I Believe…

i believe

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I believe in love. Not the squishy, touchy-feely kind, but the kind that takes guts and practice and a lot of failure before we start to get it right.

I believe in freedom and pluralism, grateful that I live in a country where I am free to believe in God but where no one has to.

I believe in God, and that the vast majority of people who do not believe in God, or who believe in a different god than I do, are fine people with a lot to teach me. I am not at war with them, and I am not on the side of any so-called Christian who is.

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Embracing Powerlessness, prt. 3

I said in my last post that in this one I would explore our true power. If you are just coming to my blog and have not read the two earlier posts in this series, please check them out before you read this one, because I am convinced that you will never understand your true power until you have come to grips with, and understood, the extent to which you are powerless. You will never embrace your true power until you know what it is — and what it isn’t.

Your true power lies in the only place — and I repeat, the ONLY place — that you have true control, true say, true influence: your own actions and attitudes. Yes, I have truly written two posts and part of a third one in order to give you the cliche, “You can only change yourself.” This cliche can never sound like anything but a cliche until you grasp how deeply, frighteningly true it is. But when you do the work of confronting your powerlessness, this is all you are left with, and it comes as a relief. “At least there’s something I can change!”

The good news is, this is what matters most. Imagine how your life would feel if you were unable to feel angry or anxious.

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A Primer for those Struggling with Faith

rockclimbing

Image courtesy of Coralie Mercier, licensed under Creative Commons

One of my main goals as a teacher, counselor, pastor, and writer is to help people who are really feeling lost on the faith journey. At the bottom of this post you will find links to posts that I believe might be helpful to you if you have found yourself in that position of struggling to get, or hang on to, faith. And if that’s you, there are several other things I want you to know.

Struggling with Faith IS the Faith Journey

As a marriage counselor I tell premarital couples that they will not always feel about each other the way they feel now. Times of dryness and difficulty, and perhaps even great struggle, are part of the marriage journey. When couples don’t know this they get to those times and fear the relationship may be over. What we need for our faith life, in order to hang in there, is first and foremost the knowledge that the struggle itself is part of the journey and not a sign that we have wandered down some other path. In other words, you are okay.

You Can’t Go Back the Way You Came

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Here’s How Close You Are to Being Mentally Ill

Way Closer than You Think

Mental Illness Hell

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Mental illness is still stigmatized in this country, along with taking the medications that often treat it. The main reason it is stigmatized is that most people just don’t understand it. If that’s you, I think I’ve come up with a way of explaining it that may finally help you get it, and is has to do with how close you are to being mentally ill yourself. Way closer than you might think.

Your Brain Generates Thoughts

Every organ in your body has a specific function (the ones that don’t are often considered useless), and each function produces something. Your lungs process and distribute oxygen. Your kidneys clean your blood of toxins and produce urine. Your liver also serves as a filter and produces bile. Your heart beats, producing a blood supply that keeps circulating through the body, delivering the fresh oxygen from the lungs.

Your brain, also, is an organ that produces something. Your brain produces thoughts. They are the “product.”

Just like you don’t have to do anything in order for your other organs to work, you don’t have to do anything for your brain to produce thoughts. Of course you can intentionally create and absorb  thoughts — but your brain will think whether you want to or not. It’s just what your brain does.

The thoughts your brain constantly produces create what you know as reality.

Some Thoughts Get Stuck on Repeat

Ever had a song stuck in your head? You don’t want it there, but the song keeps “playing” over and over again in your mind, sometimes until you feel you would do almost anything to get rid of it. Fortunately you have learned that if you just stick it out long enough, the brain will let it go all by itself, in the same mysterious way it picked it up in the first place.

But what if one day you got a song stuck in your head about gruesome violence, or about your spouse leaving you, or about wanting revenge, and what if it wouldn’t stop? What if, no matter what you did — even if you managed to distract yourself for a little while — it would always be there?

That’s anxiety and depression. A gruesome or tragic song that plays constantly in your head, and you are powerless to get rid of it. If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head, or ever found yourself grieving a deep loss, you know what it’s like to not be able to make the thoughts — or the feelings they generate — go away.

 

Usually the harder we try to get rid of a thought, like our annoying song for example, the more we’re actually thinking about it. Similarly, in anxious and depressed people, every attempt to make the sad, or desperate, or lonely, or terrifying, or confusing thoughts go away only focuses attention on those thoughts, reinforcing them and driving them in more deeply.

You’ve been there yourself, maybe only for short periods of time, but you’ve been there. You know what that’s like.

See, just like people with chronic depression and anxiety, you too have a constant stream of thoughts going through your head that you did not consciously produce. (If you don’t believe me, try to completely stop thinking. You won’t even be able to do it for ten seconds.) Just like people with depression and anxiety, some of your thoughts occasionally get “stuck” in your brain and you can’t do anything to get rid of them. You’ll know you’ll have to live with it and go on about your business, that it will go away on its own.

But what if it didn’t? Instead of a line from a song, if you had scary, or dark, or sad, or confusing thoughts going through your head, and you were unable to make them go away, you’d have anxiety and/or depression. You know a little bit about what that’s like. You’ve experienced thoughts in your head  you could not control, that drove you nuts, that tormented you on some level, at least for a little while, on occasion. And that’s what it is to have anxiety and depression, only the thoughts are way worse, and it’s all the time.

That’s how close you are to being mentally ill.

There’s Nothing You Can Do

During one of your saddest or darkest times, when your thoughts were scary or sad, has somebody ever told you to cheer up, or look on the bright side? Remember how stupid that sounded and how powerless you were to stop the dark thoughts at that moment? Thank God your brain eventually dealt with that loss and those automatic thoughts disappeared on their own, huh? Whew! That was close! I’m sure you feared at the time that it would never go away. Good thing it did!

That’s life with anxiety or depression, only nothing gets rid of the dark. You can’t “cheer up” or “look on the bright side.” When people tell you these things, it rings hollow and makes no difference and you feel alone and misunderstood. And in that moment, that is what you are.

That’s how close you are to being mentally ill.

You’re Just Lucky, That’s All

What I’m saying is you just got lucky, that’s all. You’re lucky enough that the automatic thoughts you can’t shut off — the annoying songs playing in your head — only cause minor distress, because you know it will soon go away, and it’s not really painful, just annoying.

And for you, it does go away. But not because you did anything to deserve it. You just have better stuff bouncing around in  your noggin and most of the dark stuff goes away on its own.

You won a cosmic lottery.

“Just Will the Thoughts Away”

Some will object here and say, “Excuse me, I’ve been in places where I’ve had VERY dark thoughts, and I willed myself to get better. Calling it mental illness is just an excuse.”

But nope.

If looking on the bright side, or trying to be more positive, or more rational, or more calm actually worked for you — congratulations. You didn’t have clinical anxiety or depression.

Because the sign of having real, clinical anxiety or depression is precisely that you cannot will it away.

The thoughts are torturing you, and they keep coming at you, over and over again, like a dark, lonely, scary, sad song stuck in your mind on repeat. You might occasionally be able to drown it out with louder songs (other thoughts) but as soon as you let your guard down, it comes flooding back, like an old enemy.

Remember when I said your stream of automatic thoughts create your reality?

What it’s Like Being Mentally Ill

What do you imagine reality is like for a person, who — like you — has a constant stream of automatic thoughts they are unable to change, but for whom — unlike you — those thoughts just will not go away?

For many people with depression, anxiety, bipolar, and other disorders of mood, reality becomes a living hell — a nightmare from which they can never seem to fully wake up.

That’s how close you are to being mentally ill.

That’s why those who do not struggle in this way have no right to judge those who do.

I’m happy for you. Seriously. I don’t want you to fully know, understand, or relate to what I’m talking about. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

But I want you to understand enough to stop judging us.

You and Me, We’re the Same

Because you and me, we’re the same. We both have automatic thoughts rushing through our mind 24 hours a day, whether we want to or not. We both experience thoughts that are dark or scary or sad. For you, it’s once in a while, but for me, when I’m off my medication, it’s always.

For you, those thoughts were triggered by some specific situation and, as you got over that situation, your automatic thoughts began to subside and you felt better. For me, the dark thoughts need no particular reason to exist, or to play constantly in my head. They just do.

Sure, I can’t get rid of them. But when you have a song stuck in your head, you can’t get rid of it either. When your thoughts are thoughts of grief, of loss, of sorrow, or anger, you can’t just get rid  of them in a moment because someone tells you to.

Question: Does the fact that you can’t get rid of those thoughts make you fundamentally flawed, or broken, or weak? Of course not. That’s not the issue. You’re not a bad person for having those thoughts, and you’re not virtuous for not having them. They just are. Your brain generates them on its own. So does mine.

Like you, I cannot control the many thoughts that just pop into my head on their own.But unlike you, I can’t expect it to get better on its own, or when my situation changes, or by counting my blessings. These dark, scary thoughts are like a horrible song that has somehow become lodged in my head and won’t go away. When I’m off medication, that’s my reality.

See? That’s how close you are to being mentally ill. It’s such a tiny difference between us, but one that makes your reality completely different from mine or any person struggling with mood issues.

On the other hand, we’re not that far apart.

But we’re still close enough for you to understand at least a little.

 

I hope this has helped you understand.

The God of Kim Davis

Why Kim is not free to love

Kim Davis

image from gawker media

We used Newtonian physics to formulate the laws of nature. For hundreds of years, that is all there was. Objects could not be in two places at the same time. What goes up must come down. We understood these laws as defining reality itself and believed nature did not, and could not, work outside of them.

But Einstein’s theory of relativity changed all that, introducing physicists to the quantum world. Suddenly we began to discover that an entire universe existed that we had known nothing about, where the laws of nature that we believed to be immutable simply did not apply. The movement of one particle could affect the movement of another particle millions of miles away. Particles could disappear from one place and pop up again instantly in another place. Seriously. That’s what we have learned through the discipline of quantum physics.

And so what we in effect discovered was reality operating on two levels at once. But did quantum physics nullify Newtonian physics? In other words, did we have to throw the old physics out the window once we began to understand the rules of the new physics?

Of course not. Newtonian physics applies in all of the observable world. But quantum physics takes us into another world entirely, where the rules of Newtonian physics simply don’t apply. There are rules in quantum physics, but they’re very different from what we learned about the world through Newtonian physics.

The law of love as modeled and taught by Jesus is like quantum physics. It takes us into an entirely different universe, where our previous understandings of things, typical conceptions of morality and immorality, simply do not apply any more. This is obvious because one of the things Jesus did most often was show the Jewish leaders that their skillfully honed conceptions of God and love didn’t even come close to reaching far enough.

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