Monday, August 31, 2009

The Fall Within - More About My Anxiety Story

My problem stayed at a mild level (after my neighbor Les and my bother Gary were out of the picture). But it was some events of middle school that brought them to the surface and helped to define them as social anxiety (rather than just general anxiety). In my middle school was when you were called to do your first public speaking and where sports took a paramount importance.

My first public speaking gig was a seventh grader when I was told to do a talk to a roomful of parents at a National Honor Society banquet. The speech had to be written and then memorized. Five of us were on the podium. I had been very nervous about it for days ahead, which may have been typical for a thirteen year-old. But when it was my time to speak, and I was second, I had a full-fledged panic attack. My voice was trembling so bad that I could only get out my first sentence (out of about ten) and then I froze up. It was one of the biggest nightmares of my life up until that point.

Social anxiety is self-perpetuating. You screw up because you are so scared. Then your fear becomes much worse because you have screwed up. It becomes a vicious downward spiral. The only feedback I got after the talk was having the teacher, who led the National Honor’s Society, comment that the other four did a great job and maybe I was the wrong choice for the job and, she told the group, that she would be much more careful next time when she picked speakers.

I knew nothing about anxiety disorders but had to assume that I had messed up because I was very stupid and a very bad person. The teacher didn’t advise me any differently.

My social anxiety became much worse after that event and during the subsequent years. The major reason was my experience with basketball. I think my motive for playing was trying to prove that I was “somebody” and thus over come these personal negative feelings. I became obsessed with the sport, practicing far longer than the team. However, I continued to be plagued with performance anxiety (a facet of social anxiety) to the point that—while I was doing very well in practices—I failed miserably during a game in front of a few hundred people. Just like with the Honor Society speech, each failure led to worsening social anxiety.

The Christian Era

I became a Christian at age 18 through a high school teacher who taught psychology. I took psychology to try and figure out what the hell was wrong with me. Then the teacher introduced a friend, Bill, and I to the Gospel, at least an evangelical version of the Gospel.

The part that was most attractive to me about Tom’s Gospel, was that once you accept Christ, all your problems go away and you enter a Nirvana of bliss right away. I was taught that Jesus came to not only take away the guilt of our sin, but the actual sin itself.

Bill and I entered (for the next four years) a program of discipleship training under Tom. The cornerstone of this series was the belief that the only thing that separated ourselves from perfection, bearing all the fruits of the spirit (and we considered “peace” or the complete lack of anxiety as one of those fruits) was our obedience. So, I wanted so much to know this peace . . . and more than that, I wanted everyone to see me as a mature Christian . . . that I had to do my best to push my anxiety underground.

I took up repelling and rock climbing during college and graduate school to prove to others I had no fear of heights (but was scared shitless each time I did it). I did travel back and climb the ole Hatteras light house. There is something positive to be said for “exposure” to the target of fear. It is therapeutic and does help, so those exposures (although it was part of my pretending) did help the underlying problem a bit.

I can only remember two public speaking events during my undergraduate years. One was a well advertised debate between a group of us Christians and a strongly atheistic philosophy professor. I honestly think I had much more to say (having at least studied philosophy) than the rest of the group. However, I was terrified for the week leading up to the meeting. My Christian friends told me a bunch of clich├ęs, such as, “If you had your eyes on Jesus rather than yourself, then it wouldn’t be a problem.” One gal suggested that I did not have the Holy Spirit because if I really did, I would be bold and courageous rather than acting like a coward. I felt like a coward and knew how much God must be ashamed of me for being anxious, especially when other people were not. I fasted and prayed for hours and hours over that meeting and slept very little.

The second one came while I was attending a Navigator summer training program at the University of Tennessee. It was a three month intensive training in the Christian life (with about 100 other students). I was asked to lead music (and I know nothing about music) at a large gathering for about 500 people. I was terrified. I heard over an over from my team leader and others that my fear was a mark of spiritual immaturity. I hated myself. All I did was pray, fast and beg God to help me to be mature. I led the music but it was extremely hard.

In summary, the next couple of decades my social anxiety was in the back ground. It was only mild to moderate, but even then, it did influence my life a lot. We had a failed missionary experience in part due to it. We had a boss who treated my family like donkey crap (he had his own disturbing issues). I should have stood up to him the very first time that he asked us to do something outrageous. However, due to the facts that I had been taught that going against a spiritual leader was the same as going against God Himself, and the fact that I had a fear of confrontation (typical of social anxiety) let us stay on the field in extreme hardship for two years before I had the balls to explode and confront this man (after his decisions had almost cause my son to die).

To avoid belaboring this too long, I will jump ahead another decade. My anxiety disorder continued to haunt me (making me feel like crap as a man and a Christian) but it was relatively mild. This all changed about 15 years ago. It was a chain of horrible events that occurred over three years. It is too complicated to go into here. In summary, the first events were completely out of my control . . . just a lot of bad luck. In the end, in my anger and frustration, I made bad choices. After this, it was like I was standing at the foot of the Hoover Damn and the entire thing collapsed releasing a vast torrent of guilt and shame on the top of my head. My anxiety had been building for a couple of years, but then, it became acute and serious. I began having panic attacks one after another. At the zenith I had to stay home from work because I was having constant panic attacks if I left my house.

This is getting long so I will pick up on this story in my next posting. I will talk more about what it is like to experience a more serious form of anxiety disorder. Mistakes I made in seeking treatment, and things I’ve learned. I will warn that this is not like a Mother Goose or typical Christian fiction story where everything becomes hunky dory in the end. My problem is still not resolved and may never be this side of eternity. I will end with a post discussing the whole nature of these problems and how, I think, Christians should approach them, and errors that I know that I've made in my thinking.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

General Anxiety Disorder -- My Experience

(Pictured . . . inside the Hatteras lighthouse)

I'm going to spend a couple of postings (I hope it is not any longer) describing my experience with a generalized anxiety disorder. I still invite others who what to discuss their mental health thorns in the flesh. Just write it up and submit it to me a

I wanted to continue this thought on looking at my anxiety from the inside out with special consideration of a (my) Christian perspective.

First of all, I am a great believer that we are all unique . . . I’m thinking snowflake here. Not only has God created us unique to start with, but the influence of the fall, through our genetic make up and live experiences has added to that uniqueness. So what I say about my experience only applies to myself and not to others with the same diagnoses. The old Tim Lahaye, Spirit-Controlled Temperament, dose not fly in my opinion. It was one of the “Christian” milestone books (back in the 70s) on psychology, which put people in boxes, categories or personality types. While modern psychology does catalog mental illness (as I referred to earlier as the DSM-IV), and I think that is helpful, we can not paint people with too broad of brush.

What is the cause of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

First I will give a basic answer (which may apply to everyone), then my own personal answer.

I do believe that GAD, is a “disorder.” It is not part of the great “order” in which God created the universe or intended. It is an aberration of how God intended us to be. That view makes a great impact on how we, who suffer, view our problem. God didn’t create me this way for some special reason. It is, like Paul said, a thorn in the flesh. No human, in my opinion is without their own personal thorn. Of course God is sovereign, however, He is not the great manipulator . . . creating us with certain idiosyncrasies which makes our lives much more difficult . . . in order to achieve some specific divine purpose.

This particular disorder, like most, can be a product of, 1) ancient sin (the fall of Adam) and influence us through genetics, 2) recent sin, the influence on us of other peoples’ sin, especially when we were very young or 3) our personal sin. This is very, very different from Nouthic counseling (Jay Adams brand of Christian psychology) which only believes in # 3. Nouthic counseling also ignores the physical brain which is the real “battle ground” in the case of # 1 and can be influenced by # 2 and #3. They believe (in a Dualistic way) that the problem is in a very fluid, dynamic and changeable spiritual realm. Go back to my previous posting and click on the title for a very good, and simple, explanation of how the brain is involved in this disorder of GAD.

So anxiety disorders can develop if you are born with brain malfunctions, such as deficient of a particular neurotransmitter, or the actual number or connections between certain neurons. You can also acquire an anxiety disorder through early childhood experiences, trauma (anytime during your life) or even brain injuries. I’ve seen patients develop extreme anxiety after a particular type of brain injury including a stroke.

Of course, decisions that we make can influence the magnitude of these disorders. But I believe that the Church has created a huge amount of unjustified guilt by suggesting that all the mental health disorders are the fault of the sufferer. It would be the same if a person was blamed over and over for being born (or injured) and became lame, or blind.

My personal origins.

I have done a lot of retrospection and I don’t have all the answers, however, there is no reason for me to waste anymore of my time and energy trying to figure it out. You can certainly become too obsessed with your own faults.

I know that my GAD started at a very young age. Was I born with it? Maybe, but I’m not positive. My mother suffered from a severe anxiety disorder all her life. The question becomes, did I inherit the disorder from her or did she teach it to me when I was very young? I honestly don’t know.

I can remember as clear as if it were yesterday, the first time I realized that I was different. I was five years old. I was with a large extended family group visiting the lighthouse on Cape Hatteras. The group (of about 14) started climbing the spiral iron staircase inside. It is the kind where you can see through the steps to the floor below. As we went up beyond 20 or 30 feet I was overcome by terror (acrophobia is one small part of my syndrome). It was so bad that I froze. My mother couldn’t even carry me because I was in a panic. The whole family made a big deal out silly I was and how much of a baby I was. Finally my mother took me back ground to the door and I sat outside on the big sandstone steps that lead up to the lighthouse while she and the others climbed it. I felt so embarrassed and I hated myself. My brother had laughed his head off at me, but the terror was so awful. The only reason that I felt terror, so I reasoned, was because I was a very bad person.

I had some early influences in my life that . . . if didn’t cause my anxiety . . . made it much worse. But I am often hesitant to even tell these stories because when I’ve attempted to before, I’ve had Christian friends suggest I was, “making excuses.” I am not. I’m just trying to objectively explore and understand. Those who accuse us of “making excuses” are usually people who have never suffered with this problem. Their thorns in the flesh may be that they are assholes . . . but then that makes them a thorn in someone else’s flesh doesn’t it?

The other influence was that I had a brother who beat the crap out of me almost every day. He hated me. I was seven years younger than him and he was always insecure, which made him very jealous (with me being the baby). He dealt with it by constantly telling me I was crap and physically hurting me with every chance that he could. It created a constant feeling of low-self esteem and fear.

The other great influence was a neighbor kid. He was the stereotypical bully. He was four years older than me and heavy, weighting twice as much as me. He loved to torture me, and I’m not exaggerating. From about age 3 until I stabbed him in a horrible act if self preservation (around age 6) there wasn’t a day that went by that he was tying ropes around my neck coking me, burning me with matches, setting my hair on fire, forcing me to do kiss and expose myself (in great humiliation) to little girls on our street. It seemed like it would never end.
Finally my brother got drafted to Vietnam and I stabbed my neighbor in the head, sending him to the Emergency Room. But after living through this for about five years (and impressible years) I was a nervous wreck.

My parents didn’t help me because (I know now), 1) my dad was suffering from PTSD from Normandy and 2) my mother had been so severally abused as a child by her father and step-mother that she didn’t have the emotional fortitude left to help me.

So I really don’t know when my problems started and if I would have had them even if I had experienced a warm and nurturing childhood. It may have been all the results of nature.

I will continue on with my story later, how it manifest and how I’ve struggled to over-come it (but mostly hide it).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Made Fearfully . . . The Gift of Terror

I will be back soon to start taking about this . . . a very personal issue. I am overwhelmed with work right now, finishing up my masters today, trying to get a medical license in Nepal (got a notice last night that I had to get a huge amount of paper work to Kathmandu by tomorrow). Plus, I'm going out of town next week for ten days and my schedule at work is packed.

The beginning thought is simply fear is a gift. Without fear, our life expectancy would indeed be very short. If you want to see an illustration of too-little fear, watch some of the Darwin Award winners (on video). I really think that Adam and Eve had the gift before the Fall. However, if there were no real dangers, then maybe they didn't. They should have had more fear . . . at least a fear of God.

But, as a back ground, click on the title above and there is a very good, and simple explanation of how God has given us this gift.

I personally suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder with a focus on social anxiety. As I was thinking about how to approach this topic, regarding my personal experiences, I thought for awhile of looking how the Church has misunderstood it. I still may do that. But in reality, I have not had any particular bad experiences regarding my anxiety and interaction with Christians. The main reason might be that it is my personal dirty little secret. I do not feel like I have the freedom to bring it up for several reasons. I admit that those reasons may not be founded in truth. But I have to put on a constant act to disguise my fears.

One reason I feel that I must hide it, is that I as a man am deeply ashamed that I suffer from this. Men are suppose to be strong, fearless and confident. I work very hard to hide my inner fear and most would never know it.

Secondly, as a Christian, I feel even more ashamed. Again, I've never had a horrible experience with Christians, but I don't think they would understand. The reason is the fear has always been considered (at least around my neck of the Christian woods) as the opposite of faith or "trusting God." I think that most would think that anxiety and "worry"are the same thing. But I think they are very different. The kind of anxiety that I experience is very automatic and what you would call subconscious. It is not like I sit around and worry about things. Actually, I think I worry about things far less than most people (like terrorism, swine flu, Y-2-K, accidents and etc.) But, with that said, the physical feelings of anxiety is constant and haunting.

I will stop here and come back. I want to describe my history of anxiety from the inside out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Possibly, More Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness

The term “Biblical view” is tossed around loosely these days and I am often appalled at nonsensical concepts as “the Biblical view of global warming” or “the Biblical view of the Internet.” I will allude here, and come back later to, a previous movement called the “Biblical Counseling Movement” or known by other names as “Christian Psychology.” At one point in my life I had the ambitions of being a “Christian Psychologist” and I totally believed in those movements, swallowing them line, hook and sinker. There are no such things as "5 easy Biblical steps" to anything that resembles success or cures.

But I do want to express some fundamental Christian teachings that I think influences my perspective. These fundamentals are very basic, and beyond them, the Bible is silent and gives us freedom to learn and be creative.

The first simple concept is that God is there and He is the creator. He made the universe out of nothing, and made it wonderfully (as opposed to the Dualistic notion that the physical realm is not important or inferior). He has made us in His image. Even though His design of us human creatures may have been perfect, the Christian teaching has the concept of the Fall, or aberration of what was intended. Why this aberration occurred, we can only speculate, but it is key to basic Christian teachings.

Next, is the notion that in Christ, we are COMPLETELY restored both in our intrinsic value and in our connection to God. The law was never intended to restore or to help us maintain value in the eyes of God or others. Living according to the fundamentals of the law does help us have a better quality of life (not as w reward, as in the Prosperity Gospel view) but as an instruction manual for quality living.

Enter Mental Illness:

My fist point here is that none of us are sane . . . completely . . . because of the effects of the fall. Some are saner than others and some are more sane at one point in their lives, or on a particular day, than other days.

The Fall creates mental illness in several ways. First is what we call “nature” or genetics. The brain is an organ of not only intellect, but emotions. Defects can be severe, as in cerebral palsy, or it can on a cellular basis, leading to thought disorders. This baggage comes at birth and the bearer has no responsibility as far the cause (although they might have a role in the treatment).

The second factor is of course “nurture.” This is simply life experiences and is made up of what others have done to us and decisions we have made.

Now there is no formula for determining how much of a factor nature or nurture shares. It depends on the illness and the person. However, there are some mental illnesses of course that are far more the fruits of nature and others more of nurture. But the exact balance can vary from person to person and from situation to situation.

One example of an illness that is more determined by nature is schizophrenia or other psychosises. However, even more minor mental illnesses can have a significant genetic influence in how the brain is wired. An example of one that is more related to nurture is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

With those things said, we do have influence over our mental illnesses, at least most of the time, but our control is not near as easy as Evangelicalism has assumed. Here is where, in my humble opinion, that Evangelicalism has failed in its ability to address mental health issues.

Because of the Dualistic influence upon the Church (historically, and in my opinion in great error) Christianity has had the tendency to divide humans among physical and spiritual lines. The body, digestion, breathing, walking and etc., are easily assigned to the physical. However, attitudes, thoughts, feelings and behavior are assigned completely to the soul or the spiritual.

The problem in believing that these “invisible” attributes are all spiritual, is that it means they are fluid, dynamic and can change on a dime. If you combine this with verses like, II Cor 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (btw, taken out of context) you come up with a belief system that all of these invisibles are controlled by moral choice.

If our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, fears and behavior are simply controlled by our moral choice, then, one would assume that if you have obvious mental illness it is sin because you have chosen to think badly.

Evangelicals love this paradigm, especially if their mental health issues are easy to hide. The reason is, they can look as someone suffering from, say depression (and they don’t have depression), and feel better about themselves. They like to think that they don’t have depression because they have more faith, pray more and etc. On the other hand, the one who does have the problem starts to feel more and more guilt because they too start to believe that their mental illness is simply a result of their bad choices.

One of the biggest movements in Evangelical psychology was Nouthetic Counseling. Basically the word Nouthetic means a type of confrontation. You confront the mentally ill person and get them to repent (or cast out the demon) and presto, they get better. In my personal opinion, and I was a great advocate for this movement for a couple of decades, is that it is pure bullshit. It has done a lot of damage to people whom god loves and gave his son for.

But in reality, mental health issues are based in the organic, concrete, brain. Even if the mental illness, such as PTSD, is a function of nurture . . . it becomes nature because the physical brain actually changes under the influence of extreme stress. I won’t go into that here.

So a better paradigm is realizing that these so-called invisible or spiritual attributes are founded in the physical (the incredible brain which God has made) then the approach has to be different. It is different because some disorders, just like a congenital heart defect or lameness won’t magically go away with a simple cure. So, baring a supernatural miracle, on the order of raising a stone-cold, decaying body from the dead, a schizophrenic will never be cured.

But mental illness can get better and can, in most situations, be controlled. But it is more like redirecting a glacier than fanning steam. It is hard work. It takes a huge amount of energy and support and yes . . . often it requires medications.

The “steppers,” like Bill Gothard, are also a disservice to those who suffer from real mental illness. He has 5 steps to perfect everything. So, in his opinion, if you jump through hoops x, y and z your depression will be gone. So, in real life, when your depression does not get better then you have a choice of looking like a failure, or push your mental illness underground.

So in summary, while mental illness is a product of the fall, there is a very good chance that it has nothing to do with its victims’ moral choices. No one hates their mental illness more than those who suffer from them. There is not an infinite amount of disciplines that they would not do, steps that they would not take, to rid themselves of the disorder once and for all.

Lastly, it is my opinion that mental disorders affect perception most, rather than logic. While I do think our sense of reason is also fallen (but still pretty good) mentally ill people reason, reasonably well, but it is their perceptions that are screwed up.

Take the example of an anorexic. He or she looks like they are very illogical. But their logic is mostly intact but it is there self-perception that is screwed up, especially in the area of body image.

More later.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Echos of the Fall . . . Within

I am following Jamie's lead, who asked me to talk about my battles with a general anxiety disorder and especially dealing with these issues in the midst of the Christian context. I've decided that it would be nice if others would join me in sharing their own stories. But this should be more than just a few comments. I hope someone else could write up a whole story, send it to me, and let me post it here later. Think about it as I spend the next few postings exploring my own experience. E-mail it to me at:

I will come back in a day or so and pick up on this theme. I will add a few caveats again. This includes the fact that I see myself as an explorer and reporter, not any kind of expert. Having a undergraduate degree in psychology and graduate degree in neurology influences my perspective but a mental health professional certainly knows a lot more than I do. But I am only going to be talking about my experiences and perspectives from the inside out.

A few months ago I spent several posts talking about those mental illnesses that others have (and can be "underground" like personality disorders) and which can be a thorn in our sides at times. But this time I will turn the magnifying glass on myself and look how my issues can be a thorn in my own flesh as well as others. I also want to put it into a proper Christian perspective because I think, historically, Dualistic Christianity has done a terrible job in how it handles mental illnesses. It leave the sufferer in the terrible position of ether denying their problems, or living with tremendous guilt.

Above of course is Vincent. He started his life as a Dutch Reformed Pastor's son with ambitions of being a Evangelist himself. But he had his private demons. He eventually left his Christian ambitions, became a wonderful artist . . . and struggled with his demons. This of course is one of his self-portraits with the bandaged ear . . . an ear, which he cut off himself. I have a feeling that he had no place to go, but away from the Church because the Church didn't know how to deal with mental illness.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Common Denominator of My Obnoxiousness Factor

I had a bit of a revelation this week, but before I can describe it, I must give some background.

I think the first time that I realized that I was obnoxious (at least to my Christian friends) was several years ago. I considered Pastor Steve as being my best friend at the time. He was nice. We had had many long conversations of substance . . . talking about both his issues as well as mine, with an equal time devoted to each.

One day, Denise and I had told his wife Janelle that we were coming by for a visit at 2 PM. At that time, our visits were rare and so much valued, at least to me. It is long story, but we got to their area of the city early . . . I think it was around 1:40PM. The odd thing was I saw Steve suddenly sneak from the house, jump in the car a take off. Being a pastor of large Presbyterian Church I could just imagine a host of reasons why he would have to take off in a hurry. But then again, I thought it could be something simple, like running to the store to get some soda or chips for our visit.

Janelle was always gracious and pleasant. We came in and had a seat and started a lively conversation over some lemonade. It wasn’t long until I asked, “So where’s Steve off to? I saw him pulling out as we came down the street.”

Janelle seemed embarrassed, “Well, he went shopping and won’t be back.”

I was perplexed. I hadn’t seen him in a month and I had considered that we were best friends. “Shopping?” I asked.

Janelle hemmed and hawed and finally in a moment of brave candor (assuming that she wasn’t too happy with Steve’s behavior) answered, “Well . . . honestly, he saw that it was about time for you to get here and he had to think quickly of something he could do to avoid you.”

How do you respond to something like that? I was tempted to ask why but I could tell that Janelle already felt embarrassed about the situation.

I was hurt, but far more than being hurt, I was curious. I am a very inquisitive man. I mean, my approach to life is that I feel like Frodo with a head full of about a ton of question marks. When I ask questions, they are real, honest questions . . . not opinions disguised as questions, nor are they rhetorical.

So, after my experience with Steve (and btw our paths have never crossed since, by no fault of mine) I started to notice a pattern. I’ve shared before that I think that I desire good friendships more than most people, at least more than most men, yet I am lonelier than most. Since I’ve been a post-Evangelical, I find friendships very rare and I do think that the Christians, which I try to relate to, find me obnoxious.

But I try very hard not to be obnoxious. I find the old Evangelical Mike far more obnoxious than the new me. The old Mike knew the answers to everything and was not afraid to tell you. He also wasn’t afraid to tell you about your errors. The new Mike would never do that. I have a strong sense of grace and mercy. I feel that I would make a great friend because you could tell me anything and I would never think less of you. In that way I’m like your dog.

The only time I ever voiced disapproval to a friend was when he told me that he were unrepentantly molesting his children and having affairs behind his wife’s back and would not stop. But I had a Christian leader confine in me once that he was an alcoholic, and I had more respect for him than ever and made sure he knew it. He was my hero for coming clean about it.

I also try very hard not to talk about myself . . . and maybe that’s why I blog so much. But in my professional life, I spend the entire day talking to people about the intimate details of their problems, incest (as victims and perpetrators), depression, anxiety, suicide attempts and anorexia. I have several, actually many, young girls who are patients and who are cutters. I know how to sit and listen with my whole heart and feel great empathy and I never talk about myself to them. I am a listening robot.

I know that a blog, as I’ve said before, can be a narcissistic exercise, but I would never focus on myself, one on one, with potential friends the way I do here. So it seems like I would make a good friend.

And again, the reason I even wonder about all of this is that I am driven by curiosity.

During my friend-making attempts I also can be inquisitive, and maybe that could be one obnoxious factor. I mean most of the time, we all like for people to ask us about ourselves. But sometimes my questions are misunderstood as judgments. But, I am a far greater admirer of Socrates than Rush Limbaugh. I am not one that would want to argue over opinions. I feel like such arguing is a futile exercise in self promotion, not persuasion.

Here’s an example of my questions. I’ve said things, to potential male friends, like, “Does it bother you that your wife spends four evenings a week with her personal trainer . . . who, by the way looks just like Brad Pitt? I know it would me?”

The man might take offense at me for that, while it is an honest question . . . in the same way that a sociologist or psychologist might ask it. I am honestly curious about if something is wrong with ME that I would be bothered by my wife hanging out every evening with Brad.

I am also driven by a great zeal for candor. I just can’t stand lying and pretending anymore. That’s where I relate to the insane guy on Revolutionary Road. He couldn’t stand pretentiousness either. But I don’t call other people on their pretentiousness . . . only myself.

So now . . . to my point. I am with a group of Evangelical friends once every two weeks right now for a discussion time. A sociological light bulb went off over my head this past week as I noticed that I was being perceived more and more obnoxious as the discussions went on. I, as an observer, took a step back and started thinking about what it was I was doing that was alienating people. I think I figured it out, at least for the Evangelical setting.

There were several discussions during the night and the end of each one would find me on one side and the rest of the group on the other. There was a common denominator to the discussions and my positions. In my opinion, Evangelicals assign to non-Christians worst motives than they deserve and to Christians, better motives than what they deserve.

So to my Evangelical friends, everything that non Christians do is a conspiracy to do evil, and every thing that Christians do is a plan to do good. I kept finding myself defending non Christians, and calling into question Christians. But, it wasn’t personal. I mean I would never call into question the people in the group. But I would people like Benny Hinn. I also try to use myself as the example of Christians acting badly . . .which always delivers come kind of shock factor.

This is how the conversation ended last week. We were talking about common miracles. I made the statement that sometimes Christians over-state miracles for the effect. There was a look of disgust on the faces of a few, like what I was suggesting was very offensive. Then I used myself as the example. I can clearly remember times (I didn’t say this but it was when I was an Evangelical) that I exaggerated or frankly lied about things to make them look like miracles. I gave the example of a group of us (Navigators) telling the story over and over how the VW van we were in ran 50 miles with no gas in it. But we all knew, in our hearts, that the gas gage didn’t work and it really had gas.

That is the common denominator . . . me always defending the non Christians. That night I had defended several non-Christians, which (in my opinion)they were trying to demonize. But I was disrespecting Christians, namely myself by suggesting that sometimes we lie. They seemed appalled that I had lied for Jesus. They had never heard of such a thing, a Christian doing something like that before. Nor could they even imagine a real Christian doing such bad things.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Revolutionaly Road . . . Excellent!

Just watched it. I really thought it was wonderful. It makes me miss the days when I lived in Rochester, MN and the LAbri house would have movie night. A group of about 30 would watch a carefully selected movie (not selected on being "G" or with "good Christian themes") but with deeply provocative thoughts. Then we would sit around and discuss it until the wee hours of the morning.

In view of how I've expressed things before, oddly, John Givings (the insane man) was the only sane person in the entire movie. He could see through the clutter into the eyes of reality. He was on the "other side" of the looking glass . . . while all the zombies in middle-class-responsible land were just that . . . living on the clean side.

The movie reminds me of a talk I heard once on Focus on the Family. I don't think it was James Dobson . . . but a guest. He made the comment that Christianity had a golden age in America, was was the 50s. Then he explained that through selfishness, the hippies of the 60s brought down the good American Christian society into the chaos of the post-Christian world that we experience now.

I of course disagree. I think there is truth in this movie (and the author of the book lived through 50s as an adult). I suspect the Leave-it-to-Beaver or The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet generation lived on the edge of a facade and in their closets were some real pain, discontentment, disillusions about life. The hippies of the 60s were only saying, "Stop Pretending!" After all, Frank Wheeler (the main male character) was really happy at the end, when his wife, an actress by training, plastered this fake smile on her face and made his breakfast . . . while on the inside she was dying emotionally . . . and would die literally before the day was over.

This movie raises some real questions. Do we ever give up dreams for the "responsible thing to do? " Is living up to middle class expectations . . . a Christian cult?

I know I've made some radical choices in life (and many more that I wanted to make and couldn't). Each time I came up with a wild dream like leaving a wonderful job at Mayo Clinic( but living in a place that I and my kids hated), and moving to an island in Puget Sound . . . and trying to create a job from scratch, well . . . my Christian friends (and professional friends) all advised against it. They said it would not be "responsible."

I wish I had read the Richard Yates novel first. I'm sure it was even better than the book.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Cohen Lyrics

I know that Hallelujah has been mentioned. With these postings I'm focusing on the lyrics . . . of Leonard the poet, but hallelujah needs to be heard if you have not. I may place a link to its performance if I can find it. BTW, if you don't know Cohen, I certainly would not call him a "Christian performer." I have no idea what he claims as his belief system. But he is a poet and an observer of life in the way only a gifted artist can.

Hallelujah lyrics
(see the performance here:

Hallelujah lyrics
Songwriters: Cohen, Leonard;Now, I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which are heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

This is one that knew from Neil Diamond many years ago. My favorite line is about only drowning men can see Jesus. Please, please . . . throw me a rope!

Suzanne lyrics

Songwriters: Cohen, Leonard;

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know, she's half crazy

It's why you want to be there
She feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China

And just when you mean to tell her
You have no love to give her
She gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
You've always been her lover

And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And know she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind

Jesus was a sailor
When He walked upon the water
And He spent a long time watching
From His lonely wooden tower

And when He knew for certain
Only drowning men could see Him
He said,"All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"

But He, Himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

And you want to travel with him
You want to travel blind
And you know he will find you
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind

Suzanne takes your hand now
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters

And the sun pours down like honey
On our, our lady of the harbor
She shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers

There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror

And you want to travel with her
You want to travel blind
And you know she'll find you
For she's touched your perfect body with her mind

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which are heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Leonard's Words

Once again my kids have turned me on to something that I would never have found on my own. This time it is Leonard Cohen . . . poet, singer and writer. I watched a concert with my kids (on TV) and I was spellbound by his beautiful words. Some of the songs (which he had written) I had heard by other artists such as Neil Diamond.

It was a year ago that my sons turned me on to novels (after being a nonfiction reader for decades). Now I hope to spend some time reading Cohen's lyrics and poems.

HUG . . . I have your work combined as one file now and am ready to start it too. I just finished Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night and am almost finished with my paper that is the last step in getting my masters in neurology. Then I will be ready to read.

If It Be Your Will

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Gift of Guilt . . . the Curse of it

It is a long convoluted path how I got to thinking about guilt this week. I’ll just skip the intro.

Of course all that is--reflects both the wonderful glory of the creator . . . and the echoes of the fall of Adam. The same is of course true of guilt.

One way of looking at it, is that our brains are built with a guilt “gland” (actually it is a complex interaction of several areas of the forebrain) . . . a place where guilt is processed. Like a high-end radio (sounds like an oxymoron), it is fine-tuned to the frequency of the Holy Spirit. It can function under autopilot or it can be turned on my incoming frequencies from the great convict-er.

In the perfect functioning guilt apparatus the progression starts with sin . . . followed by guilt . . . followed by remorse . . . followed by repentance. . . . and lastly, the complete confidence of forgiveness.

When guilt functions as it was intended, it becomes the salt in the throat that drives us to the well of Jesus to drink.

But a broken, fallen guilt can be either hypo or hyper active.

The hypoactive guilt apparatus is the cornerstone to many of the DSM II disorders as well as the psychopathic and sociopathic people.

As I was researching one of the psychopathic serial killers, I read his police report. He shot and killed a young man in front of the man’s girlfriend. She, like any of us, came completely unglued. Then the killer (per his own words) started stabbing her in the face and neck as she, in terror, begged for her life. He found tremendous joy . . . not wanting to rape or rob her . . . but watching her helplessly beg for mercy as he methodically stabbed her to death. He was high on joy for days . . . until he needed to kill again. There, his guilt apparatus was silent. No remorse, no guilt. But lack of guilt seems to be key in many of the lesser DSM II mental disorders as well.

But what about the hyperactive guilt apparatus? I believe such an energetic sense of guilt is like the flying buttresses that hold up the walls of anxiety. I know that I suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder and have my entire life. Some day I would like to write about it . . . if I can ever figure out how to do without sounding like I’m whining or being a member of Oprah’s mental health disease of the month club.

I was talking to my mom this morning. She’s 88. She was telling me how she suffered from anxiety her whole life. I didn’t know it but she was on Valium for several years . . . until her pharmacist explained that it was habit-forming. She stopped it cold-turkey. So I know that there is a genetics flaw (a physical consequence of the Fall of Adam), and not just a learned response.

But in anxiety disorders, and maybe other disorders, guilt and shame play a big role. There the progression doesn’t follow the script. It is sin (or perception of sin) leads to guilt . . . which leads to remorse, repentance (if the sin was real to start with), but then the guilt continues and goes to seed as shame. Shame in turn tells the emotions that the blood of Christ does not cover you . . . while you know in your intellect that it does.

Those of us with a hyperactive guilt apparatus are set up to be manipulated. Those with a low guilt sense, tend to habitually manipulate others . . . and with no remorse.

On the other side of the looking glass, where the perfect world of pretend Christianity dwells (and where I used to dwell myself) everything is well demarcated between black and white. It is odd that they see things that way because they do believe in the Fall and should know that all things are corrupt. So there, guilt always = Holy Spirit convicting as they have no concept of false guilt. They also have no sense of the lack of guilt . . . you know nice Christians like Ted Haggard who seemed to function without guilt.

It reminds me of an old friend from my college Navigator ministry. We stayed in touch over the years. One day, a long, long time ago, he sent me a letter that his wife was leaving him . . . and that she was really messed up. She had actually accused him of molesting his daughter so that she could get a better divorce settlement . . . so he said. She seemed like a witch to me . . . per his letters. It seemed odd because he had met her thought the Navigators and I had assumed that she was a "godly woman" (back when I believed in godliness.)

A couple of decades later our paths crossed. I went out with him and his new wife. Then he and I sat to the wee hours in the morning talking about the old days. The longer we sat up, the more of the layers of the onion we peeled off. Then, about three in the morning, he mentioned that not only had he really molested his daughter . . . but while my jaw was still on the floor, he told me that he was having sexual encounters with other men at that time. When I told him he must come clean with his wife, he said he would not. But then he, as an elder of a Evangelical church, said something that really blew me away. He said, "But I feel no remorse for either behavior because God has not convicted me of it." This was the first time I ever walked away from a from a friendship because of my disapproval of someone's behavior. I just didn't know how to deal with it.

For many of us who suffer from an overactive guilt complex, it is a constant effort to see the cross clearly and to feel the father’s pleasure. I think that is why church campaigns to “root out our personal sin,” feels a little like a burn victim being asked to take a soak in a hot tub.Some of us need to hear about grace . . . every single day.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Julie and Julia . . . More Good Lessons from Strange Places

I have to admit that Julie and Julia is not the kind of movie that I would want to see. But I did see it last Sunday night for a variety of reasons . . . and I learned something significant. It is like I posted, a long time about, about going with my daughter, my daughter-in-law to see a movie about the traveling pants. For the first ½ hour I thought my head was going to cave in from the brainless sucking sound . . . but then I got caught up in it . . . and really learned some important things about relationships between girls.

I went to see this movie because, ironically, the night before we had just rented Doubt, staring the same two lead female actors (Meryl Streep and Amy Adams). Secondly, going to the movie was a continuation of the celebration of our anniversary. It has been a strange year for an anniversary because the date, July 31st, Denise had just gotten home from Kenya, we had one group of out of town guests. They left one day and the next group came in the next day. So the celebration was strung along with me buying a card one day, flowers another day . . . still no dinner or formal celebration, but we had planned on going to the movie last Sunday.

The next reason was that my daughter was joining us, and because she works for the theater, we get in free when she is with us. Smilely face here.

Lastly, it was announced a day before that the leaders of the church were being summoned to a meeting Sunday night about the vision that the pastor has for autumn. He wants to preach from the book The Bait of Satan and have everyone reading the book. The theme is rooting out personal sin in the church. I have strong dismay about the book and the whole concept. So I was delighted that the movie started at 7 PM, and the church meeting started at 6 PM. So, and it did work out this way, I got to say my concerns and then speed off, like a coward, to join Denise and Amy (my daughter Amy . . . not Amy Adams) in the dark theater, to escape further frustrations.

The first minor lesson of the movie was the continuing support of my opinion that Meryl Streep is a tremendously talented and versatile actor.

But the main points that I learn, that the husbands of both Julie and Julia were examples, in my opinion, of what a good husband should be. This lesson was more powerful than any Christian book on marriage that I had read (which I can remember). I don’t know why the writer of the screenplay (Nora Ephron) created such good men, but I am thankful she did. Maybe these good men came from the real Julie's (Julie Powell) or Julia Child's lives.

It was especially true of the portrayal of Julia’s husband. I don’t know if this mirrored their real life in any way. But the little balding man looked at this big-boned woman with the high-pitched voice and over the top mannerism . . . as his goddess. Her success was what honestly drove him as a selfless man.

Most women would say that they don’t want to be anyone’s goddess . . . hmm, but I beg to differ. I know I would love to be Denise’s Superman . . . but most often I feel like her George Costanza

So that was the lesson I learned . . . two men who were deeply invested in the success of their mate and adored them despite their idiosyncrasies. That’s the kind of mate all of us deserve (per God’s original plan).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lying for Jesus . . . What Should We Do?

This logo at the right is taken from a documentary by evolutionists regarding the pro-creationists. However, I'm talking about something altogether different.

I've spoken about this before, but it is the culture within evangelicalism, (while evangelicalism stands strong against sin in the non-believer, in the culture wars) we are very tolerate of lying . . . if that lying is FOR JESUS. This time I am asking the honest question about how do WE respond or what do we do about it . . . if anything? Before I wrote about it to point the problem out (as if I needed to) but now I want to think about how we should respond.

The problem: I’ve been an active member in about 8 local churches over the years (only switching churches when we have moved). Each church seems to have one or more of what I call the SS (super spiritual) people. These people usually have a very extroverted personality. They are usually in some level of attention (I won’t say “leadership” because it can be a singer, music director, etc) where they are up-front most Sundays. Oddly, in the cases I’ve observed, it has never been the pastor (hopefully because they have their lives together much better). However, I do believe that most of the media pastors are of this SS type.

The SS person dominates the prayer chain with dramatic requests. If they have nothing local to pray about they will pray for distant relatives or people they know in other cities with cancer, demonic attacks etc. If there is ever an opportunity for someone to speak out, share a testimony, song, prayer request in front the congregation, the SS person are usually the first to do so.

They also carry a perpetual smile. They speak constantly of God doing this or that in their every day lives . . . and, this is where I believe the lying comes in, they share amazing stories of miracles.

The dangerous thing in these situations is that these SS people are very attractive in the evangelical church. They are (using a high school term) the most “popular” of the church people. They tend to have a following of church people looking up to them as Christian heroes and the example of what it means to be “spiritual.” If the SS person leads a Sunday school class or Bible study, it is the most attended one in the church.

I am most aware of the embellishments or lies in the medical realm because I work in medicine. But if I were an auto mechanic, I would probably raise my eyebrows when they tell a story of how their car was running funny for a week. They took the car to the mechanic and the mechanic found a bird’s nest with four (live) babies inside one of the cylinders. They then explain that God taught them an important message from that experience (you can only imagine).

However, medical-miracle sharing is far more common within the church and that’s why I think I’m aware of it more. I think it relates back to Dualism, where they only see God working in physical healing via supernatural means.

This Sunday I heard a story that makes no sense medically (like the live baby birds living in a running engine cylinder). Now I’m not talking about innocent misunderstandings by the lay person (because a lot of what we talk about in medicine is so complicated). Nor am I throwing doubt on a claim to a medical miracle . . . although I think most of them are lies. But I’m talking about serious embellishments about the details.

The SS people tell these stories that make no sense to anyone who works in the medical field every day. Things like, “My cousin had the type of tonsillitis that was so severe that only one doctor in the world knows about and they had to fly him in from Paris, France to see him in the hospital.” That’s the kind of lying I’m talking about.

So after I heard this nonsensical story, I wanted to talk to the person to try and learn more. Not in a hateful, confrontational way. But in a smiling, “please tell me more” way. I hope to push the details to the point that their stories start to entrap them and that they think twice about lying so blatantly in the future. But I could not link up with the perpetrator, but hope to soon.

But I had a conversation with my wife later. She is a good person for me to use as a sounding board. She is normal. I am not. She makes up the 99% of evangelicals . . . I am a misfit or outcast.

As I relayed the story to Denise (and she too works in medicine) she deeply frowned on me making a deal about it. She, as most Christians would, sees me as being judgmental and making an issue where there is not one. Honestly, she sees me a bit “jerky” in these situations. I don’t mean to be a jerk . . . I just have philosophical concerns.

But I ask myself a much bigger question. If we claim to represent the one, true God and truth in general, why are we so very tolerant to lies among ourselves . . . as long a the lies put God in a good favor (doing miracles)? This even relates back to the image I used at the top of the page. The atheists mock Christianity for lying about creationism. Of course some of this is just bad blood in the culture wars (and the atheists may themselves be embellishing) however, in my humble opinion, I’ve seen the Institute of Creation Research bending truth to its breaking point and same with Ken Ham. But if we tolerate lying among ourselves . . . do we eventually (or have we already) stop living in reality?

But back to the local church and the SS people. As I sit back and watch them gather a cloud of admirers within the church, do I just stand by and smile? Denise thinks I should, as long as that person is bringing glory to God (but is lying bringing glory to the God of truth?)

My present position is to do what I tried to do Sunday. When I sense a very strong possibility that they are embellishing or lying for Jesus, I want to talk to them . . . in a friendly way. I will just push their stories, gently, to the breaking point, where their lies have to either grow or they back down. “Who was this French doctor they flew in . . . I may have heard of him?” would be the kind of question I would ask.

I don’t like lying for Jesus. I used to do it all the time when I was an evangelical. Sure, I still lie and embellish things, especially when I am worked up emotionally about it. “That guy was going at least a hundred miles an hour when he passed me and almost blew my bike off the road!” Okay, maybe he was doing 50. So I am certainly not above lying when I can benefit from it personally (I am ashamed to say). I am also very tolerant to the sins of others, whores, drug addicts, Democrats (pun intended—I did vote for Obama) especially when they know that they are in sin. For them I have great compassion. But the one who claims to be spiritual, but lies all the time, for those I don’t have much patience.

My spiritual heroes in the churches are like the single moms (whose spiritual husbands ran off with his secretary) working two jobs and a kid with ADD and are faithful to God . . . but they are never attention seekers. So we can pray for SS's distant relative because they have a sick dog and is expecting a miracle but the single mom's child, who is recently diagnosed with diabetes is never mentioned. She's my hero . . . as is the old guy, praying every day alone in his house, helping widows all over the place, working so hard he is about to collapse . . . but we never hear a peep out of him.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Another Stoic Doctrine Bites the Dust

We are having a big art festival on our island this week. I got to work it this morning making paper hats for kids. However, last night I biked into the village from our far side of the island. I met my family where we enjoyed the party atmosphere with bands and dancing. But I told my son Ramsey, “You know . . . it wouldn’t bother me at all if they tore down the bridge to the mainland and I had to spend the rest of my life here without leaving this wonderful island once.”

The reason I said this was because I really do love this place with all my heart and I’ve been here six years. The only thing that could make me move is if all my kids congregated in one place far away, then I would move to be near them. But even if I lost my job and could not find another one . . . I would work in the McDonalds’ drive through window and live in a trailer in the woods just so I could stay here.

The Stoic logic that breaks down at this point (and I am using the term “Stoic” loosely) is the fact that before moving here, I lived in a small town in Minnesota that I actually hated. It was freezing cold all winter (and no snow to play in, just frozen dirt and cow manure) but it was like a sauna all summer. I couldn’t go outside. But it didn’t make any difference as there was no reason to go outside. No trails, no trees, no lakes, no rivers . . . absolutely nothing. It is a long story how we ended up where we did, but I did have a wonderful job while we lived there which made it bearable.

But the point is that many, many times, when I expressed how much I hated living in that small Minnesota town, I heard from my Stoic oriented friends (and family), “If you are not happy where you are, then you will never be happy. Geographic location should never determine your happiness.” Or, even being more consistent with the Greek-Stoics, was the message, “You should never listen to your emotions . . . they always lead you wrong. Listen only to logic.” So for six long years I struggled, believing that the reason I didn’t love that small town was something wrong inside of me. You know, just a rotten attitude about life . . . I guess.

Did I mention that I am so happy living here and I’ve been very happy living here for six years? I became happy living here the day I arrived. I am so happy living here . . . even more so than now than the day I arrived.

So when I awaken in the morning to the cool breeze rolling through the window carrying with it the smells of the salty, kelp-tinged air and I hear the deep moans of the ferry lazily drifting across the sound . . . I feel God's pleasure in mine.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Is it God Speaking to Me . . . or is it Idigestion? Part II

So I'm leading a Bible study at church and last night we met. I have to be the Evangelical-Mike, out of politeness. Bob, a visitor who drops in now an then from across the big pond, did say a couple of things that caused jaws to drop . . . like he believes in evolution and an old earth (implied). I avoid those topics at all costs. But I know Bob, and he is a delight as he and I are the only two on the same page (I don't happen believe in evolution . . . single cell to human evolution but I still respect those who do).

Okay, my point. To play Devil's advocate a bit, I did decide to bring up this topic of hearing God's voice. It did relate to a verse we were reading.

I put the question in the context of "How do we know that it is God who is speaking?" I also mentioned the points; 1) our hearts are deceitful and 2) my roommate in college, Barry, was totally convinced that God had told him to marry the prettiest girl on campus . . . and that God was calling him to be the "greatest prophet since Jesus."

The immediate response was one I would agree with (after I loaded the question with those after thoughts), "We only know God's real voice through scripture."

But then, to continue playing the devil's advocate, I sat in silence. Then, in somewhat of a dichotomy, one by one people started to share stories of how "God had spoken clearly to them." It boiled down to emotional feelings, a sign from a stoplight etc. Those who did not share a story, certainly shared in a supporting "Wow," "hmmm" (that's a positive hmmm) to those who did share.

I was tempted to share that I was 100% confident that God has spoken to me to only wear red underwear for the rest of my life . . . just to see what people would say . . . but I dropped it. It would serve no purpose in that setting to show the contradiction between saying that we can only trust scripture . . . but then say out the other side of our mouths, "You know when God is speaking to you . . . you just know it!"

But, Barry "knew" God was speaking to him (as about a million other wackos). But I could tell that if I pushed it, that I was quickly falling out of favor of the whole group . . . save Bob.

So how do we know it is really the voice of God? Personally, I don't trust any "voice" because I am deeply fallen. I don't trust myself. I don't trust others and most of all, I never, ever trust anyone who is considered "godly."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Is God Speaking to me . . . or is it Just Indigestion?

I just said this morning that I would refrain from any Internet activity for a while. I guess I'm still feeling guilty about the turmoil I caused when I spoke up on CNN and it was on their web (see a few postings ago). But, I know, I'm bad, but here I go again.

All day long I've been thinking about this concept of "hearing God's voice." It started because of The Bait of Satan (forward by Benny Hinn) book and the author (Bevere) made the comment that you should never leave your church unless you actually hear the voice of God telling you to do so.

What is the voice of God? I have no doubts that God spoke with real words, hitting real human eardrums, at times in history (like with Elijah above). But it is a term that is thrown around very loosely today.

When I'm with my Evangelical friends, I can say that God told me this or that and no one would bat an eye. It is a common expression within Evangelicalism. I've decided that if I ever do leave my church that I will just send out an e-mail saying that God told me to do so. That will keep everyone quiet. Yes, I would be lying, but that is how the term is often used . . . a term that puts a big period after it. In other words, you can't debate anyone who says that God told them such and such. But what is it really?

I think again of Jeremiah 17:9

9The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
10A)">(A) "I the LORD search the heart
B)">(B) and test the mind,a]">[a]
C)">(C) to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds."

It becomes an issue of epistemology, something that has been debated in philosophy since the Greeks (at least). How can we know that it is God's voice . . . or indigestion? Is it just a term of manipulation?

Denise tells me all the time, "Who are you to judge if what they say is from God . . . really is from God?" That's not the point I'm making here, but it just one of those questions that bugs me.

Here is an example of why this is important . . . then I have to go see a patient.

I suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder and have all my life. I denied it up until a few years ago. I denied it because, 1) real men aren't anxious, 2) real Christians aren't anxious. So, in the past, if I was going to do something, then woke up in the middle of the night with my stomach in knots, I would sense that it was the Holy Spirit convicting me . . . and I would back out.

Now that I know that it is common, garden variety anxiety, I laugh and do it anyway (with trembling). But I wonder how different my life would have been if I had acknowledged it as anxiety years ago, rather than believing it was God's voice.

Got to go but I will pick up on this later. . .

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lessons from a Week of Anxiety

It was a complicated story, but I did an interview with CNN last Monday, which, released a firestorm that I would never have predicted. It is more of the fall-out of trying to live down on the first floor (candidly in other words) and makes me wonder if I should keep my mouth shut.

It wasn’t about my Christian perspectives but about my professional work. To make a long story short, CNN has been doing stories about Obama’s health care plan. One issue that came up was the fact that MDs are electing not to go into primary care (family practice) because there they can only earn 165-180 K/year, while they can earn 400 K/year as a specialist. CNN asked the question . . . could PAs or NPs help fill the gap in this coming primary care shortage? I happened to be a PA (Physician Assistant/Physician Associate). As soon as CNN asked the question, several physicians quickly went on their comment page and started saying very cruel (and not based reality) things about PA and NPs (Nurse Practitioners) such as we are dangerous, killing patients left and right, poorly trained, expensive, yada yada yada.

A few of us, both NPs and PAs sent in messages in defense of our professions. Then CNN calls me for an interview.

In the interview, everything I said was true. I made the simple statement that I had not needed to ask my supervising physician a question (and I’ve been with him for six years). But that is not unusual because I’ve been working in headache problems for 28 years. Secondly I made the statement that I could charge a lot less for a patient visit if I did not have to pay my supervising physician’s practice 60% of every dollar brought in.

Next there were a lot of angry letters to CNN by doctors (so I’ve heard as I haven’t gone back to look). Then, the next night a friend sent me an urgent e-mail linking to a web site posting created by some docs for the sole purpose of “Destroying (me) professionally and personally.” The scary thing was that these doctors looked up all my personal information; phone numbers, addresses, fellow employees etc and published them. They were encouraging others to "go after him.” I was perplexed. What had I said that created such rage?

I started to get nervous. Poor sleep and feeling really guilty as the docs vowed to get me fired as soon as possible. I was afraid that someone would try to harm me or someone in my family. It was surreal.

If this story doesn’t make sense to you is the fact that a few doctors are very insecure and to suggest that another profession can do the same job as them (I was talking about an NP or PA with decades of experience, not just out of school, who does not need physician supervision) really scares them. It threatens their earnings (as we make half) and their social status.

I contacted the producer at CNN and he said I could not change my story. I did re-write it, still telling the truth, but in words that hopefully they wouldn’t react so strongly to. The producer said he would remove my interview from the story tomorrow because I’m getting threats.

I have some problems with anxiety and here was an exercise in dealing with it again. Certainly I prayed a lot. I also had to struggle, mentally, with issues of guilt. Okay, maybe some of it was real . . . speaking, stirring up trouble when I should stay quiet. And a lot of false guilt (I did tell the truth).

But I started to think, if this little public expose brought out the kooks, what would happen if my manuscript was published? Would there be some kooky Evangelicals putting hits on me? I expect so.