The Gates Are Open

June 2014

Status Update on the Flesh – #3: Finances and Christian Culture

Posted on June 21, 2014

I came over to their house because their hearts sounded broken. I could hear both babies in the background over the phone and I felt the pain in their situation. If nothing changed for them soon, they would have to give up their house just months after their twin daughters were born. This couple both had good jobs, a relative miracle in this current recessionary period. But they had accrued a veritable mountain of debt, and no amount of income was going to clear off the red ink.

They had four credit cards maxed out to a tune of $60,000. They owed another $45,000 in student loans, $350,000 on their house. Their car loans, furniture loans and other sundry responsibilities added another $40,000.

I agreed to counsel them in their home so I could assess their attitude toward money. Coming up the driveway, I noticed a cable television truck in front of their house. I felt better knowing they were already taking the initial advice I gave them over the phone and disconnecting the TV.

We met for 15 minutes at the kitchen table as they poured out their tale of woe and fear. I had my calculator ready at hand to begin making cuts with them. That’s when I noticed the television man. He was running cable from their t.v. set to the front entrance. He was RUNNING cable, not disconnecting it. I asked them what he was doing there. They explained that each of them had a favorite program that came on at the same time on Wednesday nights and they were getting tired of taking turns recording it. They were getting a second DVR to solve the problem. (Obviously this is before whole house DVRs…this is the problem with writing anything in the age of constantly changing technology…it will be out of date the moment the book is finished).

I pointed out the ludicrous nature of this purchase, considering the weight of debt they faced. They both looked at me blankly. They didn’t have a clue what I was getting at.

“You’re in a lot of debt” I finally said. “Why are you still spending?”

The husband answered for them: “Oh that. That little DVR thing isn’t going to make it any worse, is it?”

That “little DVR thing”, multiplied by 200 other little purchases, is why they had such debt. All they could focus on was the macro-picture. They couldn’t fathom how life had wrestled such control out of their hands. In many ways, they looked and acted like someone had robbed their house. Truly, they were the ones that handed over the keys to their financial future.

The bad news is, Christians have as much debt as non- believers. The non church-going family in 2006 gave 2.5% of income to charity. The church-going family the same year gave 2.5% of income to charity, including their local church. Where is the difference?

The items Christians buy are not markedly different than the items the secular world purchases. We would expect that people who hold to a different value system would see that value system dramatically affect their spending habits. The only conclusion we can reach is that Christians in America have the same value system as their neighbors. Perhaps they call it by different names, but the statistics tell us that Christians are just as self-absorbed in our use of money as the rest.

Being self-absorbed with how one spends money is called The Flesh.

 

 

Christian Culture

 

My friend operates a Christian bookstore. I dislike going in there, even though I am a self-admitted book addict. The place is full of Christian trinkets, costume jewelry and spiritual paraphernalia. Occasionally I ask him about this crass Christian commercialism and he reminds me of the answer he always gives: “This stuff sells Mike. I couldn’t stay in business if it wasn’t for the Jesus t-shirts and the nativity snow-globes.” He’s probably right and I don’t fault him for staying in business.

What disturbs me is that Christian counter-culture is only veneer thick. Essentially, we have slapped a WWJD bumper sticker on secularism and called it God’s Stuff. Perhaps that’s why book distributors and music companies are buying up Christian labels at a rapid pace. We may be very close to the day when not one Christian recording label is ultimately owned by a Christian company.

This may seem hokey, but proof of this Christian Culture façade is found on the local freeway. If I see a person driving a mini-van with more than one Christian bumper sticker, I am assured of two things:

  1. At some point, they will cut me off without looking.
  2. They won’t be any more thoughtful or kind as the rest of the drivers. In many cases, they may be worse.

I can hear someone saying, “Now he’s just looking for things to find wrong with Christians.” But really, I’m not. There is something about a vehicle that brings out the “real” us. In a vehicle, none of the other drivers know who we are. In most major cities, the ordeal of going from point A to point B is nerve-racking at best and also reveals our inner nature. When anonymity mates with stress, reality comes forth as the wretched spawn.

Perhaps the real measurement of Christian culture is not what we say at a funeral or how we vote in elections, but how we treat our dogs and how we act on the Interstate. Whatever a person is in private, that’s really all they are and nothing more. If our private actions are the true measurement of Spiritwalking, then perhaps Christian Counter-culture is just a clarion bellowing out “the Flesh is winning.”

I was in line at the Splash Mountain ride in Disneyland. Remember, the happiest place on earth? This was ride #4 for my boys and I since 9:02 when the park opened. Each time we returned to get re-soaked, the line got longer and slower. But we didn’t care. It gave us time to dry off.

The fourth time through was hardest on me. A cadre of twenty in front of us was a youth group from some church. They must have been a church whose culture closely approximated our church, for they were singing Christian songs at the top of their lungs – and I knew every song. In that grotto, the voices did not carry with soothing tones. Instead, the echoes made us all want to rip our ears off and throw them at the singers. This group of teens were plain old, unadulterated obnoxious. They were in-your-face, see-if-we-care Jesus followers with no conscience about what they were doing. This wasn’t counter-culture, it was counter-productive.

As the line snaked back and forth, I found myself beside a guy who looked like he might be the youth pastor. I quickly identified myself and gave him my feedback on this noise they were making. His answer floored me: “If you are so ashamed of Jesus that you can’t stand to hear his Praise, you shouldn’t be a Christian leader.”

Wow. I backed off and wondered if they actually believed this was wooing people into the loving arms of a Creator. I think they did. More to pity, more to pray for.

Annoyance Evangelism: It ranks right up there with picketing military funerals as egregious manifestations of Christian counter-culture. And it stands as one more evidence very few of us are really walking in the Spirit.

From this point on in the book, we will leave behind the bad examples and the failures and press on to see the promised land – a tribe of believers who Spiritwalk and do not gratify the desires of the Flesh.

Status Update on the Flesh – Part 2: The Flesh affects Relationships

Posted on June 20, 2014

Competition(Continued from Part 1)

I asked Marv if he would keep going if God wouldn’t reject him no matter how little or much he viewed porn, how many joints he lit up and how often he prayed. He laughed at me and called my sanity into question. But I told him it was a serious question. What if there was a way you could live for God and not have to try harder? What if you could live for God and not have to worry about being a moral failure every day? Would it make life easier?

I had his attention. I explained that God’s primary purpose for him wasn’t focused on how much he read the Bible or prayed or stayed away from porn. What God cared about is how closely a person embraces His Holy Spirit. Tears started to stain Marv’s face as he realized there was another option beyond his failed efforts. We talked for a couple of hours about this approach to living for God and by the end, he was finally convinced it might work for him. What convinced him was not some new plan I came up with but one Scripture verse. When I explained it to him, he saw that this was something he hadn’t tried before. Since the verse itself contained a built-in promise, he wanted this truth to be part of his life.

The verse is Galatians 5:16:

 

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

 

The book of Galatians features three themes. First, Law vs. Grace. Paul is teaching these new Christians at Galatia they didn’t have to be circumcised to become better followers of Christ. Circumcision was a holdover from the Law, a system that had no power to restrain sin or effect righteous living.

Second, Bondage vs. Freedom. Throughout Galatians, Paul presents spiritual freedom as the ultimate goal of Christian living. To live in bondage is to live as if the work of Christ had not affected our lives.

The third theme ties the other two together: Spirit vs. Flesh. As he will also do in Romans 8, Paul draws a map of the spiritual battlefield – The two combatants are the Flesh and the Spirit.

The most encouraging statement is verse 16. Rather than playing the shell game called “Just Try Harder”, Galatians 5:16 promises that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Those words “we will not” are a promise, a guarantee and a predictor of results for anyone. When Marv and I were talking, he naturally assumed this meant if we walked in the Spirit, the Flesh wouldn’t want to sin or to get its own way. In fact, the opposite is probably true. This verse says we won’t “gratify” the Flesh. That means, the flesh won’t get its own way, and it definitely won’t like what the Spirit is doing. In some cases, we really know we are Spiritwalking when the internal fight starts.

Some Christians measure their Spiritwalk by how easy it is to obey God, but this verse implies we will see the internal struggle start in earnest when we Spiritwalk. A great indicator that a Christian is taking baby steps in Spiritwalking is this internal fight over what they want in life.

In my counseling practice, I see trends in the Flesh that intrigue and disturb me at the same time. I see the Flesh taking its stand on three platforms: Interpersonal Relationships; Financial Decisions and Christian Culture.

 

 

Interpersonal Relationships

 

Gary and Teri were cute as kittens. Not only did their names rhyme, but they often dressed in matching outfits, called each other by endearing pet names and displayed a lot of affection. That made it hard to believe when we heard Gary had been charged with spousal assault.

I heard about it the night after it happened from three different members of the church. One of our assistant pastors had already gone over to let Gary know “a thing or two from God”. The church was rallying behind Teri and doing their utmost to see she remained protected and cared for.

There was just one problem. The night before the abuse happened, Gary had been over at my house seeking advice. He had just found irrefutable evidence that his wife was having an affair with their next door neighbor. He wanted my help in knowing the best way to confront her. I looked over his evidence and agreed there was no doubt she was having an affair. I spent a long time convincing him to do things gently and with a degree of self-control.

After I heard he assaulted her, it took a few days to piece the details together. Gary had asked Teri to pray with him. She reluctantly agreed to pray and Gary started his confrontation with a plea to God for mercy and strength. Then he jumped from prayer and presented his case against her. She admitted her affair, but then launched into a long and hurtful diatribe against Gary. She laid out all her grievances against him, even suggesting he had already had affairs during their time together. (Later she admitted she had no evidence he had cheated on her…she did it to take the focus off her sin).

At one point, she threw a coffee mug at him. Gary got out of the way of the mug, and then grabbed her by both wrists to prevent her from throwing anything else. Gary is a huge man and it didn’t take much for him to both overpower her and cause pain. She bit him, and he then threw her against the fireplace. She chipped a tooth, split a lip and had a sprained wrist. Gary took her down to the hospital for treatment on the wrist.             While they were there, an ER nurse recognized the type of injuries she had and asked a few questions about what happened. Teri broke down and admitted her husband had done the damage. The nurse was required by law, as a mandated reporter, to call the police.

Gary was charged with spousal assault an hour later.

I don’t blame the nurse or the police for getting involved. It is not their job to determine why one spouse hurts another. They are the gatekeepers who stop this kind of violence from taking over our society. I do hold Gary and Teri responsible for the events of that night, though not equally. I have their permission to share this story in the book, and they agree with me that they failed in many ways.

Teri’s biggest mistake came after she returned home from giving the police her statement. Being alone for the first time after the fight, Teri began to fear for her life. She knew the wife of the man she had the affair with was not a Christian and had a violent temper. She had no way of knowing if her life was in danger. So she called one of our younger pastors to come over and be with her.

He and his wife went right over and stayed with her that night. Teri decided to tell them about Gary’s abuse, but left out her affair and the reason why the next-door neighbor might be gunning for her. She laid the fault for all of this at Gary’s feet. They saw the bruises and the chipped tooth and both became angry. That’s when they began to call some of the church leaders, who then called other people. It wasn’t long before much of the church was up in arms against Gary. Many wanted him censured and if he didn’t repent to be put out of membership.

I was mortified at everyone’s actions. A few people did call me and expressed concern that the whole story had not been told. Some revealed that God showed them to stay out of it for now. I call those people “The Wise Bunch”.

Eventually Gary left the church in anger over how he was unfairly treated. To his credit, he never did tell anyone but me about his wife’s adultery. Surprisingly, Teri left the church as well. She was angry at how poorly Gary was treated in all this. They did ask me to counsel with them with the purpose of putting their marriage back together. Unfortunately, Gary’s hurt over the adultery and the betrayal that followed was all he could think about. He refused to reconcile.

(Note: Years later, the two of them did reconcile as friends, but did not remarry. I am still acquainted with both of them. She has since remarried and he has not. Yet they have a good relationship with God, primarily because they settled the bitterness and resentment that had filled their hearts).

What made me nauseous was the general attitude of all the Christians involved. There was so much Flesh floating around unhindered. The few people who acted in concert with the Holy Spirit all felt led to take a “wait-and-see” approach, refusing to take sides with either Teri or Gary.

Church leaders across the world will admit this type of situation is played out regularly in congregations. I heard of one church that split over which end of the basement the new garbage cans should be placed. That church had the North-Enders vs. the South-Enders and when the rhetoric was finally retired, the two groups could not stay in the same church together.

One church member, during counseling, told me he preferred the crowd at his local bar over the one at church. I asked why and he said, “Because at the bar you can see the knife pulled on you. At church, you never know when the knife is going to go into your back.” Ken Sande in his book, “The Peacemaker” remarks that personal conflict between Christians does more harm than any person sin we may commit. John Bevere tells us that personal offense is Satan’s number one tool in defeating the American Church. I heartily endorse both their conclusions.

If you think this point is an exaggeration, you aren’t paying attention. If the people of God practiced Spiritwalking, no conflict would be able to defeat us for long. But there is a litany of defeats marring the experience most people have in the Body of Christ.

What does this proliferation of interpersonal problems tell us? The most important canvas that the painting of our life will be seen is how we interact with others. Anyone can be righteous if they don’t have to rub shoulders with messy people. As the very old poem goes:

 

To live above with saints we love,

            That will be glory.

            To live below with saints we know,

            Now that’s another story.

 

If just a few Christians struggled with this problem, we could possibly write it off as an aberration. But when relationship problems like adultery, fornication, spousal assault, church splits, elder abuse are all happening in the church, the logical conclusion is there is more Fleshwalking than Spiritwalking. But relationships is not the only way we measure this trend.

Posted on June 19, 2014

This is a good and thorough take on the concept of girls wearing “provocative” clothing. I think the discussion needs to be broadened to help everyone understand how sexuality is to be taught and mentored among followers of Christ.

Status Update on the Flesh of Man – Part 1: Meet Marv.

Posted on June 19, 2014

20140619-142110-51670026.jpgWhen statistics are presented carefully and accurately they help humanity see the direction we are heading. And even though the college Statistics courses can be mind-numbing and repetitive (for all but serious math majors), we should be thankful that someone is laying out standards for accuracy with regards to any trends.

But I’m also mindful of Mark Twain’s rubric: “There are three types of lies; Lies, damn lies and statistics.” If a person wishes to persuade the world to adopt their opinion, they can often twist collected data to say whatever they want. Fortunately, the balancing factor to statistical results is often common sense.

In his book “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman notes that our brains have two systems for thinking. System 1 takes quick intuitive leaps, and though it often arrives at answers faster, it is much more susceptible to being suckered by the kind of conclusions it already expected. This tendency to believe something that aligns with what you already believed is called “Confirmation Bias”. It is what makes System 1 so suspect as the basis for decision-making. System 2 is much more methodical and reaches conclusions by the long route: careful study, deep thinking and more time set aside. Kahneman counsels that if one wants to really know what is happening, they should combine the findings of research with the gut responses borne from our experience.

For instance, let’s take divorce. Some statistical models claim that we have a 50% divorce rate in America. They figure this many ways, but the most common one is to divide the amount of couples getting married each year by the amount getting divorced. If say a million couples marry and a half million divorce, there is a 50% divorce rate. But does that statistical trend really tell an accurate story?

Think of ten of your closest married friends. How many of them have been divorced? Now think of another ten…and then another ten. Of that thirty, how many have been divorced. The number will probably (though not always) be closer to a third of them, much smaller than the 50%. Scientists call this, among other names, an anecdotal survey. I call it common sense.
I once heard a conference speaker claim that 50% of pastoral marriages will end in divorce. I was appalled at that number and quite skeptical when I heard it, for I counsel a number of pastors among my clients. A few hours later, I applied the common sense method to this statistic. Out of 100 pastoral marriages, I could only think of six divorces.

Therefore, the next week I called up this speaker’s office and asked him for the references behind his quote. His assistant gave me the names of two reputable Christian organizations and said they were the source of the statistics. Still doubtful, I called both the organizations in question, and they told me they had never done a study on pastoral marriages.

One person at Barna Research group asked how one could even do a study like that. Even with my rudimentary Statistics background, I knew how hard it is to get statistical models that have control groups, measurements of accuracy and redundancies. How many denominations and independent churches would readily offer up personal information on pastoral marriages?

Since I didn’t find either of his sources to be true, I called up the Speaker’s office again. His assistant eventually told me his boss had been told these two groups had done the studies from another speaker in St. Louis. I called the office of the St. Louis speaker and actually got her on the phone. She was a marriage counselor. She told me where she got the information from. She had been at a professional conference of counselors and it was quoted there and the two organizations mentioned earlier were cited as sources.

I then asked who the speaker at that conference was. It was the guy I first heard it from at my conference. Now I was back to square one and even more doubtful that 50% of pastoral marriages will end in divorce.

In relating this incident, I am being deliberately vague regarding names because I don’t want to blame anyone for this. Statistics take a life of their own once they start being mentioned. It’s possible this statistic came about over coffee in a coffee shop where one person speculated on the difficult state of marriages among church leaders – and then that speculation became a theory which then morphed into a fact.

Honestly, I never did get to the bottom of it all. But I did convince the first speaker to stop disseminating this false and confusing statistic. My point is that common sense and experience told me very few pastoral homes will see divorce. I would guess the divorce rate among clergy homes is close to 5%, though I have no statistics that have ever been done (to my knowledge) which back this up.

In researching that rabbit trail, I did come across another Barna study on divorce in America. This was done with much different parameters than the ones mentioned previously. The problem with researching divorce rates is the numbers statisticians choose to use. If they divide people who marry in any given year by the number who divorce that year, those are actually two completely different groups of people. Yes, there are a very small number that divorce the same year they marry, but essentially the common comparison is like apples with staplers. The better model is to compare the same groups of people with reference to marriage and divorce.

This is how Barna does it. They ask interviewees if they have ever been married. Then they ask if they have ever been divorced. They take the number of people who have been or are married and divide that by the number of people who have been married and divorced and from that compute the divorce rate. This more accurate rate for divorce in America comes out at 34% in almost every region of our country (except Utah). Statisticians are now beginning to adopt this method to determine divorce rates. What I fear is that someone will now claim the divorce rate is dropping, when this is not true.

Here is the most meaningful part of that Barna study for this book’s focus: The divorce rate among people who claim to have a personal relationship with God is exactly the same as the divorce rate for the general population. There is no discernible difference.

I didn’t really need a statistic to tell me that either. My gut (and probably yours as well) told me that Christians are struggling in marriage just as much as those outside of Christianity. Followers of Christ would love to be seen as a shining example to the rest of the world, but we’re not pulling it off. Our country knows we are no more ethical than they are, and if we wake up and taste the Red Bull, we can come to grips with why this is.

The problem extends far beyond divorce rates. If we look at some other statistics from Barna’s survey on morals and ethics among Christians, there are some glaring discrepancies between what we believe and how we live:

Have been divorced (among those who have been married)”
Christians – 33%; Non-Christians – 34%

Gave money to a homeless person or poor person, in past year”
Christians – 24%; Non-Christians – 34%

Took drugs or medication prescribed for depression, in past year”
Christians – 7%; Non-Christians – 8%

Watched an X-rated movie in the past 3 months”
Christians – 14%; Non-Christians – 16%

Donated any money to a nonprofit organization, in past month”
Christians – 47%; Non-Christians – 48%

Bought a lottery ticket, in the past week”
Christians – 23%; Non-Christians – 27%

Attended a community meeting on local issue, in past year”
Christians – 37%; Non-Christians – 42%

This study confirms many things about today’s North American Christian. But one conclusion I draw from it is that many Christians are firmly rooted in the Flesh; and no amount of hell-and-brimstone preaching is going to solve that. If preaching solved the Flesh, then the online proliferation of podcasts currently available would have eradicated sin from every Christian home five years ago.

The frustrating reality though is that Christians want to get out of the grip of sin’s clutches. Because this is not happening, they simply learn better ways of hiding or explaining away the fruit of the Flesh. But when anonymous surveys are done, the results are almost never good. Leadership Magazine, a journal for Pastors and Church Leaders has conducted a number of anonymous surveys since the 1980s and, without going into the actual statistics, the conclusion is that even those who preach for a living struggle with sexual sin at a significant rate. But if the survey had not been done anonymously, no one would really know this for sure.

Speaking specifically about Pastors viewing online pornography, Leadership Journal drew this conclusion:

Pastors are as vulnerable as anyone else to sexual sin. In fact, they may be more vulnerable. Isolation and loneliness are inherent to the position. And many pastors neglect their personal relationships for the sake of ministry.

The Internet feeds these. And for wired pastors, who will be in cyberspace for legitimate purposes, it’s a short journey from the sacred to the profane.

Here’s another tragic example. In the 90s, Christian teens embraced the concept of Promise Rings and instituted “True Love Waits” movements. They did this to encourage each other and dedicate themselves to sexual purity. Modern culture made fun of these groups and I was offended that people would mock such a worthy goal.

Unfortunately, this concerted effort to stay sexually pure before marriage didn’t work as well as most people hoped. In recent anonymous surveys of adults who signed up for the “True Love Waits” and other programs, the results are not good. They actually had premarital sex at a rate slightly HIGHER than their peers who did not put on promise rings and pledge before others to be chaste.

It is easy to become discouraged when bombarded by these statistics, but take heart. It is not the purpose of this book to lambaste the Body of Christ or to propose another version of the “just try harder” approach to holy living. These statistics are what they are because we have been seeking the results of Spiritwalking while walking in the Flesh.

I feel so badly for my teen friends who are trying with all their might to live up to moral standards and failing miserably at it. Many of them conclude that it is because Christianity doesn’t work or they aren’t cut out for holy living. Neither conclusion is true.

Marv met me at Starbucks on a sunny California Tuesday. But he looked as dark as winter. He didn’t even want to do small talk.
“Mike, I have given up on living like a Christian. I can’t do it.”
“Marv…what? What’s happened?”
“I’m a big joke. I go to all the Promise Keeper meetings and sing the songs and come back deciding I will never look at porn again and stop ogling my secretary. But then a month later I am back at it. I have given up pot so many times I am like a mental revolving door. Yet, I love worship and Bible study, and I accept God’s forgiveness every time I sin. I just can’t change, no matter how many books I read and how many sermons I hear. The bottom line is I can’t try any harder than I’m trying”.

I believed him. I have seen it hundreds of times with Christians. As well-meaning as many teachings and books are, their advice many times boils down to some version of “just try harder”: Do more inductive study, attend more meetings, pray better, longer, more often. Worship, fast and pray at the same time. Stop watching Family Guy and Reality Television. Wear a promise ring.

The Flesh loves the “try harder” method, because even if you succeed, you did it yourself – and that feeds the Flesh just as much. There is something inside of all people that wants to sing out in parody of Frank Sinatra: “I did it My Way.” As I said in an earlier chapter, my life goal was to live my life so I didn’t have to need anyone. That personal philosophy is tailor-made for the “try harder” way of life.

I asked Marv if he would keep going if God wouldn’t reject him no matter how little or much he viewed porn, how many joints he lit up and how often he prayed. He laughed at me and called my sanity into question. But I told him it was a serious question. What if there was a way you could live for God and not have to try harder? What if you could live for God and not have to worry about being a moral failure every day? Would it make life easier?

I had his attention.

Tomorrow: Part 2: Marv Meets His Savior…Again.

 

Ode to Bare Feet

Posted on June 9, 2014

bare feetLast night I walked across the carpet in my bare feet. You should know I do that a lot. I bare my feet to the elements every chance I can get, and not just because I’m too lazy to put on shoes. I like bare feet and I cannot lie. Unfortunately, there was something on the carpet that stuck into my foot and caused me excruciating pain. Oh how I wish I still had the feet I had when I was 10. The soles of my feet were as thick as cowhide for a good reason: From June to September, I hardly ever wore anything on my feet. I was a barefoot kid.

You might have to be a fifties or sixties kid to appreciate what I’m going to tell you about the joys of bare feet. I look at little kids now and I hardly ever see them without footwear. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. But this article by The Society for Barefoot Living extols the following virtues for going barefoot:

  •  Eliminates hammer toes
  • Eliminates athlete’s foot
  • Prevents foot odor
  • Eliminates plantar fasciitis
  • Allows children’s feet to grow properly. The examples of women in China whose feet are bound show that some footwear can damage the proper growth of a foot.
  • Gives children a better sense of balance that footwear can hinder.
  • Teaches children the proper way to run, since shoes often force children to run with an unnatural gait.

But for me, bare feet comes down to freedom and fun. It was just more fun to cruise the neighborhood sans shoes. If you haven’t tried it, there is so much you’re missing.

Mud squishes between toes and has textures your hands never realized.

Little boys can climb trees and actually use their feet to assist in the climbing. Feet can grip, and that’s not just knowledge a monkey has. I could also climb up door jambs with one foot on each side. My mother could never figure out how we got footprints at the top of the door.

Any water becomes a relief. No time wasted having to remove footwear.

The bottoms of your feet become like shoes anyway. After the summer of bare feet I could walk across gravel, go on hot sidewalks, step on bees, run at full speed over any terrain, ride a bike and pedal without feeling pain, get slivers and not care. I once looked down at my feet after a day of travelling about the wonderland that was my neighborhood and I noticed a bee’s stinger still attached. I didn’t even feel it sting. What wonderful feet I had.

Try out your feet sometime. It will take a little getting used to, but you’ll thank me later.

Is Suicide a Valid Option?

Posted on June 8, 2014

A young friend of mine just lost her friend to suicide. On her Facebook page, she wrote about her experiences with depression and hopelessness. Bravely–especially in light of what had just happened–she talked about how she thought of taking her own life and then didn’t. She correctly identifies that suicide is a choice that has consequences more than anything else we can do.

It reminded me of an incident which happened over 20 years ago. I was counseling a woman who was married to a city police officer. Late one afternoon, she called me in an emotional overload. Her husband had just shot himself with his service revolver. I came over and extended comfort to the family. As a result, they asked me to speak at his memorial service. I said I would be honored to do that.

In preparation for the service, I interviewed his wife and siblings. I learned he was the second brother in that family of four policemen to commit suicide. That knowledge changed what I was going to say. I knew I could not do what is often done at funerals for the suicidal. I could not just bring comfort. I had to bring a word of instruction and a caution.

Before going into what I said, let me give some background. In counseling circles, it is a well-established fact that suicide tends to follow copycat patterns. In his best-selling book “The Tipping Point” author Malcolm  Gladwell tells the story of a suicide epidemic in the South Pacific Island chain of Micronesia. Early in the 1970s a young man committed suicide in a culture in which it was virtually unknown. This set off a chain of suicides. Gladwell’s conclusion is that this kind of behavior can be caught just like the flu. But there are certain conditions that makes it easier to catch. One of those conditions results from people being unwilling to discuss how they feel about suicide.

When someone takes their own life, they are doing something that crosses the minds of most people at some point in their lives. When someone we know and love leaves the world like this–and especially when everyone mourns them and speaks only nice things about them–then others going through the same kind of depression and hopelessness get the impression that this kind of behavior is acceptable. Some may even paint it as noble. But there is nothing noble about it.

It is the ultimate act of selfishness.

Suicide is the person’s way of saying “I am in charge of my life and I don’t care what anyone else wants or thinks, I am going to do this because it would be easier and better for me than dealing with my problems some other way.” It’s what I said; selfish.

There were over 400 peace officers of various stripes at the funeral. Family members got up and told how the deceased had meant so much to them and how much they were going to miss him. This is appropriate of course and they were very sincere. Then it came my turn to speak. I thanked the family and friends for saying what they said and then I changed the subject. I began to talk about how a society works. When it works well, our culture is based upon mutually agreed standards of behavior. There aren’t that many we all hold to, but they are easily understood. Don’t hurt or take advantage of others. Pull your own weight. Speak the Truth. I don’t find a lot of people who disagree with these.

And when people break these standards of behavior, we have consequences. That’s when I looked at all those policemen and women and said one final thing. “Our biggest understanding is that we don’t kill other human beings. Including ourselves. Suicide breaks the most fundamental standard of behavior and because a person dies in the process, society is left to wonder how to proceed. A human being is not supposed to act this way. And none of us should memorialize this behavior, even from those we love.”

You could have heard a pin drop when I was done. Then, officer after officer stood and applauded. They knew what I was saying was correct. They had just never heard anyone say it before. After the service, a Juvenile Court Judge came up to me and asked for the recording of the service. I asked him what he wanted it for. “I am going to require every young man and woman who enter my court to hear that message. They need to know that the society they are violating has expectations of them. They can’t just do whatever they want in life“.

I understand most of the reasons why people commit suicide. I am a counselor and two of my clients have taken their own lives. I have conducted funeral services for five more people who have done this. I know that there is often pain, loneliness, depression, fatigue, drug use, shame and a host of other things going on before they do the deed. But I also know there are many more people who DO NOT DO IT! And I have known people with more pain than you can imagine, more loneliness than a person can seemingly endure, more abuse than anyone should have to go through–and they not only conquered through it, they contributed to this world. I could give you a reading list of a hundred books on people who overcame adversity of the greatest kind to be good citizens and even though they considered taking their lives, they rejected it as an option.

Suicide is not for anyone. It is not an option for anyone who is part of a society.

Find another way of dealing with things. Get some help. You owe that to our world and they owe it to you.

 

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