Hope

Whoever was still alive had reason for hope                             Viktor Frankl

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way

Viktor Frankl

But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.                                  Psalm 9:18

I trust that many of my readers are familiar with Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian psychiatrist, and a prisoner of Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He was a prisoner because he was Jewish.

During his time in the concentration camps, he witnessed the hopelessness and despair among many of the prisoners that one might naturally expect in such dreadful conditions. Frankl noted that those prisoners who gave up hope, those who did not see any meaning in life anymore, tended to die quickly. They had given up.

Those like Frankl, and the ones he tried to help in the camps, were able to see that, even in the most debasing of circumstances, there was something that could not be taken from them. They had a choice to hope. 

Frankl survived the concentration camp experience, however his father and his wife did not. But Frankl’s story, tragic as it appears, was one of hope for many, because from it came his works about therapy and treatment of emotional problems. His ability to marry the concepts of human suffering with the remedy of hope and choice, gave rise to logotherapy. He infused psychiatry with a spiritual dimension framed in a positive light hitherto unseen in the field.

Hope is where we find it. Unfortunately, we might stop looking. Frankl endured terrible suffering, but he never completely lost hope because he found meaning in his suffering. He found that the Nazis could never imprison his mind, even if they had his body in prison.

We have been promised that God will never forget us in our time of need, even when we see no provision in front of us. The hope of his promises remains.

Prayer: Thank you Father for infusing us with a spirit of hope, a spirit beyond us, resting in you, Amen.

Owning Our Biases

Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal; yet now God declares us “not guilty” of offending him if we trust in Jesus Christ, who in his kindness freely takes away our sins.                               Romans 3:23-24 (Living Bible)

I am a member of a community leadership forum, and recently there was a question posed about ethical leadership principles. One of those principles was about owning our biases. This presupposes that we have an awareness of our biases. Then, we must be willing to take a look at those biases and determine to what extent that they may be affecting our decisions, our relationships with others, and how we run our organization.

My response to the forum was this analogy.  In 12 Step work, there is the 4th Step which calls for us to take a fearless and searching moral inventory of our character defects. Owning a bias is not a character defect. Denying that we have biases is.

 Taking a 4th Step inventory is a very healthy process. Everyone, regardless of whatever recovery status one may have, could benefit from working the 12 Steps of AA. As one of the slogans stated in our Recovery Service at Church, Recovery is Not Just for Alcoholics Anymore.

Yes, we are all recovering sinners, loved by God and precious in his sight.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the freedom of owning our own defects and biases, Amen

On Christian Nationalism

I am taking the next few days to share some essays on Christian Nationalism that I wrote some time ago. This is a bit of a departure from my usual format, but I hope here to share my heart and concern about a phenomenon that serves neither our country, nor our faith well.

I am a Christian, and I love God, especially as he is expressed in his son, Jesus. I am an American, and I love my country. I am not, however a Christian Nationalist, as I understand that term.

I am disturbed by the gradual melding of “Christian” with “American”. One can be a devoted Christian without being American, and one can be a devoted American without being Christian. Some Christians in America have blurred these devotions, giving the impression that to be a good American is to be a good Christian. That to be a good American Christian entails a certain set of allegiances that mimic conservative values.

Sometimes, however, those values are not consistent with Christian values. Our track record with immigration over the years, for example, has not reflected the values of Jesus. Our track record with people of color and Native Americans is a legacy to be repented.

Of course, no country is perfect, and America has shown itself to be a bastion of freedom and democracy in a world that needs such freedom for people. We have much to be proud of as Americans, but a sober look at our imperfections is part of healthy awareness and growth.

Our very political system has been raised as a standard for the world as a way to give voice and opportunity to people heretofore unknown. Yet that very system carries the seeds of its own destruction if not held by people of integrity.

Our elected officials have pandered to their political bases without regard to what is best for the country. On the issue of abortion, for example, it has been easy for some conservative politicians to jump hard onto draconian measures to limit abortion. Please understand that I am very much anti-abortion and pro-life. The principle that government should step in to protect the most vulnerable of its population, the unborn child, is close to my heart. Yet, politicians who espouse some anti-abortion measures often are simply pandering to a constituency that will sound the dog whistle with their single-issue voters. Their understanding of the nuances facing difficult decisions about abortion, in my opinion, has often given way to cheap vote fishing.   

Cloaking political power in the language of Christianity is, to me, both subtle and repulsive. Clearly, our founding fathers envisioned an America of limited government powers, and freedom of individuals to express their opinions, including religious beliefs, without harassment.

Has God given America a bountiful blessing? Yes, of course- abundantly so. We have been protected geographically, for much of our existence, by two great oceans which kept us from invasion and interference from potential international enemies. We have the gifts of expansive plains, great agricultural soil, mineral resources, and many more blessings too numerous to mention.

Yet we also have a hubris that the rest of the world struggles to understand. We take for granted those blessings, then assume that God endowed them to us and made us special- that our country has been earmarked as the special agent of preserving Christianity.

The truth is, the fastest growth of Christianity in the world is found in Africa. Our brand of Christianity, and that is what it has become in America, a brand, is not necessarily the faith that Jesus brought to earth centuries ago. His radical love transcended political and governmental power, and turned religion upside down. Our attempt at codifying faith into a religious system is simply our human attempt to understand the power of a Holy Spirit who infuses the God-breath into humankind.

So, we must beware of the insidious growth of Christian Nationalism which seeks to justify Americanism as a faith in and of itself. Beware of buzz words which sound like a defense of faith. It may just be a defense of a political persuasion.

Giving Ourselves Permission

Then he turned my sorrow into joy! He took away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy Psalm 30:11

It sorta sounds funny, doesn’t it? “Giving ourselves permission” to do something. But that is exactly what I told a client the other day who is grieving the loss of her mother. Grief is hard, and sometimes we unwittingly make it harder on ourselves with some unwritten rules. For example, sometimes we feel that we will somehow dishonor the deceased by getting back into a normal routine. We may need to give ourselves permission to get back to the expected duties of life in a reasonable timeframe – you know, “life going on”.

I’m not sure I like that saying, “moving on with life” that much, but there is truth in it. I would argue that we honor our deceased loved ones when we do proceed with our normal life, albeit with a heavy heart.

Those who have passed that we love, and presumably they loved us, would want the very best for those left behind here on earth. Perhaps we will even be more missional and thoughtful in our actions, keeping their legacy in mind. Many people have been motivated to heroic and society changing things spurred on by memories of loved ones.

So, we may need to give ourselves permission to return to regular routines and patterns after the loss of a loved one. We may even life a better life to honor those lost.

Prayer: Lord, we know you are solace to the grieving. Help us to honor those who went before us, Amen.

A Theology as Big as the City

Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken at the right time.                                    Proverbs 25:11

I read a book several years ago titled A Theology as Big as the City by Ray Bakke.  Lots of good stuff in the book, but one of the big takeaways for me was the idea that the church ought to serve as a chaplain to the city, or the area where it is located. Chaplains serve people with spiritual and emotional care at times of stress and crisis. We have hospital chaplains, military chaplains, hospice chaplains, police chaplains, even a chaplain for the U.S. Congress. That tells me that we value the spiritual care for people in critical situations.

The same goes for just us ordinary folks too. Heaven knows that there are daily stresses in our life that could be helped with the aid of a chaplain once in a while. The local church- that is the people who are part of that church (all of us, not the “pastor” necessarily), should be chaplains to the community we live in. We need to be ready to serve as the chaplain to the neighbor, friend, or even stranger who needs help, giving spiritual and emotional support.

If people saw the local church as a place where healthy, caring chaplains came from, they may be more inclined to check out what that church has to offer.

Just a thought…

Prayer: Lord, help us see the needs around us, and give us the will and courage to reach to help, Amen

What Brings You Here?

If you keep quiet at a time like this, God will deliver the Jews from some other source, but you and your relatives will die; what’s more, who can say but that God has brought you into the palace for just such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

I often start my intake sessions with clients with a simple question- “What brings you here?” I then quickly add, “What brings you in now, as opposed to, let’s say six months ago?”

This is a way to determine if a problem is recent or chronic. If a certain event recently prompted the felt need for counseling, or if this consideration has been going on for a while. This information is helpful, and it is pretty concrete and specific about why a person came to counseling.

Sometimes, a person is very open about the fact that someone else told them to come to counseling- a spouse, an employer, a probation officer, etc. I am just looking for honesty here. There is no blame or judgment just because someone is coming in under some felt duress. In fact, that felt pressure can be just the thing a person needed to look more deeply into their own life. I have seen plenty of clients who come in on an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) because their employer mandated it, and the client later says that they are so glad that they were ordered to come in.

You know, whatever works.

Sometimes too, later into the counseling process, I may ask a deeper question- “Why are you here?” This does not involve why they are in the counseling room, but rather, why are they here on planet earth. Here, I am asking about their mission on earth. What is the reason that they go about life the way they do? What is their life purpose?

These are questions we all must ponder at some point. What is our mission in life? Why did God give us this existence at this time and this place with the particular gifts that he gave us?

We are here for a reason(s). How might you answer that question?

Prayer: Lord, you have given us all a reason to be here in your creation plan. Thank you for this amazing and complex world which you have given to us to impact, with gifts you gave, Amen

Have You Heard the Good News?

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.                                                                                                                          Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message)

Have you ever heard of Norman Borlaug? Neither had I. Funny how we often do not hear of the news that is the most uplifting and world changing. It turns out that Mr. Borlaug had a lot to do with the “Green Revolution” of the 1950’s and 60’s which helped to turn much of the world’s arable land into productive, food producing land due to his meticulous research. His work with making hybrid wheats likely has saved tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of people from starvation. He won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Every day we are inundated with bad news. You need not look far for pain, misery and doom. That is because news essentially singles out such stories because they are both sudden and newsworthy. Bad news arises quickly, generally, and it grabs headlines.

Good news, on the other hand, is with us all the time, and it is not, therefore, newsworthy. It is not “breaking news”, it is normal life. For example, the fact that there is less starvation now worldwide than ever in history, is not newsworthy. Partly, that is also due to the fact that it is hard to celebrate less starvation when starvation still exists in the world.

We cannot blame news media for this phenomenon. News is made up of events that are new, interesting, and important. The fact that there are wildfires and hurricanes happening is absolutely true. Those events are devastating in real time to thousands of people, and it is important to note.

At the same time, there are many, many things and events in the world that are good news, but they are swallowed by other pressing events. That is simply a matter of life. We need to remember however, the important fact that there are many incredible achievements that go unnoticed.

People like Norman Borlaug.

Prayer: Help us remember your grace and provision for us, even in the midst of bad news, Amen

How Does This Work?

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.                                           Matthew 5:8

We recently made a visit to Kansas City to visit my daughter and her family. While there, my wife and I visited several museums (yeah, we do that kind of thing 😊). One of the museums was about the Shawnee Mission, established in the early 1850’s for the Native American families who were being displaced by an influx of pioneer white settlers.

Not enough space here to unravel that devastation of Native American land and culture, but let’s just look at the process of evangelization that Christians brought to these Plains People. I bring this up because the way that we sometimes try to evangelize people into the Christian faith is to impress a need for personal salvation. That is, an inward acceptance of the need for Jesus as Savior and Lord.  

That point has great merit, in that we cannot save ourselves, and that we need the grace of God for salvation. At the same time, the Shawnee and many other Native Americans found the idea of such a personal salvation bewildering. They had collective community beliefs about a relationship to God. Salvation was a tribal and community understanding of how God connects with people.

The way that the Gospel was presented for some centuries to displaced peoples was part gracious, and part need to control and enforce conformity to norms that were foreign to the evangelized.

I cannot speak to the motives of all missionary work. Undoubtedly, many missionaries, even most, had pure hearts and right motives. Yet it gives me pause to think about salvation itself. Does a simple personal decision make all the difference? Or does that change of mind need to be accompanied by a change of heart, attitude and behaviors.

Your thoughts?

Prayer: Lord, help us to hear as well as share the stories of your love, Amen

Where is the Church?

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’                                                    Matthew 25:45 (The Message)

“Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”                                                                                               Matthew 18:18-20 (The Message)

I heard a story from a client recently whom I had challenged to attend an AA meeting. He knows that he is an alcoholic- at least now he does. It took a trip to the hospital Intensive Care Unit to convince him, but he knows that he is an alcoholic.

However, it was not solely my recommendation to attend AA that convinced him to attend a meeting. It was the behavior of another man in recovery who won him to the AA community. This man offered to talk with my client day or night, whenever he needed to call. He offered to drive from his home (not geographically close), if necessary, to help my client whenever he might need it.

Such behaviors are those of people who care about and understand the needs of others. They become interested in the needs of fellow travelers on this journey which often includes some rough detours.

The Church is where we find it. It is not one denomination, nor a building, nor a system of religious practices and worship. Church happens where need meets loving compassion in the name of our Creator.

Church is at an AA meeting; a support group; a funeral home; a Hospice Center- it is wherever loving compassion is shown by sacrificial service.

That’s where church is.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the plan to love you by loving others, Amen

Holocaust Remembered

Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons      Acts 10:34

I have just finished watching another epic Ken Burns documentary on PBS. This one was about the Holocaust and America’s response to it. It is a sobering look at the great genocide perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. He explores it from its early roots in the 19th century when eugenics theory began to take hold in many Western countries, including the United States.

Eugenics was an evil presented as scientific truth. It manifested itself in fears about “inferior races” taking over countries by replacing their population with high levels of immigration and high birth rates. It was just a short step for Hitler to demonize Jews with all sorts of maniacal charges, and blaming Jews for the German loss in World War I, high inflation, etc. Hitler had found scapegoats. He killed millions of them.

When I was a kid growing up on Mayfair Ave. in a suburb of Cincinnati, one of our gang of friends was a girl named Betty. I met her parents, and her mother showed me something on her inner left forearm. It was a tattooed number. She was a concentration camp survivor whose national origin was of the Roma people.

That was my first glimpse of institutional evil. I didn’t understand it at the time since I was about 9 years old. But I still remember that tattoo and what it attested to.

Jesus was born with a lineage of various ethnic backgrounds, some of which were detested- marginal people who were not considered civilized or worthy of consideration by other races and cultures.  I think God’s plan was deliberate in having Jesus come from multi-ethnic and multi racial origins.

People who discriminate today against other races and people groups are literally rebelling against God.

Prayer: Lord, give us better understanding of your love for ALL people, Amen.