Y’ALL

And other disrespectful discharges of anger. That’s almost always the case when I hear folks addressed with that colloquial contraction. I listen to what people say a lot more carefully than anybody I know, and I’m acutely aware of discharges of anger–probably because I have more than enough myself. And when I’m addressed as “y’all” something inside me pushes the alarm button. And no, it’s not Southern, it’s ghetto-ese.

But wait, there’s more. . .

Part of this awareness of language is because I’m both a writer and a psychotherapist. To a great extent, listening to what people say is because of what I do for a living– most of counseling is listening. I listen to what clients say very carefully because people reveal their unconscious thoughts aloud–although they are not aware of it. There is a phenomenon called projective identification. We know from Psych 101 that projection is attributing to someone else what’s inside of us. But projective identification is actually recreating our feelings, some feeling that we’re experiencing, in another person. It’s a totally unconscious process and it occurs instantaneously.

Projective identification is something that even many in my field do not fully understand. You have to be trained in listening to unconscious processes revealed thru language–and I was fortunate to be trained by a master in this technique, Dr Eugene Silverstein.

So, be careful how you use words. There is not only meaning in words but a power in words as well. After all, God spoke the universe into existence, and we are made in His image. We create a reality thru our words.

Anyway, anytime someone addresses me as y’all I feel at the very least disrespected. It takes away my individuality and generally casts me in the same basket with a bunch of somebody’s notion of jerks and undesirables. Somebody is probably venting and I’m in their crosshairs.

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The Sinner’s Prayer

“Oh God, I am a sinner. I need Jesus Christ to come into my life and become my Lord and Savior. I give my life to thee.”

Late one evening in late September of 1979, I found those words in a 1972, book on end times prophecy by Tim LaHaye. (Some of you will recall that decades later LaHaye was co-author With Jerry B. Jenkins of the hugely popular Left Behind series.) Anyway, at the end of Chapter Three in The Beginning of the End, Rev. LaHaye asks the reader if they had never invited Jesus into their life to pray those words. A bit skeptical, but with the utter sincerity born of desperation, I read those words.

What happened next was totally unexpected and quite shattering. A current ran thru my body like an electric shock and a voice in my head quite unlike any I’d ever heard or experienced said, “Where have you been Carl? I’ve been waiting for you all these years.”

Just recalling that night brings tears to my eyes. However, I’m a born skeptic and an also trained skeptic: an experimental psychologist. But what happened that night was so powerful–and real–that every doubt I’d ever had about God and his love for me evaporated in a millisecond. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that He lived and that I mattered to Him. I felt like I’d been on a long journey and had suddenly come home–much like the prodigal of Jesus’ parable.

At that time in my life, I was married with a stepson. We lived in a dilapidated mobile home on 5-acres in the Black Hammock swamp near Oviedo FL. My wife was a student at UCF, and I had a stressful, dead-end job at the local community mental health center. We were always strapped for money. To cope I read voraciously and mostly what I read were New Age spirituality books. One of the books that found its way into our home–and I’m not sure how–was Tim LaHaye’s book on end times. I thought it looked interesting, and as far as ai knew just another New Age book–but with a bit of a Christian twist.

At that time in my life I’d been an avowed agnostic since age 13. Oh, I’d attended Sunday school at the local Lutheran church, and learned cute irrelevant stories about Noah’s ark and Samson’s hair, etc. And then in the fifth grade was sent to a Roman Catholic boarding school run by Ursuline nuns and indoctrinated with an intense, almost medieval religiosity. In a way I found that intensity appealing, but I only attended there one year–and two years later began the all-consuming firestorm of puberty.

So, whereas I was not unchurched, I did not have a solid foundation in Christ and the totally unexpected stresses of puberty caused me to wonder why if God loved me, was I being tormented by the changes in my body–and what other realities had my parents and other adult mentors not told me about. My trust in believing most every adult was forever shattered–a skeptic and agnostic had been birthed.

The version of the Sinner’s Prayer that I read that night is the bare bones one. I have heard many more that are longer and more flowery–usually emphasizing what a sinner one has been and how in need of salvation. And BTW, this prayer is not found in Holy Scripture. For those literal souls who worship the Bible instead of its Author it should be ample proof that God often works in an extra-scriptural fashion. Many thousands have prayed that prayer and given their lives to Christ.

I have no clue as to why the Lord chose Tim LaHaye’s book and the Sinner’s Prayer as the instrument of my salvation. But I am forever grateful. That fateful night in ’79 started me on a now 43-year ongoing journey toward Christian maturity. Like any, my life has had its ups and downs–slow, fallow times of little growth and others of a Holy Spirit led quickening.

However, if YOU have not given your life to Jesus Christ I urge you to take a chance and read the prayer at the top of the page. Read it with sincerity and an open heart. It will be the best decision you will ever make.

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Omega Man on the Scapegoat Continuum: DJT

He was almost certainly another Hitler.  Well at least the most evil man on the planet since Hitler and Stalin.  Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Osama, Saddam, all small potatoes next to The Donald.  An avowed nationalist, and so it goes without saying, a racist. He was building a wall to keep brown skinned people out. . . and the alt-right cheered wildly — and so he must be a nazi.

Throw in misogynist, sexist and anti-Semite to boot. No matter that his grandchildren and closest advisors are Jews. And that he’s the president who moved the US embassy to Jerusalem after others promised. He’s still clearly an anti-Semite.  Why? — mainly because there’s a significant percentage of Jews who don’t like him.  Also, no matter that he’s promoted dozens of capable ladies and minorities into executive positions in his companies and they most all speak of him kindly. He’s still clearly a misogynist. And a racist — we must never forget that.

A flood in Texas, a tornado in Tennessee, a hurricane in Florida, wildfires in California, a drought in Africa — all the Donald’s work. After all he was the prime architect of Global Warming. And Global warming is the biggest threat facing humanity. It must be so because Obama and Algor said it was.

Record low unemployment amongst blacks and Latinos, and at 3.7% the lowest unemployment in 50 years. But no matter, people have to work two jobs to make ends meet while The Donald gave tax cuts to his buddies the uber-wealthy. He clearly went into politics to line the pockets of his own family. No matter that he spent millions on getting elected and that his own net worth has declined considerably in the past two years.

The Dow went up — the Dow went down. When the stock market rose dramatically the mainstream media was either strangely silent or attributed it to Obama. But when the Dow tanks and loses 700 points in a day it clearly reflects a lack of confidence in Trump’s economic policies — and various pundits enlightened the audiences of CNN, MSNBC and government subsidized public television on the foolishness of Trump’s tax cuts and tariffs. No matter that liberal icon JFK cut taxes back in the 60s and stimulated the economy; and Reagan’s cuts had the same results in the 80s. Also, the pundits who point out a looming disaster fail to mention that the market has been largely over-bought for much of the past few years — starting under Obama.

A chronic paranoid schizophrenic commits a violent act, and it was clearly the result of Trump making the country crazy–well, that and him supporting the Second Amendment. Statistics show that violence by crazies was practically non-existent here in the USA before the era of DJT.  And him supporting the Second Amendment was a wink and a nod to nuts on the right to start toting guns and shooting up public places.

And think of all the celebs who moved to Canada after The Donald was elected. Oops, I forgot, none did. And then Trump caused Barbara Streisand to gain all that weight just by being Chief Executive. Alec Baldwin punches a guy over a parking spot. Clearly, he was taking his Trump impersonation too seriously–life imitating art.  And then we had a clown I’d never heard of named Jussie who was the star of some show I’d never heard of crudely and amateurishly orchestrate an attack on himself and try to pass it off as the work of MAGA-hat wearing racists. Well, he was arrested for being his own perp. The shine on the lives of Hollywood’s rich and famous truly diminished under DJT’s reign. And then The Donald got no credit for fueling the joke factories of the late nite talk buffoons.

Murphy’s Law: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Corollary #1: And anything that will go wrong on the world or national scene is Trump’s fault.

And now, nearly two years out of office the media and “Justice” Dept continue to harass him. Trump Derangement Syndrome is as enduring as Covid. It’s tiring just trying to keep track of all the Trump storylines, and yet he continues to seem like some Energizer Bunny of politics deftly dealing with it all. And it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities that three years from now he will be the Chief Executive again. I kind of hope that’s the case if for no other reason than to again watch the mainstream media and assorted snowflakes heads explode.

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Football: Old Fart Rant

I started following college and pro football in 1956–that’s American football. The rest of the world calls soccer, football, and that’s a game I’m increasingly drawn to BTW.

A good deal of the reason I’m drawn to soccer is that I’m more and more disgusted with how college and pro football has devolved. Anymore, it’s about nothing but big money: massive muti-million-dollar contracts, huge TV deals, bowl coalitions that are monopolies, etc.

And now, after a fashion, the NCAA is allowing college players to sell advertising (themselves), and to pretty much transfer to another school willy nilly–due to of some pandemic related nonsensical rationale it’s open season. Supposedly, schools can’t recruit, but hey let’s get real about the players motivation. In most cases the rich schools in terms of 5-star and 4-star talent just get richer.

In 1995, twenty-seven years ago I could see the handwriting on the wall. The NCAA did away with ties and instituted an artificial tie-breaker system that IMHOP cheapened the game. It was implemented I think to placate coaches and the more rabid fans. Coaches could not stand the ambiguity of a tie. It was all about winning. It was not about two teams playing hard and saying we both did well and we’re okay with calling it a draw. To me, a draw hearkens back to an era when sportsmanship was still part of the game. Ties are a big part of soccer.

Big money has broken up all the traditional college conferences. The most powerful and most lucrative conference is the SEC. A decade ago they gobbled up parts of the old Southwest Conference by adding Arkansas and Texas A&M. Now they’re destroying the Big-12 by taking their two most powerful schools Oklahoma and Texas. Previously, the southern based SEC had added the Midwest school Missouri from the Big-12. Now in retaliation the Big-10 is adding UCLA and Southern Cal. My sensibility reels. Geographically none of this makes any sense. The only sense is big bucks rule all.

I’ve always been a bigger fan of the college game than the NFL. However, that may be changing. The pros, and rightly so, are about nothing but money. At least they do not need to put on some sanctimonious front about education and amateur purity. And with the new transfer rules in the college game there is more continuity now within the NFL than the NCAA.

My biggest old-fart gripe about the NFL is specialization. Decades ago when I started following football the NFL rosters were capped at 38 players. Today, they allow 53 and have absurd specialists like long snappers for kicking field goals and extra points. When I started following the game in the late-50s and early-60s there were still a few two-way players. and I thought the game then was much more interesting.

As for money, players back then made a good living but second-string linemen did not become overnight millionaires. Back in the 1950s many players had off-season jobs. The widely acknowledged greatest game ever played, the 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the NY Giants, had players who were WW2 veterans. They may not of had the sheer speed and bulk of today’s players, but they were infinitely tougher.

Instant replay: I remember when it debuted in the 1960s. It seemed like magic being able to watch a great play again. Now it is way over-used. Every two yard run into the line is analyzed from three different angles and the commentators never shut up. They bombard the fans with tons of chatter and a moving tickertape at the bottom of the screen provides an overload of meaningless stats. After watching one game I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve watched three. I usually turn down the volume and sometimes shut it off altogether. Another similar unnecessary distraction that breaks up the flow of the game is allowing coaches to protest plays. This results in a several minute time out delay while the tape is analyzed from several different angles. I could see allowing one such protest but only in the fourth quarter.

And then there’s the commercials. Heisman House and Fansville being the worst. Apparently, the folks who make these ads believe football fans are morons. They may be right.

Oh, I could go on and on with my old-fart, the old days were better rant. . .

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HRH QE2 ~ She Was Our Queen Too

Yesterday, I felt very sad and was a bit teary-eyed when it was clear that the queen was fading–and then shortly it was announced that she had passed. She reigned for seventy years. She was born into one era and passed into eternity in another. She was one of the last of the greatest generation. During WW2 she was a princess but served in the military as a common mechanic and lorry driver.

There are undoubtedly a few my acquaintances and Fb friends and who do not feel as I feel about Elizabeth being our American queen. While not a part of the Commonwealth, the United States is one of Albion’s offspring. We share a common language and a common political and cultural heritage. I’ve always had a deep interest in history, and I was fortunate to have visited the UK on three occasions–in 2006, 2011 and 2012. Those visits resulted in a dozen or more Fb friends in the UK whose lives, in some sense, have become a part of my life.

The monarchy, but particularly the reign of Elizabeth II, gives folks in the UK and the Commonweath a sense of continuity and nobility in an increasingly divisive time. She reigned thru thirteen US presidencies. And of late, in the US we have been governed by a series of buffoons and knaves. While not the UK’s chief executive they have been fortunate to have had her example.

For those who do not understand my feelings about the queen, I recommend the Netflix series The Crown It is basically a somewhat fictionalized account of Elizabeth’s life. It takes poetic liberties for sure, but is based on real world events, and it accurately portrays the queen as a noble, exemplary monarch and a serious Christian.

I obviously didn’t know Elizabeth personally. I knew her thru historic events, thru The Crown, and by occasional public announcements like her annual Christmas message. And I suppose my sadness has as much to do with the passing of an era as that of a person. And per John Donne, particularly those of us over-70, the bell tolls for thee.

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Barb: 8/16/42 ~ 5/23/18

Today, Aug 16, 2022, would have been her 80th birthday.

I must be getting old too or maybe my mind is just too full of irrelevant stuff. When Aug 16 popped up on my calendar, I hesitated for a few seconds, and thought there’s something important about this date before Facebook Memories reminded me.

Actually, Facebook Memories reminded me that 8/16 was the anniversary of Elvis’ death in 1977, and then I thought oh yes and Barb’s birthday. It’s amazing that that was not my first thought this morning as she was my BFF. It’s also the birthday of two other friends. One, Jen, is younger and has a great job out in California, and I see her every so often when I’m out there visiting. My other 8/16 friend, Mary, committed suicide about 8 or 9 years ago—a very painful memory indeed.

But Barbara Hill-Taylor was my BFF. We met in 1978. She and my ex-wife met when they were both students at SCC. Barb wanted to become a social worker/counselor, and so my ex arranged for her to meet me. I tried to talk her out of a career in mental health to no avail.

She was in her mid-30s and had recently been abandoned by her first husband who was a serial philanderer. She had two teenagers at home and no real skills to make a living, and so she went back to school, worked part time and rented rooms to other students.

She ended up working as an aide in the day program at Seminole Mental Health while she continued school. We had occasional contact but were not close. By !983, we were both working at the Sanford office and started to have frequent conversations. By and by she had gotten her AA, BA and MA and was working on getting licensed.

Eventually she got some good contractual jobs and continued to work part time at another. In addition, she helped Johm with his painting business. She grew up in rural North Carolina in the 1950s and was no stranger to hard work.

Over the years she became my closest confidant. In 1986, when my wife and I split, Barb and her husband John were a big support. Choosing her as my BFF was a no-brainer on my part, as she was the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever known. She thought better of me than I thought of myself. If you were fortunate enough to be her friend, she always had your back. She preferred friendships with men as she found other women catty and somewhat shallow.

Pretty much every major holiday she and John cooked for a variety of friends and family. Everyone was welcome at their table and these dinners would have as many as a dozen assorted characters. Also, for me, many Sunday evenings after church I was there for dinner.

In 2007, John died suddenly and that was a terrible blow. A chapter in my book DiosPsyTrek is about John and Barb. She and her daughter Lisa soldiered on after John’s passing, and we continued with family dinners and fellowship. However, in 2008, she started to have one health issue after another. It started with her foot getting run over by an aisle cart on a plane trip to Seattle to go on an Alaska cruise. She was hampered in her ability to walk from then on. That was followed by other health crises.

Both of her parents died young and it’s amazing that she outlived them for as long as she did. Her mom died at age 37 under somewhat mysterious circumstances and her dad made it to about 54. She was left an orphan as a teenager and from then on had to raise herself. Hence, a marriage at age 15 to a young GI three years her senior. By 1958, she was living in Germany rooming with a German family while her husband served in the U. S. Army.

Her childhood and teenage years were quite different from mine but we both came from seriously dysfunctional backgrounds and that was likely part of our bonding. She had had an eventful, interesting life, and I often urged her to put it down on paper. It would’ve made a great book, an inspirational book in my opinion. She wrote well, and I thought her story was worth sharing. And after all our stories are what we bequeath the world.

The last few years of her life there was one health crisis after another and numerous hospitalizations. A couple times I was very worried that she wouldn’t make it, but she always rallied and pulled thru. She had a very serious surgery in 2015, having 14-in of her colon removed and having a colostomy for six months before it was reattached. That was a tough time, but her daughter Lisa was there for her.

Sadly, a couple years before she passed, Barb and I had a spat. It was totally my fault and I apologized profusely but the damage was done. I yelled at her in a weak, vulnerable moment and it triggered memories of her first husband. So, during her last couple years some of our closeness was gone. She chose another friend to be her closest confidant. I totally understood, but still there was a sadness that our almost magical rapport was diminished.

In late April of 2018, she had a serious sinus infection. She had chronic sinus allergies and was easily triggered by ambient cigarette smoke. This particular infection was treated again and again with antibiotics, but it didn’t resolve. She became septic, and eventually, it made its way into her cranial cavity. My last phone conversation with her was on a Thursday. I was out of town attending a training session for CEUs and I called her on a break. She was frustrated and worried about this particular infection but as ever tried to be hopeful–and I had no premonition about what was to follow. I told her I’d call her again after the workshop, and I phoned her Fri afternoon on the way home but did not get her. On Saturday her daughter found her in the bathroom eyes open but unable to communicate. She was taken to the hospital but never regained consciousness.

Eventually, she lapsed into a coma and was transferred to a hospice. Her daughter never left her side for over three weeks, except when friends or her brother Greg would spell her for a few hours. We would sit with her, talk to her, and hold her hand. Even tho she was apparently brain dead I still expected that she might revive. After all, she had beaten so many other illnesses. In my mind I could see her suddenly sitting up in bed and saying, “Guess I had you all worried.”

But that was not to be. Sometime after midnight on May 23, she passed. When I heard the news, I was sad but also somewhat relieved. She had been in a coma for over three weeks, and it was finally time for her to go. Only God knows why He allowed her to linger for so long. But I know He had a good reason. I believe that she heard us when we were there telling her how much we cared. Maybe she needed to hear that. Or perhaps it was to heal a longstanding rift between Barb’s son and daughter. For a bit it appeared that might happen, but after the funeral Greg’s coolness returned.

Anyway, Barb and John are together again in eternity–and that’s a good thing.

For months after she passed, she was in my thoughts daily. Now, four years later, she pops into my mind every few days. That’s not really what I would call healing–just life’s cares wearing you down. You don’t ever really replace a BFF.

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ChurchSpeak

Or “excited” is the new “amazing” is the new “awesome.”

I may have blogged about this before. Or at least something akin to it. The way churchy Christians use words, especially adjectives, drives me batty. I know I’ve written about how some Christians have their own unique vocabulary–a vocabulary only understood by other churchy believers–particularly charismatics and some of the more fundy leaning evangelicals. This is an argot that Roman Catholics and many from mainstream denominations have difficulty understanding.

I recall an older old friend from an Episcopal background being infuriated by the term “born-again.” I think she considered herself a serious Christian, and the term born-again confused her, like perhaps born-again people were part of some secret sect that excluded her. I tried to explain it to her but I’m not sure she got it.

Apparently, my “witness” wasn’t “anointed” enough–a couple more terms she wouldn’t understand.

But my preoccupation with ChurchSpeak is probably just another example of the grumpy old man syndrome in action. I’ve got the grumpy old man thing in spades. Anyway, I have no idea other than that why trite adjectives jump out to torment me so.

About a decade ago one could not get thru a church announcement without seeing or hearing the word “awesome.” As in: “Last Sunday we had an awesome time of worship.” Or “what an awesome man of God Dr. Graham was.’ That adjective was used over and over until we could all collectively scream “enough!”

Apparently, it got overused to the point that it morphed into “amazing”–as in: “What an amazing mission trip we had.” Or “What an amazing sermon Dr. Smith gave last week.”

Amazing is still over-used but it’s starting to fade a bit in favor of excited or exciting–as in “What an exciting time of worship we had last week.” Or “I’m excited to announce our new sermon series.”

I want to scream, “No you’re not!” But I guess some people are just more easily excited than me. Why couldn’t we just substitute “yada yada” every time there’s an opportunity for more ChurchSpeak. It worked for Seinfeld. How about “We had a yada yada sermon last week.” I would understand and I think many others would as well.

But it begs the question, would the Lord be pleased if we didn’t use the words awesome, amazing or excited?

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Complaining

“…for his mouth speaks from the overflow of his heart.” Luke 6:45

If you complain enough, the universe will send you more things to complain about. That’s pretty much the secret of “The Secret”–the book based on the so called “law of attraction.” Google it and you will find it described as pseudoscientific–but in my humble opinion it’s not. I think I’m living proof.

BTW, the above quote from Luke is the tail end of a statement about what comes from the heart of good and evil men. I sure hope complaining doesn’t qualify me as evil.

Sometimes I feel like complaining is my life. Like it’s my raison d’etre, my reason for being. Well, I thought about calling this piece “Austin’s Complaint”–sort of like “Portnoy’s Complaint.” Maybe I could do for depression, for dysthymia, what Philip Roth’s novel did for sexuality.

My tendency to complain vociferously and to whomever has been much in my thoughts of late. I have one friend who complains even more than me and more and more I do not enjoy his company. Who wants to be around someone who’s heart’s overflow is a toxic whine?

Anyway, I like to think I balance my complaining with positives. At least in my prayer life I do. I thank God daily and in great detail for my many blessings.

I worry that my loneliness may be the result of my tendency to complain. The two major relationships in my life both gave my negativity as reason for rejecting me. My excuse was that at both times in my life, 1986 and 1995, I had unsolvable issues that preoccupied me–and about which I complained. Even some of the folks in my life now probably avoid me because of my complaining. I can’t really blame them, but at least I’m trying to change that aspect of my life. Too late we learn.

My other more recent excuse for complaining is that I have Dysthymic Disorder. Dysthymia is the mild to moderate depression that seems to never end. It’s usually life long and its root cause is biological. It likely has genetic origins. Most dysthymics are untreated, but they often self-medicate by turning to addictive behaviors–anything that will give one’s neurotransmitters a lift. Over the years I’ve had plenty of addictive behaviors. I suppose complaining is one of them.

One-way dysthymics cope is by venting (complaining). I tell my clients to vent by writing it out by keeping a journal. That’s not as toxic to those around you, but if you’ve got a listener who cares about you enough, and you’re willing to listen to their complaints as well, go ahead and let it rip aloud.

Well anyway, it’s the tail end of July and it’s central Florida. Its hotter than the dickens–and humid too. Today’s high, as with every day now, will be 94-97. And today I will complain about the heat. And the universe will send me August and more heat to complain about. And the pollen too. It’s that yellow green scum on your windshield in the morning, and it makes you sneeze and your eyes itch. Is anybody listening? Will anybody listen? Probably not. They will likely be complaining as too.

But wait, there’s more!

This past weekend my thoughts on complaining were reinforced by a message from Pastor Shaddy at Lake Mary Church. His first sermon in a new series called “My Big Fat Mouth” was titled “Complaining.”

How fortuitous! He gave various biblical examples but the one that stuck with me the most was from Exodus. After escaping Egypt and witnessing numerous miracles, the Israelites are wandering in the wilderness heading in the general direction of The Promised Land. But not content with their freedom, and free manna to boot, they start complaining about being led into the desert just to perish. Well, Moses hears them, and God hears them too, and the result for this generation of ingrates is they get to wander for 40 years. Only Aaron and Joshua from that generation get to enter the land of milk and honey.

Pastor Shaddy’s point was that when you complain, the bottom line is you are really complaining about God. He’s ultimately in control and He has a good plan for us whether we can see it or not.

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Becoming Children

What did Jesus mean when he said if you don’t receive the Kingdom of God as a little child you will not enter in? (Mark 10:15). That cryptic statement is reiterated similarly in the gospels of both Matthew and Luke. There has been plenty of commentary about it over the centuries. The usual interpretation has to do with the humility and innocence of children being some kind of prerequisite to entering Heaven or The Kingdom.

As with many things Jesus said, there are plenty of interpretations. For me, one of the disconcerting things about scripture is that we often don’t know what the speaker or writer meant. There is usually a lot of wiggle room. But then there’s a school of thought that believes if we just read it in the original Greek or Hebrew and then cross reference it with other scriptures we can figure it out. Maybe, sometimes. But for me Jesus’ statement about children defies interpretation–but perhaps I’m overthinking it.

I recall some statement Brennan Manning made to the effect that children weren’t innocent, they were incompetent. I tend to lean that way. We are all needy. We are all the poor in spirit of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3). We bring nothing to the table as far as meriting Grace, and we mostly are all imbeciles when it comes to understanding God and His economy. And I think accepting our “poverty” sets us on the right track as far as becoming like a child.

WORKING WITH CHILDREN

I am a therapist–or as an old counselor friend of mine used to say, a “Psycho-therapist.” I have worked in mental health for over 50 years in various settings. I started my career in the late-60s working for the state of Illinois in their Zone Center system. The unit I worked on at Singer Zone Center was called Family Management. We worked with kids and parents both in the community and as inpatients. Our therapeutic approach was behavior modification. We had a smidgen of training in family systems therapy, but we were mostly behavioral. That went along well with my academic background which was almost totally experimental and behavioral.

At that time, I was in my mid to late-20s and knew next to nothing about people or real life. The kids we worked with were to me nothing more than behavior problems that the right program could solve. Sad to say, I really didn’t see them as human beings.

I worked on the Family Management Unit for nearly five years. Then I quit the state system and ventured to Florida. My longest job here was nearly 14 years working at a community mental health center. Much of my caseload was kids, but I really preferred counseling adults. When I went into private practice in 1987, I continued to work with kids. Close to 50% of my cases were kids. It was my bread and butter. My later contractual work was through an organization called “Our Children First.” Mostly, I did evaluations of kids in foster care.

That was about twenty years ago. It was then that I could see my heart starting to change. Most of these kids were just terribly sad. They were victims of neglect or abuse. I did many of the evaluations in the home. Sometimes, after an eval I’d go back to out to my car and I’d just want to cry. And sometimes I did. I did quite a few evals at Florida Methodist Children’s Home. It was a wonderful place, where the kids were well taken care of and yet every kid I evaluated didn’t want to be there. They wanted to be home with their family, even though the person who neglected them or beat them was there.

Anyway, it was about a decade ago that I stopped doing behavior plans with my kid clients. Now I just try to enjoy them and give them what Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.” Coming to see me I try to make a positive experience–seeing an adult who listens and tries to be non-judgmental. Many parents are not pleased with my approach. They want me to “FIX” their kid and they want it NOW. Some of these kids are not all that likeable–but I do my best. A few are downright nasty, but overall, I view kids as victims of faulty parenting, neglect and abuse.

More and more kids are labeled “autistic” or Asperger’s syndrome. They’re “on the spectrum” as they say. Now every weird, unique kid has to have a label, a diagnosis. Wanting to categorize folks kind of dehumanizes them. I don’t think labeling is a healthy trend.

Over the years I’ve distilled my thoughts on children and child rearing to a few principles that are so basic they’re likely written in our DNA: (1) We want to be loved and nurtured by our parents. (2) Our parents should be together and should always have our best interests in mind. (3) Children crave discipline and boundaries, although some kids will severely test them. (4) When those conditions are not met there’s a disturbance in our psyche. The extent of that disturbance is to some extent mitigated by one’s genetic and nurtured resilience.

SEEING CHILDREN ANEW

As I’ve aged, I think about my own childhood more and more. There were a few traumas but most of my memories are pleasant. I had days on end of mindless joy when I was 5, 6, 7 and 8. But when I was nine, I went to a Catholic boarding school for a year. That was a very memorable but not always pleasant experience. Anyway, all the joy came to a screeching halt when puberty overtook my virgin body with savage truculence right at my 12th birthday. I didn’t handle that transition at all well. Nobody in my family told me that my whole body would feel like it was an on-fire sex organ. I was reared in an atmosphere of extreme modesty and ignorance. My maternal grandmother Mimi ruled the roost, and she was kind of a Victorian. She was born in 1894, and so I guess qualifies as a Victorian.

Anyway, I prefer to think of Mimi as the strong, nurturing person that every kid needs to develop good ego-strength. As a kid I spent more time with her than anybody, and she always had my back. She was a tall, big-boned woman of Irish, French and Chippewa descent–born on a reservation in northern Wisconsin. Her first husband, my grandfather, died in an auto accident in 1932. She lost an arm in that accident and had to support herself and three children as a one-handed pastry chef during the depths of the Great Depression. She had great strength, determination and character, and I like to think at least some small smidgen rubbed off on me.

Mim and I listened to the radio together: soap operas like “Helen Trent” and mysteries like “The Shadow” and the Cleveland Indians ball games. And when I was at her place we slept in the same bed listening to the radio. That lasted until I was about 11 or 12. My fondest early memories are of times with her. One particular memory that replays over and over is of me about age four or five being towed on a sled thru heavy snow going to visit her sister, Aunt Edith. Mimi slipped and fell, raising a huge cloud of powder snow. But she wasn’t hurt, and we made it to Ede’s okay.

And when I was sick, she always fixed me my favorite lunch: a BLT with tomato soup. I was blessed. I was fortunate to be born when I was, where I was and to whom I was. I thank God pretty much daily for that fact. However, I worry about the millions of kids who aren’t that lucky. What can I do for them? I give money to support various charities that feed hungry kids. I give money to an orphanage in Haiti. I’ve gone on some mission trips and had the opportunity to minister to a few kids firsthand, but it all seems like such a drop in the bucket, like a feather in the wind.

And I can pray. When I see a young mom with two or three kiddos in tow struggling across some parking lot, I always say a silent prayer. I bless them and pray that they will have a good life, that they’re loved, and that they have more than a few days of mindless joy.

As I’ve reached old age I’m more in touch with, and more accepting of, my own inner child, and perhaps that’s part of why I can care about other’s children as well. I try not to see kids as just a complex of behaviors. I try to see the world thru their eyes at least a little. Even as adults our childhood never leaves us, and I find it sad when some of my adult clients say that can’t remember much of their early years. It probably wasn’t very pleasant. But I have toys in my office. We play, but I wouldn’t call it play therapy. It’s mostly to establish a relationship so we can talk–and also to maybe think of the 30 or 40 min with me as memorable–and fun.

I never had any children of my own. I guess that is part of God’s plan too. I have a stepson, Jeremy. When I inherited him, he was nine–now he’s 54. That’s a long time, and though he lives in California we’re very close. He has a 16-y.o boy, Shea and a 10-y.o girl, Madilynne. And would you believe it, they’re exceptionally smart, attractive and talented. I guess like most old folk’s grands. Anyway, I don’t see enough of them, and that’s likely part of God’s plan too. They are well cared for.

T. S. Eliot wrote: “We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”

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Human Behavior as a Fractal

I encountered a mind-bending paradigm while surfing around on YouTube recently–and that is the notion that human behavior might be thought of as a fractal.

BTW, a fractal is an endlessly recurring pattern. It’s a picture in which the whole appears to be a projection of a minute section of the same pattern, or in some cases a pattern seen over and over again: in nature, the spiral of a nautilus shell, the spiral of a galaxy and the spiral of a hurricane are all spiral patterns–and in some sense fractals.

The pattern of mandalas is sometimes seen as a fractal. The pattern of seeds in a sunflower is a fractal pattern and also one that reflects a Fibonacci sequence or the “golden mean/ratio.” or phi 1.618. In any event, it’s a concept that’s difficult to explain in a few words. Fractals, Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio are all related concepts.

In his new book The Truth and the Beauty Andrew Klavan points out that the Trinity is a fractal–threes are seen everywhere, and that in the act of creation itself man participates with God in birthing art. The three is repeated: God, man, artistic co-creation: poem, painting, symphony, etc.

From the sublimity of art to the ridiculousness of us: Human behavior if it is anything is mindlessly repetitive. We think the same thoughts, eat the same foods, worry the same worries over and over ad infinitum. We are all obsessive in our thoughts, some of us more than others. We are all addicts to some degree. It may not be to alcohol, food, nicotine or opiates. It could be to a person, or perhaps controlling others. There’s no limit to the stratagems a seasoned controller might employ. If we can’t control ourselves there’s always our pets, our family, our friends or our coworkers. The pattern of controlling is repeated over and over.

Anyway, the idea that our behavior might be thought of as a fractal caused me to think of a scripture: Luke 16:10. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” (KJV) As for me personally, I have been very inconsistent in little and so why would the Almighty entrust me with much?

It’s a concept that doesn’t hold out much hope for folks to change. Think of the mean kid who pulled the legs off of grasshoppers. He’s probably one who as an adult abused his wife or kids. And the kid who stole your best pencil in second grade might well have ended up in prison for forgery or strong-armed robbery.

Conversely, the little girl in the next row of desks who was shy and decent and generous, likely turned out to be a very thoughtful adult. Who we were when we were very young, the mini-me, is likely a projection of who we become in adulthood.

Another passage which comes to mind is Matthew 12:34,35: “…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” Or the first phrase of Prov. 23:7: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. . . ‘

These suggest that a man’s behavior is a projection, a fractal, of what lies in a man’s heart. But we have been given free will. And that is a game changer. We can live intentionally. We can choose to transcend who we were when we were young or what now resides in our heart, our inmost being. Jesus came to set us free and to give us abundant life. Perhaps much of our God-given liberty is the freedom from mindless repetition.

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