America’s Dark Night of the Soul

Everything is really dark right now. The forces of evil appear are fighting to maintain the upper hand and are clearly determined to drag us as far down the ugly path of cruelty and hatred as they can with willing support from people who ought to know better but are under the thrall of hate and so don’t care. People have revealed themselves and it is bizarre how rare genuinely good people seem to be. And yet, I do believe there’s a well of untapped goodness lurking under the surface just waiting to be released. There has to be; humans are made in God’s image and we’ve not had nearly as many opportunities to pour out good as evil.

I often think of something John of the cross said in The Dark Night of the Soul. He says that when God invades our innermost being and begins to purify us, it pushes all of the impurities in our hearts to the surface – things we didn’t even know were there or thought we had overcome. We see this darkness rising and think we are worse than we’ve ever been. Hopeless, ugly, evil even. And yet that is the point at which God is working most intensely in us under the surface. As his purifying fire expands out from our innermost being it quickly burns off the darkness on the surface to reveal his presence and our goodness.

I work under the theory that what we go through as individual humans must happen with humanity as a whole. I think (hope) we are at that point where the darkness is right on the surface and we believe ourselves to be worse than ever. Or perhaps there’s still more ugliness that needs to come to the surface to be dealt with. Either way, if that’s true, then we’re not far off from the point where the goodness under the surface burns through the darkness to reveal something much purer and more beautiful than we imagined was possible. Chin up, peeps.

PS Just a reminder, that I pretty much predicted we were heading in this direction back in 2014. Let’s just hope I am also right about the end result!

Hate In a Time of Trump

In the last few years I’ve had numerous people confess to me that they were really struggling with hate towards Trump, his supporters, his enablers and the gang of conmen and criminals who have taken over our government. Given the behavior of these people, their open animosity, disdain and thinly veiled hatred for the rest of us and the harm being done to our government, our allies and some of the world’s most vulnerable people as the result of this administration, hatred is pretty justifiable. But a lot of us for reasons of personal morality, character or mental health have a commitment to rejecting hate. And yet, as many people are discovering, not hating in the face of extreme provocation and rank evil is easier said than done.

At this point, some of you are wondering why this is even a concern. Hate is a valid and one can argue even a morally appropriate response to some kinds of behaviors and harm done. And telling people not to hate is a fairly common way to minimize actual wrongdoing, threats and abuse. Besides, who are we to tell other people what they are and aren’t allowed to feel? And I agree with all of that. However . . . allowing yourself to hate comes at a cost.

First off, maintaining hate requires a lot of energy. Energy that you won’t always have control of, frankly. It’s bad enough that you have to deal with the bullshit that triggers the hate, but when you hate, you can be having a perfectly pleasant day turned sour by seeing or hearing the object of your hate or even just remembering them. Which is WAY too much power to give someone who’s worthy of hate over your life.

Further, when we hate, the part of our brain that primes us for action is activated. Which means we tend to be more impulsive than normal when we hate. Being impulsive leaves us vulnerable to making mistakes (here’s a quick guide for evaluating an outrageous story before you share it on social media, btw?). Maybe it’s me, but I generally try to avoid doing dumb stuff on impulse, so that’s a problem. And hatred tends to go hand in hand with anger which clouds our judgment and tends to prevent us from recognizing when we’re wrong and making appropriate corrections. Which means we end up being both wrong and an asshole at the same time more often and, thanks, I don’t need help with that.

Probably most insidiously, because how you use your brain becomes how your brain works, allowing yourself to hate means that hate becomes a baseline normal state for you which you will compulsively return to over and over again until it’s so ingrained in your wiring that it can take many years and therapy to undo. As a former white supremacist told researchers investigating hate’s addictive qualities:

“I’ve said before that it took me less than two years to learn to hate and it took me nine
years to unlearn it. You don’t just stop hating just like that. There is still a lot of pollution in there.”

Hate’s a dangerous thing. Even if you are completely justified in your hate, your brain can easily become habituated to hating in ways that are hard to undo. Which, again, is WAY too much power for someone worthy of hating to have over you.

Now, there are lots of esoteric and spiritual arguments to be made against hate, but when you really get down to brass tack for me refusing to hate is a matter of being kind to myself and refusing to allow terrible people more power than I have to in my life. I don’t like the way hate feels in my body, I don’t need help making more mistakes and misjudgments in my life, I have worked hard to master my mind and I’m not risking that to indulge hate and I refuse to allow myself to turn into a hateful person over terrible people. So that’s my personal take on why I don’t allow myself to just hate anyone. Including Trump.

Of course, like I said earlier, easier said than done. If want to share how you avoid falling into hate in the comments, maybe you can help out someone who is struggling with it. For me, it’s been a two-part process. First, I refuse to live in denial so I will make time to have a good look at my hate. I have to let myself feel it so I know what it feels like, how it works, what happens when I add self-righteous or empathy into it, I make myself face the truth about when my thoughts, attitudes, and words are driven by hate posing as reason, righteousness or some other excuse. Then once I had a good feel for it, I just started rejecting it mentally every time I experienced it. The feeling didn’t automatically go away when I rejected it, but I set my will over and over against allowing myself to hate. As soon as I recognize it’s presence in me, I pray: “God, please take this hate from me, I do not want it in my life.” Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. So I don’t particularly have a magic bullet to take hate away (it is at root, a natural, God-given emotion, after all). Just a practice of disciplining my heart and my mind to refuse to hate. Terrible people don’t get to infect me and my mind like that.

Rules of Discernment, Rule 3: Diversity

Have you ever really thought about how wildly different in appearance human beings are? With the exception of dogs, animals of the same species will share a narrow range of colors, size, and appearances. But humans can have hair that is orange or white or black, skin from the palest whites to the darkest black, noses that are flat or bulbous or wide or narrow. Our lips come in sizes from billowy to so thin as to be practically non-existent. We can have huge bubble butts and flat behinds that look like they hurt to sit on. We may be rail-thin or carry enough fat to jiggle with every move. There are women who are over 7 feet tall and men who fail to hit 4 feet. If we were birds, we would have lost our ability to procreate with each other ages back and formed a dizzying array of subspecies, yet there’s nothing other than personal preference that could have stopped Shaquille O’Neil and Rea Pearlman from reproducing together.

Of course, the diversity of human beings doesn’t end with physical appearances. Some humans are smart enough to understand ideas that unlock the structure of the universe while others believe that ectopic pregnancies can be reimplanted. There are people who experience sound as colors and people who are colorblind. Some people are loud and aggressive and some are quiet and withdrawn. Some can run a 5 minute mile while others push themselves to cover the same distance in 20 minutes. Some people love being scared, some people get freaked trying to navigate a parking lot. Some people talk incessantly and others lack the capacity entirely. Some people are lighthearted to the point of irresponsibility while others are careful and cautious to the point of paralysis.

Obviously, I could go on forever giving examples of ways that humans are different from one another. It’s practically limitless. We have different personalities and temperaments that are often discernable at birth. We like different things. We have different priorities, drives, and desires. On and on and on – humans and variety go hand and hand. It’s a fundamental part of how God created us. He WANTS us to be different. He wants to have some people who are aggressive and some people who are gentle. Some people who laugh at everything and others who cry at everything. It is his design for us that he looked at and called “very good.” Which leads me to my 3rd Rule for Discernment:

Do not follow or trust any teacher or leader who insists that there is a right or wrong way to be human.

God literally made humans to be wildly diverse so quite obviously, a teacher who says that good and proper humans must conform to a narrow set of behaviors, styles, personalities, interests and so on are showing a flagrant disregard for God’s ways. In fact, they are literally arguing against God’s ways in favor of their own personal preferences. Which isn’t actually something a good teacher or shepherd would do.

Inside the church we probably see this error among teachers and shepherds most clearly when it comes to men and women. Typically, women are supposed to be gentle, quiet, demure, agreeable and relationship-oriented. Men are supposed to be aggressive, forceful, leaders, decisive and goal-oriented. Men and women who aren’t naturally inclined to such things are encouraged to seek God’s help in changing from the person he created them to be into something more to the leader’s liking. They are told that the personality God gave them, their natural preferences, what feels good and right to them is wrong and needs to be repented of. It’s oppressive, mentally and emotionally harmful and warps entire families and communities in ways that prevent human flourishing.

Now, I joke around a lot, but I want to make really clear the seriousness of what we’re talking about here. Some of the false teachers and bad shepherds may not quite realize that the things they believe make for a good, godly person are personal preferences rather than some sort of God-given judgment on what sort of people we’re supposed to be. But others are literally creating a world that works according to and in service to their own selfish desires. There are lots and lots of examples, but the clearest example of how destructive and malicious this behavior is found in a man named Bill Gothard.

Some of you know all too well who Bill Gothard is but some of you are more blessed than that and have probably never heard of the man. He is a highly influential figure among IFB – Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. Independent Fundamentalist Baptists are extreme Christian fundamentalists whose adherents include the Duggar Family of 19 Kids and Counting fame. Now, perhaps you have noticed that all of the Duggar girls, including the mom, style themselves in very similar ways. They wear their hair long, with loose curls, have milky complexions with rosy cheeks, are slim, wear skirts that go to the ankles and clothing that minimizes the appearance of breasts. The reason for this is that they followed the teachings of Bill Gothard who taught that this was the appearance girls and young women should have. This is what is desirable for a woman, pleasing to God and showed good character. As it turns out, Bill Gothard is a sexual predator who personally prefers young women with that particular appearance. Like a lot of predators, he had a “type” and he was using his position to surround himself with potential victims whose appearance appealed to him.

That case is extreme, but one of my basic rules of thumb is that any dynamic or system which can easily be put to use by predators is not of God. God’s ways don’t rely on the goodness of men to produce good fruit but have a power all their own. Even if it were possible for a mere mortal to know as much as God about how he intends people to be, giving a leader the power to tell people who they are supposed to be requires that leader to be a genuinely good person. The existence of Bill Gothard and others like him is proof positive that having leaders tell people what kind of people they should be is not God’s way of doing things because it relies on the goodness of humans to avoid devolving into a sexual predator enabling nightmare. And the toll it takes on families, individuals and children, in particular, to be subjected to someone telling them that who they are is wrong and displeasing to God is enormous.

All of which is to say that if you run into a teacher or leader who has strong opinions about how people are supposed to be, run. Nothing good comes from exposing yourself to someone who has rejected such a basic aspect of how God designed human beings. A good teacher won’t try to narrow down the types of people God finds pleasing, but will celebrate the diversity that God created within the human race and help us learn to look on those who are different than ourselves with eyes of love that look for beauty and God’s fingerprints.

Rules of Discernment, Rule 2: Boogeymen

As most of us are well aware, the church can be a treacherous place. Unfortunately, many Christians are ill-equipped to navigate it without falling prey to false teachers, bad shepherds, false teachings, lies, manipulation, etc. When Jesus said “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”, he apparently wasn’t kidding. Of course, immediately after telling us that he was sending us out like walking dinner plates at the Fyre Festival, he also said, “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” To that end, I’m sharing my “Rules of Discernment” to help you and your loved ones navigate the treacherous ground we stand on.

Last week, I shared my 1st Rule of Discernment which is, basically, don’t trust anyone who claims authority for themselves rather than directing you back to the Spirit of God in you. Which right there eliminates a big chunk of the very most noxious false teachers, charlatans and cons. However, there are plenty of dangerous snakes who are a bit too savvy to come right out and openly claim the authority of God for themselves. So we need to move on to other obvious as well as telltale signs that you’re dealing with a false teacher or bad shepherd without having to go through the whole process of experiencing the effects of false teachers and bad shepherds yourself. At the top of the list of fairly obvious signs I’d put my 2nd Rule:

If a teacher/pastor/leader views the world as an “us vs them” endeavor with Christians on one side and other people/groups/ideology on the other – RUN!

Quite literally, if you hear a teacher tell you that the gays, the liberals, the trumpists, the atheists, the feminists, witches, warlocks, pagans, communists, nudists, the guy who takes his shoes and socks off on the plane or any other person or group of people is trying to “defeat/eliminate/attack” Christianity somehow, you can very comfortably turn tale and run. There’s a near zero chance that that person has anything to teach you that you can’t find in a bajillion other places.

Properly practiced, one of Christianity’s foundational, primary teaching is love of our enemies. It’s what we, at our best, have been known for from the days of the early church right down to our current time. A teacher who instead teaches fear of enemies can barely even be understood to be a Christian regardless of their theology or other claimed beliefs.

Loving our enemies and responding to evil with good doesn’t come naturally, of course. It’s something we must discipline ourselves to do. It’s something we rely on leaders to model and, well, lead us in doing. With practice, there does come a time when loving our enemies starts to come naturally but along the way we need lots of messages telling us over and over, “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . . Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. . . Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

One of the jobs of a real Christian teacher – one of the things we NEED from our teachers – is to proclaim that message over and over and over again. To shut down all of the excuses and justifications we use to get out of loving our enemies. And one of the things the world needs from us as Christians is to see us engaged in this discipline, to be on the receiving end of kindness in response to hostility and care in response to harm. If we as Christians aren’t engaging in that most Kingdom of God like practice of enemy love, how will the Kingdom of God ever be made manifest among and around us?!? It’s literally part of how we bear witness to the power of Christ in us and without it; without it our witness has no power and no credibility.

A teacher who encourages their flock to view others as a threat to be resisted, condemned and rejected is failing at being a follower of Jesus. They have absolutely no business teaching about or even representing the Christian faith to anyone. It would be like a Muslim Imam encouraging their followers to worship trees. It’s completely incompatible with the Christian faith. And it’s an abuse of the flock.

The bible says the words “do not fear” (or some variation thereof) over and over and over and over and over again. Like hundreds of times. Yet these “teachers” stand up and exhort their flocks with all kinds of reasons to be afraid. When we are afraid, our rational, thinking brain stops communicating effectively with the reactive, emotional brain. In this state, we’re very vulnerable to manipulation. Triggering our fear provides a durable screen for the con or charlatan to hide behind. Even if you catch on that they’re not on the up and up, you’ll be tempted to take an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” stance so you can continue battling “the good” fight together. It’s quite a neat little trick.

Even worse, once fear brain takes over, it becomes ridiculously difficult to see those you’ve labeled “enemy” clearly. All over the country there are Christians who sincerely believe that their neighbors who are atheists, lgbtq, liberal, Muslim, poor, immigrants or whatever are a very real threat to them, their way of life and the Christian faith. Of course, this isn’t reality. We’re all just people. We all bear the image and likeness of God in our innermost being. We belong together. But if all I can really see when I look at my neighbor is “enemy who is serving the forces of evil with the goal of harming me and all I hold dear”, that’s not what you’re going to see. Unity with mankind (Hebrew – Adam) based on our common humanity is, I believe, our birthright. It was stolen from us by the enemy. And it is kept from us by the immature impulse to view the world as “us vs them”.

Not to mention that the whole idea that a group of people, an ideology or a person could constitute an actual threat to my Christian faith is absurd. My faith is and internal affair can’t be taken from me. And even if I were unable to speak a word of it, God is still plenty capable of revealing himself to people in their innermost being regardless. And how can anything be a threat when Jesus said, flat out, that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church. Like, do you actually believe anything Jesus said or not? How serious is a threat that has zero chance of prevailing anyhow? Even if enemies appear to be crushing the church (a reality in places like Pakistan and parts of the Middle East), we’re following a savior who died and rose again and has promised the same to us. Do we believe that or no?

Literally nothing good comes from viewing our neighbors as enemies. It’s alienating. It’s unfaithful. It strengthens the enemy’s kingdom on Earth. It deprives us of the fruits of disciplining ourselves to love our enemies. On the other hand, loving our enemies is revolutionary. It starts to undo the harm humans have done to each other, creates unity among people and forces us to grow and develop as human beings. Do yourself, the body of Christ and the world a favor and refuse to follow any teacher who warns you about boogeymen. Nothing good comes from following a bad shepherd, peeps.

Rules of Discernment, Rule 1: Authority

One of my persistent frustrations with my fellow Christians is a general lack of discernment and good judgment. As the bible makes amply clear, there are false teachers and bad shepherds out there yet everywhere I turn, I meet Christians who have fallen for con artists and cult leaders and false teachings by the boatload. When you see the wreckage of broken families, broken people and corruption wrought in people’s lives, the persistence and ferocity with which scripture condemns false teacher and bad shepherds makes perfect sense.

What I’ve realized in talking with the victims of the charlatans and cons is that no one ever taught them even the most basic rules of discernment. Which makes sense since charlatans and cons are hardly going to start teaching their victims how to sniff them out. But I’m not a charlatan or a con, although you are plenty welcome to go buy my books, so I’m happy to share what I know, starting with rule numero uno:

All authority belongs to God. No one who claims authority for themselves is to be trusted.

It doesn’t matter if the claim to authority comes by way of their education, revelation, natural ability or giftings, their call, the affirmation of others, institutional position or because they were born on a Thursday in July in a magic lightning storm. It doesn’t matter what the reason given is, any teacher who claims authority for themselves (or claims that God has conferred such authority to them) is a false teacher to be rejected out of hand.

A true religious teacher claims no authority for themselves and will direct you to verify anything they say with the Spirit in you rather than just accepting what they say at face value. They know that God is real and that the same God which is teaching them is available to you. If their words are true, the Spirit in you will affirm it. If their words are false or not meant for you, the Spirit will keep you from falling into error. An insistence on directing you back to the Spirit in you for your answers is a hallmark of a true teacher.

Further, a real teacher will show a willingness to accept with a minimum of quarrel or offense if you come back and say that the Spirit in you did not affirm their words. Their impulse will be to go to God for instruction and understanding, not to make you defend yourself. A real religious teacher doesn’t need you to agree with or affirm them. They know that it’s God’s job to grow and teach his children and He will do it with or without the teacher’s help. And they have enough experience listening to and sitting with God to easily receive correction or allow their understanding to be expanded, so your disagreement is an opportunity rather than a threat.

Now, perhaps you are reading this and you’re thinking of the teachers you’ve known and realizing that what I’m describing is assuredly not the sort of behavior you are accustomed seeing among Christian (or other religious) teachers. Which explains right there why the church is in such horrific condition. A disproportionate percentage of Christian teachers can’t even make it past the first rule of discernment. They don’t even pass the sniff test. And yes, that includes the ones with the largest followings and most money. In fact, it especially includes them.

The truth of the matter is that most of the teachers God has trained for the benefit of the body are nowhere near a pulpit. Some are. But not many. Most of the best teachers are just walking among us unrecognized and unheralded by the institutions that claim the label of the church for themselves. They simply speak truth into whatever situation they are in, watering the ground around them with words of life, weeding out falsehoods by the root and scattering seeds of healing and restoration in their wake.

It would be lovely if these were the people leading the church, of course. Maybe you can check with God and see if there’s a plan for that. 😉

Who Are You Calling a Liar? Parkland Shooting Edition

Image result for parkland shootingProbably the most pervasive problem that trauma survivors deal with is not being believed on account of not sounding, looking, acting or thinking how people think a victim should in the aftermath of the trauma.

If we smile or laugh, we’re lying because we should be grief stricken.

If we cry hysterically, we’re acting because we’re over the top.

If we stumble over our words, we’re having a hard time keeping our lies straight.

If we speak eloquently, we’re lying because we’re too composed.

If we throw ourselves into another dangerous situation, we’re lying because we should be seeking safety.

If we hide away, we’re lying and can’t withstand people asking questions.

If we don’t tell anyone, we’re lying because if it happened, we’d tell people.

If we shout what happened from the rooftops, we’re lying to get attention.

If we become an activist, we’re lying for personal gain.

If we never want to speak of the subject again, we’re lying because we should want to fix it.

If our traumatized brains have a hard time remembering details or maintaining focus, that’s evidence we’re lying.

If we are calm, cool, collected and on point, then we’re lying because we should be struggling to hold ourselves together.

It literally doesn’t matter what trauma victims do or how we react, there are people who will use it as evidence against us. Why? Because some people are evil, pure and simple. Remember this as you watch the way some people are talking about the kids and parents speaking out after the Parkland shooting. Those who have partnered with evil are exposing themselves. Pay attention to these people and don’t forget who they are. Not everyone is a good person.

This Is Today’s Test

I really hate that we’re even having this conversation because it’s so damn stupid, but no one is disrespecting the flag. That’s just a bald faced lie. Kneeling is not a gesture of disrespect. It’s a prayerful, reverent position. If Kapernick had said he was kneeling as an act of patriotic fervor, no one except the Jehovah’s witnesses and the Mennonites would have objected. But he’s kneeling to protest a pattern of violence by the state against citizens, particularly black citizens.

Let’s drill down to brass tacks about this issue. A 12 year old child named Tamir Rice was deliberately shot on sight, without warning, while playing in a park by the police. And nothing happened. His mom got some money because that’s all anyone cares to give her. The local cops ridicule her, sometimes openly. They knowingly lied about her son and what happened. They did not provide immediate first aid for Tamir’s wounds. They made his sister watch her 12 year brother dying on the ground while locked in the back of a squad car, after a full grown man tackled her to stop her from reaching him. They didn’t even follow their own rules. The local DA was forced by protests to convene a grand jury which he threw so flagrantly and deliberately that details of the proceedings were leaked to the public – something which simply does not happen with grand juries. Grand juries do not leak. From front to back, this case is as egregiously unjust and cruel as it is possible to be.

And, by all appearances, a lot of Americans are cool with that. They’ll repeat easily disproven lies smearing a 12 year old child before dealing with the obvious problem Kapernick and other athletes are protesting. To them, the most important thing is that we all agree that there is most certainly not a problem and further, that we are not allowed to talk openly about the problem outside of a few well-worn bromides that have always sufficed before. Unfortunately, there are people with really loud voices and a lot of power who fall into the category of people who just don’t give a shit about a 12 year old kid in a supposed “ghetto” that they won’t even drive through but know everything about. Where a 12 year old child was playing when he was shot by the police, no wilding gang members being available to do the job, apparently. The people who think like this are assholes. These are the people who need to be identified and kept away from positions of power and influence. Because they are literally sociopaths who are a danger to the rest of us.

So here’s what’s happening right now; as I warned y’all a couple of years back we’re going to be having a little test. And apparently God put Kapernick in charge of administering this part of it. The particular question we need to answer for this part of the test is simple:

What is more important to you: living in a country where it’s unthinkable for a 12 year old kid to be shot by a police officer while playing at the park or following protocol for interacting with national symbols?

That’s all you have to answer: which one matters more? A human being or the flag? Justice or a song? Will you kneel for justice and real human lives or will you refuse to on account of mere symbols? That’s the choice you get to make. It’s an easy enough question to answer. Which is more important – humans or symbols and protocols. Sociopaths will make one choice. Decent human beings will make another. So make your choice. What matters more to you? At the end of the day, what sort of person do you turn out to be? Choose. Let us all know. We’re watching.