Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Dark Side of Depression

            The dark side of Dad’s life was the depressions he went through. It’s only been in the last few years I’ve been able to really put all these things together and understand what he went through. Part of this is because I’ve gone through these things. I’m going to share some things about myself that I’ve never shared with anyone. But, they need to be shared for two reasons: first, I need to work through them; and, second, so others can work through these issues.
            The dark point of my life was early in 1989. I was taking classes at The University of Akron in chemical engineering. That’s no big secret. What is a big secret is that I was struggling with suicidal thoughts. I never got into drugs or alcohol through this period. I also was always able to talk myself through the fact that suicide was not the answer. But, I was on that tightrope, where I could have fell off the edge. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it (at least in a better way) now. I just thought my life was heading in the wrong direction. What I really wanted to do at the time was study for the ministry. But, I felt pressure from my parents to go into engineering. I was gifted in mathematics in school, so a push for engineering was natural. Please understand, my parents were not the type that would try to pressure me like that. But, at the time I didn’t understand that. I was feeling a pressure that was in my mind. Sure, at that point they would have liked me to go into engineering, but had I felt more comfortable talking to them, perhaps I would have never gotten to the point of having suicidal thoughts.
            Talking things through is an important point for anyone struggling with these issues. There is a hopelessness one feels and it feels that hopelessness may never go away. I’ve seen it in Dad and later in 2008 really felt it. By 2008, I had the understanding to better understand what was going on.
            For about the last fifteen to twenty years of Dad's life (maybe a little longer, I can’t say) I watched Dad go through cycles of depression. In the late 1990’s he had a stroke. He recovered, but it may have been a contributing factor.
            The crushing blow for Dad was forced retirement from Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in 2002. He showed up one day and was asked to leave—after 36 years of service as a lab technician, which included work on several patents. One patent was for a curing process for the rubber compounds. Another was for a glow-in-the-dark marking that would be used in tires. To have a lab technician involved in these things was uncommon. Part of this was a special friendship he fostered with one of the engineers named Ramen. So, he was doing things lab technicians normally weren’t involved in. This was an area he showed his creativity.
            Goodyear was firing employees who were closing in on full retirement. Dad received the ax. He was ushered out of the building and the contents of his locker were brought down to him in a box. He was later involved in a class action suit with other employees who were fired improperly. I’m not sure Dad ever got over that—he was so faithful (a wonderful trait he had) and then was kicked in the nuts. It was a brutal blow.
            Dad went through cycles of depression. His thoughts were completely irrational. I remember him worrying he was going to die, because he couldn’t defecate for several days. He was worried things would back up in his system. He worried a lot about his legs and keeping up leg strength. This was particularly true when he had torn cartilage in his knee. In his mind, he wasn’t going to walk again, but he only faced a minor surgery. He also had some minor dental problems (obviously I’m not counting the major problems after his cancer diagnosis in 2013) and was constantly worried about his teeth and them rotting away.
            At times, we had some arguments as I was trying to help Dad see things logically. It wasn’t until I faced some depressions of my own that I realized logic and depression are separate things. You can’t help someone that is depressed by winning a logical argument over something they feel. Dad also struggled with panic attacks and anxiety and struggled with some addiction to anti-anxiety medication: particularly Ativan through this last bout with cancer, but he desired the magic happy pill throughout every depression. From what I’ve seen, these pills may be necessary in certain situations, but often just mask real issues that need to be dealt with. I’ve also seen you need to be careful with these pills.
            One medication that was terrible for Dad was Klonopin. He thought it made him better, but what it really did was make him numb to all emotions. Unless you’ve seen depression firsthand, you just don’t understand how hard it is to see someone that loses their spirit. There were points dad developed a blank expression—none of his heart or spirit showing through his countenance. As I consider things now, I realize with the proper course of treatment this may not have been necessary.
            During one depression, Dad ended up in the psychiatric ward at St. Thomas hospital in Akron, Ohio. I visited Dad several times. This psychiatric ward was a dark place. There was a spirit of oppression that permeated the air. It’s hard to explain. It’s a heaviness that can be felt. I’m not sure how people are supposed to regain health in a toxic environment.
            One evening they showed Dad, mom and I a video. It was about electroconvulsive therapy. The video painted this wonderful picture. Dad initially seemed receptive. Of course he was. He was depressed and wanted relief. They were offering him the magic pill! That evening I did some research. This treatment (also called electroshock therapy) is brutal. They run electricity through the brain and give someone a grand mal seizure. The idea is to reset the brain. I was frightened and angered. Mom and I talked to Dad and helped him see it wasn’t a good choice. The staff was pushing for the treatment.
            I never met the doctor behind this brutality, but was ready if necessary to find where he lived and attack him if he wouldn’t back down on the treatment. I meant it. Beating this monster within an inch of his life would be true justice. The doctors who perform these treatments are vampires—willing to suck the life out of others for their own benefit (big profit). This treatment should be immediately banned. It’s no wonder the psychiatric ward at St. Thomas was such a dark place. Evil was hanging in the air and traumatized patients were walking the halls.
            I think it was around 2007-2008 where I started to put the pieces together with Dad. 2008 was a hard time for me. I was approaching my 20-year high school reunion and I was single. I still am. I ache for a mate, but just haven’t met the right person. I suspect I do have a diminished attraction to and attractiveness towards women due to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)—something I’ve started to understand only in the last few years as I’ve reflected on my life. There are many struggles I face that disappeared when I lived in Florida. Dad was diagnosed with SAD.  There are therapies to treat this. Unfortunately, Dad wasn't diagnosed until later in life; and, as I'm learning more through my own personal experience, Dad may not have been given proper medical advice. SAD can be quite debilitating if not treated properly.
            Anyhow, back to 2008. I was struggling working two teaching jobs—one online at Liberty University and the other on campus at Bohecker College. At times I was teaching three classes for Liberty and six at Bohecker. This was a peak schedule. It could be as low as four or five (usually it was six or seven) while at least having one and up to three at Liberty. I was on-fire about teaching and gave my all to my students. I didn’t realize until 2007 how much that was burning me out. I’m still currently teaching as the Department Chair of General Studies for National College in Stow, Ohio. I also teach at the Youngstown campus and occasionally at the Canton campus. Right now I’m looking for a new career. I’ve had to face the fact I’m an introvert. I love people, but they wear me out.
            Dad was also an introvert. Introverts are energizers. They give themselves fully to others, but this can be to their own detriment. I’ve only come to fully understand this recently. I wish I understood this personality bent earlier. Maybe I could have helped Dad out more. I don’t feel guilty. I did the best I could with what I had, but I now have more. That’ why I’m sharing, so others can learn. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people that are the kindest, gentlest or most energizing (that’s how I am, although I’ve had to give less due to burnout) also end up with severe depression. I wouldn’t call Dad an energizer. I’d call him kind and generous. He warmed those around him. I don’t think he fully understood it and I didn’t really understand this personality trait until he was in the middle of his battle with cancer. At that point, we just needed to deal with the cancer, but I suspect Dad was the type that just couldn’t stop giving himself to others.
            The burnout I was facing in 2007 and 2008 started me researching into what was causing this and the effects of stress. People that are extremely driven (or under much stress) can wear out their adrenal glands. This changes the body chemistry, but it also changes the brain chemistry. It open up pathways that cause the brain to get stuck in anxious thinking—at the worst panic attacks and also extreme anxiety. Once those pathways are open, they can’t be closed through logic. Over time, with rest and a good mindset, those pathways can be closed. But, the racing, anxious thoughts just can’t be turned off like a switch. In some cases, it requires changes in lifestyle to close these switches over time. It’s a ramping down process as opposed to a switch and it is based on altered brain chemistry. So, someone can’t just go from depressed (or anxious) to normal thinking immediately. It can take considerable time. Around the summer and fall of 2008, I was experiencing panic attacks—particularly the thoughts of never having kids and being alone the rest of my life. It’s something that still bothers me.
            From 2006 to 2008 I took some doctoral classes at Kent State University in Education. I also started doing standup comedy in 2008. I’m thinking my first performance was June 3rd. I remember it was in a comedy competition at the Funny Stop in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. At the time I was teaching speech (as well as writing and management classes) and was thinking of a possible career in standup comedy. I now realize that wasn’t a proper thought process, but my thinking was messed up due to stress. I wasn’t doing well in my doctoral classes. My grades were great, but I hated academic research and writing. I had all these various threads in my life that were tearing me down. My brother was also struggling with alcohol abuse, which added to my problems, as I was worried about him drinking himself to death.
            Had something not changed, I may have been in trouble. But, I applied to an MFA program, which was a co-venture between The University of Akron, Kent State University and Youngstown State University. Figuring I would be accepted, I applied to teach English Composition classes at The University of Akron. I wasn’t accepted for the MFA program, but was offered a job (in one interview, which seemed too easy) at The University of Akron. I left Bohecker. For a short time in September, I was finishing out a Saturday class at Bohecker, but the job at The University of Akron was far less stressful. It was enough of a life change to lower my stress level to the point I wasn’t dealing with an anxious brain.
            I suspect part of the reason behind an anxious brain is a vivid imagination. I have it and Dad had it. Dad was involved with several patents. He also liked to design tomato planters. In an earlier blog I shared a poem he wrote. I don’t think he ever learned how to use his imagination. It’s only been in the past few years I’ve learned how to use mine through the creative outlet of writing.
            Dad’s father, Bill (William) Tipton, passed away when Dad was only four or five. His brother, My Uncle Ted, became the man of the family and Dad’s father figure. Uncle Ted went off to work. Dad was left alone with his mother, Lena. She had severe, rheumatoid arthritis. She constantly poured negative thinking into Dad’s head about health problems and how she was suffering with the loss of her husband. Dad was her counselor, something he shouldn’t have been doing at that young age. Grandma was mentally, spiritually and psychologically abusing him. I don’t think it was intentional. She genuinely loved him. It was simply a consequence of the grief she was going through and her own struggles. Dad was set up to have negative thinking about his health. It followed him through his life. This is a life lesson. If you’re struggling through something, don’t use a young child as your therapist. It can leave them scarred for life.
            Dad never talked to me in-depth about all the things his mom poured on him. I heard about them through mom. I suspect Dad was simply too kind to bad-mouth his mother to her grandkids. But, early in my parents’ marriage, Dad and mom helped care for Grandma Lena. So, mom saw it firsthand. I was too young to remember or comprehend.

            Since I’ve suffered some with depression and saw Dad suffer, let me share some ideas on dealing with depression. I believe this is a societal issue that many people face. Addressing this problem will require more than a band-aid. It will require changes in our society.
            Good people experience depression. It’s easy to stigmatized depression or other mental illnesses. This isn’t fair. Good people become depressed. Dad was a kind, gentle person. People loved him. It’s weird that we don’t understand someone’s impact until after death. So many people have shared kind words about how much Dad meant to them.
            Sometimes someone becomes depressed because they are a good person. They give of themselves—their kindness, compassion and mental energy to others. Over time this can wear someone down. In a society of takers, the givers can end up empty.
            During many of the depressions I went through, I couldn’t afford help. People without the means don’t receive treatment. That’s one of the truths of our capitalistic economic system, which may more resemble feudalism or fascism than true capitalism. That is a debate for another essay, but in feudalism or fascism a small group has all the power and are free to operate in immoral ways in order to meet selfish needs. According to Mussolini, fascism is a mix of the government and corporations. Does that sound like our current system? We will see a rise in mental illness. We have a diseased society and a symptom of that is people can’t adjust. And, it’s often the most caring people that can least adjust to our diseased society.
            Depression is integrated. By that, I mean depression affects a person holistically. There are physical problems, psychological problems, social problems, socio-economic problems, spiritual problems, family problems or traumatic events that can all contribute to depression. There is no one trained to handle these problems. In our education and economic system, we train people to be specialists. There are doctors who understand the body, psychologists and psychiatrists who understand mental problems, sociologists who understand society, family therapists who understand family dynamics, and pastors and other religious leaders who understand spiritual problems. At least this is the theory, although my life experience has shown there are few people in these fields who have mastered their specialty. And, even if they have, they don’t understand all the various other contributing factors to depression. Treating depression requires someone who understands all these fields. The treatment requires a well-versed generalist in the entire human experience. Our society doesn’t train people in that manner. Our education and economic systems produce individuals with myopic viewpoints. This isn’t just detrimental to the treatment of depression. It affects the entire functioning of our society. Few see the big picture.
            Depression isn’t logical. It’s easy if a loved one is depressed to try to talk them out of their depression. It seems on the surface that depression is connected to illogical thinking. Because of my background in teaching, I understand how people think. There are truths that have great impact on the treatment of depression.
            Our thinking and our feelings are intimately intertwined. When we try to convince someone that their depressive thoughts are illogical, what we are asking them to do is to tackle the problem from a purely logical viewpoint. This is the wrong approach. First, people that approach the world through pure logic (detached from emotions) are often monsters. Our emotions play a big part in our morality. We wouldn’t want our loved one to detach their emotions and their thinking. If they did, they would no longer be the person we love!
            What I’ve discovered through teaching is that we often grab someone emotionally first. Once we have the heart, then we impact the mind. In depression, emotions are the horse. Logic is the cart. So, I’m suggesting another approach. We need to begin treating depression by making a person feel better. If we build up a person emotionally, eventually their thinking will start to change.
            Sometimes it may be best for a person outside someone’s immediate circle to provide support. For a loved one, constantly dealing with irrational thoughts is wearing. It’s easy to lose patience. Or, for the irrational thoughts of another to impact our thinking. Of course, finding an outsider that can truly help is difficult. And, it’s only possible for those who have the means.
            If we attack a person’s thinking, what we are doing is invalidating them. We’re telling a person, “You are wrong.” That makes them feel worse. And, once they feel worse, it begins to impact their feelings.
            What seems illogical from your viewpoint isn’t illogical from their viewpoint. Our viewpoint is derived from our experiences. Dad lost his father at a young age. Dad’s mother poured toxic thoughts into his head. Dad had struggles with work—with overbearing bosses and was eventually tossed out the door like a useless tool that was no longer needed. Based on all these experiences, his thought-processes were logical. His thought processes weren’t logical to me. I had a stable childhood with loving parents. Of course, from my experiences, some of his thoughts didn’t make sense.
            Imagine someone’s view on the world as being molded in clay—not normal clay, but a heavy, thick clay that resists being mold. The heavy hands of time and experience are the only things with enough strength to shape this clay. If these hands have molded one’s viewpoint into a monstrosity, it won’t change over night. It will require these same heavy hands molding through time and experience.
            Our society is filled with people whose clay has been molded into a monstrosity. We have people who grew up in poverty, who were abused as children, who may have faced the ravages of war or other problems. The heavy hands have bent, twisted and morphed the clay of viewpoint into something dreadful. Recovery requires these heavy hands creating new experiences, but these heavy hands must now operate in the gentlest of ways. We must show someone unconditional love—over and over and over—until they begin to feel better. Once they begin to feel better, eventually their thinking will follow. But, it may take months, years or even decades for complete recovery.
            Gentleness doesn’t mean softness. If a person may hurt themselves or others, immediate, drastic steps may need to be taken—short-term in order to overcome that crisis. Such drastic steps need to be bathed in a long process of unconditional love. Unfortunately, our society is not conducive to this process.
            Socio-economic issues lead to depression. Much of our economic system is based on dog eat dog. It’s an unhealthy competition based on the idea that in order for me to rise, I must step on someone else’s back. This is evident in our workforce, our school systems, our streets and prisons. The romanticized rugged individualism of America society is the socio-economic version of survival of the fittest. It’s Darwinism applied to society.
            I know some people proclaim that we are a Christian nation. If you believe that, then get off your ass and make this country operate according to Christian principles. Christians must be involved in social justice. The Old Testament tithing system wasn’t just a system to care for the priests. It was a taxation system that cared for the poor and the needy. The messages of the prophets are filled with biting accusations towards a society that didn’t take care for the poor, the needy, children or the widow. The Old Testament disallowed gleaning of one’s field or vineyard, so the poor could be fed. The Israelites were not allowed to charge each other usury (interest on loans). There was even the provision of the Jubilee, which cancelled out debts and returned property to the original owners. Does this sound anything like our society? I know things are different now, but the principles are the same. The Biblical ideal is a society that cares for every citizen—not a disjointed collection of rugged individuals that are solely concerned about me, myself and I! In order to achieve that, we may need a revolution—one that changes our government, our economic system, our system of corporate servitude, our education system and our society as a whole. If we had a society that ran according to Biblical principles, we would not have the extreme socio-economic oppression that is a key contributing factor to depression and other mental illnesses.
            Hard-working people are denied the opportunity of a good job, a good education or a fair break, simply so some rich bastards can become a little richer. We The People have become We The Bankers and We The Corporations and we have handed over the keys to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to an oligarchy of villainous snakes.
            We have a society where people are constantly trampled under someone else’s foot. That foot may be the foot of useless politicians, mean-spirited bosses, or the opportunities that one class has that is denied another.
            When my Dad was escorted out of Goodyear Tire & Rubber, he wasn’t just given the contents of his locker in a box. That box contained his self-worth. His 36 years of service, his involvement with several patents, his hard work was trampled—simply so some useless corporate heads could save a few bucks while denying people their retirements.

            Conclusions. As a society, we can do a better job helping those who suffer from depression. But, simply treating the individual is not enough. We must grasp that the depressed person isn’t the disease. The depressed person is simply a symptom of a diseased society. And, we’re becoming more diseased every day!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

3,000 Miles

            Last week I travelled across the country—from Akron, Ohio to Denver, Colorado. The main point of the trip was to visit Denver Seminary, which is in Littleton, Colorado. I was trying to determine if God might be leading me there. I’m still not sure, but I did learn some things in my travels.
            I visited many gas stations and rest stops. Most of them are pretty similar. In Kansas I saw an AR-15 fire starter near the register. I was definitely in NRA country. Some of the nicer gas stations across the country also serve as truck rest stops. You’ll find showers, lounges and restaurants in these oases.
            On the way over, I was able to visit some friends in Kettering, Ohio. I was able to have a nice talk with my friend from college, Kevin. He is dealing with aging parents. My dad just passed away this June 13th. We also talked a little about end-time events. Kevin and his wife, Jessica, have the two cutest boys—Nathan and Samuel. It was a nice visit.
            Around Indianapolis are Ponderosa restaurants. There used to be Ponderosas in the Akron area. It was a trip back in time and a yummy meal. My mom and brother were jealous when they saw the pictures.
            Illinois seems to be the land of road construction. Sure, all states have construction, but it seems to slow things down the most in Illinois. Every state will section off hundreds of miles of road to work on a bridge. All the signs about construction-zone speed limits and legal consequences of hitting a worker became wearing. I suspect less people would speed through these zones if they only sectioned off the road they’re working on. After driving miles and miles in a zone without seeing any workers, people forget they’re in a construction zone.
            I stopped in Kansas City, Missouri and did a poetry open mic. Kansas City has a nice vibe—relaxed, friendly with a creative air. The Uptown Arts Bar was decorated with a variety of paintings. They also served a great veggie pizza!
            All the poets were friendly. Some of the poetry was beautiful. Some was funny. Some was insightful. Some was strange—in a colorful, thought-provoking way. I found out there was a vibrant poetry scene in Kansas City. The poets out there apparently enjoy wine and dank. I didn’t see this, but someone mentioned it.
            Missouri has an Air Force base. Who knew? On the drive back I saw a B2 bomber. I was able to snap a clear photo with my cell phone. I wondered what a B2 was doing over Missouri. So, I did some research and found out there is an Air Force base where B2’s are kept. Mystery solved!
            Storms in Kansas are terrifying. Driving from Kansas City to Topeka, my GPS directed me down some rural roads. I later discovered I had it set to avoid toll roads. So, on the way back I avoided the back roads and drove through a toll section on I-70 East. The rural roads were in no-man’s land. There were storms all around. Kansas is so open, that the lightening seems to engulf—surrounding and flashing on all sides. I drove about 20 minutes or so through some heavy rain.
            The scariest part is the sense of vulnerability. If Mother Nature decided to kick me in the teeth, there was no place to hide. And, what happens if a tornado pops up? Supposedly you’re supposed to lie in a low-lying area. The lowest area was the small depression between the road and adjacent cornfield. At points this depression was only a few feet deep. I’m not sure that would protection someone from tornadic winds or a flying tractor.
            There were several museums driving through Kansas. I didn’t stop at any of them, but I understand why they’re there. After driving hundreds of miles through plains, Dwight D. Eisenhower starts to sound more interesting. I was somewhat surprised that my cell phone seemed to work better in part of Kansas than in the Akron area. Maybe no one else was bogging down the data connection!
            In Kansas and Colorado, some of the entrance ramps are short. The traffic is mostly light, so it didn’t really matter. It surprised me the first time and then I was used to it. Through the plains the speed limit is often 75 mph. This seems a fair speed limit. Most people didn’t drive much faster than that. I did drive faster than that, but I was passing people. I found once I was back in civilization, that speeds much slower than 75 mph seemed slow. I also found that driving much above that becomes fatiguing. Maybe I just need a better car than my Corolla! In Kansas and Colorado there are many giant windmills.
            Denver is an interesting area. It seems to be a collection of shopping and restaurants. It’s a beautiful area. There’s nice landscaping and everything seemed neat and clean. There are also many attractions in the Denver metropolitan area.
            Littleton, Colorado has a nice historic museum. I ended up waking up early. My body was still on Akron time. The museum was one of the earliest places to open. It had artwork, several displays, an outside blacksmith shop, barns, a farmhouse with animals, an old school house, a small area for outdoor wildlife, and an educational wing (classrooms apparently for school visits). I took quite a few pictures before I learned photography wasn’t allowed—oops! One thing interest was a bust of John Littleton. You’ll have to read my previous post about a dream I had. It included a head, which looked like that bust. Weird, huh?
            The mountains were beautiful. I was looking for a tourist site called Echo Lake. I didn’t find it, but I did find some smaller mountain roads. So, I found out that the Corolla can climb mountains! I’m guessing I was a mile-and-a-half to two miles up. I took some beautiful pictures. Apparently I was in coyote country and there were storms around. So, getting out of the car and walking around the mountain may not have been the safest thing to do. But, I survived and have some wonderful pictures to show. I was also able to see the Garden of the Gods, which is an area with giant, sandy-colored stone structure jutting out of the ground.
            My main reason for going out there was to see the seminary. After the visit, I still don’t have definite direction. However, I do have peace if God does lead me there. My past experience with seminary has been dealing with people who vary from emotionless, to uptight, to completely legalistic lunatics. The people there were relaxed, friendly and spiritual. It was refreshing.
            Overall, it was a tiring and refreshing trip. It allowed me to clear my head after my dad’s death. I saw much of this country—some beautiful and some boring. I was also able to have some time alone with my own thoughts.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Definition of Manhood

            As I reflect on my Dad’s life, his life makes a vivid statement on the definition of manhood that was imposed on him. In both Dad’s life and culture in general, I see that manhood is often defined by what a man does—his job, his salary or his service to others. Dad did many wonderful works—for his kids, for his wife, for his employer, for his church and for society. But, what he did was merely an extension of who he was. His character was far more important than his works. As a society, we need to redefine manhood—not based on what a man does, but based on who a man is.
            Dad was a faithful employee of Goodyear Tire and Rubber for about half his life. As he was nearing retirement, Goodyear terminated him. He was escorted to the lobby and given the contents of his locker in a box. Goodyear was cutting employees nearing retirement to avoid paying full benefits. The doing part of Dad’s manhood was stolen just so some greedy bastards could be a little richer. Dad never fully recovered from that blow. It left a deep scar on his psyche.
            When dad became sick with cancer, the doing part of his manhood took another blow. He became weak and needed rehab to regain his arms and legs. Because he had a large tumor removed from his sinus cavity, he needed rehab to regain his voice and his ability to eat. He lost some hearing and vision. He never fully regained the vigor in his body, his ability to talk, his ability to eat, his hearing or his vision. He did regain the ability of talking to the point the family understood him, but he never regained enough to have confidence in sharing with those outside his immediate circle.
            I wish Dad could have fully grasped that it was enough for him just being Dad in those dark hours of cancer. The family never forgot all the doing he did to make our lives better. He worked hard so his family had the best he could give us. When Dad couldn’t do, it was enough for him to just be Dad. I could still feel his love, his gentle spirit and his humbleness.
            I remember Dad telling me that I was now “the man”. It was his humble way of honoring me—of saying that I was now a man he admired. It’s special to know Dad felt that way about me. But, I think his proclamation had another meaning. Dad no longer felt he was the man in the family. In his mind, he could no longer hold up his end of the bargain—the bargain imposed on him by society’s definition of a man as doing instead of being. I wish Dad could have understood that by simply being Dad—the loving, gentle, humble man he was—was enough. Neither his employer nor his cancer stripped Dad of being Dad. Dad had a dignity that came from within. Dad’s suffering would have been less if he understood that truth.

            True men face hardships. They may be stripped of the doing of manhood by disease, society, or through circumstances. But, this never strips a true man of his manhood. Just being a man of character is enough. Dad was more than enough!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Why the Church Has Lost Its Power

            As a born-again Christian who has studied the Bible, I am confronted with two churches: 1) The Ekklesia of the book of Acts, which demonstrates power (thousands saved, healings, people speaking in tongues, prisons opened and other miraculous events), and 2) The modern church, where I haven’t seen any of that happen. If I’m honest, the modern church is often filled with sickness, a lack of intellectual curiosity and passivity. Why is this?

            Let’s take a few moments to define the key characteristics of the modern church.
1.  Sermon-centric. The key event of the modern church is some regularly held religious event that focuses on a lecture. Special events on the church calendar often incorporate this lecture, which is given the grandiose title of “sermon”. In many churches, the sermon is the central component of the congregation’s life, although many would balk against this analysis.
2. A hierarchy. Modern churches often resemble businesses. The pastor is the CEO and the board (or elders, may be given different names) serves like a board of directors. Some churches lean more towards a pastor-led style, similar to the governmental forms of a monarchy. Some lean more towards a small group of leaders, similar to the governmental form of an oligarchy. Few function like a democracy. In all churches I’ve experienced there are leaders and followers—an over/under style of management.
3. A campus. Most churches today either have a building or are hoping to purchase one. A large chunk of the church facilities goes towards the sanctuary, which serves as a gathering place for worship services.
4. The worship service. This may go by different names, but it is a regularly scheduled meeting of the body. Some churches have one a week. Some have several. There are a wide variety of flavors, but key similarities include: 1) Often run by an individual or team, 2) Often has two or three key components: a musical segment, a liturgical segment and the sermon. Some churches don’t include a liturgical portion. In almost all churches the musical block is seen as secondary to the sermon, which is usually given near the end of the service.

            Let’s consider for a moment the Biblical mission for the church. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) gives a strong focus on teaching. Fellowship with other believers is seen throughout the New Testament. Helping those outside the church with needs—visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, helping widows and addressing other social problems is commanded. There are also New Testament commands on various spiritual disciplines—reading the Bible, prayer and living a godly life. Most churches (at least Bible-believing ones) will agree with this general list. However, there are other key components to the mission.
            First, there is the component of figuring out God’s will. A study of Romans 12:1, 2 will clearly indicate this as a corporate function. I’ve never seen a congregation that figures out God’ will corporately. And, I’ve had many struggles where I’ve been trying to figure out God’s will! People are willing to pray for you or give advice, but each person decides for themselves what is God’s specific will for their lives.
            But, what about God’s will for the congregation? Again, I’ve never seen a congregation that does this corporately. At times decisions are made by a single leader or group. At times a single leader or group will decide upon a list of options and then put it up for a vote. This is similar to our presidential elections, where We The People don’t choose the president. We simply choose between the options given us and often those options are poor ones! Our country is a republic as opposed to a democracy. In a similar fashion, even the most “democratic” of churches often function as a republic instead of a democracy. Is this Biblical?
            The word translated “church” in English is the Greek word “Ekklesia”. It refers to an assembly—not just a group of people, but a political body with decision making ability. In the historical context of when the New Testament was written, this would suggest a body that was equalitarian—functioning like a democracy as opposed to a republic. This is consistent with the New Testament idea of the priesthood of believers. I believe a key component of the mission of the church is every member fully functioning in a democratic manner.
            This fully-functional, democratic priesthood of believers is a cornerstone of all the other components of the Ekklesia’s mission. When everyone is pulling their own weight, more good is done. When some are functioning less than fully, less good is done. So, does the current model of church hinder the Ekklesia from functioning as it should? Notice, I’m using “church” for how things currently function and “Ekklesia” to represent how they should function.


The Sermon
            The quicker we kill the sermon, the better. Yes, I’m attacking the sacred of cow of Christianity that was established in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and further bolstered by the Protestant Reformation. The sermon is held in almost magical regards, but the sermon weakens God’s children.
            Now, before I go further, let me explain what I mean by the sermon. I am referring to a regularly scheduled lecture generally given by either one or a small group of people. I’m not referring to a special event where one person addresses an audience. There may be special circumstances where a lecture is justified. But, a regularly scheduled lecture is definitely detrimental. It needs to be eliminated.
            You may wonder why I say that. The various terms translated “preach” in the New Testament do not refer to a sermon. They refer to a proclamation of the truth. They represent what should be done as opposed to how it should be done. It’s church tradition that has defined the how as a regularly scheduled lecture—not the Bible or common sense.
            In terms of teaching (which is a key part of the Ekklesia’s mission) lectures are the worst forms. Studies upon studies prove this point. They produce much lower retention of material than more active styles of teaching—such as dialogue or hands-on application. A sermon is a passive form of learning. It requires little from the listener. Since little is required, little is learned. When one compares it to other forms of learning, it’s a waste of time!
            Sermons (as I previously defined them) aren’t Biblical. Jesus discipled his followers—teaching primarily through dialogue and hands-on application. And, wouldn’t Jesus be considered the prime example of preaching? The church’s model doesn’t represent Jesus’ model in the slightest. It also doesn’t represent the model of the 1st century Ekklesia, which was an open, participatory model.
            The “clergy class” preaching sermons conditions people to think there are Bible experts and the rest of us. In truth, every believer has access to the Word of God and every believer has the Holy Spirit. The New Testament doesn’t have a concept of “laity”, which would completely contradict the priesthood of all believers. Every believer is supposed to preach, not a select class. The modern sermon conditions people to passivity.
            The sermon is also contrary to human nature and revelation. As we learn things, our understanding doesn’t come in regularly scheduled intervals. Our understanding comes in waves—some waves being big, some small and with widely varying intervals between waves. Sometimes it takes years for the aha moment to happen. Sometimes it comes in minutes. But, it doesn’t happen at the regularly scheduled pace of the factory floor. Yet, the sermon expects someone (or some group) to operate that way.
            In any congregation, there are some people who are receiving revelation at that time and some who aren’t. I’ll use “revelation” in the sense of coming to significant understanding of something. Revelation could come through study, dreams, visions or life experiences. Doesn’t it make sense that the ones who should be sharing in a congregation are the ones who are receiving revelation at that moment? An open, participatory, dialogue-based form of teaching allows for that. A sermon does not—when the pastor is going through a dry spell of revelation, everyone is going through that dry spell.
            The biggest problem that exists with changing the paradigm is that people don’t know how to function without the sermon. People don’t know how to study the Bible on their own. And, people have been conditioned by our education system and work place to be passive—follow the leader as opposed to taking charge and expressing their own ideas. The fully-functioning, democratic priesthood of believers is contrary to American culture. If the church in America is to become what it needs to, then it will require Christians overcoming years of conditionings and the fears they have in operating in ways they’re unaccustomed to.

The Hierarchy
            While churches often resemble businesses, in some ways the business world is ahead of the church in resembling what the Ekklesia should be. In creative businesses, some employers are collapsing the leadership structure. Communication then becomes horizontal (cross communication between equals) as opposed to vertical (superior-subordinate relationships). The reason some businesses have done this is that this horizontal communication allows for greater buy-in and participation from everyone. It is more organic and more open to generating ideas.
            Less creative companies often lean towards hierarchal chains of commands. This arrangement functions for one primary purpose—control for those at the top. Those at the bottom are less empowered. They go through the motions, put in their time and then go home.
            Which should the church resemble? A more open environment, one that leads to creativity, seems more consistent with people being created in the image of God. God is infinitely creative, so shouldn’t we strive towards creativity as opposed to conformity? There is a conformity all Christians should strive for—conformity to Christ. Doesn’t that seem more likely to happen in an assembly that removes human control and allows Christ to be the head?
            The hierarchy evident in church replaces the headship of Christ with the headship of an individual or small group. I can hear all the “buts” out there, “But, doesn’t the Bible set up a leadership structure with apostles, pastors, evangelists, . . ?” Well, no, it doesn’t. Think about it. Does it make sense that every believer is a priest (with full access to God), yet some believers are more of a priest than others? Seems a conflict, doesn’t it?
            It might be better to think of pastors, apostles, evangelist, elders, deacons, prophets (or whatever other terms people may use) as functions. People can function to pastor others, offer words or prophecy, evangelize, etc.
            Do people naturally know how to operate as a fully-functional, democratic priest? No! So, God has given certain people to the Ekklesia to help teach people how to function in that way—not so these certain people become a “clergy” class that rule over others, but so everyone can learn to function fully. That might be why Paul and the other apostles were itinerant. They moved around, serving to equip, as opposed to establishing themselves in one place and taking an office. Maybe their goal was to equip the Ekklesia in various geographical areas to function without them? That seems the exact opposite of how the modern church functions.
            In the modern church, pastors move on, but not because the congregations become self-sufficient. They move one, because they become burnt out. I’ve seen it over and over. Good shepherds become burnt out, because the system conditions people to look to them for the answers. They aren’t equal partners in the ministry. They are considered super Christians.
            Bad pastors tend to use the system to abuse people and rule over them. The hierarchal system evident in the modern church is corrupt. It hinders the fully-functioning, democratic priesthood of all believers. It puts people into castes. That’s Hinduism, not Christianity!

The Campus
            To be completely against Christians or congregations owning property would be illogical. What about food shelters, homeless shelters or Christian rehab centers? There are legitimate reasons for Christians to own buildings—reasons that fit within the Christian mission.
            But, how much money simply goes towards a large sanctuary just so people can come and listen to the weekly sermon, which has already been shown to weaken people? The truth is, much of the money spent on campus is spent to make Christians comfortable or to allow people to put on the regularly scheduled show. Unbelievers readily see through this lunacy. Believers, due to the conditioning they’ve received through church, cannot see it.
            The early Ekklesia met from house to house. They didn’t build edifices that required a great deal of money and upkeep. They followed a lean model. The modern church follows a bloated model, building structures that hinder its abilities to meet the needs of the society around it. In many cases the money spent on rent, utilities, upkeep and other expenses would be better spent feeding the hungry, helping widows, visiting people in prison or meeting the needs of congregants. The modern church wastes much money on comforts that detract from its mission.

The Worship Service
            Everything I’ve said about the sermon also applies to the worship service. This weekly ritual has a large mass of people passively following a small group of leaders.  Does spectator in any way resemble the fully-functioning, democratic priesthood of all believers?
            I suppose there’s nothing wrong with Christians enjoying a Christian concert or watching someone perform liturgy, but at best it’s Christian entertainment—nothing more!
            Now, I can hear all the “buts”, “But, I learn a lot from the sermon?”, “But, I really experience God’s presence during the singing?”, “But, I feel uplifted by the liturgy?” Yes, you do. Your feelings and experiences are genuine. God does work through these things. But, he works through these things not because they are ideal, but because he wants fellowship with his people. The church system throws up roadblocks to God functioning as he would like to function. If someone wanted to give me a hug, I could cross my arms in front of my chest. I’d still receive a hug, but it wouldn’t be a good one. Or, I could open my arms and receive a full hug. The current church model puts the arms in front of the chest.

            The New Testament talks about Christ being in the midst of his people when two or three are gathered. In the Biblical model of Ekklesia, these two or three are equals and Christ is the head. In the modern version of church, one in the group pushes the others to the side and operates as the head—Christ, clergy and then laity.
            In the New Testament model of Ekklesia, there is power when two or three are in agreement or when a congregation seeks out the will of God. How can people fully come to agreement or how can a congregation seek out God’s will if only a few know how to make decisions? In the Biblical model, everyone is part of the decision-making body. In the modern model, only a few make the decisions. The masses don’t know how to function in God’s power, because they’ve never been given the chance. The leaders don’t know how to function in God’s power, because they are missing crucial support from the body.

            The modern church, with its: sermons, hierarchies, buildings and worship rituals, hinders the fully-functional, democratic priesthood of all believers. That is why the modern church operates with limited power and the early church was dynamite.

Monday, June 29, 2015


In this post, I thought I would do something different. I’m going to share some significant dreams I’ve had. It’s only been the past few years that I’ve been having dreams that I would consider either prophetic, or somehow trying to communicate a message. It will be interesting to see if others have opinions about these dreams and what they mean. I’ll share the dreams and also give some of my thoughts on their interpretations.

DENVER—January or February 2013

I was dreaming and asking the Lord where I should go. I was flying over mountains (maybe I was being carried, I can’t say for sure) and there were some strange monuments. I vaguely recall one looked something like the statue of a head. One was a white building complex. I think there was another, but I can’t completely recall. Then I heard a voice say, "Denver".

After having the dream, I searched through images and monuments of Denver to see if any reflected my dream. The only one I could find was the white building. It wasn’t in Denver, but looked like Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. I think this means I’ll eventually find a place of ministry in Denver. It may also be a place of permanence—where my life will have its greatest impact.

TEACHING IN THE STADIUM—probably sometime in 2013

In this dream, I was in a large stadium. I was teaching the Bible. I was clearly quoting Scripture, but can’t remember what exact passages. I wasn’t up front. I was walking through the crowds—stepping over people, not on them, but it was like I was stepping on the armrests.

I went into the upper deck and everything was frozen—like some sort of ice storm or blizzard had gone through. I’m pretty sure I was still teaching.

My interpretation of this is that I will eventually have some sort of large teaching ministry. But, it likely won’t be preaching in a standard way. It will involve more intimate communication—not pulpiteering, but more personal and one-on-one. I think the upper deck represents the leaders in the religious community. I suspect some will be cold to my ministry, but it won’t stop me from doing what the Lord has called me to do.

BLENDER FROM THE PULPIT—sometime 2013 or 2014

This was one of the stranger dreams I’ve had. I was seated in an auditorium. Up front, where the pulpit would be, was a strange shape. The best I can remember, it resembled some sort of Dr. Seuss tuba like instrument. It became a vortex—somewhat like a blender. I rose from my seat and left the auditorium.

I think this might be prophetic and also my brain processing the teaching common in church. I don’t think the sermon-centric paradigm is a correct one. It’s a passive style of learning and I think the church needs to move to an active, dialogue and hands-on centered style of teaching. I think this is prophetic that I will be involved in a new way of doing ministry—a rejection of the old form.

DRIVING—probably late summer or fall 2014

At the time of this dream, I had a possible job opening to teach English in China. My dad was recovering from cancer and looked like he was on the mend. I think the circumstances surrounding this dream may help interpret it. I don’t recall the exact details, but vague images.

I was driving a car, but I wasn’t in the driver’s seat. I was some distance behind the car and was having a hard time controlling it. I have had similar dreams before this with the same imagery. The car was in some sort of parking lot that appeared to be a gas station. It lost control and went sliding down a grade. It eventually hit something. No one was seriously injured.

After the dream, I interpreted it that I was trying to control my life, but really wasn’t in the driver’s seat. I decided not to take the job in China. I thought the dream was showing me I was making a decision that was a bad one—with the image of sliding down the ice and then hitting something. Turns out, this dream and my interpretation was accurate. Dad appeared to be getting better, but it didn’t end up that way. Mom and dad needed me to stay in the area to help them out through dad’s illness and eventual passing. It confirms for me the idea of paying attention to dreams.

DENVER SEMINARY—probably October 2014

I didn’t remember having this dream until recently. I think I may have forgotten this dream, because God needed to keep me in the area to help care for dad. So, it may be something I need to act on, but not back when I originally dreamt it.

I don’t remember the exact order of events, so let me describe it in terms of different scenes and impressions. I’m basing this on a post I made immediately following the dream. In the dream, I was consciously aware of things. So, I’m not only sharing the dream, but the thoughts I was having during the dream.

Several scenes happened in a library. In one scene, there was a giant brochure. It looked like one of those old foldout maps people used to keep in their glove box, but it was much bigger. It was set up like a display. It must have been about 4-5 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide. I think it was in front of some shelves. It was standing upright and was semi unfolded, so the folds gave stability for it to stand. I started looking at it. I somehow knew it was a brochure for Denver Seminary. As I was looking at it, it was coming apart and I was folding up the sections coming off. I remember at one point someone who appeared to be on the library staff briefly helping me.

I remember having this impression that seminary doesn’t make any sense. However, it didn’t need to make sense to me. It needed to make sense to God. I somehow knew the program I would be involved in was an M.Div program. I was there to get a degree to obtain a credential so Bible scholars (not sure if this is the best word, since it was an impression) would listen to my message. So, I wasn’t there to learn. It was more about getting a credential so others would listen to me.

In another scene, I was bouncing around the library. I was thinking about the preaching classes and the fact that I understood speaking better than my teachers. I was thinking how useless such classes are since sermons are the most ineffective way to teach.

During another scene in the library, I was teaching a group of people. They were seated at large wooden desks, the type quite common in libraries. As the teaching went along more people were there. I don’t remember them coming in, but they were there. In terms of teaching, I was more leading people in a discussion—just facilitating how the Spirit was leading as opposed to leading the discussion. I told everyone we would look at whatever they wanted to look at. They were a little surprised by this. Someone brought up the issues of animals, but I don’t remember their exact question or comment. We got into a discussion about Numbers 22 and Balaam and his donkey, but I don’t really remember what was said in detail. I do remember my mind immediately thought of Numbers 22 and before I could even speak it someone else said Numbers 22. I do remember thinking something about the fact that God loosed the donkey’s tongue, but didn’t put the words into his brain. At one point the topic of my teaching skills came up. I mentioned that I had about 20,000 hours of teaching experience, presenting in front of audiences, which was likely more than everyone else combined including ministers.

During another scene, I stepped outside and I was trying to fly. I really couldn’t get much height and I’m not sure I even made it off the ground. I was really looking to see mountains to verify I was in the Denver area. After that I did some walking around, apparently not having a car. I saw different buildings and one I knew was a dormitory. So, it was somewhat like the campus was really spread out.

During a couple scenes, I was playing basketball. I was making amazing shots, steals and making the tall guys look completely embarrassed. One tall guy did eventually block one of my shots and I gave him a big high five and willingly admitted he got me good. At one point, I was thinking about the money I was making playing ball. I remember it being eighty dollars an hour, which was far more than the other players. There may have been some gambling going on with the games, but I’m not sure.

I remember at one point thinking about my health. I then realized the fantastic shape I was in. I had to be to play ball like I did. It was like the condition I used to be in many years ago. My brain was somehow making that connection—that I was now no longer fat, but was an athlete like many years ago.

In one scene, I was out in a mall. I was being wheeled around in something like a wheelchair, but I wasn’t hurt. I think I may have been conserving my energy for the basketball games, but I’m not sure. I remember the distinct impression that I was still strong and healthy and the wheel chair wasn’t necessary.

I don’t remember all the exact details and the various parts of the dream are a little disjointed. I do remember asking God to verify if he wants me to go to Denver seminary, but I was coming out of the dream. I was somewhat hopeful I could get back to sleep and receive an answer on that.

My interpretation is that God may be leading me to Denver Seminary. I am going to see if I can schedule a visit. I’m curious to see if the campus resembles me dream. I have this feeling that I’ve already been on the campus—in my spirit at least.

The dream does seem to confirm some sort of teaching ministry for me. It also suggests a restoration—of both health and finances. Right now I just don’t understand all the various images in this dream.


I'm not sure if these two dreams can be considered separate dreams, since they both happened in the same night and both had a similar meaning. It might be better to consider them two chapters of the same dream.

In one dream, I had hair. I don't mean normal hair. I mean thick black hair, thicker than I had when I could grow hair. At one point in the dream it was long dreadlocks. I see a theme in that dream of growth and prosperity--the kind I cannot bring, but only God can bring.

In another dream, I was fishing in this manmade pond. Again, not something I had created, but something that had been created for me. Every time I cast my lure, I seemed to either catch or get a bite. My brother was there. He couldn't catch a thing. That's how he normally fishes by the way. The first fish I caught was a strange creature, not quite a fish. It actually started with me hooking what appeared to be a large bass. Apparently this larger creature ate the bass. I wanted my brother to take a picture of it, but he just wasn't getting it done. I'm not sure why, since he's normally Mr. whip-out-his-phone-and-take-a-picture. When this larger creature was cut open it was full of fish. There was the theme of growth--one fish ends up bringing a bigger one; and prosperity, where I just kept catching fish. I know to pay attention when two dreams have a similar message.

I was then shown how the pond was created. It was a huge construction project. It began by creating the outer shell of the pond. This involved huge construction equipment. Some of the equipment was being brought in by rails. I was somewhat frightened by this equipment. I suspect this may be a picture that God has been building something in my life for a long time—maybe something that if I had completely understood what he was doing would frighten me.

The foreman, for lack of any better term, was explaining things to me. They started by stocking this pond with bluegills. That seemed about right, because this pond was so small I could cast from one side to another. Then pigs were brought in. I know that sounds weird. I even saw one of them eating a bluegill. I'm not sure what they represent, but pigs represent impure things. The pig excrement floated to the bottom and created fertile soil for seaweed to grow. Maybe that has to do with God using some of the things in my life that have seemed evil, but was being used for growth.

Anyhow, the foreman was explaining they wanted sandier soil and was showing all kinds of things they could plant on the bottom of the pond. He also brought me to this lift and he went down. I didn't get on it correctly and seemed to be caught, but I wasn't hurt. He came back up and then after that my memory of the dream became a little fuzzy.

So, there you have it. Those are some of the strange dreams I’ve had. Are they prophetic? And, if so, what do they mean?