The Gates Are Open

March 2016

Imposter Syndrome is not Humility

Posted on March 24, 2016

imposterI was listening to a famous American preacher this month telling his audience why he wrote his current book. The title of the book suggests that the author doesn’t feel he has a lot of reason to be in the spotlight. In fact, many people have told him that he isn’t a big deal, and he personally agrees with them.

But then he made this statement:

“If they only knew how I really feel. I sit there some days and tell myself “So many people could do a better job of preaching and teaching. Some of them are in the congregation every Sunday.”

He used that thought to build a case for the power of humility. He waxed eloquent about how God loves to take broken and cracked people and make them into incredible stories to the glory of God. You could hear the congregation getting louder and louder as they affirmed the truth he was throwing at them. They began to believe they could be used by God.

All that is well and good. And I agree completely that humility is a foundation of God’s power in our lives. Without humility, we will never see the Lord’s plan for us. We will never know how his power could change us and others through us.

But what I do take issue with is the entire underpinning of the message. Unfortunately, this famous preacher is wrong about one thing. And that one thing is so crucial, he may be hindering others from finding the same path he did. In essence, he is confused about humility. Or maybe he isn’t…but what he said is confusing and I want to clear it up.

Here is the reality. That guy is a really good preacher. He effectively communicates truth and he keeps people’s interest as he does it. I’m a harsh critic of public speakers and I have to admit that he does a really good job. So, when he gets up and says his inner thought life centers on the idea that he is not a good preacher, that lacks all the qualities of humility.

It is actually called something else. Psychologists correctly refer to this as “The Imposter Syndrome”. Imposter Syndrome is an internal dialogue where the person believes it’s just a matter of time before you’re found out as a talentless fraud. Strangely, this is a condition that exists more with successful people than unsuccessful ones. It is estimated that 70% of the CEOs have this constantly. Though no surveys have been done of pastors and missionaries, I suspect from experience that most of the pastors of big churches have this thought pattern.

Imposter Syndrome was first identified in the 1970s by  Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. They noticed that many of the most successful people who came to see them for counseling exhibited many of the following symptoms:

  1. Every time they are praised, they fear they won’t live up to expectations.
  2. Fear that others will discover how little they know.
  3. The feeling they have to work harder than others to accomplish anything.
  4. They seek external validation, but don’t believe it when it is given
  5. They  keep their real life accomplishments secret from your peers.
  6. They attribute their success to luck
  7. They are always afraid others are more intelligent than they.

 

Imposter Syndrome robs people of joy. It takes their legitimate achievements, for which they should have great satisfaction, and vacuums all of the real joy out of it. Imposter Syndrome is one of a handful of successful joy-robbers that cause Christians to live less than a fulfilling life.

So how is this different than humility? Perhaps the confusion always arises because the word humility and humiliation are so close cognates to each other. But from a biblical point of view, these are almost opposite concepts. Humiliation has to do with Shame, and we are told there is “therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It cannot be possible for humiliation and humility to be connected to each other.

We are told in the Old Testament of the Bible that “Moses was the most humble man who ever lived.” Is this referring to the time at the Burning Bush when he told God he was not a good enough leader to go before the nation of Israel and speak on God’s behalf? No…the Bible tells us that Moses was the most humble man in the world “because he saw, as it were, God face to face.” Humility is about intimacy with God, a complete dependence on God for life, breath, and direction. Moses was humble because he kept returning to God to find out what God wanted him to do next.

In Deuteronomy 8, we are told the nation of Israel was humbled by God when he caused manna to be on the ground every morning. Every Jew had to collect a day’s worth of manna if they wanted to eat. How is that a humbling experience? When you have to depend upon God daily for  your food, you recognize your dependence on God. Humility is solely about dependence. Yes, to be dependent, you must know your own limitations. But that does not imply we must castigate ourselves and believe we’re imposters. That is not humility. It is actually so unhealthy.

Some of you may be thinking of Paul who said he was “less than the least of the apostles” and “The chief of sinners.” If you read too much into those statements you are going to fall into error. Paul wasn’t saying this to put himself down. He was saying it to show that no one can be disqualified to serve God because of their past. The past is buried with Christ in the tomb. We do not have to accept the shaming that goes on with Imposter Syndrome.

If you find that you have this condition, don’t explain it away like the preacher did. Ask God to show you the truth about your abilities. Ask God to speak into the idea that you’re a fake and a phony. You will most likely find God doesn’t agree with your imposter assessment.

The True Meaning of the One Ring

Posted on March 18, 2016

ringThough J. R. R. Tolkien didn’t want his readers to speculate on deeper meanings in the Lord of the Rings (LOTR)–he wanted them to focus on the story itself–he did admit over the years that some parts of the series had much more complex meanings.

The most important of these is the One Ring itself. What does it mean? What does it represent? I contend it stands for the same thing as the biblical picture of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And like any great metaphor, it sheds light on a very complicated truth.

One question my LOTR friends and I have asked each other is this: “How do you think the One Ring would have affected you?” Though for years I doubted it would have had much influence on me, as I get older I realize how foolish that position is. But let me give some background before I explore the questions about the Ring further.

Some of you reading this are not familiar with the Lord of the Rings or the Ring itself. It would be impossible for me to do an adequate summary, but I’ll try to catch you up.

In Tolkien’s cosmology (world-making), God’s name is Illuvitar, which means Creator. After Illuvitar created all the original Valar (equivalent of the Angels) one of these went rogue and created evil in the world. For all of time, the battle between Good and Evil would take place. In this sense, the world of Middle Earth is exactly like our world. It is the problem the human race has always encountered.

A while later, these Eldar also created other beings; that is when the Elves came into existence. The elves were immortal and were full of light and joy. They were created to be a living shield against the works of darkness.

But the evil force in Middle-earth created other beings who hated the elves and all immortals and sought to control them. Chief among these was Sauron. Sauron noticed that one of the most influential elves, Celebrimbor, was especially gifted in creating beautiful rings. Sauron secretly hoped to use those rings to control the elves.

In the world of Middle-Earth, rings represented more than just jewelry or a covenant relationship. The maker of rings imbued part of his own power into them. Sometimes, other power could be placed in a ring if the maker had authority to do so.

Celebrimbor made 19 rings, all of which were supposed to be given to elves. But while he was finishing the making of the rings, Sauron devised a way to make One Ring which had the power to overwhelm and control the wearers of the other rings. He did this in secret of course; but the only way it would work is if he imparted most of his life-force (soul) into the ring. Therefore, if the One Ring is ever destroyed, he would be too.

Of course, this is what happens at the end of Lord of the Rings.

When 16 of the rings were made, Sauron–who had been involved with helping Celebrimbor make them–took the rings for himself. He was not aware at that moment that there were three more rings which Celebrimbor had fashioned in secret. Sauron took the 16 rings and gave nine of them to men and seven to dwarves. The One Ring Sauron wore openly on his own finger.

As a result, war began between the elven kingdoms and Sauron, which did not stop  until the One Ring was destroyed. The hidden three rings were given to elven rulers. As soon as they put on their rings, they could see the true evil nature of Sauron. They immediately took off their rings, preventing Sauron from having power over them.

We later learn that one of the Elven Rings went to Gandalf, a wizard. This comes into this article later.

In this article, I want to do two things. First, I want to show the meaning of the Ring and how that meaning applies to our lives today. Second, I hope to point how the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil encompasses the same meaning as the One Ring. I know that’s a lot to bite off, but please bear with me as I go through this.

At one point in the history of the Ring, Sauron’s hand is cut off and the ring falls into the river and is seemingly lost forever. But the Ring always had a way of finding its way back to Sauron. A young hobbit was swimming one day and he found the ring at the bottom of the river. He brought it up and showed it to his cousin Smeagol. The two of them both wanted the ring and so they struggled for it. Smeagol killed his cousin and ran off with the ring, becoming separated from all friends and  family.

If you think this sounds like the Cain and Abel story, you are not mistaken. Tolkien admitted as much in an interview before his death.

Just as the influence of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil touched everyone in Adam’s world, so the one Ring affected everyone for evil in Middle-earth. Centuries later, Smeagol (now called Gollum) lost the ring to another hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo’s time with the ring is told in “The Hobbit” and I won’t review that here. Bilbo eventually passed the ring on to his nephew Frodo who was the one to eventually carry the ring to its destruction in the Lord of the Rings books.

(Along the way, two other persons handled the ring as well, a friend of Frodo’s named Sam Gamgee, and a peculiar creature named Tom Bombadill. Neither of them were particularly impressed with the ring or overly affected by it. More about the two of them in a later article).

The ring had several effects on most people who carried it for any length of time:

  1. It caused the wearer to be invisible to the physical world and visible to the spirit realm where Sauron lived.
  2. It caused the wearer to be immortal while wearing the ring. They would not get much older.
  3. They fell in love with the ring. That love was all-encompassing and caused the wearer to become jealous and protective of the Ring.
  4. The wearer’s body would be stretched thin, as if they were disappearing from the realm of the world and sucked into the world of unclean spirits.
  5. When they put the ring on, the wearer was visible to Sauron and his servants and eventually Sauron could draw the wearer to the side of evil.
  6. The physical nature of the wearer would become deformed the longer they wore the ring.

 

So why would anyone want to wear the Ring if it had this kind of degrading effect? For the three hobbits who wore the ring most often (i.e. Smeagol, Bilbo, and Frodo), its appeal outweighed its dangers. As they wore the ring, they were safe from attack from the world around them. They could be invisible and thus find out things that others kept secret. They could control their world with stealth and relative safety.

And this is where the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil comes into the metaphor. The appeal of the Ring is the same appeal that the Tree had to Adam and Eve. The fruit of the Tree would please them. It would cause them to know deep things about evil. And it would allow them to do all this in secret, delving into mysteries with their own choice as the driving force.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a proscribed tree. It was the only place Adam and Eve were not allowed to go. They could not eat of its fruit or touch it. If they did, a process of death would begin and they would be cut off from the other primary tree in the garden: The Tree of Life.

So what is the deep significance of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Essentially, in life, there are two ways we can “know” something. We can learn about that something from a person who knows more than we do. I call that “learning by revelation.” You learn because you are taught. Or, the second way to know something is by trial and error. We call this “learning by experience.”

Both ways to know something are fraught with potential dangers. If you learn by “Revelation” you are at the mercy of the one who teaches you. There is a trust relationship required in this learning process. You are trusting the one who teaches to be accurate and helpful. If they give you wrong information or guidance, it could be very destructive.

But the same thing is true of learning things by experience. You may eat a poisonous leaf, cut off a finger on a table saw, break your neck while climbing a tree, etc. Learning by experience is a dangerous and dark road, only occasionally netting brilliant results. Yet, this is the road that leads to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It is in God’s nature to instruct his children. Since there is good and evil in the universe, and has been since before mankind existed according to the biblical record, God would want mankind to know about it. But since we were created to be in a relationship with God, it is likely God wanted us to know good and evil by way of “Revelation”. The walking/talking relationship with God would afford that.

But the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the convenient shortcut to all of that. The moment Eve and Adam tasted its fruit, their eyes were opened. To what exactly their eyes were opened to will be discussed in a moment. But, the second they ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they knew the difference between the two by EXPERIENCE. And it taught them well. They knew immediately they had disobeyed and disappointed God. When God came to manifest His presence with them a little while later, they hid from God.

This is one of key parallels between the One Ring and the Tree. Both entities cause a desire for the person to hide away from others. The Ring manifests this by cloaking its wearer. The Tree does it by shifting the focus of life. Let me show you.

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, their eyes were opened. What does that mean? Up until this point in their lives, they lived naked and unashamed. Yet, the moment they ate from the experientially-based Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they noticed they were both naked and shame filled them. But does this make any sense? Is this just about shame?

They were married to each other. They had been naked all along and married to each other. There was no obvious significance about their nakedness. So we have to ask a different question: Why did they all of a sudden NOTICE they were naked? If they never realized the significance of it before, why did it begin to bother them?

I contend that Adam and Eve, before they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, were spirit-beings that happened to have physical bodies. Once they had tasted the forbidden knowledge, they changed natures. More accurately, they focused on a different realm. Now, they are physical beings that happen to have a spiritual dimension. This changed everything.

Before eating the forbidden fruit, they focused on things of the spirit realm. Even their vision of God and conversations with God were in that dimension. God is Spirit (John 4:24) we are reminded, and no man has SEEN God at any time (except Jesus…John 1:18). So if they were seeing God, it is in the realm of the spirit. These spirit beings, Adam and Eve spent most of their focal curiosity and fervor on spirit things.

Now, the focus is on the physical realm. They notice the nakedness and they infer meaning to that nakedness. They attach shame to their own bodies–this is the first dysmorphia. They physically hide from God, an action unthinkable if they were still operating from a spirit-realm mindset.

In short, as they realized good and evil by experience, they lost touch with the true reality–God and his spirit realm. Now, they could only see the realm of the body and the realm of the Evil One.

The One Ring does the same thing to its wearer. The promise of immortality and secrecy are alluring. Almost anyone would succumb to it. But not Gandalf. He is offered the Ring by Frodo and he is aghast. He instantly realizes it will give him a lot of power, but it will also make him a slave of the Ring itself. What LOTR tells us is that the more powerful the person, the more deadly their reaction to the ring. Galadriel would not take it, for she feared it would turn her into a Snow Queen, a woman of all-surpassing beauty who would rule with a cold, iron fist.

Tom Bombadil, a being of great joy and curiosity, has no desire for the Ring. Why? He lived his life simply accepting what life brought him. He does his laundry on days that it rains. He collects food from whatever nature would bring him. He is humble, satisfied and content. This is why the Ring has no effect on him.

Sam Gamgee’s reaction to the Ring is also profound. Though he uses the Ring to rescue Frodo from the clutches of orcs, he immediately removes it once he has Frodo out of immediate danger. He gives it back to Frodo, admitting that he is not worthy to have such a thing. He doesn’t like the feel of its power. In this sense, Sam is the model of the man who is pure in heart.

Here is the lesson for us. Gandalf and Galadriel fear that the ring would turn them into gruesome monsters. Tom Bombadil has no need of the ring. Sam Gamgee is afraid of what the ring offers. He would rather walk away from it and let someone else be powerful and secretive. Sam’s life is an open book. These fine people represent the cautious leader, the satisfied simple life and the pure at heart. These are the virtues that distinguish those who can overcome the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Internet and rampant media focus have lured us all into wondering how certain things would feel. People who would never have used recreational drugs, would never have had affairs, would never have gambled can do it all so much more easily now. They reason “I have to know what everyone else knows.” That is the essence of the Forbidden Tree. That is the One Ring. That insatiable lust to find out more, to experience more, to know more.

Sam, Bombadil, Galadriel and Gandalf all fought this. You and I can as well. But we must decide that Tree is too dangerous. That ring will cost us too much.

 

 

I Just Figured Out Donald Trump

Posted on March 14, 2016

There are a billion personal reactions to the Donald Trump candidacy on the Internet. As there should be. He is bombastic, divisive, polarizing, and above all, entertaining. But something occurred to me this morning that should have been clear a long time ago.

I don’t know why I didn’t see this before. It’s so simple.

He knows perfectly well that he won’t be able to fulfill any of his campaign promises. He is smart enough to know that his ideas are unworkable, at various stages unethical, and would never pass Congress, regardless of which party holds the majority.

He just wants to be elected President. And he knows the perfect formula for doing it.

Before devising his strategy, like a good businessman he took the pulse of the American people and figured out that the majority of us have no faith in the government at any level. The approval rating for POTUS, Congress, SCOTUS, State legislatures, etc., is at its lowest levels in 90 years. Once, he understood that, all he had to do was craft a campaign that aimed directly at the groups that felt most disenfranchised.

First, there is the group that fears America’s place on the world stage is slipping away. They fear that America will no longer be the world power it once was. They fear that the policies of the past few presidents have caused us to look weak to the rest of the world. And they are right.

So Trump devised his jingoistic “Make America Great” campaign. It sounds wonderful, but it’s impossible to fulfill. History teaches us that all empires have a life-cycle. The more financially affluent a country becomes, the faster they decay. This is ALWAYS true. The only way to make America great again is to allow us to financially decline until we get as hungry as the rest of the world.

Second, there is the group that never really let go of prejudices and bigotry, no matter how much political correctness hides the reality. People in the United States have been bigots since our country was founded. There are more non-bigots than ever before, but don’t kid yourself into thinking Archie Bunker is dead. There are millions of people who are tired of everyone saying how wonderful the American melting pot is. So when Trump makes semi-bigoted statements (he is usually careful to temper them a little), this group feels they finally have someone who believes the way they do.

Third, there are those who fear that immigrants are hurting them. This, of course, has no basis in reality. America was built on the backs of immigrants and so was every successful country in history. What makes a country strong is the ability to incorporate the most hungry individuals into the whole nation. A nation that welcomes competition and new ideas will grow and reach new heights. At the same time, that means the weak, the lazy and the entitled will fall back. Trump, by expounding how he is going to protect America’s borders, plays to that crowd.

Finally, there is the group that fears other countries will hurt us through terrorism and mayhem. Trump has thrown out a lot of silly ideas like registering all Muslims, detaining certain ethnic groups, building walls around countries, and outlawing certain religions. Can he do this? Probably not–and he knows it. But it sells well to that group.

These four groups make up the majority of both dominant parties. You might not know it, but Democrats have just as many bigots and fearful people as Republicans.

I stand by my prediction that Trump will easily win the election. But I also hold that everyone will hate him after one term because he will accomplish nothing of what he wants to do. Like most presidents, he will fail because he spent more energy seeing how he might be elected than seeing how he might make real change.

I finally get it.

You Are an Extravert. You are an Introvert.

Posted on March 4, 2016

I’m an extravert. I can’t just sit here and write in a journal for an hour. I have to be meeting people. It’s what I am made for.”

“I’m an introvert. I can’t go to parties without feeling completely demolished. All that sensory input is overwhelming. It’s what I am.”

“I can’t do yoga; I’m an extravert.”

“I can’t talk to people about my faith. My faith is internal and private. That’s the same with all of us introverts”.

People said these things to me in counseling or after I taught them in the classroom. Each of them is a heartfelt struggle and each reflects a basic misunderstanding about this essential element of personality. Many people have wrongly assumed that they are either an introvert or an extravert. A smaller group has come to realize that, for them, it is not that easy to put themselves into either condition. They call themselves “ambiverts” which is a way of saying “I’m a little of both”.

I have news for all the people who identify as introverts, extraverts (yes, that’s how Carl Jung spelled it) and ambiverts: YOU’RE ALL OF THE ABOVE.

Everyone is an introvert and everyone is an extravert. Therefore, we’re all ambiverts.

Let me explain by delving into the curious details of human personality.

Most of what we call modern Personality Theory owes a lot to the work of Carl Gustav Jung and his associates. Later students of Jung such as Isabel Briggs-Myers and her family have refined many of Jung’s concepts and brought them to the wider public outside of stodgy psychiatrist conventions. Modern Personality theorists like David Keirsey and Lenore Thomson have truly expanded our ideas about how to classify and appreciate all the nuances of personality differences.

Yet, with all the advances we have made in this field of study, the essential elements remain the same. It might be helpful if everyone understood the basics of personality type. Here is your primer.

Personality Theory teaches that there are four primary cognitive functions.  This is important. A cognitive function is simply a way of thinking about things. It’s just how your brain works and gets along with the average day. Or an exceptional day…it doesn’t matter. These four cognitive functions fall into two sets, making it really easy to sort through.

The first set of functions relates to how we collect information from the world around us. All of us use both these methods, but not equally. There are two primary ways we do this:

  1. Using our Senses (Sensory Cognitive function)
  2. Using our Intuition (Patterned Cognitive function)

 

Sensory observations use the five senses to observe the world around and to store the sensory information and use it to draw conclusions later. A person who primarily uses their senses to collection information is identified by using the big letter “S”. An “S” person becomes quite good at observing with the eyes, ears and touch.

Intuitive observations look for patterns, meanings and relationships between things to make observations. Though this person uses their physical senses, they are not looking to store the data as sensory observations. Rather, they use that data to spot patterns which have been previously seen. All children start as sensory until around age 4 when some will develop intuitive reliance. We refer to those who use their intuitive data gathering skills with the big letter “N” (not “I” because that would be confused with Introverts).

So, the two information collection functions are called “S” and “N”.

The second set of functions relates to what we will do with the information we gather. This can be applied with decision-making, relationships, actions, beliefs, and conflict. As with the first set, there are two opposite ways we apply the information we gather.

  1. Using Logic to use the information (Thinking cognitive Function)
  2. Using Human Relationships to utilize the information (Feeling cognitive Function)

 

The people who use the thinking cognitive function more readily are not necessarily more logical than those who use the feeling function. The thinking function relates all information into a framework of ideas. Rather than relating those ideas to other people and to how the information will affect those people, the thinking function makes decisions based on the fact and details. To identify this function we use the big letter “T”

People who rely on the Feeling function to make decisions take the data gathered by their information collection and relate that information to their significant relationships. They want to see how the information affects themselves and other people. This is called the Feeling function, but that is confusing. It doesn’t necessarily have any emotion tied to it. Simply put, the ones who use this function immediately relate all data to its connections with others. We use the big letter “F” to identify this function.

So these four letters—S, N, T, F—identify the four cognitive functions. Every person has a data collection function and everyone has a decision-making function. That’s because we all collect data and we all make decisions.

There are four combinations of these letters we can have: ST, SF, NT, and NF. Every person on the planet has a preference for one of these four combinations. These are the four options you have.

But here is the point I want everyone to understand. This is a preference. You still use the other functions, just not as frequently. For instance, a person who collects data using sensory functions can still utilize the pattern spotting function if needed. They just won’t be as good at it.

Let me show you another way to look at this. Write your name down on a piece of paper. I’ll wait while you do it.

Think about this for a second. Without any more instructions, you automatically used the hand you usually write with. Why did you do that? You did it because that is your preferred hand for writing. You have done this for years that way.

Now, take the writing instrument and write your name with the other hand. What do you notice about this? Of course, it is not as easy to do and not as comfortable. Therefore, after this exercise, you will go back to using the hand you have always preferred. However, if something happened to injure your preferred hand, you could use the other hand to write with. But it would take a lot of time and be uncomfortable for awhile.

The same thing is true of cognitive functions. Our brains tend to go with our lifelong preferences; we do what comes most easily and natural for us. We were born with these preferences and can only change them if we have to.

Let’s return to the four combinations of cognitive functions:

ST: Gathers data with senses and uses logic to come to conclusions

SF: Gathers data with senses and uses relationships to people to come to conclusions

NT: Gathers data with intuition and uses logic to come to conclusions.

NF: Gathers data with intuition and uses relationships to people to come to conclusions.

Now, let’s add introversion and extraversion to this mix. This is what makes us more complete in how we live out our lives.

An Introvert (I) lives most of their lives on the inside of their mind. They take the world around them and bring it in to work with it. They live in an internal world and only connect to the world outside of them when they need to.

An Extravert (E) lives most of their lives on the outside of their mind. They take the thoughts of their inner world and they bring it out to interact with others. An extravert doesn’t keep things to themselves unless they have no other choice.

Now, here is where it gets really interesting. Since every person has a preference for one of the four letter combination of cognitive functions mentioned above, those two letters relate to the introversion and extraversion. Let’s say a person is an NF (as I am). Their two cognitive functions are Intuition and Feeling. One of those two functions will be introverted and the other one will be extraverted. If they are an extravert, they might bring out their Intuition for all to see. Or they may bring their Feeling decisions for all to see. If they’re an introvert, they may keep their Intuition inside to ponder. Or they may keep their Feeling decisions inside to meditate upon.

Here is the key: Whichever function you tend to introvert, the other function will be the one you use to relate to the world around you. Whichever function you bring out to relate to the world around you, you use the other one to ponder your inner world.

Every person has both an introverted and extraverted function, even though you have a preference for one over the other.

The key to healthy living is learning to use the non-preferred (secondary) function more often in life.

 

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