Anxiety RX


prescription pad rx

Image courtesy of vculibraries, licensed under Creative Commons

Below is a typical response I give to religious people who are struggling with anxiety and write asking for guidance. They tend to feel as if taking medication is a cop-out and that prayer should be able to completely alleviate the problem. The thing is, in a person without clinically significant anxiety, prayer and other spiritual exercises will probably go a long way toward resolving the problem. In people who have struggled for years and tried approaches of all kinds, spiritual approaches will probably not do the trick either, and this will often leave the person feeling guilty and as if his/her faith is questionable.

I know this will sound strange to hear from a pastor, but I recommend spiritual approaches in moderation. The reason is because so many of us today have been conditioned to use spiritual approaches as a kind of bludgeon, where we feel unspiritual and out of sorts if we can’t fix the problem through prayer, etc. When spiritual approaches help us find, face, and follow truth, and when they help us love and accept ourselves for who we are (just as God does), they are valuable. When they dictate to us lists of musts and shoulds and lay more burdens on us, they just become one more thing to worry about, and that’s the last thing you need. If the spiritual stuff is oppressing you and making you feel bad right now, drop it for the time being and pursue other approaches. Spirituality is a really powerful tool, but just like any tool, if we don’t know how to use it properly it can be very dangerous. In other words, if you notice that every time you swing a hammer you hit yourself on the head, I’d suggest leaving hammers alone for a while.

As far as how you should be relying on your faith, there are a lot of things you should be doing. You should avoid most red meat, not drink soda, work out 45 minutes a day, take a multivitamin every day, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, never waste time at work, etc. The fact is, almost nobody is capable of doing everything we are told we should be doing. We take that same inability with us into our spiritual lives. You simply cannot, right now, be a person who gives all this over to God. If you could, you’d have already done it. Start there, with the reality of your powerlessness. Having seen that, don’t jump right into “Yes, but by God’s power…” That’s simply not true for you right now. At some point, by the power of God, perhaps you’ll do a lot of things, but we tend to want to acknowledge our powerlessness only long enough to declare God’s power working in us so that we can effectively be powerful again.  

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Taking the Gospel to "The Found"

For all the talk that goes on in Christian churches today about reaching “the lost,” I would love to see a little more emphasis on reaching “the found.”  When people who identify as Christian but are mired from month to month and year to year in pornography, gambling, addictions, and bad marriages (at nearly identical rates to those who do not claim to be Christians), something is profoundly wrong.

There are several directions we can go with this.  1.) We can say that the reason Christians are nearly identical to non-Christians in terms of how we actually live is because what we believe is not actually capable of bringing transformation; 2) We can say that we’re missing a critical piece of the whole thing — something upon which the promise of transformation itself rests and without which there can simply be no significant transformation; 3) We can say that the problem is that we just aren’t trying hard enough.  (As some popular writers are in fact saying.  See my post “Not Crazy about Crazy Love“.)

I think the answer is #1 and #2.  I think the reason Christians en-masse are not experiencing significant life transformation is because we missing a critical piece of what Christianity actually is. 

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O is for Orthodoxy

I am currently blogging, along with my daughter, all the way through the alphabet. Check out how the idea started, and get the rules here.

Don’t be afraid!  The word Orthodoxy probably scares a lot of people.  Orthodoxy is simply the state of holding right beliefs.

Sound in opinion or doctrine, especially in religious doctrine; hence, holding the Christian faith; believing the doctrines taught in the Scriptures; — opposed to heretical and heterodox; as, an orthodox Christian. [1913 Webster]

The older I get, and the further I go on my spiritual journey, the more this notion bothers me.  It is so obvious that it barely deserves mention, but I must mention this because billions of people are now living as if this is not true: there is no one, proven, universally acknowledged/understood/accepted way to live, believe, or understand holy scripture.

My leader and spiritual guide, Jesus, came to a people who thought they had all their theology down and showed them that their certainty was actually making it harder for them to see him for who he was and to hear him clearly.  The Christian religion sprung up, presumed to codify and clarify everything Jesus taught, declare that the Jews didn’t get it, and crown itself as the new group to which God had truly revealed himself.  Same ditch.  Other side of the road.  Proof?  The lives, behaviors, and practices of most people today who call themselves Christians.

This very certainty — this very sense that we get it, that we are the possessors of the correct understanding of God — surely must be as dangerous to us today as it was to the Jews 2000 years ago, or to anyone who presumes to have it all figured out.  This is the reason I do not engage people in theological debate on this blog.  It is not because I do not have my opinions on things and not because I do not know how to “defend” them.  It is because I reject the very assumptions upon which most of these debates are based — the ideas that a) the faith journey is primarily about rightness and wrongness of belief; b) someone else’s perspective on a Biblical issue can in some way “prove” that my perspective is incorrect (which is possible, of course, only if I accept and understand that person’s interpretation and assumptions upon which it is based); c) someone else gets to decide whether or not I “get it” and whether I’m really with God, based on their assumptions.  I don’t care to argue the details.  I’d love to argue the assumptions, but very few people are interested in doing anything with assumptions other than assuming them, taking them for granted, and then building elaborate systems of belief on them, precarious as they may be.  We can argue about details all day, but when we start dealing with the assumptions on which they are based, that’s where things start getting scary.

The state of theological debate in the Christian community reminds me of two lovers who stand yelling at one another, “I love you, dammit!”  “No, dammit, it is I who loves YOU.”  “No, I love you, dammit!”  “Ridiculous!  It is you who are loved by me, dammit!,” with each of them making lists of why their love should be self-evident to the other person and how they are therefore entitled to resent the other for not acknowledging/noticing their love more profoundly.  It is truly a ridiculous exercise and sure to lead to nothing but increasing hostility as each so loudly declares their “love” for the other.  Of course at some point one of the lovers says, “We should be arguing in love,” to which the other wholeheartedly agrees.  The furious debate commences now, only without use of the word “dammit,” as if it is merely the word and not the entire conversation that is without love.

What have you accepted as orthodox?  Who made that decision for you?

Where is God?

View Kyra’s O post

Jack Black Evangelism

I think the emerging church should disappear and then emerge again – as something entirely different.  I think it should do that every five years, in that emerging church spirit of always wanting something new and hip.  I think it should emerge with great fanfare, set to music, preferably with people dancing and looking deeply spiritual and yet somehow extremely sexual at the same time.  And of course it should do all of this in the name of authenticity and keeping it real.

And naturally each new emerging should be recorded and broadcast to “non-emergent” churches everywhere to help the rest of us emerge.  There should be instructions for exactly how to emerge — words to say, words to avoid, directions on taking over other “less successful” churches in the area to start “satellite” churches, marketing, the whole spiel.  Asking price should be no less than $80.00 per packet.

This would be good.  After all, the biggest problem in the church, surely, is that we are not hip enough, right?  My senior year of high school each of us seniors got to leave a parting quote, or life plan, for the underclassmen, and those words were bound in a book and distributed.  Mine says something about “joining a band and teaching this world what Jesus rock and roll is all about.”  Great.  Jack Black evangelism.  “Come to Jesus, man, and see how he will rock you and totally melt your face off.”

I never did join that band and show the world what Jesus rock and roll is all about.  (They still don’t get it, and I’m not sure why they should.)  The truth is, I grew up.  I quit thinking that what God really needs is someone to make the message cooler.  This is not to disparage artists who are trying to do quality art and who cannot authentically do that without mentioning God. I’m referring to that mindset I used to have, that what we really need to do is get more people to think this whole God-thing is cool.

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The Almost-Gospel

In yesterday’s post I was writing about how there’s a problem in the church that is evident in the statistical data which shows that divorce and other moral problems are occurring in the lives of Christians at the same rate as in those who are not Christians.

I think the cause of this is deeper than most people would imagine. 

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