December 31, 2010

Modern Man from Africa? Or Israel?

For some time now, "modern science"/evolution has claimed that our particular race (Homo sapiens/humanity) originated in Africa. Their reasoning has thus far been based on the discovery of the "oldest" human remains in the region of east Africa (roughly "200,000 years old"- although, the margin of error is typically substantial in such figures).

But it looks like they might have been wrong.

Israeli archeologists have discovered eight human teeth "dating from 400,000 years ago" in a prehistoric cave (called the "Qesem Cave") lying east of Tel Aviv (Granted, I don't believe the teeth are actually that old- or even close to that number- but I think the comparative age difference might still be accurate). Israeli archeologists Avi Gopher and Ran Barkai say the cul­ture of those who dwelt in the Qe­sem Ca­ve in­clud­ed (reg­u­lar) use of fire, hunt­ing, cut­ting, shar­ing of food, and min­ing raw ma­te­ri­als to make flint blades. They also added that these findings encourage the belief that (400,000 years ago) there was pioneered and innovative be­hav­ior that may cor­re­spond with the ap­pear­ance of our own "mod­ern ma­n."

Almost as if humans were created this competent, from the beginning?

However, I must mention this disclaimer- the claims have not been proved to their fullest possible extent. Although, the archeologists at the dig site claim to be "confident" about soon uncovering further supporting evidence (skulls, other bones, items, tools, etc.).

If these claims become accepted (widely enough), the implications are enormous.

This could be tangible evidence (more importantly, evidence accepted by the "World") that humanity did not originate in Africa, but that our earliest ancestors actually lived closer to Israel... Which is what the majority of Christians already believe/claim.

"Garden of Eden," anyone? Middle East? Iraq? All of that's pretty close together, if I remember my geography correctly.

I don't even feel like I need to try and exhaust all of the different facts (and the various rumors) of the situation for you; I encourage you to explore the matter and form your own unique opinions and reflections. I really just wanted to share this novel bit of information. So now, I will leave you to read the "information" that I've highlighted (so to speak).

What you think about what you find is wholly up to you, from hereon.

(... Although, that is always true.)

Links to press articles regarding this news:

[Feel free to do further research on Google (or whichever search site you've chosen as your personal "cup o' tea")- I'm not saying their claims are true (I mean, I'm not even tempted to believe that the teeth are remotely close to 400,000 years old- that's just me.), but they could be very indicative of some already-established Truths, at this point. I guess we'll just all have to wait and see what else develops in the situation.]

December 25, 2010

Merry Me, Christmas

It's snowing right now, at this very moment.

I've never had a "White Christmas" before, but it looks like this year I'll finally get one (albeit a tad later in the day than one would typically hope for). What's really neat is that my newest little sister has never had a Christmas before (Her name is Caelyn, 7 years old- we adopted her from China just earlier this year, in January), and God decides to have it snow on her very first!

That is just too cool.

Caelyn has been so excited about today. For the past couple of weeks, she's been perpetually reminding the rest of the family that "Jesus' birthday, soon." It's been invigorating to watch her zeal for the season. And yeah, I know she doesn't actually grasp the concept of the thing (at all)- but that doesn't mean God can't use her to energize and encourage my own faith, and the faith of the rest of my family.

However, as endearing and well-meaning as Caelyn's declarations are, some of them are technically inaccurate. There are a myriad of myths in existence about Christmas (its traditions, about the season, about Jesus, etc.).

Let's take a look at a few of them, shall we?

Myth I: "Jesus was born on Christmas Day."
      Most people are already aware of this myth's existence (and invalidity), but I thought I would address it, nonetheless. The actual date of Jesus' birth is unknown (although many claim it to be in mid-to-late September); it is not recorded in the Bible. Ultimately, December 25th was chosen by the church, maybe even as early as 273 AD, as the day for the celebration. By the year 336 AD, we at least know, the Roman church calender shows record of a nativity celebration by Western Christians on the 25th of December.

Myth II: "The abbreviation 'X-mas' is a secular way to take 'Christ' out of 'Christmas.'"
     The word "Christ," which means "Messiah" or "Anointed One," is a Greek term. "X" actually stands for the Greek letter "chi"- equivalent to the first two letters in the English word "Christ." And it's been that way for many hundreds of years. Even Webster’s dictionary recognizes that the abbreviation "X" was commonly accepted for "X-mas", as well as "X-ian", by the middle of the sixteenth century. This tradition even originated in the heritage of the Church.

Myth III: "'Christmas' is a tradition with secular roots- therefore, Christians should not celebrate it."
     This is a more personal/subjective "myth," I think. But the fact remains that, no matter the ancient roots or reasons for the decision upon December 25th, we celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, during this time. That is a celebration that is present, not past. Moreover, the apostle Paul quoted popular Greek poets in the New Testament (Acts 17:28; I Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12)- why can we not also utilize that which is secular for that which is holy? (This goes for the entire tradition of the "Christmas Tree," as well.)

Myth IV: "There are more suicides during the holidays."
      Between late 1999 and early 2006, more than 40% of newspaper stories reporting on suicide (during the holidays) reinforced the myth that the holiday season led to a rise in the suicide rate. But, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, suicides are not more prevalent during the winter months. Their data actually reports that the overall number of suicides drops during the winter, and peaks during the spring and summer. See "this" NPR report for more information. (Different days of the week are actually shown to have more variation between them than any seasons do- with Monday as the most common day, and Saturday as the least common.)

Myth V:  "Three wise men visited newborn Jesus, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."
     The Bible never states that there were "three" wise men. In Matthew 2, "wise men from the east" are mentioned, but their actual number is not described. The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, however, are mentioned, in Matt. 2:11. The reason so many people assume there were three wise men (and put three wise men in their nativity scenes- which doesn't even fit chronologically in the first place) is because there are three gifts mentioned. But we do not know the actual number of wise men in attendance.

Myth VI: "St. Nicholas lives at the North Pole."
     Actually, he does not. St. Nicholas lived in Myna, Turkey. And he died there too, a very long time ago. And guess what? There isn't a single record (historic or otherwise) of him breaking into houses and leaving surprises wrapped in festive paper for the members of the residing families... Who would have thought? Apparently, "Santa Clause" is just imaginary- like the "friends" that young and lonely children make up for themselves, to play with. (Hey, I was one of those kids, I can say that.)

Myth VII: "Jesus Christ came to bring peace on earth." 
     This is the biggest one of them all. Okay, let me explain what I mean before anyone spits at their computer screen. Did Jesus come to Earth so that He could enable us to commune with God, to save us from our inescapable sin, to establish true peace between Christians and His Father? Yes, absolutely- I would never contest those truths. But did He come to bring "peace" between those of humanity? I do not believe so. However, rather than try and defend that to you, I'm just going to quote Jesus' own words, found in the gospel of Matthew (10:34):

"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword."

Or, elsewhere (also stated by Jesus), in Luke 12:51-53:

"Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother..."

What do you make of that? Even in the first sentence- Jesus outright denies that He has come to give "peace on earth". ("I tell you, not at all...")

"Peace on earth"?

Is it not indicative of something that one of the most popular slogans of the Christmas season (for Christians and non-Christians, alike) is that same, exact phrase- the phrase that Jesus denies as His reason for coming to earth and, thereby, denies as the motive for His birth? (The very thing that "Christmas" is supposed to celebrate?)

... I don't know the answer to that, to be perfectly honest. I can't level such sweeping allegations against a culture and mindset that I am myself guilty of, that I have so long taken stock in.

But I do know this:

I believe (now) that Christmas is not a time to celebrate (or advocate) "peace on earth"- but peace between man and God, instead.

Christmas is (or should be) one of the most intense and vital battles of the whole year, in this "war" (not in aggression/violence, but in intensity/struggle) that we will be waging for the rest of our years here on this earth- the war against sin, the war against ignorance, the effort to reflect God's Truth and glory to the rest of the world, and, perhaps most importantly (for our age), the war against indifference.

I believe that, not because it is popular, but because I feel convicted that it is true.

What you believe is not up to me, at all.

It's up to you.

December 19, 2010

The Common Question of Mankind

Like every other human being on the face of this Earth, I have very often wrestled (desperately) with the question that haunts each of us with its hounding force:

"Who am I?"

Every person here can relate to that query- no matter their faith, creed, race, preferences, history, age, knowledge, values, experience, or any other matter of differentiation. What follows is my perspective, my personal "take" on the matter. But I'm not trying to "push" my beliefs or opinions; I'm just trying to be as genuine and sincere as I can be, true to my own convicted heart.

We are human, all, and this nagging question of identity seems to be perpetually stuck with that existence.

But, even if I'm not able to perfectly define who I am, can I at least define who I am not?...

Who I am is not what I do- I don't think it's even a decision that I need to make, either today or on a day in the far-off future. It's not a lifestyle, and it isn't the emotions that I struggle with. It's not the adrenalined fear I feel when another car starts to cross blindly into my lane, nor the hopelessness that threatens to swallow my heart at the end of a particularly terrible day. My emotions are the clothing my soul adorns- they change to the season. They can be representative of me, or a point in time, and they can reflect my values, history, vanities, or preferences- but they are not who I am.

Who I am is not whether I say "please" or "thank you." It's not something that can be improved upon by a hearty spritz of cologne and a good pair of starched khaki pants. It's not found in my home's equity or in how much money any given year yields for me. It is neither a grade of A+ nor F-. It's not how many people actually read my blog (Thank God!). It's not the number of "friends" I have on Facebook, or the number of posts on my wall.

Who I am is not others' opinions of me- good or bad.

Who I am is not something that will happen to me on a mythical "someday" in my later years. It's something that has already happened for me. It is an intricate mystery, beyond human comprehension or mathematical equations- something that no one will ever completely "figure out."

However, "who I am" does exist, and I can choose to glimpse it, describe it, utilize it, or share it with those around me...

Who I am is the face buried beneath the streaked layers of primitive war paint, the eyes that peep out when the defenses are all the way down, the constant truth I so often hide with crafted masks, of my own or others' designs.

I am (all in all) a beautiful mess, an intriguing complexity, a radiant and unknown truth...

And so are you.

December 12, 2010

Too Holy

One of the things I often feel guilty about is that I don't communicate with God as much as I "should"... If I feel guilty about it, though, then that means the desire for the desire (which might just be the desire, in itself) is there; I'm just not acting on it. So how do I change that?...

I think I'm going to start actually trying to talk to God- literally, plainly, audibly.

Seriously, though- when there's no one else around, nobody intruding on my sense of actuality with their own, why don't I just talk aloud to God? I mean, He's there with me, in that moment, so why can't I speak out loud to Him, as if He's standing right in front of me?

... Actually, maybe it wouldn't be appropriate, or cognizant, to voice my thoughts and feelings to God the Holy Father, the Perfect All-Being. It almost strikes me as boorish. I mean, I feel (and believe) that God transcends, or is complexly beyond, this whole concept and perception of Time, of existence, of interaction; He seems too big to be concerned with the inefficient, petty vocalizations and syntax we have attached to the abstraction that is actually communication.

After all, why did God have all of the regulations, rules, rituals, temples, rites, and sacrifices of the Old Testament? I think it was because He longed to interact with His people, to truly and rightly love them. But something had to change for that to be possible- not because He was incapable of love, but because humanity was (and is) incapable of loving Him in return, incapable of sincerely recognizing and respecting His Being.

Hence, Jesus. He was human, at one "time," pushed and forced along by the same experience of Time that presently drags us in its churning wake. His lungs once pulled in air and oxygen, He had a pulse (and it even eventually stopped), the hair on His head grew and had to be cut, He had to deal with the physical barrier of His own skin. Jesus Christ is God, to be sure, but He was human, as well; and that holy, full-of-wonder mystery (a "paradox," to our crude attempts at "reasoning") is our salvation, our one and only genuine way to interact with the divine, without being damned for our inherent sin.

So maybe I can just imagine it's Jesus there (here) with me. (How's that for a metaphor?)

However, the Father is still out there. And I don't mean "out there" as in beyond the clouds, beyond the expanse of the sky, hiding somewhere off behind the horizon-line. I mean out there as in existing beyond even the very planes, perceptions, "laws," and experiences of this entire Reality- too awesome for words or description, too holy for understanding or comprehension, too prodigious for this puny mind's imagination, much less exchange.

Maybe that very fact is one of the reasons He became a man (became the Son of Man), so that we would be able to finally relate to Him, interact with Him, so He could bridge the unending rift and unknowable gap between the imaginable and the unimaginable. Now, both I and God have the bond and commonality of this shared experience, this allotted rationale and reality, this sense of "reason" and everything that is included with it. We have seen, and worn, this fragile, tragic, and pitiful human state.

But, thankfully, all of this soiled and spoiled humanity could never possibly tarnish the phoenix of the Son, nor blemish His inerrant and aggregate Perfection.

December 9, 2010

"Hello, Officer"

You hear the sound of a siren, barking its shrill whoop-whoop, from behind you. You feel panic set in as you check your rear-view mirror and see the tell-tale glare of red and blue lights on the roof of the cruiser behind you.Your heart jumps over itself, doubling its pace, your stomach gives an ugly twist of nauseous discomfort, and you frantically eyeball your speedometer. Your inner dialogue kicks in before you can even pull to the side of the highway:  

No! Noooo! Not now! Not today! Was I even speeding? What's the speed limit here, anyway?! I thought I saw a sign that said it was 65! It's not my fault! They don't have enough speed limit signs on this road! I'm going 60! Well, nearly 60; I mean, if you round down- it's pretty much the same thing. There's hardly any difference! Stupid cop! Stupid police! Stupid, stupid me. Ugh! I do NOT need this right now!

... It's miserable, isn't it?

I know that you can perfectly relate to what I'm talking about- that sick feeling we all get. Police, cops, law-enforcement officials, security, whatever they're called- they instill anxiety in us, even when we're not "breaking the law." I know they do in me, at least (and in every person that I've asked, as well).

But just think about that truly ironic fact...

How completely and utterly backwards is that? The "law" should inspire the opposite of fear in us. Yet the most endangered and anxious I have ever felt, in my entire life, was around police officers. And it's not even because I was doing anything illegal (which I wasn't)- it's because they have the power to screw my entire life up, and they can do it for the wrong reasons, too. Cops are just human beings. They wear badges on their chests and guns on their hips, yes, but that doesn't mean they're infallible, that they don't make wrong decisions or bad calls, that they don't sin (and sin all of the time, just like the rest of us).

So is that why we fear them? Because we know they're human, because they can make mistakes?

Or, is it because we know that we're human?

It illustrates our relationship with the Law rather well, actually. No, not the "law" of ruddy-red-cheeked men in blue uniforms, nor the "law" of speeding tickets, fines, or closed-circuit security cameras. I mean the true, inherent, natural system of Right and Wrong.

We fear cops because we know that we will slip up, and that we might get caught; because cops, thankfully, are neither omniscient nor omnipresent. They're limited, like us, by what they can see with their own two eyes, by their earshot existences. We can detect their radars, we can tail cars going faster than we are, we can pick up speed again after we crest the next hill.

But the Law isn't like that.

The Law doesn't need a flashlight to see you hiding in the dark, picking your nose. It sees and is aware of everything, no matter how shameful or debased, because it simply is and exists. It encompasses all of reality, being on its own terms, independent of speed traps or human awareness. It is omniscient and omnipresent. It's like a policeman who tails me, two steps behind, every second of every day and night of my entire life. Even more than that, though, a policeman who can read my thoughts, as well. Who can see my heart and soul with perfect vision, all of my darkest secrets and sins, my dreams (by day or night), all of the stuff that I considered to be said, or thought, in perfect privacy.

That terrifies me, a little...

But, then again, God would have foreknown that we would never be able to learn on our own.

I guess that's why He arranged for His Son.

Now, every time I trip up (as I always will), and the Law catches me (as it always will), it's as if Jesus switches to the driver's seat before the Law even has a chance to approach my pulled-over car. Then, the Law sees Jesus and immediately backs off, hands waving in apology, because the Law knows Jesus' face, it knows His perfection, and it knows that it has no right to even give Him a warning.

But that doesn't mean I just speed whenever I want to, and break as many Laws as I'd like- because I'd never get anywhere, since I'd still be getting pulled over every single time I did something wrong. But the truth is that I will mess up, still; it's unavoidable.

But thank God I don't have to fear it anymore.

November 26, 2010

Every Reaction There Painted

Someone told me recently that the silence of God- that yawning abyss of no "conversation" or "words"- is not a negative thing, as we so often think it to be. Instead, it is a personal, intimate existence and experience.

That struck me as particularly beautiful...

But it's hard to capture the sentiment, the meaning behind it, with mere words. (I guess that's fitting, heh.) But I'm going to try and draw you a rough, charcoal sketch of what I think it means.

I liken it to sitting in an open field with a friend, darkness blanketing the scene, watching a mesmerizing meteor shower tracing across the November night sky. The air is crisp and clean, there are no clouds to shroud your view, and the upper atmosphere is striated with lines of trailed aurora. You don't want the person laying next to you to try and have a conversation with you right then, at that moment- it would absolutely spoil the experience. Just because there aren't any words being said doesn't mean that you are alone, though. You're both there, sitting on the browned, autumn grass with eyes fixed high above the horizon. You're experiencing it, experiencing that impressive and grand glimpse in time, together. And that very fact brings you closer to the person you're with, as it establishes an esoteric sense of intimacy, a feeling that transcends any measure of words you could possibly conjure or devise.

And how much more rude and thoughtless would it be if you tried to talk with your friend when He was actually the one who arranged the very sight that you're tarnishing with your attempts at petty conversation?

However, the very process of a human being living- of our lungs breathing air, of the rhythmic beating of our hearts, of the amorphous and ephemeral thoughts pacing back and forth within the physical confines of our minds- is no less complex or mysterious or marvelous than a meteor shower on a cool, clear night. I would even say it's more so. Just in a way that is harder for us, as terminally human and limited beings, to acknowledge and understand.

It's ironic that the reality of that is too big for us to grasp, yet we take such stock in something like a meteor shower, for being as "big" as it is. We, as humans, cannot even comprehend all of this. It's so difficult (maybe impossible) for the finite to imagine the infinite, for the human to vie for the divine.

So maybe we could be content (no, happy) to just watch the night sky with Him, and pass the time in appreciation of the wonders before us, of the elaborate and intricate masterpiece that He is orchestrating.

In those moments, I like to think that God is smiling, the corners of his lips turned up softly as He watches. But He isn't watching the sky- He already knows what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will continue to do.

His eyes are instead fastened upon our faces, soaking in every reaction there painted.

November 22, 2010

A Not-So-Happy History Lesson

This particular post has not been a “fun” one for me to write.

But it's important. It's vital. It's noteworthy. It's relevant.

And it's advisory, to all of us.

I've been doing some research, on my own, on the history of mental illness- what its path has looked like as its been tunneling through time. And, after realizing the true, tragic qualities of its past, I decided to make a blog post revolving around some of my findings, in the form of a historical piece. It's not pretty, and it's certainly not nice. So, perhaps young children should stop reading at this point.

I wrote this in an attempt to inform others out there (you) of the reality that has faced us over all of the years before now, to lend flesh to the history behind the reality facing us today. Hopefully, you'll be appalled, or simply react, enough to tell a friend, or share the link, or conduct your own research, or just do something to bring awareness to this issue, to help mend that which has been so badly broken over all these thousands of years, to try and heal those who are breaking, who are being broken, now.

This isn't the whole picture, by any stretch of the imagination. But it's a pertinent part of it— of our picture (yours and mine). I just hope this makes an impact of some kind on your thoughts about the matter. And if you have questions, maybe about my sources (or anything else), just email me and I will gladly answer. Or, better yet, if you have doubts, then do your own delving. If you don’t believe a figure, date, name, or detail that I mention, then a mere matter of minutes with Google will settle all of your queries, and probably many more, besides.

It's important, and vitally so, when considering how to deal with mental illness today, to be aware of how it has been "dealt with" in our forefathers' yesterdays...

A History of America's (Mental) Illness
(And How She Turned Away)

The history of mental illness, and the attempted “treatments” for it, across the entire world, is a brutal and ignorant one. Up until the late 18th century, mental illnesses were thought to be the products of sorcery, witchcraft, demonic possession, or other supernatural explanations. Moreover, those with mental illnesses were typically subjected to a broad variety of cruel efforts: absurd and radical rituals, severe abuse and torture (in efforts to “cleanse” their "unholy” bodies), condemnation by their communities as “cursed by the gods,” being forced to consume enormous amounts of dangerous (as well as hallucinogenic, and, sometimes, lethal) drugs and herbs, being put to death, or being cast out completely from their respective societies, ostracized— shunned to walk, live, and, eventually, die alone— all for being too different or strange.

Even when it comes solely to America, the tale of mental illness, and those who have suffered, is a tragedy. The Colonial American society labeled those suffering from mental illnesses, of any kind, as "lunatics," a word that was derived from "luna," the Latin word for "moon." Due to "astrological reasoning," it was a widely-held belief that "insanity" came into a person if a full moon had been present at their birth, or if they had slept under its light for a full night as an infant. The American people declared that these individuals were possessed by the devil, and they were generally removed from society and locked away in prisons. As long as the troubled and unsettling "lunatics" were out of their streets, the colonists did not care, in the least, about where they went, or what happened to them.

The tremendous ignorance and indifference on the part of the American people continued throughout the years, and nearly everyone of the time did nothing but harm to those who were already suffering. Among the myriad of failed attempts at "treatment" were ritual ceremonies (exorcisms), bleeding (typically resulting in either death or the need for lifelong care), invasive and unnecessary surgeries (normally resulting in either death, unnecessary trauma, or severe and permanent disability), induced vomiting, forcibly submerging individuals in ice baths until they lost consciousness, massive shocks of crude electrical current to the brain, imprisonment, or, in some cases, execution. It wasn’t until after the Civil War, with many of the soldiers coping with post-war trauma, that America paid any attention to the topic of mental illness.

That isn't to say that things actually improved after that, though. Even well into the 20th century, things were beyond grim, on the American scene, particularly, for those years also brought a procedure called the "trans-orbital lobotomy." The first time it was ever conducted on a live patient was in 1946, by Walter Freeman, an American "doctor," who developed it for its ease, brevity, and lower level of after-care, much to the satisfaction of his medical peers and the public community at large.

Here is a copy of the instructions for this "medical procedure:"

  1. To induce sedation, inflict two quick shocks to the head.
  2. Roll back one of the patients’ eyelids.
  3. Insert a device, 2/3 the size of a pencil, through the upper eyelid into the patients’ head.
  4. Guided by the markings indicating depth, tap the device with a hammer into the patients’ head/ frontal lobe.
  5. After the appropriate depth is achieved, manipulate the device back and forth in a swiping motion within the patient’s head.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Freeman would come to have his own twisted national campaign, driving cross-country in his "lobotomobile" (as he came to christen his vehicle) and performing the procedure for as many doctors as humanly possible. For his initial lobotomies, Freeman used an actual ice-pick from his kitchen. Sometimes, to demonstrate his "procedure," he would show off by "ice-picking" both eye-sockets of a single patient, simultaneously, using two ice-picks, one in each hand.

Because of the new-found ease of the procedure [and Freeman's personal, perverse drive and dedication to circulating his unique practice], its use and employment spread like a wild forest-fire in the heat of summertime, across the nation. Freeman, alone, performed almost 2,500 lobotomies in 23 different states, and was heralded as "the traveling lobotomist" wherever he went. The lobotomy became a morbidly common procedure in asylums across the United States, in many cases being carried out on patients without, or even against, their assent.

The public lauded Freeman for his invention, watching in approval as they read headlines in their papers, which stated that many patients were finally returning home “safely” to their families. What the papers did not mention, of course, was that most of those returning were also now devoid of personality, coherency, and even any interaction, at all, in many cases. The allure of the procedure was that it was easy, quick, and cheap— individuals without license to perform surgery could, and did, perform it. But it also made “troublesome" patients markedly more compliant, effectively silencing their “abnormal” behaviors, their complaints, and their unsettling speech. Were patients returning home? Yes. But only because they were no longer a danger or risk to themselves and others— since they were no longer much of anything at all— not because they were actually cured, or even better.

Eventually, though, because of the vast number of complications and deaths that resulted from the procedure, people familiar with its practice came to refer to it as "psychic mercy killing" and "euthanasia of the mind."

[Ironically enough, the USSR officially banned the lobotomy, early on, in the year 1950, because doctors in the Soviet Union declared it as "contrary to the principles of humanity." They stated that it transformed "an insane person into an idiot." But America did nothing until the late 1970s, when Congress finally decided to investigate the lobotomy, as well as other forms of psycho-surgery.]

Indeed, due to the trans-orbital lobotomy (and other similar procedures), along with the cruelty of crude shock therapy, countless other forms of abuse and neglect, as well as overcrowding, the early/mid-1900s are considered, by many, to be the darkest days for mental health treatment.

[On an interesting side-note, you know what happened to Walter Freeman? While performing his macabre procedure on some poor patient, he backed up to pose for a photograph and bumped into the instrument he was using, still protruding from above the patient's eye-socket, and killed the patient. For that, his medical license was revoked. He spent the remainder of his life driving his “lobotomobile” around the country, until his death from cancer in 1972.]

But, thankfully, things improved from those depths and dirges.

In 1954, the revolution of psychotropic medication began, as "Thorazine" (a powerful anti-psychotic) was introduced into the mental health system. After that, more and more medications began emerging, left and right, leading to the gradual discontinuation of more barbaric and inhumane procedures. Also, in the 1960s, new U.S. government policies concerning mental health were enacted as the centerpieces for John F. Kennedy’s congressional program (mostly in regards to insurance coverage), and those helped the mental illness community as well. As more people began to glimpse a clearer picture of mental illness’ history, and the legitimacy, as well as severity, of the issue, circumstances eventually started to become more accommodating.

Even now, though, even today, we're not there yet. People faced with mental illness are still ashamed of it— ashamed of themselves, ashamed of their family or friends, ashamed of their thoughts and struggles, too embarrassed and fearful to seek out the treatment required. And “mental illness,” itself, is no less a threat than it was in the days of old. As a matter of fact, it seems that we are just now becoming aware of the breadth of its scope. We may have reached a point (finally) where mentally ill people are treated with a measure more of dignity and respect, but that old fear and alienation are still there, prowling alongside the blood.

What we all need to realize is that the true “monster” here is not the person who is suffering. Nor will you find the monster in the faces and actions of our history, even if it is a history that has treated the sufferers monstrously. The monster is not a human being, it is not an institution, and it is not the mistakes of our heritages, histories, and houses.

The monster is the disease.

If you ask me, I think it’s about time we all realize that we’re on the same side…

This post, this account, is near its close, but this tragedy, this story, is far from over.

History has a funny way of catching up to the present (in that it always has, and forever will). But the rest of history (of what will one day be history) is up to us— it’s up to you, it’s up to me, it’s up to our neighbors, our families, our friends, our co-workers, even the complete strangers we pass every day on the streets. It’s up to the kids in our classrooms as much as (if not more than) the politicians in our offices.

Even if we are not dubbed “the winners” by history’s backwards glances, even if we’ll never be the ones "writing" it, if neither you nor I will ever have a voice that will sound outside of our respective lifetimes, even if we’re not suit-and-tied lawmakers, legislators, hand-shakers, or powerful CEOs with outstanding offshore bank accounts, or charismatic military leaders, or writers who will be quoted and called the "voices of their time"— the fact remains:

We're the ones who are living it.

This is our Time, our shared sense of existence, our "now," our precedent.

Let's make it one that matters.

November 11, 2010

Leg Weights

My whole life, I've felt like it's all a race.

Like everybody experiencing the same sense of Time that I am is running against me, in their own numbered track, spiked feet slapping the same compact tar or rubber underneath mine. But the catch, I've always felt, has been that I've had monstrous leg weights strapped to me ever since the second lap. And I don't even know how long I'm supposed to run for; but it's been a while, and I have yet to catch a glimpse of the finish tape.

In a situation like that, I found it easy, or even effortless, to lose faith- lose faith in myself, in God, in my friends, and the other racers who were outrunning me. Lose faith in everything I've thought was the Truth. But the fact is, the Truth isn't dependent on whether or not I have faith in it. If it was, then it wouldn't be "Truth." It would be "opinion."

But it is Truth, and there's no changing that, there's no fighting it. It's not like a political platform, that you have to defend, advocate, advertise, and persuade others to believe. It's independent of us, independent of the thoughts that swirl around in our tiny brains about it.

So what is the Truth?

The Truth is that someone out there knows what He's doing. He knows what's going on- why everything is the way it is. He's seen all of Time, transcends its very form Himself, and knows it all in a thought. He has seen what was, what is, and what is to come. After all, He created Time itself, as a construct. And He's okay with it. So maybe I should be too.

Call it fate, call it sovereignty, call it destiny or fortune, but it's how this is all going to work out. And the destination justifies the journey, in God's plan. Who am I, to think that I know how things will turn out, or what is for the best? It's like a little kid who gets all pissed because he can't have candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sure, it'd be sweet, but no self-respecting parent is going to let it happen. Because the parent knows what's best- not the child. The parent has the experience, the wisdom, the knowledge, the responsibility, where the child hasn't even begun to taste the "real world" yet. And the breadth of the developmental gap (for lack of a better phrase) between human beings and God is so much larger and more infinite than the one between parent and child. So who am I to question why things come about, or why I can't have what I want? I'm just being spoiled, and naive.

But, at the same time, I know it's not as easy as that. If I can't even comprehend the Truth and Reality of God, then how can I be expected to operate my life on the basis of just that- a mystery? So much of Life is a mystery, though. Everything is, actually. This whole concept of Existing, of Living, of being pushed through Time along with the other Souls around me, is just so strange and utterly complex to me. It's so much bigger than I can express in simple words on a blog. It's so much bigger than what's going on in my head.

It's so much bigger than me.

My point is, though, that I shouldn't get so worked up at how my Life goes. I should be, not just tolerant, but thankful for everything that comes to pass (good or bad, in my eyes). Because it is all part of the inherent mystery and intricacy of God's plan for my life, and the lives of everyone around me- of everyone on this entire earth.

But I hardly ever do that.

I fight His love and sovereignty every inch of the way, kicking and screaming, like a small child, just because I can't have my candy...

So thank you, Abba Yahweh.

Thank you, even for the leg weights.

Maybe You just wanted me to be able to run faster...

When I finally kicked them off.

November 1, 2010

A Blurb of Mice & Men

I've always thought of Life, of Reality, of this Existence, as an aggressor- like some schoolyard bully who sees the happiness, dreams, and hopes of other children and decides to trip each and every one simply for the joy of watching them fall. Because it seems like every time I have some semblance of control, some sense of orchestration, or scintilla of personal power, something happens to knock me to the ground. It completely invalidates all of the effort, time, and willpower I've put into getting all my "ducks" in a "row." And I hate that.

But it just seems to be how this thing called life works.

So what are we supposed to do? What am I supposed to do? If I can't control my life, how am I supposed to live it? Should I just put down the remote control and settle with watching whatever happens to be on? What if it's a soap opera? I can't stand soap operas. I'd prefer pretty much anything to a soap opera, aside from "celebrity news." Although the two are more than a tad synonymous, to be frank.

I'm talking about more than a mere TV show, though, obviously. I'm talking about the powerless feeling I, and many others, get whenever things are beyond my control. When I feel shoved around by the bully named "Life," when he pushes me down and rubs my face in the dirty gravel, shouting, I imagine, in triumphant and violent victory. No matter how far ahead I try and look, something always happens to spoil that vision. Nothing seems safe- not my vision for my career, not my vision for my family, not my vision for love, not my vision for my friends, nothing. This whole deal of simply existing is already strange and foreign enough without external circumstances and situations jarring my carefully-crafted balance.

So, I ask again, what should I do? And who am I expecting to answer that question? Is there even an answer?

I guess it's something I will be perpetually be coming to terms with... The energy I lend to planning, as well-intentioned and orderly as it may be, is so often rendered useless by the inevitable entropy and changes of leading a human life. In that light, in the reality of that truth, maybe the energy I devote to the future should be redirected to, instead, coping with the present. Maybe I should spend my time and investments on dealing with what actually happens, not on dealing with what I want to happen, or what I think will happen.

But that's easy to say- not to do. What does it even look like? I mean, to a certain extent we have to plan ahead, we need to organize our future... Right? But maybe I need to stop finding my value in my ideas for my future. Perhaps I should appraise myself by who I am now, and not who I could (or could not) be. Maybe I can change my relationship with the present, with this existence that we have been forced to wear. Maybe "Life" isn't the bully I so often picture. It could be that life is more like a seeing-eye dog leading a blind person. Yes, it's unexpected, even alarming, when the dog moves abruptly, when it jerks or stops suddenly, but the blind person can rest in the knowledge that the dog is able to see and navigate where they cannot. And there's no point to a seeing-eye dog if the blind person is trying to pretend it isn't there. Maybe I could try and be appreciative of those adjustments, instead of attempting to anticipate them.

After all, the plans of both mice and men are, equally, naught but haphazard to the divine eye, to the grander sense of actuality, to the all-discerning and truly perfect will of God.

October 31, 2010

Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW)

Although it's passed for this year, the first week of October has been "Mental Illness Awareness Week" (MIAW) for 20 years now, though I just found out recently myself. It was established in 1990 by the U.S. Congress in recognition and encouragement of attempts to increase awareness and reduce the painful stigmata associated with the broad and pervasive plight of mental illness (and no, not Jesus' scars- "stigmata" is actually the plural form of "stigma"). So many of us have been hurt, deeply- and I think it might be time I actually do something about it. Nearly everyone I know (more absolutely, everyone that knows me), has been touched, anguished, abused, harassed, injured by mental illness, in some capacity, in some form or fashion. And if you don't think you have been, then that probably just means that you're not aware of it yet. Give it some time and get back to me. Or, better yet, albeit perhaps more difficult, take my word for it. It hurts, it devestates, it leaves a broad trail of destruction and suffering- it breaks lives and ruins relationships just as much as any other disease out there (much more than any other, I would assert). And it kills- I don't just mean that in a figurative or metaphorical sense, I mean it ends lives. I have seen that for myself. If you need further convincing, though, then message me privately, and we can discuss it on a more respective level.

Typically, ironically, even hypocritically, I am a very apathetic individual when it comes to "causes"- some would likely call me cynical. I have always thought it a weakness to need others, and naught but a crutch to support idealistic drives and trends that flare up and then burst, like market bubbles, giving rise to the next movement, the next attempt to educate (or shame) the public consciousness into action. However, I am realizing that we, as human beings, really do need each other. I still don't agree with some of the attempts that exist- have existed- and their attempts to garner the attention of us, the people; but I understand,finally, that we truly cannot live this life alone.

In that spirit, and in the name of this very real cause, think about how you can do something, whether it be researching, educating yourself, contributing your time or resources to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) or another similar organization, writing a letter to someone you know who has been hurt to tell them you care, talking to the people you know (or even don't know, if you're feeling particularly courageous), making a meal for a family that is having to deal with a relevant situation, writing about it in your own blog, or just including it in your prayers (and that deserves more than a mere "just"). Although, I'm not asking you to do any of that, specifically. I only ask that you begin to think, you begin to wonder, you begin to consider and search yourself, for anything, anything at all, that you can do. Not what you think your neighbor can do, or what your friends can do, or what the government needs to do, or what your community can do, but what you, yourself, can do (although it could absolutely extend and grow to something beyond yourself, and I pray that it does!). However, don't do it solely because I'm asking you to, nor because you know me or my situation, but because this is a real issue, staring us all in the face, that we, individually and collectively, have been too timid, too callous, and too ignorant to meet eyes with and confront.

I'm going to be doing this as well, so don't think I'm challenging everyone but myself. And it's going to be difficult (has been difficult), but I'm going to continue, because of my beliefs, because of my faith, because of my opinions and lot in this life. Because I've known the sadness, the hopelessness, the unfathomable years upon years of pain, the scars (seen and unseen) that will be with me forever. And it's a hell on earth that I wish upon no one, no matter who they are or what they've done. But the sad truth that no one wants to pay attention to is that some people have to live through that hell anyway, or die.

As I grow older, and as I see how mental illness destroys so many, and hurts so many more, I am only deepened in the personal conviction, in the belief, in the assertion, that has come to resonate in the deepest confines of my soul, thrumming to the tone of a cryptic curse, ancient-spoken:

This is our tragedy.

Maybe it's time to own it.

July 30, 2010

Heavy-Hearted Bryce

I recently came across some information on Bryce, the old state hospital in Tuscaloosa, AL, for the "insane," that blew my mind.

At just one of the four cemeteries, there is a historic statement on a plaque that reads as follows:

"This is the oldest of four historic cemeteries located on the
campus of Bryce Hospital, Alabama’s oldest mental health
facility. The first recorded burial dates to 1861. While only
a few graves are currently marked, it is estimated that
thousands of individuals are buried here. Bryce Hospital is
one of the most historic and architecturally significant public
institutions in the U.S. Established in 1852 at the height of
the psychiatric reform movement known as 'moral treatment,'
the hospital was among the first mental health facilities in
the country to employ architectural design and a pastoral
setting as essential components in the treatment of mental
illness. Through Wyatt v. Stickney, the landmark federal
lawsuit initiated in 1971, Bryce Hospital became the
center of the civil rights movement for people who
experience mental illness."

I went to this place. I had to see it for myself. I climbed the hill and found the plaque, and took a look around me. My heart broke as I imagined what it should look like. There should be thousands of headstones, each with a name, each with a memory, each with a lifetime beneath its morbid scrawl. It should look like Arlington or something, rows upon rows of sobering reminders of our mortality and the indifference with which Death takes each and every one of us.

But there were three headstones.


The first headstone I went to said nothing. It was broken, all text or lettering worn away with time and weather. The second grave-marker said only, "Jesus, Lover Of My Soul Was Her Favorite Song From The Age Of Two." I didn't have the heart to go to the third.

While wandering the few acres that comprise the cemetery, I stumbled upon a fallen marker. I looked at it, and was able to pick out what it said, despite the rough-hewn stone and sloppy, child-like characters.



I broke down as I saw that. So many people, with no names, no faces, no memories. Just people, former patients of Bryce Hospital- "crazy people." People that the majority didn't understand, so the majority locked them away. People like me. What if I had lived a hundred years ago? Would my personality disorder be considered "insane" enough for something like that? Like this? I guess I can just be glad that I don't have to find out.

I am unashamed to say that I wept for those people. People, not "nutcases," or "loonies," or "crazies," or "patients." People who had faces, names, dreams, and families, at one point, just like you and I. And then they were abandoned by everyone and everything they knew, committed all at once to a lifetime of loneliness behind padded bars, and a burial with only the gravediggers for a funeral. They were locked away because they were different, because they suffered, because they were tormented, and even after they died, nobody came for them.

There's so much to be said here. There's so much to be done here. And this was just one of the four cemeteries. I couldn't even go to the others. It was all too much. In these unmarked graves, I saw thousands of lifetimes of pain and anguish, and, for each, the indifference of the rest of the world, of their families or relatives, of the friends they never had and never would have.

And as I looked out over all of these resting places, I couldn't help but think,

This is our tragedy.

July 6, 2010

Psalm of Modernity [II]

Awake, my soul
Rise to meet the dawn
Rise to feel the Passion
Of an age long gone
And a people I’ve never met

Somehow, I long to see Your signs
In the curve of the tracing vine
As it climbs the trellis
I yearn to see some form of faith
In the waiting faces
At the benches in the park

I know the splendor is there to see
If only my soul could sense
Could feel – But
You seem to be everywhere
I am not.

July 1, 2010

Psalm of Modernity [I]

I believe
Said Isaiah

But what do we
Have to say to
The rest of the world

The masses shout
Life is nearly begun—

Nail our God to a tree
Forgive me

In the echo of iron
Trying iron
There lies a harmony
To which we shall sing

Here we are
To this tattered robe
To a splintery throne
To vats of watered wine
To grafted stems
And heavy limbs
To thoughts we’ve left behind

And the words of those
We almost knew

The masses shout
Life is nearly begun—

We murmur in reply

It is almost done

February 27, 2010

It's the Little Things

I like to eat chicken taquitos with ranch.

I just got a new little sister, named Caelyn, adopted from China, a little over a month ago.

I've been writing a novel for years, but have to keep restarting it.

I love poetry.

I like to have lighthearted arguments with people.

There's a lot of little things about me that you might, or might not, know. Just as there are for every other human being out there. And you know what? It's those same little things that mean you know someone, those little factoids, hidden away behind the eyes. And everyone has them. Every time you meet somebody new, you find out some of their "little things." You get to know them.

If you love someone, then it is the little things that you love (or sometimes hate) about them.

God loves all of us.

Behind every vacant face at the grocery store, in the mind of every guy who talks in the movie theater, buried in the heart of every celebrity, deep inside each member of the family at Sunday lunch, there are these facts that, when taken all together, make each of us unique. They set us apart, more so than the subtle differences in our features, or the varieties in body weights.

My point is, if you never get to know someone, you never find out those things. But that doesn't mean they don't exist. So often we treat others, we treat strangers, as if they're just there. Not as if they are complex human beings, with a soul and a perspective, but as if they are just another unknown face in this tumultuous world. But God knows all those little things, already, about each and every one of us. And He loves each of us all the more for (and sometimes, despite) them. He created each of us, with immaculate care. Yet we act, a lot of the time, as if we and the ones we know are the only ones created by Him. But that's just absolutely untrue.

I've heard people say they love science because, through it, they learn about God's creation. They get to understand and appreciate the depth and intricacy of His grand and perfect designs. But you know what? Every time we get to know someone new, or learn something new about someone we know, we are learning about God's creation, and it's no less deep or intricate than gravity. Even more so, I would say.

Isn't that weird? With that in mind, shouldn't I not only put up with meeting new people, but enjoy it? Appreciate it and them for what they are? Non-Christians were made by God, you know. Homosexuals were made by God. Even the rude person behind the fast-food counter was made by Him.

And think about the implications of this in the way we should witness, in our often misguided motivations for doing so...

Yet I don't act that way.

I am the hypocrite.

Forgive me, Abba Yahweh, and help me to see the glory of your creation in all of those around me.

February 16, 2010

Appeal & Concession

"My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning."

-Psalms 130:6

February 9, 2010

To Live Boldly

My prayers lately have had a common theme.

I've been coming to grips over the past few months with a simple, yet complex, truth. That our God has orchestrated the events of ours lives, ordaining everything through His sovereign and perfect will. If you think about it, this fact is, or should be, the most liberating realization of all time. It's a blessed paradox, for we are bound to His will, yet it is freeing beyond understanding, for He knows our minds and souls, our actions and thoughts, and has incorporated them all into His sovereign plan.

As a Christian, this should impact every single area of my life. It should lend me peace as I make my way through this age. It should be my comfort and reassurance even in the darkest times of my indecision. Yet, all too often, it is not. I continually fall into the trap of believing that I am on my own, that my deeds are independent of His scheme. But that just isn't true. It's a lie that I all too often live.

We are His children. His chosen ones. His people. No matter what we do, no matter what we believe, we are already accounted for by Him. We are free! We can do anything, follow any course of action, and it will follow His will to the letter. Every thought we have and every thing we do is a sentence in the chapter of our lives, and the book is already written. We are free from indecision, from hesitancy, from uncertainty, for anything we do will be used by God to glorify Him. And that is our chief end upon this earth. Not to graduate from college, not to have the perfect spouse or children, not to make money or "succeed" by the world's standards, but to live for Him. And we do just that, even if we don't realize it.

This isn't to say we should all just be fatalists. Through some beautiful mystery, we still have choice, and should live thusly. But our choices are already accounted for, our every thought already heard and acknowledged. Never have I known of a more liberating truth.

Yet so many, if not all, of us live just the opposite. We live, for the lack of a better term, fearfully, when we should be living fearlessly. We should live with the relieving certainty that God has designed our past and future, and incorporated all of reality into His will.

As awkward as it may seem at times, this truth should cause us to live.

And to live boldly.

February 7, 2010

Already Here

Parenting has got to be the hardest thing to do.

You're just going along with your life, enjoying being married, and BOOM- here comes a baby. It's never happened to me, but I can imagine. I can imagine the scared feeling that creeps into the pit of your stomach as you drive your newborn child home, realizing, for the first time, that he or she is your's, and you're now responsible for his or her life. It's got to be overwhelming, the sense of confusion as you come to grips with the fact that you can read all the books on it that you want, but this baby isn't like the others. It's unique, and, even more scary, it's your's. It isn't an abstract concept in some Dummy's Guide book anymore. It's real, and it's here to stay...

It seems terrifying.

But, at the same time, no parent I've ever talked to regrets the changes they were forced to make. It seems that, along with this abject horror, there comes a beautiful and complex purpose, wrapped up in the past, present, and future of this thing, this child, this person. So maybe parenting isn't the worst thing that can happen to you. Maybe it's the best thing. I guess it depends on your perspective.

Many people can't, or don't, see the beauty, though. People, like myself, who just haven't experienced it for themselves. Everything we think on the matter is nothing but speculative opinion.

I've heard people say, quite seriously, that they don't want to have children, not because of how scary it is, but because of the world that surrounds us. Because of the tumultuous chaos that is our modernity. "Who would want to subject a child to this?" They ask. And, you know what? I'm inclined to agree with them. This world is a hard, cruel place, full of pain, anger, and suffering. I certainly wouldn't wish that on my child.

But, then again, would I wish it on someone else's?

That's what I can't understand. Why those same people don't look around them and realize that there are millions of children who are already here. Who wouldn't think that they could make some poor orphan's future brighter by providing some kind of home? No matter what, it's better than none at all, right?

So yeah, I wouldn't wish this world upon any of my future children. And maybe I'm being overly-optimistic, filled with the idealism of someone who has yet to grapple with the reality of parenthood. But I would like to think that I would be open to taking in one or two children who are already here.

February 4, 2010

A Simple Question

Who are we to question The Creator?

And yet we do. Every single one of us.

In every way.

Oh Abba Yahweh, forgive us.

We know not what we do.

February 1, 2010

A Moment of Epiphany

I was riding along the road tonight and had an epiphany.

I've always wondered what an "epiphany" is supposed to feel like. What that word means, really. But I think I was afforded a rare glimpse today. I was riding in the back of my friend's truck, driving along at a frank pace, being jostled to and fro by the erratic suspension, when I looked out the window, and was struck by a moment of such clarity, such peace, found directly in the beaming face of eternity.

I can't really describe it well. It was a moment of time where I felt completely... at ease. With myself, with my friends, with the crisp caress of the cool night air, with every thing, all despite the rough rub of Rhino paint. We were passing a a track field, specifically. I looked at the parking lot, with one streetlamp casting its ring of light to the asphalt, and was struck by an immediate and inexplicable sense of relief and tranquility. I realized, I think, in the rare, complete sense that we so infrequently experience, that I am God's beloved. And, even more precious than that, I felt it. It filled me to 'flowing, tincturing the world around me in a light that surpassed my surroundings, that illuminated past the physical barriers around me and cast my reality in the sparkling luster of revelation as well as blissful and complete acceptance. I continued to stare out the window for the next mile or so, just watching the world pass me by, and was awestruck.

How unbelievable is it that I am not just liked, but loved, by the God of all of this? The God of sunrises and sunsets, of the canyons and the mountains, of the cities and the plains, of the electrons that we can't see in light and the molecules that make up all of reality. How inconceivable is it that He adores me? That He would do anything, anything at all, to bring me out of the oil slick, of the unfathomable pit that I have afflicted myself with?

Who am I?

Who am I?

Who am I to receive this gift, this so-often unbelievable truth? Beneath my thick layer of sin, beneath all of my lies, my self-deception, behind the pupils of my eyes, the mass of flesh that is my brain, what is there? I realized, in this moment, that I am a soul. I am a unique, individual spirit, held down by bars of skin and flesh. All of these things around me? These trappings? These physical objects and even time itself? They will all end. They will burn out, break down, die and fade. Even the skin encasing my body wears out with time. Then again, even Time itself will fall through! It's a human perception, sense of existence. It will someday simply... cease to exist... whatever that means. And that fact didn't seem ominous to me. It simply was, and would be. And I felt at peace with it. But I was also at peace with the fact that I, who (and what) I truly am, will never end.


That wasn't labeled as unusual to my mind at the time. It only blew me away afterward. In that moment, though, it was commonplace. It was understood in my mind. It was earth-shatteringly peaceful.

This moment, I can't do justice. I usually can put words to my experiences in a pretty lucid fashion. But this? I can't think of one.

Except, maybe, just maybe, "epiphany."

January 16, 2010

The Church As One Orchestra

I remembered something very important today.

I remembered that we, God's penultimate creations, are designed for each other. We are made for interaction, for communication, for caring. We are created to be in fellowship. One person alone cannot make it through life without feeling some sense of extreme loss and discontentment (I know, I've tried). God alone can fill the "hole" in our hearts, but we are still, on some level, incomplete if we do not pay any attention to the relationships around us. Look at Paul, for instance. He could have very well decided to hole himself up socially and praise God alone for the rest of his days. But he didn't. He ministered, he witnessed, he admonished and instructed. He interacted with those who stood by his side in fellow communion with the Lord. I believe we can learn from that.

This may sound like some cheesy "no man is an island" cliche. But it's not. This is something big, something serious. God has purposely designed us to act in fellowship. To form relationships, and glorify Him through those relationships. We are called to support our Christian family, to teach and learn from each other in God's sight. There is nothing but vanity in the resistance of that concrete fact of our existence. We are intended to be one with God, but also to be one with each other. We are members of the same body, the same Church, the same Christ. The hands must interact in response to the eyes, the legs must move according to the feet, and we must incorporate each other and our relationships into our praise.

We are intended as instruments for His glory. And you can sound good playing a violin by yourself on the streets, but it's just never going to match up with a full orchestra.

January 15, 2010

A Jumbled Mass of Flesh & Bone

Try this next time you're out driving (or riding in) a car.

Take a look around you. Notice the other cars in front of you, beside you, behind you. If you want, you can even count them. Now, take a step back, away from your own narrow prerogative, to the "bigger picture" scale. Look at the cars again, only, this time, see each one for what it is. See each car as a symbol of the person behind the wheel. You are surrounded by people. No longer a mass of unidentified cars, but people. They all have names, like Greg or Ashley or Sam. They all have faces, and behind each of those faces lies a lifetime of memories. Each of those people are infinitely complex, intricately put together.

Just like you.

But what makes each of them a "person?" When you get down to it, what makes a person move, feel, cry, laugh, taste, touch, smell, sing? What is a person? Am I a face? A jumbled mess of flesh and bone, through which I view the world around me? Am I the set of teeth inside my mouth? That may sound silly, but it's just as arbitrary as assuming that I am the rest of my face. You can take a man's arm off, and he is still a man. You can cover a man in burns, until he is unrecognizable, and he is still that same man. What makes us go? What makes us tick? Is it bio-electricity? If so, how in the world did it get started, then? Did some lightening bolt strike some lucky mass of flesh and sinew and bone and begin pumping its already-formed heart? Am I to believe that the synapses and receptor sites in my brain were conditioned to "take" before they were charged with whatever mysterious current it is that fuels our lives? That's like shaking all of the pieces to a watch in a huge box, saying that they'll come together eventually and form the original, working watch, even though you kept the batteries in your hand the whole time.

Is it so hard to believe that we have a soul? An unexplainable, unfathomable spirit within our bodies? Is it so hard to take a look around you, see all of these other beings, each different and unimaginably complicated, and arrive to the conclusion that there's something just as complicated and unimaginable behind it all? How often do we think of that? How often do we notice the people around us, and acknowledge that each and every one of them has a lifetime of experience and memories behind them?

I don't know. Life itself just seems so mysterious and elaborate, so convoluted to our own perception, but ordered to a degree that we can't even see with our own eyes. With that in mind, I have no problem at all believing that there is a God out there, and He is responsible for all of this.

And if that's true, wouldn't you want to acknowledge Him as well?

January 14, 2010

Era of the TV Evangelist

We all wear masks.

No, not the comedy-tragedy, drama masks, but the ones that are just beneath the skin. The masks we impose on ourselves, for whatever reasons. It could be to fit in, to seem as one of the crowd. It could be in order to impress someone, in order to get ahead in this racing life we live. We go through life with layer after layer of masks hiding what's underneath: the face of a scared child, decorated in primitive war paint.

But there are all types of disguises that we employ. The fake laugh, the obsequious nod of the head, the averted glance, the clip-clack of a hurried pace. We wear masks of love, pride, subservience, agitation, calm, well-being, and all other semblances of the grand play that we are acting out. Whatever it takes to "get by."

Maybe "getting by" isn't all that we're meant to do, though.

I look around at the church today, and it is "getting by." So many people wear their masks of godliness and righteousness, trying to hide the fact that they are sinners, saved by no effort of their own, but by God's interference. We are in the era of the TV evangelist. At least, by the world's standards. They see corrupt preachers who ask for money and for you to press your palm to the glass of your television set for healing. They see the lost children who are hurting and suffering despite the grandiose claims of Christianity. They see the hypocrisy that so many of us live, and all of us, at times, display. And they are wearied by it. They think, since they have seen the masks of Christianity, that they know what we are about. They believe that they know our "agenda," our slant of things. They see the masks we, even as Christians, still wear, and never glimpse the awe and love etched into our real faces.

How can we expect a world that knows us so poorly to react with anything but indifference?

How can we expect any of them to be changed?

The only way to reach out to this dying world is to remove all of our masks, to be vulnerable. To show the rest of humanity that we accept and do not deny the presence of our sinful natures. To apologize for the hypocrisy, the deceit, and reclaim what being a Christian means. And to show them that we will have the courage to do what so few people from this age do:

We will be honest.