own fallen natures. And very much of that fallen human nature is wanting to play a god in the lives of others — wanting to control others, wanting to have worldly power. It is desiring the power Satan offers — ultimately the power of no restraints or morality.

Healing the Blind

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” (Luke 4:18)

Although Jesus and the apostles did physically heal the blind, I think the “sight” Jesus was offering was “insight” into His Father’s kingdom — a new vision–and a new intimacy with God the Father. And although we have had nearly two millennia of Christian doctrine and evangelism, most of humanity remains blind and oppressed. They remain prisoners obsessed with wanting control over others.

It is my belief that much of the oppression is the self-oppression of not trusting God. We do not trust God and we display that lack of trust in our rampant need to control every circumstance in our life, including other people. We obsess about things like the weather, earthquakes and crime so much because they are beyond our control. However, the behavior of others is usually the greatest unpredictable factor in our life, and that is something we unconsciously think we can control.  And so our unconscious fears demand that we control the “neighbors” that Jesus told us we are to love as much as one’s self. Instead of bearing their burdens, we feel we must neutralize them and control them for us to have safety and plenty. And we control them because we do not trust, and we do not trust because we really don’t accept the freedom that Jesus offers.

In The Beginning

 The need to control every facet of our life space is part of humanity’s relentless post-Eden search for safety in a chaotic, fallen creation. We know that we are not God but we try to play God. When the reality that we are imperfect and not godlike comes crashing down on us then we, like Adam, either blame God or seek a scapegoat (Eve). And when that doesn’t quell our existential angst us we try to control our environment and everyone in it. The upside is that our existential anxiety eventually leads to a quest to understand and control both the natural universe and our own conflicted psyches.

The quote from Bonhoeffer that prefaces this is the stance of far too many Christians when it comes to our fellows on our after-the-fall journey. It makes me think of the old Father Flanagan Boys Town meme: “He ain’t heavy father, He’s my brother.” Sadly, more often than not, we treat others not as our brothers, but as objects to be manipulated and controlled.

Ministry or Manipulation?

Young children need to be controlled for their own safety, and a parent that does not provide limits, boundaries and controls is derelict. However, in the case of other adults, we often think we are controlling them for their own good as well–but nevertheless, in spite of our good intentions, we are still manipulating them and making prisoners of them. The “for their own good” rationale is merely a self-justification for an all too human predilection. We are not allowing them either free will or the freedom that Jesus promised.

A decade ago a friend said something terribly profound which I’ve rolled around in my thoughts ever since. She said that for the Christian all relationships were either about “ministry or manipulation.” I do not know if that was an original insight with her but I’ve never encountered that paradigm anywhere else. However, the above quote from Bonhoeffer comes close.

As for me, the more I am aware that I have the choice of ministry or manipulation, that I have the choice of playing god or ministering, and the more I choose ministry, the better things work out. When in the love of Jesus we minister to another they maintain their freedom and their dignity–and so do we. Making a slave out of another via either power or manipulation ultimately never ends well.

Caesar v. Jesus

Caesar chose power and control, Jesus chose ministry. Jesus said to give to Caesar what was his. But Caesar is just an archetype for Stalin, Hitler, Mao and every other major or minor dictator and petty controller–and every selfish egoist boss/tyrant who’s ever lived. Those of us who’ve grown up in the USA or the UK have never lived under a dictatorship, but we’ve all felt the grasp of a petty dictator on the back of our neck at one time or another. Most likely it was a micro-managing boss, friend, parent or spouse. Unfortunately, their search for safety and predictability involved making another a serf.

An Idolatrous Freedom

Sadly, the freedom that many crave is not freedom in Christ but a freedom that is an idol. It is the “freedom” of bondage to ego, selfishness and sin: “Nobody has the right to tell me that I can’t smoke weed, drive like a maniac, beat my kids, own a machine gun, worship a demonic entity–or tell me I have to pay taxes.” Many who live in the USA, and especially those from the political right who yammer on and on about “freedom” are really just seeking permission to sin, and using the freedom promised in the Constitution as an rationalization.

Under Authority

Being “under authority” is an excuse for all sorts of egregious power and control justifications in Christianity. It is the ideological underpinning of cults and draconian denominational control. All cults, as well as many denominations, seek to dictate every aspect of their adherent’s lives — not just beliefs, but friendships, dress and diet as well.

“Whenever a Christian follows authority figures who don’t allow questions about themselves or their direction or teaching, get out and don’t look back. Whenever someone says he knows what’s best for your life, better than you do; whenever someone says that she speaks for God; whenever someone pretends to be other than a flawed human being who makes mistakes and sometimes gets it wrong — that person is sitting on a pedestal of his or her own making, and if you don’t destroy it, God will. So many freedom-destroying things we do are connected to an irresponsible decision to allow others to be to us what only God is supposed to be.”  ~ Rev. Steve Brown

The cult that I’m most familiar with, Bill Gothard’s IBLP, intruded into every aspect of his followers lives. He gave them advice on dress, diet, health and with whom they could associate . He spoke of an “umbrella of authority” and of course the umbrella was held in his hand. He tried to anchor his somewhat idiosyncratic teachings in biblical principles–and he maintained that his umbrella was there for protection of the vulnerable — mostly women and children –who clearly in his biblical view are not equal to men

However, Gothard was on the “pedestal” that Steve Brown warned of, and Gothard is currently being sued by young ladies formerly in his charge for unwanted advances. However, the IBLP is just one cult among thousands. The largest cults in this country are the Jehova’s Witnesses and the Mormons. What cults typically have in common is a charismatic leader or founder and top down control.

Oh, That’s God. . .

A story: A man dies and goes to heaven. He’s waiting in the antechamber along with many other souls for St Peter to come and check him in. Suddenly, a man bursts into the room wearing a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck. He barks out orders and helper-angels frantically scurry around. He leaves and silence is restored. Twenty minutes later he charges in again and the same frantic activity ensues. Then, the scene is replayed a third time. Finally, the man apprehensively awaiting St. Peter asks the receptionist about the man giving orders.  She replies, “Oh, that’s God, He’s playing doctor.”

Well, that’s a crude illustration about the folks (physicians) who generally have the most power and prestige in our society. They have the power to write magic scripts for big mojo. They have the power of life and death. For some, they have supplanted God. We allow them control in our lives to an unnatural degree. We want to be safe and healthy and so we cede them the power. And sadly, I think many go into medicine not so much to be healers as they do to be controllers.

The Law

The law, as in attorneys, are other major power people in our society. I recall reading once that per capita we have nine times as many attorneys as they do in Japan. I’m  certain that the USA leads the whole world in the sheer number of attorneys, and I’m also certain that says something not very complimentary about us. We contend. We do not decide things based on honor, tradition or consensus. We decide things based on power. Usually, we do not follow “the spirit of the law” but instead “the letter of the law.” To maintain control in a situation we seek a bigger and bad-er attorney than our opponent.

Question: What is 1500 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? Answer: A good start! Pa-da bum!

That little joke illustrates our love/hate relationship with attorneys and the law. Love them or hate them — we need them, and for some things like contracts and torts they are essential. Like physicians, lawyers have their own idiosyncratic language that is more or less opaque to lay people. They like it that way. They keep it that way. It gives them power and control.

The New Power People

A century or more ago there were only three “professions” — lawyers, physicians and clergy. They were the power people. They had the power of life and death and the ear of the Almighty. Today, professionals are as likely to be an engineer, a tech guru or a government bureaucrat.

The newest gods of power and might are the techno-gods like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk or Ray Kurzweil. When our computer goes down we call the Geek Squad and they come out in their little yellow bug. They insert a disc, click some icons, say some mumbo jumbo and order is restored to the universe. Well, at least temporarily until the next tech crisis ensues.

Engineers and techies are the new power people, and like lawyers and physicians and government bureaucrats before them, they have their own indecipherable language. The manual that came with my new digital TV was completely opaque to reason. I read it and read it again. Presumably, these procedures were composed by a “technical writer”–but they were useless.  I sat cursing the snowy screen until a friend came over and unscrambled it. He was able to help me because some true techies, his son-in-law and brother-in-law, had showed him how to “program” his digital TV. And one wonders if the jargon of techies is deliberately opaque. It does make them necessary and lend them a certain power.

Power and Control

The compulsion to control others infects all of our human endeavors: religion, medicine, education, law and government, science and technology. It is the great corrupter of both systems and relationships. On a mega-scale it is what causes wars and in a micro-arena what is an oppressive boss or spouse except someone needing to exercise power and control over another. And murder is little more than the ultimate control of another. Far too much of human history is the story of Cain and Abel multiplied by billions.

Much of what has been written on the topic of power/control in the past couple decades has focused on dysfunctional relationships and child abuse. The men who relentlessly seek power over their partners and children are invariably insecure and fearful–but their insecurity and fear is often masked by narcissism and violence. In their world, they are the only people who matter. With the most extreme narcissists other people are only there to be controlled and used. But most users, manipulators and controllers are not extreme narcissists, they are just frightened folks who view the freedom of others as a threat to their security.

It is my contention that the desire to exercise control over others is so pervasive that it seems almost an integral part of the human condition, and it is obvious that narcissists and uber-egoists have this drive in spades. However, the most vulnerable to being extreme controllers are those with low ego strength or damaged self-worth. Folks who have been subjected to massive parental criticism, parental neglect or abuse, and those who have suffered deep betrayal are generally going to be more threatened by situations and relationships where they have tenuous control.

A couple I’ve worked with provide a good example. It is the second marriage for both and both suffered infidelity in their previous marriage. However, the husband has better than average ego-strength and he survived the infidelity fairly well. He realized that the cheating was not about him but about his ex’s issues. The new wife, on the other hand, came from a very large, unaffectionate family. She grew up feeling neglected and unloveable. Though, as a survivor she’s in some sense a strong woman, she grew up feeling very insecure, and the betrayal in her first marriage heightened that insecurity. Though a self professed seriously Christian woman, she resents her husband’s involvement in their church and his close relationship with its pastor.

Why?  Because his relationship with God, the church and the pastor are areas of his life beyond her sphere of influence and control. She can criticize the church and say she dislikes the pastor but it doesn’t change her husband’s mind one bit. His relationship with his pastor and his involvement with the church go back a decade, whereas his relationship with her is less than two years. When pressed about her criticisms she can offer no reasonable explanation because her dislike is all based on unconscious feelings.

Hypnodynamic Control

“Hypnodynamic” is what I term the paradigm for acquiring control of others. It is a three step process: (1) Create anxiety, cognitive dissonance or heightened anticipation. (2) Suggest a resolution that relaxes the victim, (3) Attention, trust and control is gained.

I call it hypnodynamic because it is how a skilled hypnotist, or manipulator, gains the attention and control of an unsuspecting and often unwilling person (or public). On a mass scale its what politicians from Hitler on down to the present have employed. Create anxiety by creating a monstrous threat — Communism, Capitalist Bankers, The Elders of Zion (Jews), famine, overpopulation or climate change (global warming), etc.  But the master hypnotist, the master manipulator/controller, will suggest a solution that will put the individual or the masses at ease–and thus fear and dissonance abates and harmony is restored.

On a smaller scale, say a cult, the leader spells out a threat like the the outside world or unbelievers. The solution that leads to harmony is for one to cede control to the cult.  Similarly, in many relationships the dynamic is the fear of abandonment. The controlling partner strikes an unconscious deal with the dependent partner. The deal is: “I will never abandon you but you must cede total control to me.”  When that’s broken you sometimes hear about it in the headlines the next day. It’s usually about a man offing his wife–and sometimes his kids and himself.

Docs, Health and Big Pharma

Physicians and Big Pharma scare the bjeebers out of us with a focus on disease (not health) and of course they have the solutions, they have the power. They have practically invented obscure diseases and then bombarded us with advertisements for the pills to “cure” the maladies. They have an impressive array of technology and tests that a few years ago were only imagined in science fiction.

We confess our transgressions to the nurse and then the doctor. Sometimes they counsel us on nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices, but more often than not they write magic words on paper which we take to the pharmacy. We gobble down the pills like a sacrament. We may briefly repent by a change in lifestyle but the statistics on self-generated diseases due to obesity, stress and addictions are such that its obvious that any repentance in our contemporary First World society is quite transitory. And in their heart of hearts I think many physicians like it that way. It keeps them needed–and it gives them the power.

The Great Physician

Jesus has been referred to as the Great Physician. So how did he treat His patients? We know of His many miraculous healings — the Gospels are chock full–but beyond the many anonymous He ministers to He provides us with a powerful and lasting example.

    “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love.” ~ John 13:1

At the Last Supper, on the night before he was crucified, Jesus provides us with the ultimate example of how we should minister to our brothers and sisters. It is an act of humility. He becomes a humble servant. He washes his disciples feet and tells them to do likewise, and he says that they will be “blessed” if they follow his example and serve others.

Also, in Matthew 20 the mother of James and John asks Jesus if her sons could be seated at his right and left in His kingdom. Jesus replies, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Chapters 13 thru 17 of the Gospel of John is referred to as the “final discourse.”  In these chapters Jesus gives the disciples and us a glimpse into His Father’s kingdom and He also gives us our marching orders. It’s a life of serving our neighbors, and in a sense, a life of healing others.

And does how we are to live our lives relate back to the “freedom” that Jesus declares at the beginning of His story?  Are we indeed made free by a life of ministry and servanthood?  I know that as for myself when I choose ministry instead of manipulation and control things always seem to work out better. I know that I’m happier when I try to follow the example Jesus provides.

In the Garden of Trees

In the beginning there are two trees in Eden that loom over man and creation. There is the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. The Tree of Knowledge is the forbidden knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17). We all know the tale of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace by tasting its proscribed fruit. My contention is that via tasting the fruit of “knowledge” they sought the same route to a “power” that strictly belongs to their Creator. Seeking power, and the power found in knowledge, doomed mankind to millennia of restless seeking and misery. That pretty much encompasses the history of civilization– one tyrant or nation seeking control over another.

At the end of the story in Revelation 22:2 there is the Tree of Life. And between the two trees that frame Scripture there is another –the tree that is lifted up — the tree of our Savior’s crucifixion. The love of knowledge and power is transformed by the Love that begets love.

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3-30-30

Thirty years ago today, 3-30-87, Judge Kirkland, Seminole County’s official “hangin’ judge” said, “It’s over”– or words to that effect. He officially declared us divorced.  Our nine year marriage was done, null and void, finis. The judge vaguely remembered me from me having testified in a few cases. He was considered Seminole’s toughest judge, but he was always nice to me. I had the feeling that he was curious about the divorce but he didn’t prolong the suspense by asking any questions and so in a matter of minutes the marriage that I thought was forever was officially declared kaput.

My wife didn’t show up for the hearing. I didn’t expect that she would. I was accompanied by a friend and witness. After court we went to one Sanford’s downtown eateries and had breakfast — eggs with biscuits and gravy made for an odd coda to the life-altering event of the morning.

The marriage ended but the relationship didn’t–and that’s what this blog is really about. It’s about my difficulty in giving up on the past — people and relationships. Other people seem to move on but I usually don’t. I could say it’s because I’m an only child and that in some sense I’ve felt lonely all of my life. I could also give it up to being codependent, and that’s true too.  I also tend to be obsessive. I’m ruminative. I go over and over things in my mind, perpetually trying to fix the past. Obsessiveness is a type of problem solving gone awry. At least that’s what I tell my clients.

My wife and I have kept somewhat in touch over the years. Though I’ve only seen her in the flesh twice since 1992, we’ve exchanged cards and letters a couple of times a year every year. In 2003, she sold our 5-acre property out in the Black Hammock area and pointed her Dodge pickup truck west. She went all the way to Mexico and for a few months she wandered in the wilderness like the Israelites–but eventually she found her promised land. She loved Sedona but she settled in the Phoenix area. Or maybe she just ran out of money there. I’m not sure.

As time has gone on her twice a year letters have gotten shorter and vaguer — usually just a platitude or two peppered with Bible verses. They reveal nothing about her life. If she even has a phone, she’s given her number to absolutely nobody I know — not even her son. It’s not so much that she likes being mysterious, more like being elusive and difficult to understand or pin down.

The last time I saw her was Memorial Day weekend of 2001. Time had not been kind to her. The effects of heavy smoking and too many hours in the sun kind of took my breath away.  I’m not sure why exactly but I thought she would always look great — somehow defying the effects of aging.  At age 44 she was still one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen but by 53 her youth and looks were all but faded.

We spent over seven of our nine years together living in a dilapidated mobile home on acreage in the Black Hammock near Oviedo.  In Florida, a hammock is high ground in the middle of a swamp. We lived there because my wife had horses. We had dogs and cats and chickens too. Several times a year I dream about that mobile home and our property out in the woods. Sometimes it looks like it did in reality but usually it’s surreal and dreamlike — generally bigger, sometimes a two story trailer. She’s hardly ever in the dream, mostly I’m waiting for her to come home.  Many of the best memories of my rather long adult life are contained in the marriage and in that home.

In the ecology of dreamtime the beat up trailer is me — my consciousness. It’s her too. Its rooms and the land are the various parts of us. I keep dreaming about it because I keep trying to fix it — to put us back together again, to make sense out of that which is beyond comprehension. That’s what codependents try to do. God brought us together. Of that I am sure. That is a whole ‘nother story– but the improbability of us is quite impressive.

But my ex-wife is not the only MIA in my life. It drives me nuts when people are your friends for a season or two and then disappear. I should be used to it by now because it happens all the time. I have to remind myself that it’s not about me, its about them and their issues. Maybe I’m just too sentimental. I tend to want to hang on to friendships forever. It’s why I used to enjoy Facebook so much before it got consumed by political rancor.  It probably has something to do with being an only child and having almost no surviving relatives — my stepson and his family out in California and a few cousins up in Ohio are about it.

There are folks I have called BFFs who I rarely hear from now. I have old home church friends who yammered on and on about how Christ’s Body is “family” who I also never hear from.  After several decades I tracked down two of my closest buddies from the time I lived in New Mexico. I got their phone numbers from information and called them out of the blue. Neither could remember who I was — talk about deflating!  I’m sure I think about the past waaay too much — certainly more than most–and I suppose that’s why the memory of those friendships are so alive in my thoughts. . . but obviously in their thoughts, not so much.

There is an old convention in newspaper journalism that when a piece is done “30” is scribbled at the end. It seems fitting.

 

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Sports Talk

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher, ‘Everything is meaningless.'” Ecclesiastes 12:8

Okay, so I’m officially an old fart. I’m reminded of that when I occasionally listen to sports talk radio. I never cease to be amazed at how much enthusiasm and “knowledge” the hosts display over that which in the big picture matters absolutely nil. Overall, I guess I’ve become pretty blase or sated when it comes to sports.

A decade ago I estimated that I’d spent six or seven years of my life either watching sports, talking about sports or fantasizing about being a great athlete.  And like I mentioned that was at least 10 yrs ago. Sports are a fairly common male preoccupation (along with sex). But thank God, as I’ve gotten older both obsessions seem to have faded some. The testosterone lamp that lights both is running low on fuel.

However, last weekend there began an event about which I still get excited: the NCAA basketball tourney — AKA March Madness. And for a couple minutes Friday I tuned in 580AM the local sport talk station and the hosts were asking listeners about their first memorable memory of the NCAA “Big Dance” tourney. One caller said well, “Back in 2003. . .” and another, “I remember in 1999 when. . .”

And I thought good grief my first memorable NCAA had Jerry West and his West Virginia Mountaineers pitted against the University of California Bears. Cal won in a close game. We lived in New Mexico then and I listened to that game on the radio with my mother and a engineer she was dating who was a Cal Berkeley grad. Uh, that was 1959. The following year I was back in Ohio and the 1960 tourney featured Ohio State with Jerry Lucas and company crushing the same Cal team. Now those were memorable games. I was tempted to call in but didn’t.

It struck me that most of the callers to this talk show were “kids” in their 20s and 30s who only had the vaguest idea who Jerry West was. To them he was the GM of the LA Lakers and not one of the greatest players of all time. To them, basketball history pretty much started with Micheal Jordan in the 1990s. To them, Bill Russell, Jerry Lucas, the Big-O, Wilt the Stilt and Bob Cousy were all legendary characters they’d seen in bits of archival black and white footage of but had never seen play live, and to them these were not men who would figure in the pointless “who is the greatest of all time” debate.

It almost bothers me that I can still get excited about the tournament. Big money has pretty much ruined it for me. All the really good players are “one and done” — there is no more loyalty to a school. I stopped watching the Olympics back in the 1980s when it became apparent that there were no more true amateurs. Today, sport is all about complex contracts, lucrative endorsements and bizarre sums of money.

I recall reading a biography of Whitey Ford. In the early-1960s Ford was one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball. At the height of his career he was making $75,000. and he marveled at no longer having to work an off-season job. I remember when in the mid-1970s baseball’s best hitter at the time Rod Carew was finally rewarded with a six figure contract– 100K then would be like maybe 500K today– a goodly sum but by today’s standards pretty much peanuts. Today, Ford and Carew would command at least 20-million a year, probably much more. But these men considered themselves blessed to be paid well to play a kid’s game. Today, its all about bling and mega-mansions.

A decade ago I published Satan’s Top Ten Tricks — a perennial best seller in the Northland Church bookstore — on Amazon dot com. . . not so much. Anyway, Trick # 5 is called “Distraction — filling our thoughts with gossip, obsessions, trivia and irrelevant amusements.”  Unfortunately, sport is one of those things we fill our thoughts with to keep from looking at life’s big questions. Don’t get me wrong, some amusements are a much needed source of joy in our life–but they tend to get out of hand and become an addiction.  I’m glad that I don’t spend as much time watching or fantasizing about sports–but truth be told, it’s not so much that I’ve grown up but just gotten old.

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TDS

The new diagnostic category TDS is not likely to be included in the American Psychiatric Association’s official diagnostic manual DSM-V anytime soon. It just reeks too much of political incorrectness –and the APA is all about going along with the postmodern trends du jour. Diagnoses that were in the DSM-III are not in DSM-V.  What was a sickness in 1980, is normative now. I go all the way back to DSM-II and wonder “where have all the neurasthenics gone, long time passing.”

Anyway, TDS is not so much a condition in itself as it is one that brings out existing underlying pathology. It has to do with reality and ones ability to accept what is rather than how one wants a thing to be. Those who suffer from TDS are acutely sensitive to cognitive dissonance. TDS and its pernicious effects was first brought to my attention by Larry Elder the black conservative talk-show host.

Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) started on election night. First there was shock and disbelief often followed by a state of agitated depression. However, in contrast to agitation some TDS-ers became isolative. Some just wanted to lie in bed and weep. Initially, the popular media referred to TDS sufferers as “snowflakes.”

The TDS depression stage quickly devolves into tantruming. In TDS one’s sensory ability becomes clouded and reasoning becomes totally subservient to infantile wants and needs. TDS is characterized by magical thinking. That is, the thought will cause it to happen. TDS-ers do irrational things like carry protest signs and destroy property in an unrealistic belief that it will magically cause Trump to resign or somehow start a movement to impeach.

Another sign of TDS is deep unrepentant anger. TDS sufferers tend to post one mean-spirited misleading meme, fake or exaggerated “news” story after another in social media. Comparing Trump to Hitler and referring to him as racist, misogynist or anti-gay is all part of the mix. They justify irresponsible discharges of rage by viewing themselves as innocent victims and therefore they feel their anger is righteous. Generally, their anger is only exceeded by their sanctimony. Also, displaying their feelings in social media furthers some vain hope that it will lend their vapid lives a greater purpose.

Some of the first reports on TDS pathology mentioned people refusing to attend social events with Trumpers, disowning relatives and unfriending Facebook friends.  Calling for impeachment before he even took the oath of office was an indication of how out of touch some with TDS became. Recent examples of TDS in the public square are the New York Times reporter who referred to Melania Trump as a prostitute, and several major retailers like Target and Nordstrom’s dropping the Ivanka Trump clothing line. The retailers decisions are impulsive and hasty, and may cost them business via a backlash of Trump supporters boycotting their stores.

However, the truly tragic effect of TDS is that some behave in such a mean-spirited manner that they are led to attack the President’s family. An SNL player made nasty comments about 10-year old Baron Trump. They were made to apologize — but so what? Another blogger speculated that he was autistic. And what in the world does Ivanka’s clothing line have to do with her dad being President? The attacks on Trump’s family are not caused by his erratic behavior or his nasty tweets.

However, TDS does reveal character. TDS erases the mask of civility and sanity of the uber-left “progressives.” So in some sense, TDS does serve a higher purpose. It is just immeasurably sad that some are so profoundly TDS  that they lash out like mad dogs and attack perfectly innocent people.

TDS, Type II (Deplorables)

Just as the APAs diagnostic manual has a Bipolar Disorder Type II so too have I identified a Type II Trump Derangement Syndrome. These folks are characterized by equally tenuous ties to reality. While generally not delusional they do posses unrealistic optimism. They often make light of their disorder by referring to themselves as “deplorables.” They tend to make excuses for Trump’s often boorish behavior and see brilliance in his every gaffe. In their eyes he can do no wrong.

Overall, the Type II TDSers tend to be unrealistically happy and optimistic. This may be due to many have spent the past eight years in a depressed state. To the Type II’s Trump’s glass (and thus theirs) is always more than half-full — in fact its positively overflowing. They tend to be a bit hypo-manic and while not completely grandiose are filled with an unrealistic optimism.  Generally, they are more likeable and easy to be around — that is unless you happen to be a over-the-top Hillary supporter or a sanctimonious Obama type of progressive.

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