Hearers, Doers and John 17

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:34-35

Question: For Jesus-followers is correct doctrine, the ‘right’ belief, aka: proper theology, more important than Christ-like behavior?

My encounters with believers at every level informs me that dogma generally trumps behavior — that checking all the correct boxes in the doctrinal inventory guarantees an E-ticket into The Kingdom more surely than how we treat (love) our fellow man.  Yup, the Pharisees beat the heck out of the Samaritans in every annual Faith Bowl.  At least that’s how I’ve perceived believers around me talking and behaving — not just in person but in books and blogs as well.  Seems to me there are far more “hearers” of the word than there are “doers” (James 1:22).

For me the chasm between belief and behavior was highlighted about two years ago following a split in my home church.  It started innocently enough. One of the members in our men’s group threw out a question for discussion: What is the Gospel? His intent seemed to be for each of us to share what we personally thought was the essence of God’s good news.

Some thought it was strictly the forgiveness of sins — that Christ died for our sins. Others took a broader view. They maintained that the good news was also inclusion in God’s Kingdom and gradually being conformed to being more like Jesus, etc. They did not disagree that that forgiveness of sins was majorly important but just maintained that there was even more to the good news.

Anyway, what ensued were several heated debates followed by a plethora of back and forth emails featuring dueling scriptures — each backing up their points from the Bible. Most of the participants in this debate have a better command of scripture than I, and so in some sense it was enlightening.  However, I followed this back and forth till my eyes glazed over and my interest waned. For me it made about as much sense as arguing the merits of the Porterhouse vs. the Maine lobster when the Surf and Turf was a ready option. It was plain to me that the debate was solving nothing and that the rancor was creating hurt feelings and ill will. However, the controversy did cause me to somewhat rethink what was essential about the gospel for me personally.

The doctrinal debate left pain and anger all around — and in spite of sincere apologies for hurt feelings four families eventually dropped out of the church. Their rationale seemed to be that worshiping and having fellowship with possible apostates or heretics was in some way hazardous to their salvation — and to their wives and children’s salvation as well.

Witnessing the re-enacting of the schisms that have haunted Christ’s Body for the past two millennia was interesting in some clinical sense but personally very painful and discouraging.  Some of the folks I no longer have fellowship with I care about. In some sense we remain friends but we do not meet together to honor Christ.  The five hundred pound gorilla in the room that we dare not acknowledge are the fine points of doctrinal divergence.

For the past month I have been slowly rereading my favorite book of the NT: the Gospel of John. In chapters 13–17 Jesus both demonstrates and narrates His will for us personally and for The Church. In washing the disciples feet He gives us the supreme example of serving (loving) others, and in Chapter 17 He prays for his disciples and for us:

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be ONE, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one —  I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and I have loved them even as you have loved me.”  v. 20-23

What Jesus didn’t say is that we should debate endlessly about the fine points of something Moses or Paul wrote instead of sharing God’s love.  Earlier in His ministry He affirmed the apostate Samaritan “woman at the well” (John 4) and He told a story about the “Good” Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  The important point is that Samaritans were looked down on by Jews and fellowship with them was forbidden. That did not seem to bother Jesus — and without endorsing their theology He affirmed them in love.

He didn’t say that we have to have the correct theology and recite the right scriptures in the right sequence for God to be in his heaven and everything right with the world. He told the Samaritan woman that the time was coming when they would worship the Father in both the Spirit and in truth — and that he (Jesus) was the fount  of “living water.” His witness was direct and positive — He was the ultimate Truth, and presumably she was a changed person after her encounter with Jesus.

It is apparent from the chapters of John 13-17 called the “Farewell Discourse” that Jesus’ supreme wish is for us to be both united in love and to share His love with the world thru acts of service. And when Jesus speaks about love He’s not talking about a warm feeling. He’s talking about loving behavior — like washing the the dirty and weary feet of another.  Also, within the same context of the meeting in the upper room Jesus institutes the holy sacrament by which we are to remember Him: communing with Him and other parts of His Body in partaking bread and wine.

It is readily apparent from the Farewell Discourse that love and service should always trump any focus on dogma or doctrine. And John reaffirms Jesus’ wish for us in his epistles: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) and in his second letter: “As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.”  2 John 6  And this is insight from the man who knew Jesus better than any other human.

It is personally painful for me to hear Jesus’ words in Chapter 17, and in John’s letters, in the knowledge of how Christ’s Body has been fractured again and again thru focusing on dogma and doctrine to the detriment of Christ-like behavior. We have observed it for two thousand years and many of us have experienced it up close and personal. I believe that in every gathering of believers Chapter 17 of John should be read aloud at least once a month. I believe a solemn restating of Jesus’ supreme will for us, His Church, is far more important than another upbeat praise song.  The Lord’s Prayer is a part of many liturgies and services. It tells us how to pray — John 17 tells us how we are to act as brothers and sisters in our Lord and Savior.


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“La tristesse durera toujours!”

No, I don’t speak French.  Even though I am part French, like many Americans my French is limited to a dozen or so words and phrases.  The above quote is Vincent van Gogh’s last words: “The sadness will last forever!”

His birthday, March 30, is World Bipolar Awareness Day.  It was designated March 30 in honor of him. He was most  likely Bipolar Type II — a condition characterized by a lifelong depression interrupted by short spells of hypomania.

Why van Gogh spoke his final words in French is a bit of a mystery.  His native language was Dutch. However, brilliant fellow that he was, he was fluent in German, French and English as well. Another lesser known fact about this monumentally gifted artist was that he studied theology and worked in ministry for a year in a community of impoverished miners.

Another factoid: van Gogh created almost 900 painting and yet only sold one in his lifetime.

In 1890, at the age of 37, during a prolonged siege of deep despair he shot himself in the chest and he died two days later.

“The sadness will last forever!” is a statement with which I can identify.  I have at the very least Dysthymic Disorder: the sadness that lasts forever — and like van Gogh, I am also Bipolar II.

Mood disorders are in my genes. Both of my parents struggled with Bipolar Disorder. My mother had many hospitalizations over the course of her life. Her illness was very apparent. However, my father’s extreme mood swings were likely obvious to only a few. He always held it together enough to continue to work and to perform routine activities.  When he was down he spent most of his free time on the couch dozing or watching TV — and he was generally pleasant but quiet and sad. However, when the pendulum swung he became most uncomfortable to be around for those closest to him. He was very critical and sharp-tongued toward me. He talked much more than usual, slept little, made grandiose plans and generally just seemed too full of himself. Once again, he was fortunate to have enough self-awareness and control to only show this side to those closest to him. I suspect his coworkers and casual acquaintances were clueless.  His moods played out with amazing regularity over a three year cycle that commenced and ended in late Sept or early October.

It is not fun having the eternal sadness of Dysthymia or the roller-coaster ride that comes with being a short-cycling Bipolar II.  However, my personal belief is that God had a plan in shaping my extreme moods. I believe that our disabilities, our shortcomings and our struggles light the path God wants us to tread in relating to others, in loving others, in ministering to others — uniquely ministering as only fellow sufferers can.

Twelve years ago I wrote The Unwelcome Blessing.  The book is a sort of manual for Christians coping with clinical depression. It looks at the problem from three perspectives: clinical, biblical and personal. As best I can tell, The Unwelcome Blessing’s multiple focus is fairly unique. I weave my story in and out of its chapters and I believe telling my story makes the clinical and biblical content more understandable.

Since 2010, I’ve attended Celebrate Recovery (CR).  CR is a Christ-centered 12-step program that focuses not only on addictions but also behaviors such as anger and codependency. Working thru CR’s step-study inspired me to compile an as yet unpublished 12-step workbook Blessings Restored.  It employs most of the traditional 12-steps of every addiction recovery program. However, I modify a few of the steps to adapt them to mood disorders. Though mood disorders and addictions have much in common, they also have essential differences: For one, addictions are somewhat more intentional, whereas one rarely chooses clinical depression or Bipolar Disorder. These are conditions that are largely the result of one’s genetics and physiology.  Even if one accepts the disease model for alcoholism or drug abuse, there remains a strong element of intentionality in addictive behavior.

I identify considerably with van Gogh’s life and struggles. Seeking an understanding of God has been one of my preoccupations since very young, and although I do not have one iota of his talent, I do have a creative impulse, and my art (writing) likely has the same therapeutic function for me as painting did for him. I have not lived in abject poverty as he did, but I think I feel the same sense of isolation and frustration. I’ve published four books and several hundred blogs, but I have had minimal success — maybe I’ve sold 500 or 600 books and over a dozen years that doesn’t amount to doodly squat.

Self-published authors are like graphic artists in that they must rely on their own ability to self-promote.  I’m not able to blow my own horn very effectively and I suspect van Gogh had the same problem. Beyond the numbers that define success, there is the frustration of feeling like one’s work could enrich so many more people than it has if only they could see it. Van Gogh must have wondered why others did not experience the world with the same vibrancy as he and felt alone because of that. I’m in no danger of putting a gun to my chest but it has certainly crossed my mind. Being a psychologist and understanding my bipolar heritage gives me an advantage.  However, the greatest coping mechanism for me is that I can see God’s grace and blessing in my life — and the certain knowledge that He sustains me.

I also believe that the torment of the “sadness that lasts forever” — plus any and every addiction or affliction can be the impetus for a closer relationship with both the Infinite and our fellows voyagers on this journey.

Understanding that, and writing about it, gives me hope.



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Evil + Nothing = Evil

It is now a month since the Las Vegas massacre. The news has moved on and the tragedy has started to fade from the public’s consciousness. However, it will haunt the survivors and the families of those gunned down forever. The occasional news items now mainly have to do with psychological profiles of the killer, Stephen Paddock — and his apparent lack of motive.

He left no suicide note or manifesto for posterity.  He apparently had no political or religious animus. He didn’t have a grudge against Las Vegas, the Mandalay Bay resort or the country and western singers performing when he started shooting. He destroyed the hard drive of his computer. It seems that perhaps he was being deliberately opaque.

What I have gleaned from the news is that Paddock’s slaughter was very carefully planned. He scoped out other public venues that would be soft targets and ensure a plethora of casualties. Over several years he stockpiled dozens of guns and thousands of rounds of ammo. He also had materials for making bombs.

It is unclear if he had an escape plan, but he must have known that he would have  been quickly apprehended.  However, it did not appear to be a “suicide by cop” scenario — still as police closed in on his hotel room he shot himself.

What we know is that he was successful as an investor and a gambler and that he was somewhat wealthy. One estimate had him being worth as much as two million. He was a college educated accountant who at one time had worked for the IRS. He owned investment properties. There are some reports of gambling losses but he appeared to have no money problems. Shortly before his rampage he wired $100,000 to the Philippines for his girlfriend.

He was not isolated. He had a live-in girlfriend, and a brother in Florida to whom he seemed somewhat close. He was not a loner or overly eccentric. Some acquaintances have described him in positive terms and others have said that he was private or not very friendly. He was 64-years old, but as far as is known, in good health. Had autopsies revealed brain pathology or serious health issues I’m sure we would have heard about them by now.

He drank — and perhaps rather heavily. People describe him as having alcohol on his breath in the morning. Some believe he was suffering from depression. He also took Valium which can can contribute to depression and enhance the effects of alcohol.

His family history (and possibly his genetics) were rather spotty. He was the oldest of four boys who were raised by their mother. His father at one time had been on the FBI’s most wanted list but he had never been an active part of their life.  Also, one of his brothers has subsequently been arrested for having child pornography.

He appeared to have some feelings for others. He seemed concerned about the welfare of his 90-year old mother after the hurricanes. She lived in Orlando — and he made arrangements for his girlfriend to be out of the country when he perpetrated the massacre. He wired her money.

None of what we know up to this point provides a clue to the motives of someone who would murder 58 people in the process of intentionally mowing down hundreds. It almost seems as though Paddock was trying to set some perverse  record for lone-gunman mass murder. He did exceed the Pulse Massacre by nine. Yet, law enforcement, profilers. and the media seem quite puzzled.

People have to discern a motive for heinous acts to feel safe themselves. It has to make some kind of sense. Because of that there will eventually emerge some sort of psychological explanation — but I suspect that it will be highly speculative. He has already been labled a narcissist and I’m sure that will stick. One acquaintance has said Paddock felt that he was superior to other people. But if most alcoholic narcissists suffering mild depression were inherently murderous there would be hardly any people left in this country.

As far as I’m concerned, the explanation for folks like Paddock was provided by M. Scott Peck over three decades ago in a book titled People of the Lie. Peck was a Harvard trained psychiatrist. He was in the Army during the Viet Nam war, and he was assigned to do psychological profiles on the perpetrators of the infamous My Lai Massacre. For those who may not remember, in March, 1968, over 300 unarmed Vietnamese civilians were slaughtered in a rampage in My Lai and surrounding hamlets. The only conviction handed out was two years of house arrest for Lt. Calley, the massacre’s prime perpetrator.

Based on the My Lai investigation and the case histories of a number of his patients Dr. Peck concluded that psychiatry was inadequate in “diagnosing” people who could only be described as “evil.”  These are individuals who dwell in a dark area well beyond the realm of mere sociopaths or narcissists. As a psychotherapist, People of the Lie helped shaped my thinking.  Reading it in 1984, it opened my mind to a previously unthinkable area having to do with Satan and the demonic, and it lent insight about not only some clients but also the nature of reality itself. Many of Peck’s thoughts have been incorporated into my blogs and into my book Satan’s Top Ten Tricks.

Although it can’t be proven, I tend to think that people like Paddock are inhabited by demons, and that this offers at least a partial explanation of the inexplicable nature of their behavior — behavior that goes beyond being merely anti-social into an area that wants to snuff out light — and life itself. I am a Jesus-follower and Jesus devoted a considerable amount of his ministry to casting out demons.  If you consider yourself a Christian and you don’t believe in demons or the devil then you believe in an extra-biblical Jesus and not the One of scripture — not the Jesus who was the light-bearer and life-giver.

Scott Peck eventually participated in a couple of exorcisms and documented the results. It led him to believe in demonic possession. Of course, the scientific community is highly skeptical of anything that smacks of religion, especially Christianity.  Peck’s endeavors in uncovering the demonic were highly criticized both by the scientific community and secular reviewers.

However, I don’t think any better explanation for Paddock’s motives have been offered.  The Archangel Satan’s original sin was that of pride — that of not wanting to play second fiddle to God.  And it’s a skewed demonically inspired pride that motivates men like Paddock to set records for murder. It is the resultant behavior of the spirit of the antichrist.


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The new film Detroit is a mostly true rendition of an incident that occurred during the July, 1967, riots of the metropolis once proudly called The Motor City.  Kathryn Bigelow is a very good director and in this film she continues a legacy established in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.  It seems odd that a woman would be Hollywood’s finest director handling realistic themes involving men and violence.  But that’s the case and in this flick she again succeeds brilliantly.

The crime the movie examines took place at an annex of the Algiers Motel on the night of July 25, 1967.  A number of Detroit policemen supported by Michigan State troopers and National Guardsmen stormed the motel thinking that sniper shots had been fired from this somewhat seedy establishment known for prostitution and drugs.

Inside the motel were a dozen or so people — black men, mostly young, and two 18-year old white girls. What is known is that no guns were ever found on the premises and three youths were shot to death in what appeared to be executions. The movie pivots on the brutal interrogation conducted by a 23-y.o Detroit cop who took charge in trying to find a gun and the alleged sniper. For me, his eager beaver, brutally self-righteous approach brought back bad memories of Lt. Calley and the My Lai massacre from the same era.

Three white Detroit cops and a black security guard were eventually brought to trial; however, as is so often the case, there were no convictions.

This movie is gripping but painful to watch. The young Brit actor Will Poulter is chilling as the racist cop leading the interrogation. John Boyega, another Brit, plays a conflicted black security guard who was also present at the annex.  John Krasinski, the film’s best known actor, plays the defense attorney who effectively casts doubt on the witnesses recollection of the night’s events. The action is underscored by vintage Motown sound tracks. In fact, two of the young men present at the Algiers were in a Motown band “The Dramatics” that later achieved some fame.

Beyond just the trial, the movie raises some troubling questions. Like why the state troupers and National Guardsmen didn’t intervene when it was apparent that the Detroit cops were over the top. Apparently the movie is supposed to convey some sort of message about bigotry.  However, for my money it might as well be a primer on how far we’ve come. Yes, the USA still has racial issues but nothing like 50 years ago.

At one time Detroit was the fifth largest city in this country and the world’s prime  industrial colossus. Today, it has less than half the population that it had in ’67 and many of its finest neighborhoods resemble a war zone with dilapidated burned out buildings and rubble strewn vacant lots. The movie points out that in ’67 Detroit was 40% black and the police force 95% white. Fifty years later Detroit is 82% black — a victim of white flight and an industrial complex that won the World War only to lose the peace to Japan.

The city of Detroit holds some cherished memories for me. I grew up 90-miles south of there in Ohio and my mother’s family had a boatload of relatives in the city.  In the 1950s we would go there once or twice a year and stay a week at a time with one of my great-uncles. It was a lovely, prosperous city back then. My maternal grandmother had three brothers and a sister who lived there.  Frank, Hub and John were all foremen at Ford’s River Rouge plant, at that time the largest industrial complex in the world. Her sister Margaret sold shoes in an upscale store and would note that hockey great Gordie Howe and author Ann Morrow Lindberg were her regular customers.

The 1950s and early-60s was an era of working class prosperity so grand that it is almost mythical today.  A Joe-average hard-working guy with a 10th grade education and some mechanical ability could work his way up from the assembly line to tool and die maker or foreman.  On an hourly wage he could provide a comfortable lifestyle for a stay at home wife and several kids — a new car every three years and every summer a vacation out west or to a lake cottage. That scenario pretty much fit my great-uncle’s families.

Back in the mid-50s Detroit was more than just prosperous — it was also safe.  When I was about 12, and my cousin Larry Murphy 14, we took several buses downtown and then got on the ferry boat to Belle Isle amusement park in the Detroit River. At the end of the day we rode the buses back to uncle Hub’s house on Stopel just blocks over from the neighborhood main drag of Frankel. Today, that same trek would be thru streets resembling a third world city and a parent would be charged with neglect if they allowed their kids to make that journey without adult supervision.

There’s an iconic meme I’ve seen several times on Facebook. It’s four pics: Detroit in 1945 vs. Nagasaki in 1945, and Detroit today contrasted with the vibrant city that Nagasaki is today — so stunning one would never guess who won WW2.  The movie Detroit captures the era when that city’s past was becoming its present.


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“The Glass Castle”

The Glass Castle is a heart-wrenching film about family — the tidal pull of an extremely dysfunctional family on its adult children.  It is a true story written by the eldest of four survivors of neglect and abuse by a drunken, likely bipolar father.  Jeannette Walls published the memoir of her childhood in 2006.  She was a columnist for New York Magazine for many years.

Rex Walls was a strong and angry man running from both the tiny hamlet of Welch, West Virginia, and his own inner demons. He was the victim not only of poverty but also maternal sexual abuse. When he was right he was a charming dreamer — and in a way, brilliant. The “glass castle” were drawings on graph paper that he worked on for many years. It was a sort of solar powered glass mansion that was his someday dream home. Apparently an auto-didact, he imparted to his children lessons on nature, physics, astronomy and politics.

His wife, Rose Mary, was a dreamy, impractical artist who believed in him and put up with his drunken rages and eccentricities.  She was almost an archetype for classic codependency.  Her life revolved around Rex and his life orbited alcohol and his grandiose dreams. They had a pathological chemistry.  As survivors tend to do, the kids bonded deeply, and with Jeanette’s guidance, to an extent reared themselves. Much of their childhood was spent roaming the country squatting in abandoned spaces and camping out of the back of a beat-up ’55 Ford wagon.

Rex taught his kids to be fearless and independent.  In one especially poignant scene he nearly drowns a terrified Jeanette teaching her to swim.  He wanted his offspring to run toward life and to fear nothing. He carried the fierce independence and unwillingness to take crap from the higher ups of the world that is in the DNA of many folks from Appalachia, and in several scenes Rex goes off on drunken rants about the anonymous bankers and captains of industry who control the world and oppress the rest of us.

When Rex and Rose Mary finally run out of money and hope they reluctantly return to Welch, West Virginia and the pathological family that Rex had spent his life escaping.  He endures terrible DTs to sober up, gets a job, and there’s an brief idyllic interlude of familial joy — of course, that just prefaces an inevitable relapse.

Eventually, the kids one by one escape West Virginia and make their way to New York City.  The parents follow them and live as squatters in an abandoned building, dumpster diving for sustenance. I found Rex and Rose Mary following their children to New York terribly poignant — clinging, not so much as leeches, but simply to be close to those they loved and who represented their life’s only good fruit.

The film has a few flaws–but really minor when weighed against its impact.  Rex’s family tread close to being hillbilly caricatures and Woody Harrelson’s performance is just a tad overacting bit shy of brilliant. But it is a career defining film for him and will likely earn him an Oscar nomination.  Naomi Watts as the mom and prior Oscar winner Brie Larson as the adult Jeanette are also very good.  The four kids who play the Wall children are terrific — redheaded cute, vulnerable and wide-eyed.

The Glass Castle is real. It’s how life really is. It’s how it is and has been for many of us reared by parents who truly loved us but were conflicted and unable to fully transcend their own pasts. It made me cry.

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Transitions: Phase Four

A few days ago Northland, A Church Distributed, announced that Dr. Joel Hunter was stepping down as Senior Pastor. He served in that role for 32 years. For 24 of those years I have been a steady congregant. About eighty percent of what I know about being a Jesus-follower I have learned at Northland and from Dr. Hunter.  His rich sermons have been incorporated into my books and blogs.  Of course, I understand that the Holy Spirit orchestrated the whole deal — me showing up there to meet my friend Nancy on May 2, 1993, and hearing a sermon meant especially for me. That’s how God works — He creates hungry people and then points them towards bread.

In resigning, Dr. Joel said, “My call to the pastoral role in a church is fulfilled.” That had an odd sound to it and I kept rolling it around in my thoughts. I’d have rather heard, “I’m old, I’m tired, I don’t want to do this anymore.”  His “fulfilled” statement was followed by church-speak boilerplate about being excited about new directions, etc. . . blah, blah, blah.  Though I’ll miss him, I’m okay with him entering a phase of semi-retirement. He’s more than earned it. He’s been God’s chosen vehicle for changing thousands of lives. And I know that in one way or another that will continue.

Pastor Joel has been a huge part of Phases Three and Four of my life.

It was 15 years ago today, Aug. 5, 2002, that my life entered its Fourth and very likely final phase. It began with an early morning flight out of Tampa bound for LAX.  No big deal save for the fact that my last prior flight had been in August, 1969 — a full 33 years earlier.

My life’s Phase One was childhood — a time of relative innocence that ended right around my 12th birthday when puberty came crashing into my body (and very unprepared psyche) with unexpected and unwelcome truculence.

Phase Two was my rather lonely, sexually preoccupied and miserable adolescence and young adulthood. The extended adolescence of my Phase Two ended around age 34 when my wife and I got together.  Phase Two’s major bright spot was the five years I worked for the Illinois Dept of Mental Health.  The five years I spent in Rockford gave me good friends and a meaningful career.  I was 29 when I left Illinois for Florida and into a season of loneliness and heavy drinking.

Phase Three was my nine year marriage and the time of painful growth that followed. As with most marriages, mine had its ups and downs. Though it ended badly, it was a time when I finally became an adult. I grew up. I sobered up, my existential anxiety abated and I found I enjoyed living in a family. My wife came complete with horses, a dog and a nine year old son. We lived in a mobile home on five acres in a high spot in the Black Hammock swamp. In some ways the first six years of my marriage is the only time I’ve felt like a truly normal person.

Pastor Joel and Northland Church were major players in the growth part of Phases Three and Four.  Of course, the Holy Spirit led me to Northland, and He directed me to various other teachers, books and mentors. The most life changing was Ruthless Trust a book by Brennan Manning that mysteriously caught my eye in a bookstore a few days before my 2002 flight to California. I had committed to a flight to visit my son and was struggling with that decision.  Christian counselor/hypocrite that I am, I gave advice about trusting God but didn’t trust Him enough myself to get out of my comfort zone and on to a plane.

That Aug 5, 2002, leap-of-trust flight to California was the catalyst for Phase Four of my life. It gave me the confidence to teach classes at Northland and to publish The Unwelcome Blessing and several subsequent books. The Unwelcome Blessing was about Christians struggling with depression.  It’s clinical, it’s biblical — and it is my story.  Also, coming to enjoy flying again led me on mission trips to the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Barcelona, and Scotland, as well as Red Cross duty in Texas after hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005. Now I look forward to flying, and if I don’t have a trip planned I’m restless and even more grumpy than usual.

Well, I was certainly blindsided into Phase Four, and who knows, maybe there’s yet another phase or two for me on this planet. God is full of surprises.  He leads us on journeys both frightening and wonderful — and per the teacher of Ecclesiastes, there’s a purpose for each and every one of us under heaven. And every life we touch is in some way a holy introduction. That is one of the major lessons I’ve learned from Pastor Joel.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  (Ecc. 3:11)

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“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.


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