Monthly Archives: January 2011

Searching for a Way Out

Posted by Mike

What does a nation do when it realizes it has made a terrible mistake? During the Vietnam years lots of us thought that we had made just that. But because our President and government could not take that leap of faith that would have been required, it remained for the United States forces to be pushed out ignominiously, after – sort of, or,  maybe – having made the decision to leave. Our departure was chaotic, and the displacements of Vietnamese citizens Sacrifices.jpgwho at that point may have thought that they had chosen what proved to be the wrong side – our side – was disastrous for that generation of Vietnamese. The Vietnam Veterans’ memorial in Washington represents the sacrifice of American lives.

We are in a similar situation today in Afghanistan. Our entering the conflict there was considerably more reasonable, given the circumstances, than our foray in Iraq; but viewing the decision through the acquired wisdom of the past decade, it is obvious – again — that the decision to go to war is generally misguided. I am tempted to say “always,” but I’m not ready quite yet to lose most of my audience.

In the work that I do I review medical case files that often contain heart-wrenching stories about the private lives of people like you and me. I recently reviewed the case file of a Vietnam veteran. In the records the veteran who was a corpsman during the war told his personal story. I was reading it because the records were directly related to the purpose to which I was assigned. It was almost too painful to read, but his stories of death, loss of limbs and sight, pain and suffering of his own comrades, the enemy, and the civilian population caught in crossfire were truly unimaginable and again brought tears to my eyes. The happenings in Vietnam were only partially unique to that war. They are universal, and are occurring right now; and we are among the perpetrators and those responsible for the death, destruction and maiming. Those of us who have personally never had battlefield experiences can conveniently remain somewhat detached. Sort of like the pilot who presses the button to release the killing bomb. He doesn’t have to see the consequences. He doesn’t have to walk through the scene on the ground when the dust and acrid smell of burned flesh remain.

Given what I’ve said above, the most obvious scenario would be for the United States (international forces) to withdraw immediately. The sad fact is that if we did so, those Afghans who have been counting on our support – and some of whom are honest decent people, who want the best for their country – would be left holding the bag, like the Vietnamese we left behind. It’s clear that we must provide support to the people who have gained some freedoms subsequent to the Taliban’s losing control of the metropolitan areas, especially for the women in selected areas who have obtained some limited freedoms and opportunities for themselves and their daughters.

What about the international forces ordering an immediate Cease Fire, with the only military action contingent upon aggressive action by the insurgency? Coupled with the cease fire it would be essential to  initiate an immediate effort to engage all conflicting parties in dialogue, under the auspices of the United Nations. It’s true that back in the Vietnam years there was an interminable dialogue going on in France among the opposing parties – that didn’t get anywhere. Just because it didn’t work then doesn’t mean discussions can’t work in Afghanistan. The current situation has been a losing one in many ways.

It does seem to be true that what goes around comes around; we humans don’t really learn from the previous generations’ painful experience. We need to stop the circle of pain and suffering.

The following was written back in 1967. You have my regrets if you find it too obscure. At the time, Ojus was a crossroads town north of North Miami Beach. It may no longer exist!

An Example of Peace

(Dedicated to Bob, whose struggle it really was)

An example of peace they went
Showing the people how
In byways
And even in Ojus.
One might think the “Seven Tribes of Love” is
Rather pretentious for
A makeshift store there
That when you come right down to it
Sells only incense and cigarette papers
And a secondhand philosophy of life
As something new.

I said, “There’s no future in it.”
But that’s really only for myself.
I surely can’t speak for them
Just as they can’t for me
Even though they tried hard enough
To do just that.
But then having met only two
Hardly qualifies me as an expert
Or as having a general acquaintance
With Hippies.

After all –
We too were only two
And hardly from the
Common lot of straights.
Or so I fool myself.
My suggestion is
We keep an eye on the Flowering
And  wait and see.
Someone’s got to stop the killing.

Someone indeed has to stop the killing. It’s not just the President or Congress – and certainly not the hippies. It’s got to be you and me. We are all the responsible parties.

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Joy Manifest – the dawn approaches

Posted by David

Part 5 – Love, relationships, and marriage

“Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Despite how peaceful the world may seem at times, there’s a constant battle cry, a somber, weak whimper hardly discernable behind the grind, the shrill whine, and the roar of human endeavor. The war began long ago and for each of us the battle lines are drawn straight across the entryways into our hearts.

Each of us is given only one weapon. It is used to raze life or raise the dead. Our double-edged sword can cut through lies or mince the truth. Our tongue is that weapon and must be kept clean or it will rust and decay. Our friends’ battles are waged in our hearts. For our true friends we die a little each day. What dies in us is powerlust in which we all are tangled—a bramble of thorns that binds our will.

“Love, please swipe my right arm free with your sword, then I can wield mine own. Thank you, Dear.”

“Love, now my left leg, I must be free to lift the sword. Thank you, Dear.”

“Love, now I can free your right leg. You are most certainly welcome.”

With prayer-sharpened sword in hand, we are cut free. We emerge from the briars and start to run upward toward a lovely meadow calling us with the sounds of chickadees, kinglets and the babble of a shining, cobbled stream. The garden is beauty unimagined. We stop and look back at the thorn patch. The bramble is full of others—in destitute horror.

We turn back for the others, sharpening our swords as we go. Darkness settles across the sky and into the pain we go finding love in every life we find. Our arms are scratched and ripped and bloody from the thorns. The brambles goes further than we thought imaginable. Up a hill we go, freeing others until at the top I stop abruptly.

Alone now, I find Him still wearing his crown. He speaks kindly and tells me to turn around. As I turn, I see all I have ever loved written indelibly across the landscape. Our friends are free. Even the sky looks friendly with the cool glow of the approaching dawn.

In the eastern horizon sunlight pops above the horizon. Light streams through the woods and shines on the sparkling dew. The blaze of a bright new morning unfolds unlike no other and shouts of Joy manifest. The battle is over. The brambles have sprouted roses. I kneel and bow and thank my King. He kneels down to me and calls me friend.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:12-13

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The Habit of Agape – transformation from dark to light

Posted by David
France, World War I, 1916, © Stapleton Historical Collection / Heritage Images / Imagestate

France, World War I, 1916, © Stapleton Historical Collection / Heritage Images / Imagestate

Part 4 – Love, relationships, and marriage

All relationships are a mixture of joy and pain, everyone can attest to that—some more painful and some more joyful than others. We must remember that God has placed us where we are and some of us exist in some mighty strange and difficult situations indeed.

I recall having a dream about someone close to me. He was across the room from me yelling in a slobbering fit of irate anger. Terrible words were spewing from his mouth. I was using a bed as a bunker, hiding from the onslaught with another person next to me. I knew the person next to me was a friend, someone who I was protecting. I looked over at him and realized it was him. It was the same irate man, but instead he was cowering from himself.

As painful as it is, sometimes this becomes our role in life with our friends and spouses. What is required of us becomes almost unbearable. We need rest and must take it. But sometimes sleepless, we are thrust into the battlefield as medics and priests, pulling a wounded body from the throes of war. At times we realize we are nursing our enemy. At all times, we must look past the beast and into the eyes of the child of God, however empty of that child he or she seems to be. For as we nurse the individual, not only are we nursing ourselves, but we are nursing our Lord and Savior Jesus on the cross.

And this is the habit of agape, something in which we all must gain practice. The more we encounter life, it seems, the more this becomes the norm.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Matthew 35-34-40

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Why Marriage? – a mirror for repentance and joy

Posted by David
The Battle against the Mamelucks,  Francisco de Goya

The Battle against the Mamelucks, Francisco de Goya

Part 3 – Love, relationships, and marriage

As a single young man, on a number of occasions, older men warned me to never get married, and peer-aged women explained to me that marriage always ends up being a compromise, and I was told that I should certainly live with a woman before I got married to make sure they were the right one. Ahhh, modern wisdom, laced with truth mixed with poison. All this great advice brought great suffering to me and to others.

Those who provided me this sagely advice understood very little about why God brings people into the bondage of marriage and what deep purpose it fulfills. I no longer blame them for my troubles. I chose the easy route, the wide road on my own.

An act of faith and courage

As a Protestant, I am told that there are only two sacraments in our faith: baptism and the Lord’s supper. Other Christian traditions believe in additional sacraments. Roman Catholics, for example, believe marriage is one of five. In Christian theology sacraments are direct actions chosen by the will that prepare the way for Jesus’ permanent residence in our heart and our permanent dwelling in him.  I fall probably closer in line with the Eastern Orthodox teaching on sacraments, that many different acts of faith may be sacraments and lead us into relationship with Christ.  But sacraments aside and no matter what religion or non-religion you choose, marriage is unquestionably an act of blind faith.

For many, marriage has become a quid pro quo contract that bonds the two parties together. The contract becomes the ruling party and both individuals become slaves to the contract. Well before the marriage, the contract is written, misinformation is developed to disguise agendas, truth is hidden from the other’s view, and contradictory evidence is dismissed. This occurs mostly at the subconscious level, but sometimes it happens right out in the open. When it all seems good and fair enough, the contract is signed and sealed with an oath and a kiss on the wedding day.

For others, the couple floats atop the wave of romance and affection to the wedding altar. As naïve as it may sound, this is probably the best-case scenario. Under this condition only brief contracts are written, which still must also be worked out later.

This is how marriages begin.

Breach of contract

The contract is devised because both the man and woman want power and the comforts of the flesh. A small kingdom is desired by both. The woman wants to be queen and have her accoutrements. The man wants to be king and have the fulfillments of the flesh. Both parties expect to not get a raw deal.

However, it is the nature of contracts to be unfulfilled. This is why Jesus commands us to stay away from oaths, but instead to make our yes, yes and our no, no. All contracts promise something for the future—a time and place to which we are not privy. We cannot know what tomorrow brings, so we cannot be 100% certains of the promises we make. If we do not fulfill our promises, we become debt-slaves and enter a ‘prison’ until the debts are paid.

So, as time progresses, various aspects of the contract become irresolvable and the battle wages. This might happen as soon as the wedding night or before! As debt-slaves, each seek revenge and restitution. But both parties are to blame. This battle extends into our communities and is waged on many fronts and may very well be the only battle that has ever existed on the planet. Every war, every battle that has ever occurred between men may be an outward manifestation of the battle between man and woman. But I may be taking things a bit too far!

As dire as this may sound, God does give us marriage for our joy and so there is a silver-lining for those who choose it.

Freedom to love

Can agape love happen within the confines of a contract-based marriage? Yes, at times when the contract is out of sight. But we must be free of contractual debt in order to provide that agape love regularly. The solution to releasing the chains of the contractual agreement, however logical and simple it may seem, is not by canceling the contract or breaking the chains. Oaths spoken from the will cannot be so easily dismissed, especially ones spoken with God as the mediator. These are chains that are unbreakable, no matter how far one may run.

God provides the bondage of marriage for our salvation. In marriage, God forces us to see our sin in our relationship to another. We may learn to blame the other or we may blame ourselves. When we learn that it is 100% my fault, it is due my sin, and I am to blame, then we begin to walk the free road and agape love begins to sprout in our marriages. In God’s grace, repentance always precedes the path of freedom from sin. God does not barter with us. It’s only through grace that we can find love and that goes for our marriage and all relationships for that matter.

There are cases when individuals engage in a wallowing of self-pity, but this is not true repentance. This is a form of self-indulgence, a destructive form of self-love.

Most only see the sin of the other. We are usually blind to our sin, because our pride will not allow it. Pride, like any other beast, will seek food and prevent death to itself. But our selfish pride must die for love to succeed. God gives us our spouse as a mirror. Holy matrimony binds us in front of a mirror, so we can get a good, long look at ourselves.

When we finally see and repent, then the true joy of marriage begins, however painful that road has become at that time. For some, marriage may be a melancholy joy that comes with suffering deeply among the wretched for God’s purpose. Under the best circumstances, both parties learn the lesson and repent. When this happens, they both become free to love the other in the most perfect way: fellowship, friendship, agape love.

My only recommendation for those who plan on getting married is that they abstain from writing the contract as much as is humanly possible; that they marry in pure faith under the witness of God. The longer the courtship, the more of the contract is written. The deeper they enter into fleshly contact, the more of the contract is written. In fleshly contact, the contract is written at a deeply subconscious level. This is why sex produces the fruit of agape love only within the bounds of marriage, otherwise powerlust is its fruit and indebtedness builds and controls both parties.

I have discovered that my spouse is a God-given sibling in Christ. I have discovered a true friend. Little else is of value if you make it to your deathbed on the cusp of heaven with a best friend at your side.

 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Matthew 5:33-37

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Self-love – mirror, mirror on the wall

Posted by David

Part 2 – Love, relationships and marriage

Snow White -  Brothers Grimm fairy tale, image from Disney version

Snow White - Brothers Grimm fairy tale, image from Disney

The inward dwelling upon oneself is probably one of the most destructive things we do as humans—and we all do it. Just the fact that I feel I can write a few pages on Love, Relationships and Marriage is a bit narcissistic in itself! But I justify this on the grounds that I feel like I can help some folks who have dug a deep hole for themselves.

Me, Me, Me World

Most relationships that people have with others are actually based in self-love. We want to be loved rather than to love. A quid pro quo contract is developed between parties for these sort of relationships to survive. But this isn’t agape love, it’s a power-struggle between two parties deeply involved in the pride and fancy of self-love.

We live in a me, me, me world, so we can’t help but fall into the clutches of the self. We certainly perpetuate it with our kids. It’s all about them and less about others. We teach them that they are the most important thing on the planet at a frightening young age. This is not to dismiss that everyone is important. In fact, we should each feel infinitely special, because in God’s eyes, we are. Each of us are his special creation and we should humbly feel that joy.

But the egocentric self-love of which I’m describing is a powerlust whirlpool that gets stronger and stronger as our inner gaze becomes mesmerized by the self. We feel the creative power of the self and seek to exploit it. God gave us each a will and that will is extremely powerful. But we are sucked in by its influence when we look at it. We must shine outward, not inward. I expect that most leaders over the eons have subjected themselves to this whirlpool and have been swept within by the strong current.

Stuck on the barbed wire

As boys and girls cross the threshold into adulthood, new lessons must be taught. Lessons which have disappeared among many circles in this day and age. Adolescent youth become captured by the sucking current of self-love. Males and females alike become addicted to the emotional and physical pleasures of self-love in a variety of ways. They have the knowledge of adults, but still act like children. Adolescent boys must be taught that their addictions to that pleasure must be culled and adolescent girls must be taught that the fantasy worlds in which they dabble are unreal and inappropriate. The childish fancy that develops into self-love must be abandoned. As sad as it is to see children die from their childhood joys and move into adulthood, dads must learn to grab the hands of their sons and pull them into adulthood, and moms must do the same for girls. It’s imperative that boys and girls not get stuck on the barbed wire fence.

I’ve thought a lot about how this should be done because the last thing we want to inject is guilt into our youth. Guilt drives people deeper inward which increases the inward focus and perpetuates the self-love. The only answer is agape love. When we provide agape love to others, it pops their head out of current, for the light is infinitely stronger than darkness. We must demonstrate and shine forth agape love. We must lend an unconditional hand downward and be patient for the response. It may be a lifelong pursuit for some.

I recall a one-eyed young man’s simple acts of kindness that provided me strength as I wandered far from the ways of God. He helped me on one occasion with my stuck vehicle and then another when I had no cash on me and need to put some gas in my tank. Such signs of love were a beacon of God’s love to me. God sent him to me twice and I’ve never seen him since. Who was that masked man? It was agape love and I was astonished.

Demonstrating agape

There are some practical ways to demonstrate agape by simply helping others who are in need. We must develop a structure for our youth and our community that allow people to serve others. This task is most important for our society today, as we are more isolated from those opportunities than ever before. Beyond reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, here are a few practical strategies:

  • Abandon our fear of strangers (How can we help others if we’re scared of them?)
  • Develop a cashless service network for your community (service must be from the heart, not the wallet)
  • Starve your additions (How can we be focused outside ourselves if we’re constantly needing to fulfill the desires of our addictions? And I mean the destructive ones: Fox News, CNN News, most TV, of course, drugs, sexual addictions, you know what yours are.)
  • Adolescent boys and girls must be given long-term opportunities to serve, build, make, care, help, work, etc. (The last place most adolescent youth need to be is cooped up in school with other boys and girls with the same narcissistic outlook on life. But if they must be there, then we must make opportunities for them to extend an arm of God’s love to others.)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12: 1-2

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Lust and Power – boyfriends and girlfriends

Posted by David

Part 1 – Love, relationships and marriage

The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1503-1504, Bosch

The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1503-1504, Bosch

There’s a general theme that runs through my thinking which affects how I perceive things in this world. If you’re curious, it’s based on Matthew 6:22-23 and Matthew 23:26. To sum it up: what we dwell upon is what we become and what we become within is what we encounter in life. It’s cyclical. And if what enters our heart is dark, not only do you cause yourself pain, but also damage others deeply. The opposite is also true, which should be our focus in life.

“She took some and ate it”

My peers started talking about boyfriends and girlfriends in late elementary school. Being a first child (actually a twin), the oldest of cousins, and not having any really significant older peers in my neighborhood, I was a slow learner and naïve about ‘love’. But by looking back at the motivations behind those early relationships, by examining closely my particular life experience, and finally by learning from what my close male and female friends have confided in me, I can clearly see what boyfriends and girlfriends are all about.

It seems to me that girls are the first to recognize and quietly clamor for those sorts of relationships. Boys don’t seek that sort of relationship until they start consciously or subconsciously feel the chemistry start to build in their groins. Boys might start experiencing those relationships earlier, but mostly to satisfy the play of their friends. There are certainly exceptions.

Early on, for girls, having a boyfriend is clearly a type of play where girls tinker with adult ideas in the only they way they know them. Having a boyfriend is simply a game, one that has its roots in preparation for marriage and having babies. It’s a game just like the wrestling and war games in which boys dabble.

Playing is fun. Playing is living in a realm of fantasy and that realm has intersecting spheres upon which all sexes play. Play is a creative dance upon which the archetypes of this world are built.

But the game becomes darker for girls, especially the ones that learn that they have the ability to manipulate others using their bodies and words as tools. At that point the experience of having boyfriend crosses the fence from play to power-play. This is also when other girls, who don’t have that self-perceived ability, get marginalized. These girls also start learning other ways to manipulate. It’s the nature of anger to manifest itself into power-play. This is the middle school saga. It starts in late elementary and for some it lasts their entire life.

Feeding the flames

Of course, boys aren’t off the hook. Some boys learn the same manipulative devices of their cohort females. They not only learn how to wield the power of their body and words, but they also have the driving power of male lust behind their action. Girls and boys alike must watch out for them. They are a raging fire and may be dangerous their entire lives particularly to others. Pain is in their wake. Less frequently do females learn to wield such power, but they certainly do exist.

At a particular point, boys begin to feel that drive to have sex, which is natural. However, society does a fantastic job of heightening that desire. One of the worst things for me as a pubescent boy was my encounter with pornography, whether it be the real deal laying out used and wet from the rain on the sidewalk or even the newspaper Montgomery Ward lingerie inserts. The almost naked body has a profound effect on boys and girls (for that matter). It heightens our sexuality, because it places images in our minds. The sexual development within boys is mostly a habitual response to imagery and ideas placed in our heads from others. The imagery grows as we allow it to grow. We allow it to be fed in a variety of directions, mostly with disastrous effects. As someone once put it to me, “Is it really natural to have a shoe fetish?” The answer, of course, is no. Through habit and the choices of the will, we allow ourselves to develop our lusts. And to survive, our lusts must be fed and fed well. In fact, the greater the lust the more it must be fed and the more creative the fuel. Lust desires new fuel. It won’t burn as well on the same fuel as before. The food that lust ends up consuming to be satisfied becomes truly revolting. But that food starts simple. For boys, it starts with pornographic imagery.

Images provoke our creative sense. Images produce a reality (if not only in one’s head). They take on a life of their own. Our dreamworld develops from the things we stuff in it, as well as what the world pours forth. So, dreams become a mixture of reality and false-reality, especially when we’re fed with those things that are false. If the images that enter us are in any way, shape or form based on premises of lust, those images spawn more lust in the mind of the adolescent or of the adult. Fortunately, we are given the ability to allow or deny entry into our heart, but we must have help. This cannot be done alone. What we allow into our hearts is the most difficult task of the adult. We must be assisted by community and can only be done through prayer by the grace of God. This is why Jesus commands us to pray, “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” If you haven’t prayed that in a while, do so now. It’s vastly more important than you may realize today.

An unquenchable fire

In boys (and girls), these imagined realities become living entities within the mind of us individually and our general society. They are most always false impressions of reality and they may consume our focus. They become literally and figuratively indwelling creatures. The reality of sex is not what society or the individual perceives it to be. But these imaginary realities, build, develop and push the male and female to fulfill this fiction in reality. All moms and dads should know that the reason most adolescent males want girlfriends is because of the imagined sex (conscious or subconscious) that could come with it. They should also know that the reason most girls want boyfriends is because of status and power. There are noble reasons for courtship, but those reasons I’ll deal with in the section on marriage.

If that imaginary reality becomes unchecked, it can become a dangerous fire. If he or she allows others to feed his flames, the fire gets bigger and bigger. And it takes more dangerous fuel to feed it. Gasoline must replace the logs.

Under these conditions, the other valuable type of love may be consumed by the fire of lust and power. The agape love, we know most closely as friendship or fellowship, brotherhood or sisterhood, is sometimes used to feed the fire. But when we start feeding our lust furnace with the only true concepts of love that enters our lives, we begin to die. Our living being can only be fed by agape love. Brotherhood and sisterhood should not be allowed to feed the fuel of lust. It is a trap that anyone can encounter. No one is more prone to it than another.

I’m compelled to add that the two components of this type of false-love should be best defined together as powerlust, as Augustine puts it. One could assign lust to the male and power to the female, but at the end of the day, they are one in the same. Male and female are biological distinctions, yet our sin is manifest in different yet overlapping ways.

The fuel of lust feeds an unquenchable fire. Be careful to understand that the fire of powerlust has no place with agape love and is doomed. We must not fall with it into the pit.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

John 6:35

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Love, relationships and marriage

Posted by David

Over the next few blog entries, I’ll be writing about relationships, love and marriage. I’ll probably tick-off most folks a bit. Please accept my humble apology beforehand, because I might have it wrong.

My purpose for writing this is multifold. I may be hoping to learn something myself. I always feel that I understand things a bit better once I put them in words, but I also feel that there is such opaqueness in regards to relationships that it is seriously damaging to a great number of people that have been marginalized by powerful, damaging and manipulative people. Modern relationships, if not in all of human history, is more about power and control than about Godly love. We all fall into that trap, no matter which side of the equation we exist, and for most of us at times, we tread on both sides of the equation at any given moment.

The third reason is because there is such misinformation out there about love and relationships that I feel compelled to grab the bull by the horns and give it a full out ‘what-for’. Hopefully, I don’t get gorged in the process. (I wish I had been given that rebuke when I was younger. But in time, God gave me the rebuke after many mistakes and I have learned.) Just the other day, I saw an article in a newspaper titled something like the Me Marriage. It compelled the readers to seek his or her own needs first in marriage, because supposedly amongst the ‘in crowd’ that’s the trend. Talk about a west-bound train at full steam bound for an east-bound train going the same speed. The article made me sick and I certainly won’t link to it and provide it any press.

I must state up front that I believe there is really only one type of true love and that is what most of us would think of as friendship. It’s a love that is beyond time and comes only from God, which Christian theology calls agape. It is agape that Jesus was for all of us on the cross. It is the only type of love that will survive the ages and it is the only love worthy of pursuit. It is the only noble love. It is the deepest love and can be had by all. At present, however, it is the most painful love, because the fellowship of this love is self-sacrificial. One day, though, it will no longer be a painful love and will finally be joy manifest.

Mostly, our world is not concerned with that type of love. The world concerns itself with powerlust, which is probably the only other type of love, which manifests itself in many other ways. Pride, power and hunger are all names we call it along with other names—good and bad. Each one of us wants to satisfy our inherent desire to be the center of the universe. Humans chose that path long ago and still suffer the consequences. This lust or hunger leads us to act in a variety of ways, depending on our particular biology, sex, mind, social structure, age, family, and most importantly habits.

It’s essential to briefly elaborate on habits, because organically, habits make us who we are individually and collectively. Habits have changed me over time and have changed my society over time and will continue to do so. The habits we all have today are passed to our children and our society. As a people, our biological and sociological character changes over time as those habits develop and modify. We can change our habits, which is a matter of the will, and anyone who has tried to stop using an addictive substance, knows just how terribly difficult that is to do.

There are really only two loves: agape and lust. Agape is the love that dwells and shines outward. Lust is the love that dwells inward. We all should know the character of both of these very well because they are always among us. However, both are poorly understood because it’s very scary to look directly at either. When we look at agape, we see how destitute we really are. When we look at lust in the face, we see how miserable we have become. No one really wants to see the truth, so we hide our faces and convince ourselves otherwise.

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Congruence

Posted by Mike

When I was in graduate school, among the most prominent clinical psychologists in the country was Carl Rogers. His focus was humanistic, and he called his approach client-centered therapy. One of his key concepts was congruence. It refers to a person’s presentation in interaction with others. To be congruent, one’s speech and ideas, emotional expression, and physical presentation should reflect the same theme. For example, if you’re thanking someone for a gift, one’s emotional expression and physical manner should express appreciation. I’ve been mulling over this idea of congruence for the past several days as I was in a situation recently in which several people I interacted with seemed to not be  congruent. Maybe people react differently in such a situation. What I tend to do is freeze up. I may not think “What’s going on here?” but that’s what I feel. I also experience a bit of confusion, what I’m experiencing from the other person just doesn’t add up and make sense.

It may be that an individual’s guardedness or insecurity will come across as a lacking of congruence. And of course that’s exactly what is going on. If I’m preoccupied with something that’s interfering with my ability to interact during the process of interaction, I’m not being congruent. One of the Presidential candidates during the debates two years ago was perplexing. His presentation seemed calculated and wooden; the words were right, but his emotional expression and physical presentation were stilted and unnatural. How can you trust a person like that, when it’s clear that there’s something else very important going on beneath the surface. It might only be a sort of perfectionism and ruleboundedness, but such qualities can have serious downsides in the heat of decision-making.

There is one kind of person who can come across as congruent, but is definitely not, and that’s the sociopath. These people are super smooth, and they can present idea, emotion, and manner perfectly congruently, and yet have a massive hidden agenda that the recipient of their attention must avoid at all costs. If anything, the sociopath is too smooth, too perfectly congruent. Given a little time with a sociopath they become unbelievable and the chinks in their defense become apparent. Hopefully this will occur before you discover that your wallet is missing!

Carl Rogers lived from 1902 to 1987

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Andy Catlett

Andy Catlett Early Travels

Andy Catlett Early Travels

Posted by David

For anyone who has family that has lived in rural America in the past century, Andy Catlett Early Travels by Wendell Berry is a story about you. It’s all of our story. I think particularly of my dad because Andy, who this is written about from an older man’s perspective, would have been born in the same year, about 1936. This story is simple and spans only a few day’s time. A ten year old boy travels to both of his grandparents’ homes not 12 miles away from his own house. What makes this visit important was that he did it alone.

Andy first travels to his Dad’s parent’s home on a tobacco farm in rural Kentucky, where they still drive wagons with horse teams. His travel is then contrasted by a visit to his mom’s parent’s house in a nearby town. Mostly it’s a timeless story about people living in early 20th Century America and who we’ve become. We listen to the talk of people in their homes, barns and street corners from the perspective of Andy, who is going through his right of passage. It harkens in me my right of passage trip, when I traveled away from my parents when I was 11 to visit my friend’s grandparent’s farm in Virginia. Although that was in 1982, forty years after Andy’s travels, there were similarities. Rural America was chugging along with diesel with by then, but the people still sat around in the stillness of the evening and talked. I suppose that still happens today in places where the TV’s not on. Even in 1982, the memory of that old way was still strong. The grandmother was still canning her garden food with parrafin.

Wendell also talks about fossil fuels and WWII and how they so fundamentally changed life in America. He talks about the old slow world that has been replaced by a new fast world. The book itself slowed me down, certainly as intended. Wendell acknowledges something that I foresee also, that the old bygone world has a character that isn’t altogether lost and actually will be returning strong soon, albeit in a different form. We are presently on the cusp of a new era, one that will replace the new fast world, because cheap fossil fuels are almost gone. I look forward to slowing down despite all the difficulties that will arise with the coming shift.

It’s already happening in our country and will continue to do so each day. I recall seeing bits and pieces of that coming world when traveling South America over ten years ago. I remember hiking into a National Park in Chile and watching two young men with ropes wrestle a three-foot diameter couch-sized chunk of hardwood down the forested mountain trail. The rain and mist had muddied up the trail which helped the big log to slide. They were exhausted but bound to get their prize to market. On the same trip, I remember seeing a donkey pulling a chassis of maybe a VW beetle down the road. It’s already happening and closer to home than we might be aware.

After reading Wendell’s book, my wife and I were discussing it. We both long for a return to that slower life, but why? We know it’s not ideal and cloaked with it are a host of different problems than we have today. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about relationships. In Andy Catlett’s travels, he witnessed people working together in the barns, chatting together in the towns and in the homes. Modern technology hadn’t yet consumed relationships as it has under the influence of petrol. People’s hands touched. The sound waves of their voices directly stroked the hairs of others’ inner ears. Despite the fight it will take to get there, we’re going back, whether we like it or not.

Some compare our petrolium-based industrial society as a train about to wreck with destiny. I say we won’t make it that far. We may just run out of fuel and slowly, surely roll to a stop in a great vast wilderness. We’ll help each other off the train, some faning their faces from the heat of the midday sun. Some will stumble off half-drunk and have to deal with a bad hangover without the help of asprin. The children will jump off the train not knowing the difference and start playing with sticks and chasing jackrabbits. But most importantly we’ll start talking again and telling stories together. And finally after all these years we might just learn to listen to what others’ hearts have been telling us.

Consider listening to Andy and see what his heart has to offer you.

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Celebrating Noble Acts

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by David

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day once again. I would like to think that those national holidays which are devoted to individuals are so because those people were truly noble and had character traits that should be considered and revered by the nation which celebrates him or her.

In college I read a bit of his Letter from Birmingham Jail and more recently listened to some of his sermons. He has some powerful sermons, that’s for sure. Did he have that quality that a nation should celebrate and desire? It would certainly seem so. But things that are done for noble reasons can’t be reliably discerned from history. They can only be known by the state of the heart under which the actions were committed, which we are not privy to in others and only on special occasions of insight are we of our own.

I do feel that we should celebrate noble acts, but less so noble people, because we are all flawed and by celebrating a person we tend to start confusing the noble act with the flaws in that person. For instance, people look at King’s extramarital affairs and say, “See, he wasn’t noble afterall,” and so therefore neither were his acts they conclude. The opposite condition can occur also. A cult-of-personality can develop in a person who may have done something seemingly noble, yet he or she is actually a narcissistic, totalitarian control freak, who did the act to gain popularity. I expect that this is how many of history’s leaders came to be.

What is important about celebrating noble acts is it gives us the opportunity to know what one such act really feels like. As difficult it is to set forth examples in this day and age, there are some, if not only clearly in fiction. The actions of Samwise come to mind first from the Lord of the Rings series. But today, I offer up a recent reading that describes a perfect noble act upon which we should learn and celebrate.

Piglet, Pooh and Rabbit

Piglet, Pooh and Rabbit

In the next to last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner, we learn that Owl had just lost his home in a windstorm and all the animals were helping him get his belongings from his sideways, smashed-up tree house. Rabbit had summoned and directed everyone to look for a new home for Owl. Eeyore, who usually did more grumbling than anything of much use, had actually found a home for Owl and he was quite proud of himself. He took Christopher Robin, Pooh and Piglet to see the fine new home. We find them there discovering that the new home just happens to be Piglet’s house.

And then Piglet did a Noble Thing, and he did it in a sort of dream, while he was thinking of all the wonderful words Pooh had hummed about him.

“Yes, it’s just the house for Owl,” he said grandly. “And I hope he’ll be very happy in it.” And then he gulped twice, because he had been very happy in it himself.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. took to the streets, did he do it as if in a “sort of dream”? Did he do it out of self-sacrifice? He was certainly not a perfect man, but must we be perfect to do anything noble? I personally would prefer to celebrate the noble acts of Marthin Luther King, Jr. rather than the man himself. What were those particular acts?

Mostly we don’t hear about noble acts. They are the sort of thing that your left hand doesn’t know that your right hand is doing. But they happen every day. Nowadays, Jesus does that work only through us. And we do it only through him. Those acts bore a hole right through history and live beyond time itself. History doesn’t remember those sorts of things. It’s not the nature of history to remember that stuff. But you can remember and if you look out for them you will see them. And one day they will happen to you and you won’t even know it.

 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Luke 6:43-49

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