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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One Tu Tu Ate For Two

Long ago on slow winter afternoons on the north coast when the sun glinted off the crusted snowbanks and made its sudden journey west under the trees and the wind whispered hard off the lake they called Erie, Daddy Boid spun Baby Bear tales about Freddie Fox and Buhddy Bear and their life in the woods down the road behind the hospital — which in days long ago was at the far edge of town.

In those days long ago the day was divided by the Tu Tu Twains that wrattled the houses and shook the frozen ground two miles or more from the tracks. Their comings and goings at every time of the day and year were a mystery for Baby Bear. Though he was pretty sure he had ridden one once, he did not know where they came from or where they went. They were almost as mysterious as the hobos that knocked on their back door from time to time. His mother always gave them a pint of milk and a sandwich and then after dining on the back steps they would disappear as magically as they’d come.

But almost as magical as the hobos and the living Tu Tus sliding back and forth on their burnished iron rails with cow-catchers gobbling up the timber and gravel were the woods and the critter people that lived secret lives under bushes and in trees and hid under stumps and in the marsh and cricks.

There was Waymond Bunny Wabbit, Franny Frog and a Mr Turtle, and all sorts of mysterious nameless bugs — but especially the rare Walking Sticks which really were tree twigs come magically to life. And there were tadpoles galore and an occasional minnow that swum in the cricks that slowly edged their way down to the lake they called Erie.

But the two folks Baby Bear remembered best were Freddie Fox and Buhddy Bear — who had the same last name and maybe was a shirt-tail cousin or something. And Freddie — so smart he could trick Sam the Snake or even Charlie Wolf. And Baby Bear would say to Daddy Boid, “Tell me a story about Freddie Fox.”

“Well,” Daddy Boid began, “On one Sunday morning in late March Freddie slept to almost noon. He was dreaming of breakfast — a big bowl of oatmeal with butter and brown sugar because his tummy was very empty. The oatmeal smelled so good he could almost taste it. He blinked awake and the breakfast he was dreaming about vanished. ‘It was only a dream,’ Freddie thought. He stuck his needle nose thru a pile of leaves and  he peeked out of his home under the log by the stump. He could still see patches of snow but the sun was warming things up. Little buds were already popping out on some of the Elm and Sycamore trees.

Freddie crawled out of his home and stretched. He looked around in every direction and sniffed the air. It was like he was still dreaming because he was certain he could smell warm oatmeal with brown sugar. He blinked and shook his head and sniffed again. Yup, for sure it was oatmeal with butter and brown sugar.

He saw his old pal Charlie Wolf near the woods a short distance away and Charlie appeared headed toward town. Charlie was very old and he often complained to Charlie about having arthur-itis. Freddie wasn’t exactly sure what that was but he thought maybe it was why Charlie kind of limped. Also, Charlie’s few teeth were loose and so an ancient wolf with a limp and missing teeth wasn’t a very scary wolf.

Freddie thought he would follow Charlie and see where he was going. He seemed headed toward the last farmhouse at the very edge of town where the hound Nipper lived. Freddie and Charlie hopped a little ditch and crossed the Tu Tu twacks. They slowed down as they got closer. Neither Nipper nor the farmer he served were very friendly. He had yelled at Freddie a few times and once he had a stick that went boom and scared Freddie half to death. The farmer also had chickens that looked quite scrumptious and he had two hives of captive bees that made honey. Freddie and Charlie had helped themselves before to little morsels on the farmer’s property.

As Charlie and Freddie crept closer — getting down very low so as not to be noticed, they saw the farmer sitting on a bench by his little dilapidated red barn. He held a cup in one hand and next to him on the bench was a bowl. Nipper was nowhere to be seen, and Freddie was sure there was oatmeal with brown sugar in the bowl.

The farmer suddenly stood up and started walking towards his house’s kitchen door. Charlie thought, ‘Now’s my chance.’ He scampered thru the barnyard and grabbed the edge of the bowl in his jaws. He and Charlie made a beeline toward the woods. He had some oatmeal on his needle nose but that was okay. He would find a safe spot to hide and maybe he’d share some with Charlie.

They hopped the ditch again and as they were about to cross the twacks they heard a kapow and something like sleet rustled the limbs over their head. Freddie was so startled that he dropped the bowl of warm oatmeal on the twacks. He and Charlie made it to the woods before they turned and looked back. In the distance he heard the farmer yelling –and also he heard a steady chug chug chug getting gradually louder.  Charlie thought, ‘Oh no, its the Tu Tu!’

Before he could think of what to do the twain’s cow catcher gobbled up the bowl of oatmeal like magic. And as the Tu Tu majestically rolled by headed clickety clacking to who knows where Freddie thought he could almost taste the warm oatmeal with butter and brown sugar. And of course, being a good fox, he would have let his friend Charlie have a bite –maybe even two.”

And Baby Bear with a wide-eyed look thought, “That was a good story” and he could hardly wait till Daddy Boid would tell him another.

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“The Shack”

William Paul Young self-published his novel The Shack in 2007, and little more than a year later it was a best seller. I did not read the book. A friend whose judgement I respect read part of it and she said that as a piece of literature it was poorly written–but many other of my churchy friends read it and found it praiseworthy. Some absolutely raved about the book.

In 2008- 09, The Shack was a bit of a sensation in Christian circles. Because of its unconventional portrayal of the Trinity and its somewhat New Age spirituality it was roundly criticized by conservative theologians as heretical. One of the major charges was that it preached the doctrine of Universalism — that is that in the end all will be saved and spend eternity in heaven with God. And this because God’s love and mercy trumps righteous judgment.

At the height of the novel’s popularity, Young spoke at the megachurch I attend: Northland – A Church Distributed. He didn’t just give a speech, he presented for several hours — long enough to have a lunch break. I found him to be a compelling speaker — very charming and exceptionally articulate. His presentation was more or less an extended testimony. He spoke about his early years growing up as a missionary’s kid. He also told about how he came to write The Shack. As I recall it was written as a fable, a Christmas gift, explaining his spirituality to his children. Others in his circle read it and urged him to publish it.

In spite of his ability as a speaker I still did not bother to read the book. I’d heard enough about it that I pretty much knew the plot: a man’s young daughter is abducted and murdered at a shack in the wilderness. Predictably, he is eaten up by anger and bitterness. He is mad at God, guilt ridden himself and unforgiving toward the perpetrator–and then he has a lengthy encounter with the Trinity at the scene of the crime.

Several years passed and The Shack craze abated. Christian readers went on to the newest Ben and Jerry’s flavor of books on spirituality and self-help. I pretty much forgot about the book. Then, a couple months ago I was watching a trailer for a movie that looked both interesting and visually compelling. At the end of the trailer I thought, oh my word, it’s The Shack.  In fact, the trailer was so good I never would have guessed that it was a Christian film.

I saw it last night. I was more than a bit skeptical based on things I’d heard and read about the book. I had looked at some of the reviews and per usual the secular critics lambasted it, and I had also read some caveats posted on Facebook by various conservative Christians. They all said words to the effect that the God portrayed in the movie is not the God of scripture. No kidding! God in the movie is a heavy-set, rather maternal black woman. The Holy Spirit is a young oriental woman and Jesus is played by a 30-ish Middle Eastern male. Imagine that!

It’s not a perfect piece of art but overall I thought it was fairly well done. The cinematography, music and acting were all much better than most Christian films. Most Christian films reek of low budget, mediocre production values and tend to be rather saccharine and preachy. Whereas some of the secular critics saw it as preachy, I did not. It held my interest and I found the basic story to be quite moving. It’s about inconsolable pain, anger, guilt, unforgiveness –and eventual redemption and restoration.

Sam Worthington, the guy who plays Mack, the story’s protagonist, does a creditable job. Early in life Mack’s scarred by a drunken, abusive father, but by middle age he’s overcome that and has a comfortable life. He has a loving wife and three kids–and then the unthinkable happens.  Octavia Spencer as God (referred to as Papa in the film) is wonderful. But probably for some folks she’s far too warm and loving. If the God of your understanding is distant, imperious and judgmental then Ms. Spencer’s portrayal just won’t do.

I don’t hear well and so I didn’t catch every bit of dialogue. At several points the audience laughed and I wasn’t sure to what they were responding. Consequently, I can’t say with absolute certainty that there was no Universalist message in the film or some other seriously heretical doctrines. I suspect a critical reading of the book would turn up some errant doctrine that was absent in the movie. But I saw nor heard anything offensive to me and I think those who are critical of its theology are missing the point. It’s a work of art; it’s a fable; it’s an allegory; it’s an extended metaphor. It is all those things much more than it’s meant to be Christian doctrine. It also may be that rare exception, a movie that’s better than the book.

Toward the end of the film there’s a scene that resonated with my perhaps somewhat skewed theology. God reappears as a Native American shaman and not as a black female. Mack is a bit taken aback and says, “God, are you messing with me?”  And the shaman answers, “Always!”  The rather conservative Calvinist theologian R.C. Sproul once said something to the effect: “If you think you understand God, then either you are or He isn’t.” That has the ring of truth for me. And I also tend to believe that in some sense God does mess with us. In any event, just when you think you’ve got Him boxed up in your little comfort zone, in your very own hip pocket, then He isn’t. He is inscrutable and He can’t be contained in some neat little package. That’s why there’s Jesus. Our Savior put a human face on the Ruler and Creator of the Universe. My personal theology is pretty much summed up by John’s “God is Love” statement from his first epistle –that and the great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27, Matt 22:37-40). That’s pretty straightforward–but doctrine much beyond that leaves an awful lot to argue about.

People will see in the film what they are inclined to see. Referencing a quote from Blaise Pascal, Brennan Manning said, “God created man in his image, and man returned the favor.” I think most believers should see this movie and decide for themselves. Some will see it as uplifting and their faith will be strengthened. Others will see it as some End Times great delusion meant to lead the faithful astray. Anyway, as for me, maybe it’s just the mood I’ve been in of late, but it warmed my cynical heart considerably.

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Gaslighting, Fake News & Other Reality Thefts

The term “gaslighting” comes from a 1944 movie Gaslight that stars Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. The film portrays a clever sociopath convincing his new wife that she’s going crazy by manipulating her sense of reality. The gaslights dim for no  good reason. The husband insists that she’s imagining it, and he plays other tricks to get her to question her sanity. Today, gaslighting is mostly used to describe manipulation in relationships where the guy (usually) is having an affair and tries to convince his wife/girlfriend that there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for the clues she thinks she sees that suggests he’s cheating.

Gaslighting strategies include: (1) Telling gigantic, often obviously false lies over and over, (2) Insisting that what one observed first hand didn’t really happen, (3) demeaning and criticizing the victim, (4) Isolating the victim from other sources who would help them reality check.

However, the term has come up a lot lately in reference to President Trump and his persistent claims that his version of an event is the real one — like the size of the crowd at his inauguration. Because he’s a master manipulator some see sinister motives in his insistence on his version of a story being real. Is he actively playing us, manipulating our sense of reality to gain further control? Or is he just so childish that he just has to have his way and won’t be satisfied until everyone buys into it? Hopefully, time will tell.

In fact, gaslighting is no more or less than the tyranny of the self-possessed over the insecure, or someone with more power and control insisting that their version of reality is THE reality. It is a favored trick of narcissists and cult leaders — their victims being the insecure and codependent. Someone with a strong ego and confidence in their ability to reality check is not likely to fall prey to gaslighting.

Fake News

Fake news is more problematic, especially in this era of Facebook, Twitter and social media. I spend more time each day scrolling thru my feed on Facebook than I’d care to admit, and what I see is governed by some algorithm likely based on what I’ve clicked on in the past. Unfortunately, over the past year I get more and more rancorous stories and memes with a political focus. Funny cat videos aside, what I really would like to see is more heartwarming, funny or spiritual stories and memes. Anyway, some of my feed comes from the far left and some come from the right. I have four or five friends from both ends of the political spectrum and so I guess what I’m exposed to via their posts is about as “fair and balanced” as Fox News. That is to say balanced, but fair, not so much.

My internal baloney detector tells me that about 50% of what I see is distorted, unbalanced, partially false or outright lies. My baloney detector is based on spending three years in graduate school studying experimental psychology. At New Mexico State we were taught to be pure empiricists and rigidly skeptical to boot. Empiricists are taught to ignore opinion and to let the data speak for itself.

In the section on “power” in my book Jesus v. satan: The Message of the Wilderness Temptations I write about the malignant power of reality thieves that spread falsehoods on the internet and Facebook.  I give several examples of stories I have come across. My favorite is that the PBS kid’s show host Mr Rogers was a Marine Corps sniper in Viet Nam with over 20 kills. That one made me laugh out loud but surely their were folks who believed it.

Even so, I’ve been fooled a few times by clicking “like” on a story that Snopes.com said was likely false. However, what I’ve discovered is that Snopes has an orientation too–and one more liberal than my own. So fact checking is sometimes helpful, however there’s no guarantee that the fact-check site is neutral.

For me the most interesting statement in the Bible uttered by a non-believer is when Pilate says to Jesus, “What is truth?”  That question can be interpreted in so many ways. He might as well have said, “What is reality?” And I’ve asked that question myself innumerable times. Sadly, for many reality is what they choose to make it. It is what they are prone to believe rather than what the facts actually indicate. However, one thing for sure, it’s a question that will not be answered by social media. Fake news proliferates on Facebook and there’s no good way of regulating it. Take away social media and the fake news problem would drop by over 50%.

However, what is even more discouraging is that major newspapers reprint fake news and don’t really seem to care. In the old days magazines and newspapers had fact checkers. Veracity was important. Today, politically correct opinion and commentary trumps the facts. Ditto the major TV networks.

Trying to sort thru opinions to find the facts is hard work. Consider hot button topics like climate change and trickle-down economics. One PhD says this, but another expert with equally good credentials says the opposite. Tacking down the hard data and drawing a conclusion is arduous. It’s work that most are unwilling to do and so we opt for a cleverly worded opinion that reflects what we already believe.

Reality Thieves

Way back in 1986, I wrote an unpublished essay about the perniciousness of lies, liars and lying. This likely was prompted by reading Christian psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie. Peck’s book was about evil people and how the psychiatric nomenclature is inadequate to describe evil. I never finished the piece but I remember some of what I wrote. My point was that the evil in lies and liars was that we need the truth to make good decisions — sometimes life and death decisions, and that those who steal our reality by deliberately lying to us are truly evil people. My insight at the time seemed a half-step expansion on what Peck had written.

Even baby-Christians know that Satan is a liar, the father of lies (John 8:44)  and a thief (John 10:10). Satan came to lie and to steal and to kill. Gaslighters, deliberate purveyors of fake news, and plain old liars all serve the devil in that they seek to steal our reality, kill the truth–and in some sense destroy us as well. Whether we are a believer or not we owe each other the truth as human beings — the truth as best we can discern it.

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How To Cope Like Abe

I just finished reading Lincoln’s Melancholy a book that examines in great depth the inner life and deep sadness and despair of arguably our greatest president. The fact that he struggled with depression is fairly well known. I mention his depression in my book The Unwelcome Blessing. However, until reading Joshua Wolf Shenk’s book I had no idea how deep and pervasive his problem was with clinical depression— labeled melancholy in the 19th Century.

In his mid-20s he had at least three episodes of what today would qualify for a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder. His friends feared that he was suicidal to the point where they kept close watch on him and even hid knives from him. Today, he undoubtedly would have been hospitalized and treated with psychoactive medication. However, beyond the episodes of major depression, Lincoln’s whole life was one tinged with a sadness so deep that he would surely be labeled Dysthymic Disorder.

Dysthymia is a long depression of mild to moderate intensity. It is what I have coped with most of my life. In most instances dysthymia is life-long. Many dysthymics get by without treatment but often turn to alcohol, over-eating and street drugs to cope.

In Lincoln’s time, struggling with melancholy did not yet have the stigma that became attached to it in the 20th Century. If anything it was considered somewhat ennobling. In 1972, Missouri senator Thomas Eagleton was briefly the VP running mate of George McGovern. When his history of hospitalizations for depression became public he was forced to withdraw from the race. It would be much the same today. President Trump could utter one outrageous statement after another and still get elected, but had he had a history of hospitalizations for depression he’d have never won a single primary.

Shenk makes the point that Lincoln’s melancholy (dysthymia) was very much part and parcel of who he was as an individual–and that at a fairly young age he came to accept that his life would always be one of sadness. Also, around the same time he came to the realization that he had an important destiny to fulfill. It is what drove him on thru one failure after another until, almost miraculously, in 1860, he is elected President of the United States with only 40% of the popular vote.

Lincoln undoubtedly had somewhat of a biological predisposition to depression. However, beyond that he was born into grinding poverty and lost his mother at a young age. His father was a hard man but not abusive. Lincoln basically had only one year of formal education. He was an autodidact who eventually read enough law to become a fairly successful circuit riding attorney in Central Illinois. However, even after he achieved a modicum of success more than one person remarked that he was the saddest person they’d ever met.

So how did Abe cope with the ever present demon of his melancholy?  (1) He read a lot. He favored Shakespeare— particularly the tragedies. Though he never joined a church, he read the Bible extensively. The book of Job particularly resonated with him, and one can easily see biblical cadences and allusions in his speeches (2) He wrote poetry that vented his sadness, and there are a few surviving examples of his poems. (3) He loved humor. He read the popular satirical magazines of his day. He could suddenly emerge from an obvious state of sadness and introversion with a joke or a funny story that would entertain everyone in his presence. He laughed at his own jokes–and obviously sharing them with others brought immense pleasure to him. Humor was this most solitary man’s way of connecting with others.

The ways Lincoln coped with his deep despair echo many of my own suggestions in The Unwelcome Blessing.  I cite humor, journaling, creativity–and reading the Bible (particularly Psalms) as ways of overcoming depression. Dysthymic Disorder really doesn’t have a cure as such but it can be coped with and overcome, and it is in that striving that one grows. It can truly become an unwelcome blessing.

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