Friday, January 29, 2016

What Christianity Should Be

            I believe God has a special purpose for my life. That is going to involve some sort of ministry, which I believe he will be laying out over the next few years. In order for me to discover that ministry, I need to have an idea of what Christianity should be. I know Christianity at its simplest is a belief in Yeshua (Jesus’ true, Hebrew name), but I want to define it in more detail—looking at how Christianity is supposed to express itself. I’ll look at what it should be as well as what it shouldn’t be.

Teaching Through Dialogue

            Yeshua’s teaching as well as the teaching in the early church was dialogue-oriented. People formed relationships and discovered the faith through those relationships. The vast majority of Yeshua’s teachings were conveyed to twelve men, in the course of the normal conversations of life—with each other, with those that followed Yeshua, and sometimes with religious leaders who challenged him.
            The early church practiced open, participatory meetings. Anyone could (and did) share. This is seen quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 14. It was clear that the people who came to those meetings each had their own little message to bring—whether through prophecies, songs, tongues, interpretations, or revelations. Paul did place guidelines on sharing; but, those guidelines were not given to hinder or halt the sharing; those guidelines were given to allow the sharing to flow.

Eliminating Sermons

            The practice of a regularly scheduled monologue by one (or a few) people does not come from Christianity. It comes from Greek rhetoricians, starting in the 2nd century and solidifying its place in Christendom during the 4th century during the reign of Constantine. The Greek rhetoricians taught people how to be amusing speakers. This began to be implemented into a paganized version of Christianity, where a service became the central focus as opposed to the simple fellowship of believers. Most church services now have a similar structure: beginning with music, having some sort of liturgical segment, and ending with the monologue. It’s a pagan formula for a religious ritual; and, no matter how much it’s dressed up in Christian clothing, the dead bones of paganism rot beneath.
            As a teacher, I find the sermon the vilest part of the ceremony. It conditions people to be passive—to think there are religious experts and there are those who follow them. It turns people into sheep—not sheep of the Good Shepherd, but sheep to those possessing speaking skills.
            One of the most pernicious aspects of the sermon is how it destroys the preacher. Some are charlatans, and this pagan ritual bolsters their power. But, many are good men, who are now seen as the keepers of doctrines and the treasure troves of the wisdoms of life. The pew-goers: seek knowledge from them, as opposed to God’s Word; seek counseling from them, as opposed to counseling from their fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord; and, seek the ways of life from them, as opposed to finding it in the family of believers. The sermon turns the preacher into the central point, replacing Yeshua as the head and God’s empowering Spirit as the quickening agent. It’s a burden that leads to destruction—through mental problems, health issues, spiritual collapse, and social isolation—which, in the worst of cases leads to scandal, burnout, depression, or any early grave. In order for Christianity to thrive, the sermon (as it is currently practiced) must be eliminated.

Practicing God’s Feasts

            The early church practiced God’s feasts—those celebrations that were defined in God’s Word. These included: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths. These feasts are object lessons that teach about God and should form the basis of the Christian calendar. It’s also important to note that the Sabbath was originally celebrated on the seventh day (as opposed to the first), and there is no Biblical justification for moving it to the first day of the week. While some may argue it was moved because Yeshua arose on Sunday, history proves otherwise. It was moved when Christianity began to blend with paganism, particularly during the time of Constantine. Sunday was the day people worshipped the sun god. Constantine blended Christianity with the worship of the sun god, a political move to galvanize people.
            It was during the time of Constantine that the process of the paganization of Christianity came to full fruition. This process began in the second century and the train of true Christianity completely left its rails during the fourth century. Anything in Christendom that traces its roots to the fourth century should be held in suspicious.

Eliminating Pagan Holidays

            One disastrous effect of the blending of Christianity with paganism was a change in the Christian calendar. Pagan celebrations of the sun god were redefined as Easter and Christmas. The Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday; which, as the name implies, was a day to worship the sun god. The Christian calendar became a pagan calendar—another example of trying to drape Christian flesh over the decaying bones of paganism. Christians need to return to God’s calendar.

Reconnecting to the Jewish People

            The early church was well connected to the Jewish people. Yeshua was Jewish. Many of the early leaders were Jewish. Many of the early followers were Jewish. Gentiles were being grafted in, but the roots of the tree were Jewish. In God’s spiritual economy, Jews need Gentiles, and Gentiles need Jews. True Christianity needs a special, spiritual connectedness to the Jews—to the people, to the land, and to the Old Testament feasts.
            Jewishness is more than just a people, land, or set of feasts. Biblical Jewishness involves a unique way of thinking that is rooted in the Old Testament. It’s grounded in a pictorial way of viewing things—quite evident in all the stories, analogies, and feasts in the Tanakh. Biblical Jewish thought is grounded in things that can be touched, tasted, felt, heard, or seen. Biblical Jewish thought is relational, seeing an interconnectedness between people and their God. Biblical Jewish thought views history through a cyclical lens, seeing that since God is unchanging, there are strong similarities between how he operates in different periods of time. So, an understanding of the past gives an understanding of the present and future. Biblical Jewish thought is harvest focused—meaning, there is a focus on processes with faith that right actions lead to right results (planting seeds with the belief God will bring the harvest).

Eliminating the Greek Roots

            Over time, the church left it’s Jewish roots and became Greek. The paganized version of Christianity that took shape between the second and fourth centuries (and beyond) became an enemy of the Jewish people—committing bloody atrocities, going as far as violent persecutions and the murdering of children. Bloodshed has driven a wedge between Christians and Jews, and Christians need to undo that wedge—both with honest admissions of our mistakes and with a compassion only God can supply.
            The Greek version of Christianity is built on a different philosophical foundation than Biblical Jewish thought. Biblical Jewish thought is grounded in the concrete; Greek thought is theoretical. Biblical Jewish thought is relational and interconnected; Greek thought carves things into categories and catalogs ideas. Biblical Jewish thought sees the cyclical nature of history; Greek thought sees distinct events and personalities. Biblical Jewish thought is focused on society; Greek thought lifts up the individual. Biblical Jewish thought focuses on following the right actions, having faith they will lead to the proper outcomes; Greek thought focuses on outcomes, trying to mold people and processes to those ends, and ends up following an ends-justify-the-means approach. Biblical Jewish thought focuses on divine provident; Greek thought follows manifest destiny with divine right flowing from whatever god (whether personal or ideological) the person follows. Biblical Jewish thought is organic; Greek thought is mechanical.
            A few analogies may help to give a greater understanding of the vast differences between these two ways of thinking. From the perspective of Biblical Jewish thought, anything (whether an idea, object, event, or person) is viewed like a holistic practitioner would view a part of the body—viewing that one piece in relation to the whole. Greek thinking dissects—like a person performing an autopsy, breaking down the whole into component parts. These two ways of thinking are complete opposites; and, here’s the important point to consider: Biblical Jewish thought is God’s way of thinking; Greek thought is the world’s way of thinking.
            The version of Christianity that most believers follow in Western societies is built on a Greek philosophical foundation. In America, Greek thinking dominates our society. It’s the foundation of our government, education system, and our version of Christianity. It’s the foundation of our socialization process. Returning to true Christianity requires more than just changing structures. It requires an entirely new way of thinking—God’s way of thinking!

Time For an Attitude Check

            What I’ve discussed so far is shocking to many believers. I am pushing for a completely different version of Christianity than what most are accustom to. I’m familiar with others who have come to similar conclusions. Sometimes when a person comes to similar conclusions, they try to change other believers in improper ways, or with an improper attitude.
            What can happen is a person tries to change another like a conqueror—trying to bend another believer to his will. This can involve manipulation, through the denial of fellowship; or, through an attempt to best others in an argument, through some version of mental Judo; or, through some sort of control mechanism, perhaps by using the authority structures already evident in a body of believers. These ways are Greek ways—a manifest destiny attempt to impose one’s will upon another. God’s ways are gentle—through compassion, relationship, and sympathetic dialogue with others. God has used a process that took decades to give me an understanding of these things; and, he’s still in the process of correcting my behavior and thinking. I need to remember to be gentle with other believers, and allow them the freedom to bang their ways through the maze of God’s change without me shoving them into the walls.

The Lord’s Supper as the Foundation of Fellowship

            If I had to summarize Christianity into one image, that image would be the Lord’s Supper. By this, I don’t mean the religious ritual of sharing a cracker crumb and shot glass of grape juice. I’m talking about Yeshua sitting down for a meal with his disciples. I’m talking about a family gathering. When Yeshua commanded them to do this in remembrance, I don’t think he was just talking about a loaf of bread and cup of wine. He was talking about the entire evening—the act of getting together with others, talking, sharing a meal, having fellowship, and simply being together. I don’t see a problem with sharing the elements, but not as a ritual—rather, in the larger context of a family meal and evening spent together.

Eliminating Religious Rituals and Services

            The practice of Christianity has become so much busyness. We plan and prep—a message, a song, and a liturgy. We sit in rows of pews—our row and our pew. We have programs, and ball games, and missions’ conferences; while Yeshua stands at the door and knocks. He’s not knocking at the door of a sinner’s heart in Revelation 3. He’s knocking at the door of the church! In terms of religious rituals, the only three (besides a celebration of the Biblical feasts) that one could make a Scriptural case for would be baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and foot washing.
            Think about your biological brothers and sisters. Have you ever just did something with them—no plans, you just had a chance to hang with each other. Those times can be the dearest. There might be complete silence—particularly if the siblings are brothers. Or, there might be a deep discussion. Or, there might be a meal. Or, you may decide you want to go bowling. During those times, the focus isn’t so much on the activity. It’s on the relationship.
            God’s people need to do the same thing. They just need to get together to hang with each other and the Lord—no agendas, no list of activities, no services, and no rituals. Yeshua will bring the agenda. And, as hard as this is to comprehend, sometimes the Creator just wants to hang with the gang. Consider Yeshua’s earthly ministry. He spent about 30,000 hours with his men. We have less than 1% of that recorded. We could conclude the 99% wasn’t significant, but maybe it was! Maybe there wasn’t anything significant to record; but, maybe there’s significance in the insignificant. Maybe what is normative for the Christian life is to spend 99% of our timing just hanging with our Lord. And, maybe the only way that 1% of significance happens is if we allow that 99% to transpire.
            I knew my earthly father for about 400,000 hours. But, the amount of time I remember is fragmented—a picture here, a word there, an amusing story, but 99% is lost. But, during that 99%, I was connecting with my dad. I was learning from his spirit. I was feeling his kindness. I was showing kindness to him. We had talks I can’t remember. We caught fish I can’t recall. We played catch with ball gloves that have been lost years ago. But, all those things added up and helped me become the man I am. If the 99% hadn’t been there, the 1% would have never happened. I think one thing my dad cherished more than anything was just hanging with his boys. Maybe God is the same?

Practicing the Priesthood of Believers

            In the Old Testament, priests served the function of being a mediator between God and man. They represented man to God and God to man. The people didn’t have a direct connection with God. They had to use a go-between.
            In the New Testament, things changed. God became flesh. The disciples had direct access to God. Not long after Yeshua’s ascension, God sent the Holy Spirit. Now, every believer has access to God. There no longer exist two classes: the priestly class and the laity.
            The key passage behind this doctrine is found in 1 Peter 2:9, which states, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood”. It’s important to note the word translated “ye” is plural, but the word translated “priesthood” is singular. The language would suggest there aren’t a multitude of priests—each believer becoming their own priest; but, that there is a single priesthood that belongs to the body. This concept is seen in other parts of Scripture including: Romans 12:1, 2, where a plural “you” presents their bodies as a singular sacrifice, and a plural “you” is transformed by the renewing of a singular mind; Philippians 2:2, where a plural you becomes a singular love, shares a singular mind, and shares one spirit; Philippians 1:27, where a plural you stands firm in a singular spirit, and strives with a singular mind, and Ephesians 4:3, where a plural you is keeping a singular spirit. There are many passages that deal with the necessity of unity among believers. The grammatical construction of the plural you becoming a singular one is significant. If I were to say four (or any plural number) becomes one, I’ve either made an error; or, I’m deliberately saying something contrary to normal logic to make a point. What God is doing in these passages is deliberately saying something that defies normal logic and normal grammatical construction to make a point. The plural is supposed to become the singular in the body of Messiah. It’s interesting that God decided to use Greek as the language of the New Testament, because Greek shows a clear distinction between second person singular and second person plural. This distinction is not found in modern English, which uses “you” for both singular and plural.
            God is the three that is one; and, believers are supposed to be the many that become one. There is one priesthood and it is a shared priesthood—no longer found in one man or a clergy class. In God’s spiritual economy, every believer has equality.
            Let’s take a deeper look at Romans 12:1, 2, because I believe it’s one of the key reasons why the church lacks power. The verses says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Notice, it’s only when the plural you is transformed into the singular mind, that we “may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” I’ve seldom experienced this in a body of believers. I’ve struggled to figure out God’s will. People have prayed for me, but the decision has been up to me—the individual as opposed to being a corporate-one-mind decision. What I’ve experienced is a group of people who share something in common—many spokes rotating around a singular axis, when what I’ve often needed is many cups of water becoming one glass. The priesthood of believers is one of the secrets to unleashing God’s power and God’s will in our lives, and I’ve seldom (if ever) experienced it.
            We can’t come to God through an earthly mediator. Yeshua has already done that and torn down the veil. We shouldn’t come to God alone; not that we can’t do that, because God does want that fellowship, but because the priesthood only fully functions when many become one.

Eliminating Hierarchies

            The paganized version of Christianity has reinvigorated the old notions of the priest and the commoner. Individuals (with the exception of Yeshua) make lousy priests. An individual comes with an individual agenda—a bowl into which the water of believers should be shaped. God already has a shape in mind, if we’ll all come together and become one body of water. I know the bowl and the water may not be perfect metaphors, but my limited mind can’t come up with a better way of envisioning many things become one.
            The paganized version of Christianity has a clear clergy-laity distinction. The clergy is the boss—the head, to use a Biblical term; and the laity is the body. Yeshua is supposed to be the head. I think it’s a failing of human nature, that we tend to view people in over-under relationships—people in hierarchies with some as more important than others. People tend to follow the leader, but in the case of Christianity, the only leader is Yeshua. Anything within Christianity that puts one over another needs to be eliminated. A body can only have one head.
            I realize that people look to others for leadership. There are certain qualities that attract followers. The disciples had those quality. And, I have those qualities, so I need to be careful! Yeshua had to teach his disciples the need to actively subjugate themselves—to become an equal by becoming a servant: a process of breaking down people’s conceptions of over-under relationships by taking the position people would commonly consider to be the under. God has chosen some people to lead his people—not from above, but from within. He has given them abilities, such as teaching and pastoring, not so they fill an office of authority, but so they fulfill a function that strengthens others.

Seeking Social Justice

            At times, Christians detach from the world. In the worst of cases, Christians look at all the evil of the world and inhabit a bunker mentality. We live in a world where the rich abuse the poor, hunger is rampant, children are abused, elderly are taken advantage of, and the list goes on and on. Our current economic system and business philosophy often operates on a dog-eat-dog philosophy—survival of the fittest, which is just an economic version of Darwinism. Christians need to be engaged in society and seek solutions to injustice. This means they are going to be a political and social force—forming picket lines, engaging in nonviolent protests, standing with the working man, seeking healthcare and education systems that benefit all. The African American Christian community was a huge force for change during the Civil Rights movement. True Christianity needs this type of engagement. Considering the Old Testament prophets, true Christianity demands addressing social issues!

Eliminating Non-participation in Politics

            Often preachers won’t take a political stand. It’s not seen as their sphere of influence. As with many of the atrocities of the modern church, this can be traced back to Constantine. During his reign, governmental and ecclesiastical powers became intimately intertwined. The church no longer served the prophetic function of challenging the state, but became a partner with the state—which, over the course of history, has turned out to be a lucrative position. The church became conditioned not to challenge the powers of the state, and this still carries over today—even to those Christian bodies who aren’t intertwined with governmental authority.

Rediscovering God’s Power

            God’s people should experience the miraculous. Perhaps this isn’t normative. It might be the 1% rather than the 99%, but it should be present. There should be healings, tongues, prophecies, and words of wisdom. These aren’t things that happened back then, but are no longer meant for today. God is the same now as he was then. I think the rediscovering of God’s power goes back to the priesthood—the many becoming one and the one finding God’s will. The current church is the many led by the few—where a few leaders, religious programs, and a weekly monologue are given centrality. In order for us to rediscover God’s power, all those things must be swept away. We must be content to simply hang with believers and hang with God—simply sharing and enjoying community. When our community begins to reflect his community—when the many become one, just as the three are one, then is when God’s power will be evident.

Eliminating Restrictions on God’s Gifts

            In order to maintain doctrinal purity, Christians have dissected the Bible, cataloging its beliefs into creeds and doctrinal statements—particularly during some of the church councils. It’s a very Greek thing to do! These methods of seeking doctrinal purity are grounded on the wrong philosophical foundation. There is a doctrine that is stated. And, there is a doctrine of practice, and that doctrine has left its Hebrew roots. Of course, I’m painting things such as doctrinal statements, creeds, or Christian councils in the most favorable light. In some cases these things were done as a mechanism of control. But, even when done for the most noble of reasons, these efforts are grounded in fear—in the fear that somehow some other believer will get things wrong if we don’t protect them. But, in giving them that protection, we’ve taken on the headship role that only Yeshua can fill. The Word of God and the enlightenment of his Spirit are sufficient to maintain doctrinal purity. This isn’t to say there isn’t the occasional need for accountability or disciplining other believers, because there is; but, that type of accountability isn’t to be codified into a man-made doctrine or procedure. God has already done that and he doesn’t need further help.
            When man begins to codify, classify, and catalog doctrine, he begins to determine how God should act. This is particularly true when it comes to the miraculous—whether that is through gifts, healings, or prophetic utterances. Man tends to put God in a box and that box limits the ways God decides to work. God has already put himself inside a box—operating within the guidelines found in Scripture. We should use those guidelines to discern the spirits, helping us figure out when something is from God and when it comes from some other source. What we shouldn’t do is add to those guidelines—through any kind of codified decree, statement, or governing body. That limits God.
            Some may argue that what I’m doing in this essay is codifying a doctrinal statement. However, what I’m doing is different. I consider my understanding of Christianity as being fluid. This isn’t a statement that is meant to be imposed upon others, or a final decision on how Scripture is to be viewed and interpreted. This is something I’m putting down in writing to help me as I seek God’s will. It’s a personal document, which I’m putting in writing, because writing helps me in my thinking process. I hope in a few years this document needs revision, because I hope God continues to reveal things to me and correct my understanding.

Meeting From House to House

            The early believers met from house to house. There is also some evidence they may have used public places. But, they didn’t build buildings for liturgical or ecclesiastical purposes. Now, isn’t that odd? So much of the life of God for the Jewish people revolved around the temple. It seems the natural thing for the first century believers to do would be to set up places of worship. But, they didn’t, because God was now dwelling with them. They no longer needed the building, so they didn’t give it any focus. This is how God’s people are supposed to function—not focusing on meeting in a building, but simply assembling together; for, wherever believers meet, God is there.
            Over time, the church began to follow the surrounding pagans—who did worship their gods in temples. This wasn’t a return to the old ways, but instead a turning towards the ways of the world. Paganized Christianity needed places to meet for their worship rituals.

Redefining the Use of Property

            There are no commands stating Christians can’t own or use property. Certainly, God dwells with believers when they assemble, so the need for any kind of temple (church building, auditorium, or whatever) that functions as the meeting place for God is not needed. However, God’s Word does demand Christians seeking social justice—feeding the poor, clothing the homeless, providing shelter for the orphan, or other types of ministering. Some of those purposes do require property. Certainly, building a place of worship that will only be used for Christians to meet with God is unbiblical, because God is already dwelling with his people. Some may argue the need for a building so that God’s people can meet with each other, but in most cases, the bulk of the building serves the unnecessary need of the weekly ritual. And, in most cases, the cost of the building is a financial burden that limits the ability to meet the needs of the surrounding community. I can’t say that in all cases owning a building is wrong. But, I can say that most of the current uses of buildings are primarily for the Christian community for functions that are either counterproductive (such as the weekly ritual and sermon) or could be done in more cost effective ways without the burden of ownership. Christians need to switch the primary use of property to meeting the needs of the world around them.

Summary

            Christianity has lost its way, becoming a conglomerate of Christian doctrine and pagan practice. The church must get back to its true self. This will involve several things:
· A focus on dialogue and relationship as opposed to a weekly monologue and religious ritual.
· A return to life revolving around God’s calendar as opposed to a pagan calendar.
· A return to our Jewish roots as opposed to Greek philosophy—not just in practice, but changing our ways of thinking.
· A return to fellowshipping around a meal in an organic way as opposed to practicing religious ceremonies and rituals.
· A return to the priesthood of all believers—the many becoming one, as opposed to a clergy and laity class.
· A search for social justice as opposed to hiding from political and social activation.
· A rediscovery of God’s power, realized through the many-becomes-one priesthood as opposed to all the control mechanism man puts in place—such as doctrinal statements, creeds, and councils.
· A return to the simplicity of meeting house to house and in public places, and a conversion of the use of property from meeting Christian needs to meeting the needs of society.

            I’m still in the process of figuring all this out. I suspect that process will take at least the rest of my lifetime if not eternity. Christianity has lost its course. It has become a pagan religion focused on ritual, ceremony, and human leadership. It must return to its roots and function organically—as a body with one single head: our Messiah, Yeshua.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Depression With a Smile

            “You don’t look depressed.”
            Some of you that have struggled with depression have heard that. It’s hard to explain depression. Until recently, I haven’t realized that I’ve been depressed for a good deal of my life. I simply didn’t know it until I’ve reflected on my life. There were two years that I wasn’t depressed. For those years, I lived in Pensacola, Florida. For those two years, my thinking was clearer, more masculine (for a lack of any better term) and generally more balanced.
            I’ve lived most of my life in Ohio. The constant grey skies create grey moods. I don’t mean a bad day. I mean long stretches where it’s hard to function. I’m not always sad, anxious or tearful. I simply lack drive.
            I’ve also seen people close to me suffer through depression. My experience has shown me there are several types of depression. Maybe these aren’t types as much as how each individual experiences the dramatic changes in brain chemistry. Let me share with you these various types.

Irrational Depression
            If you have a family member or friend that suffers with this type of depression, it’s one of the most difficult to deal with. You try to talk and help your loved one see things rationally. But, for every rational argument you bring up, there is a mental trap. While such a person seems overwhelmed by irrational thoughts, I suspect emotions are in the driver’s seat. Feelings have become thought, and such a person is “thinking” what they are feeling.

No Drive Depression
            Ever tasted a dish and there was no salt? There might be garlic, onions, herbs and spices, but it still tastes flat. This is how I often feel when my Seasonal Affective Disorder kicks in. I’m not necessarily sad. In fact, I may be happy. But, everything is flat. I have no drive. All I want to do is sleep and eat.
            People may think, “Well, you’re just lazy.” No, that’s not it. I still get things done. But, everything is a monumental effort. At times, there is nothing negative that I’m feeling or thinking. It’s not so much the presence of the negative as it is the absence of the positive.

The Pit of Sadness Depression
            When people think of depression, this is the type they generally think of. Someone is sad and that sadness just doesn’t go away. At times, with my Seasonal Affective Disorder, I feel this way. The only way I can describe both the lack of drive and sadness is that it’s like a switch has been flipped in my head. I don’t want to be sad. I may even have happy thoughts, but those happy thoughts are floating on an ocean of despair.
            My switch is flipped by the environment. When nature strings together a few grey days in a row, I start to feel down. Unfortunately, living in Ohio, that means I’m down for long stretches at a time. Last summer I drove out to Denver, Colorado. When I arrived in Kansas City, I noticed I felt different. I felt brighter, lighter and happier. What happened was I was no longer under the dismal Ohio grey and the switch in my brain flipped to the happy side. In many ways, I’m two people. There’s the sunny me and the dreary me, and it’s my environment that causes that switch to flip.

Anxious Depression
            This is one of the worst forms of depression. I’ve experienced it. It can run the continuum from just being a little on edge to having full-blown panic attacks. A panic attack is a tsunami of anxiety that slams into you. You’re simply overwhelmed with terror. That terror doesn’t even need to be connected to any reality—anything that has happened or could happened. It’s not something that is comprehended as much as it is felt.

The Blended Depression

            At times, depression can be a blending of all these various forms. When you’re in the midst of it, it can’t always be controlled. You can’t think happy thoughts and make it disappear. You’re simply in the middle of the ocean and you can’t find the shore.

Monday, January 11, 2016

God's Special Batteries

            God creates special batteries. These special batteries are people that energize those around them. Some of them are the life of the party—radiating a bombastic vibe that fills a room or stage with electricity. Some of them are shy and awkward—always uncomfortable in a crowd; yet, there is a gentle, penetrating warmth that emanates from them. Some are the champagne effervescence of dialogue—bubbling over with friendliness. These batteries are introverts.
            I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve never heard introverts described like this before?” No, no, you haven’t. I fear introverts are often viewed as moody, withdrawn and gloomy. At the party, the introvert can be the Jeckyll-Hyde—the hot fudge frosting and cherry on top until ninety minutes in, when their personality becomes the rice cake on the snack tray. And then, ten minutes later, Hyde sulks out the back door to, “Go home and take a nap.”
            I am an introvert raised by a family of introverts. Don’t fear. Being raised by introverts isn’t like being raised by wolves. I’ve never known wolves to eat their young. Ah, that sly, dark sense of humor I possess. Not all introverts are funny, but many are. So, let’s begin looking at this mysterious creature.
            Yesterday I was having lunch with three friends. Two I suspect are introverts. One is definitely an extrovert. Mr. Extrovert was the conductor of the discussion. Of course, you may wonder, how could I tell? An introvert can also direct the symphony of dialogue. Here’s the difference. At about three hours in, the introverts were becoming tired. Once an introvert’s social bottle is uncorked, those around can freely imbibe until the bottom is dry. Once dry, there is no more to give. Mr. Extrovert, on the other hand, was just getting going, because his glass was now sloshing over. I suspect he could have continued incessantly until basic life processes (like the need for sleep or perhaps death) prevented his socializing.
            In social settings, the introvert has a battery set on discharge. They are the energizers. The extrovert has a battery set on recharge. That’s why as the party progresses, you’ll see the introverts begin to exits while the extroverts beg them to stay. Without an energizer around, the extroverts become leeches without a host. Once the introverted social champagne has run dry, the extroverts are left by themselves and begin to drink harder liquors. The introverts left the party four hours ago to drink alone.
            Is it fair to call the extrovert a leech? Probably not, but I’m doing the writing. When extroverts enter their rah-rah, let’s-go-team mode, they feel like a leech to introvert. Introverts that have ever been in sales know what I’m talking about—where some overly caffeinated facilitator leads the group through extroverted aerobics—slanting slogans, clapping, standing up, doing the Hokey Pokey and turning around and then, as we’re ready to slump in our seats due to exhaustion, we’re supposed to turn to our neighbors. To an introvert, this is manipulation. You are using our social energy, that special battery God has given us to share with the world, and you’re wasting it on trivial games simply for your amusement and the benefit of all the extroverts in the room.
            I am aware I’m not being fair to the extroverts. I have extroverted friends who are wonderful people. What I’m sharing in the previous three paragraphs is not a rational analysis of extroversion. It’s how extroverts feel to introverts once the introvert’s battery is depleted; or, when the extrovert’s extroversion knob is turned too high.

            Introverts are society’s special battery. They energize those around them. But, that energy comes at a dire cost to the introvert—because that energy is limited and at times can easily be depleted. To the introvert, this means you must learn how to budget that energy. At times, reclusion is the only healthy option. For the extrovert, realize you are spending our precious energy. Don’t waste that energy on the trivial or for your feel good amusement. Helps us channel that energy for the betterment of mankind.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

They'll Just Be Replaced by Robots

            I don’t know how many times I’ve posted a meme, made a comment, or posted a video on Facebook dealing with the need for wage increases for many workers. Then someone will undoubtedly reply with something to the effect of, “They’ll just be replaced by robots.” Or, even worse, they’ll post some picture of the McCashier stations. I fear the people who post this actually believe this is a valid argument—like, I’m supposed to roll over and say, “Yeah. You got me on that one. I didn’t even think of the robot argument!” My general response is to completely ignore the reply. It’s really a waste of my time and an exercise in futility to enter the fray of intellectual debate with those who think McDonald’s is the economic model that sets the standard.
            So, I’m going to respond in this blog. I’m not going to argue with those who disagree.
            First, the robot response proves that we’ve created a brutal economic system. One cannot deny huge corporate profits and huge salaries for C-level executives. One cannot deny high unemployment rates, however they are measured. One cannot deny the increase in income inequality that becomes greater every day. Those at the top cut wages, send jobs overseas, demand ever-increasing productivity, and those at the bottom suffer. Rather than buck this system, the answer to some is to make it even more brutal. “Well, they’ll just replace workers with robots.” Yes, they might. Thanks for making my point. Our system has become so brutal, that robots are considered just as valuable as people. 
            But, rather than besmirching the robots, let me take their side. Who doesn’t want robots making a living wage? Just image a strong middle class made up of robots—spending all that middle class income buying goods and services. Yes, it will certainly be a boon to the economy. Of course, if we don’t pay robots a decent wage, none of this will happen. But, I’m certain our corporate heads love robots. So, why wouldn’t they pay them well? Of course, if they don’t pay them well, then we won’t have that robotic spending spurring on the economy. But, how could one deny the evidence that increasing wages spurs the economy, because robots with money actually spend more?
            Let’s assume for a moment the robots are poorly paid. There’s still a big advantage. Poor robots are far less inconvenient than poor people. Poor people sleep in the streets. Poor people use up government resources. Poor people become tired and cranky. And, crankiness leads to civil unrest. A poor robot can simply be unplugged and stored in a closet. A poor person is a constant mouth to fill until death.
            Of course, I can hear all the counter arguments about certain jobs being stepping stones, about the need for one to increase their education, or the myth that increasing wages will radically inflate prices. Sure, if people have more money there will be more demand for products and services. Of course, with items necessary for survival (like food and water), demand is only going to increase to the point where everyone is fed. Everyone is fed? Hmm? Does that sound like a good goal? Yes, demand on those items will increase to a point and then stabilize. What won’t stabilize is demand for consumer items—like cars, electronics, computers and houses. But, why would we want an increase in demand for those items? Such a demand could lead to increased manufacturing, which would supply more jobs. Imagine what would happen if there was a greater demand for employees? It might create greater wages. Yes, increased wages beget increased wages. You reap what you sow, a principle so ingrained in the Bible (and Torah), that it should be a key principle carried over from our supposedly Judeo-Christian heritage into our economic system.
            Of course, all this robot talk springs from the assumption that, “Burger flippers shouldn’t make $15/hour.” There is this notion that there is unskilled labor and skilled labor—a continuum of skills. If one wants to progress up the ladder of salary, they need to improve their skills. I agree with that notion. So, the point of disagreement isn’t whether the continuum should exist, but where the bottom of the continuum should reside. The bottom of the continuum should exist at a livable wage, which is considerably higher than current minimum wage.
            Of course, then comes out the tired arguments about how increasing wages will kill business, businesses will cut hours, and prices will shoot through the roof. I know all the arguments. I was trained to make those arguments. But, I’ve seen they aren’t true. Let’s begin with the idea that increasing wages will kill business. But, let’s look at those wages as a block of money instead of individual salaries. I think fully investigating this is important, because there are many robotic mouths that need to be filled! So, picture all employee’s salaries and benefits as a single block of spending. Increasing the size of that block will inflate the price of doing business. However, let’s say the size of the block needs to remain static. What happens if one person’s salary or benefits is increased? It’s pretty obvious—someone else’s salary and benefits need to decrease. Increasing wages and benefits for those at the bottom means the wages and benefits for those at the top need to decrease. Doing this makes sense if one assumes those at the top are making too much and those at the bottom are making too little. I believe that assumption is Gospel truth.
            Now, let’s consider all the tactics big business uses—such as cutting hours, employing robots, cutting wages or whatever argument someone will come up with. Is the business trying to cut the size of the block they spend on employees? Or, is the business simply decreasing what it spends on some workers so it can give more to others? That’s hard to say for each individual business, but the overall trend is giving more to those at the top and less to those at the bottom. This seems a logical conclusion, since the irrefutable evidence is an increase in wage disparity.

            The question of robotic workers really boils down to what kind of world we want to live in. Robotic workers are a real possibility based on our current economic system. But, do we want that economic system? Personally, I’d rather my burger be served by a happy person—a self-sufficient person who enjoys flipping burgers. If a few CEO’s need to give up their private jets and instead suffer first class, it’s a price I’m willing to pay. Yes, it means we must somehow change our current economic model, but I’m also fine with that. If we regarded people as highly as we do robots, maybe there’d be fewer of those inconvenient people sleeping on my streets, begging for my food, or dying of hunger and stinking up my air. My dream is for a world where people are as convenient as robots. But, in order for that to happen, we’re going to have to start employing more people at higher wages.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Dammit, J.J. Just Stop It! My Review of The Force Awakens

            What J.J. Abrams did to Star Trek, he has now done to Star Wars. Yes, he gave moviegoers an entertaining film. The visuals were stunning. The pacing was epic. The characters were strong. It was a hell of a ride. But, I feel the same way about this Star Wars rehash as I did about the Star Trek rehash. Star Wars: The Force Awakens would have been better if it wasn’t Star Wars.
            In 1977 George Lucas gave the audience something new—from the visuals, to the sound track, to the characters, to the epic story, he gave the audience a universe they hadn’t seen before. That was Star Wars—something that wasn’t derivative, but something that was unique.
            Here’s what Hollywood doesn’t understand. Unique can’t be Xeroxed. Sure, you can take yesterday’s leftovers out of the fridge and cook up some interesting hash. But, the rehashed leftovers are never as good as the original; because, the original was original. The only way to redo Star Wars is to not do Star Wars. All the elements of the original started with a blank sheet of paper and the mind of a genius.

            Hollywood, you can keep giving us these remakes. Yes, we’ll watch them. Sure, we’ll enjoy them. You’ll make millions. But, when you give moviegoers something genius as opposed to derivative, then (and only then), will you give the audience that same feeling as they felt in 1977—when John Williams’ brilliant opening notes touched their souls, and they began a journey into the unknown. You’ll also likely make millions in the process.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Where Am I Going?

            In my last post, I discussed who I am. Now, I’m going to look at where I’m going. Obviously, the where (and what) needs to match the who. So, let’s give a quick reminder of the who. I am: an introvert, a Christian, a teacher, a writer and a creative.
            Since life is unpredictable, I have to look at what I’m about to write as long-term. However, I do realize things could change quickly. So, if the right opportunity opens up, I have to be willing to move. What I’m about to layout will serve as criteria to help me evaluate opportunities as they present themselves.
            Let’s begin with location. I don’t want to live in Akron, Ohio. First, I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder. I saw my dad struggle with it for decades, although, he wasn’t diagnosed with it until about four or five years ago. He had a different form of it, as his symptoms were worse during the summer months. I struggle more during the winter months, but I recognize the symptoms and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with that battle.
            I spent two years living in Pensacola, Florida. The sunny climate had a transformative effect on me. Mentally, I was sharper. My thinking was more driven and masculine. Emotionally, I was balanced and happy. Physically, I had the body of an athlete. The constant sun of Florida made me sunnier. The constant dreary of Ohio makes me dreary.
            Back in 2013 I had a dream directing me to Denver. You can read about that in a previous post, but I think the Denver area is my spiritual home. I feel God chose Denver for several reasons. First, it is a sunny climate. For me, that is a real need and the Lord understands that. Second, it is a focal point for organic churches—small groups of Christians that meet from house to house, practice the priesthood of all believers (as opposed to the clergy-laity hierarchy in most churches), and focus on dialogue as opposed to monologue learning. I need to be in the heart of those types of churches. I feel Denver is my spiritual home. It’s where I’ll have my ministry. It will be some sort of teaching ministry. As to exactly what, I’m not sure.
            Of course, teaching means people. As an introvert, I have limited people energy. It means I’ll have to find employment that fits an introvert. For me, that will have to involve writing. I love it. And, I’m good at it. Eventually I hope it becomes a business—where I can write what I want and make a living at it. Until that pans out, I’ll likely need to work for someone else—probably as an employee and maybe doing some freelance work on the side.
            I am making a little bit of money self-publishing. So, I’ll have to find ways to promote myself. That seemed an impossibility with the teaching position I’m leaving. My students were draining—partly because I love them and care for them. But, I think the biggest drain was simply working for a callous for-profit college. I could feel the hurt they were inflicting on students simply for financial gain. I’m not opposed to profit, but I find predatory capitalism unsavory. Businesses can make money while showing concern for customers and workers. In many cases (including the for-profit college I worked for), they could make more profit if they practiced compassionate capitalism—but, the increased profit would be long-term and they didn’t have any vision beyond the next paycheck.
            This experience does define who I want to work for—not necessarily a specific person, but a set of features an employer should have. Instead of having a dog-eat-dog mentality, where one climbs the corporate ladder by stepping over someone else, I want to work for an employer that sees that the way up is to raise the level of water in the harbor—where everyone rises and shares in growth.
            In all endeavors, I need to deal with the fact I’m a creative. This brings me great internal joy, but great external strife. I love the creative process and I love being surrounded by creative people. However, I’ve found many people have been conditioned to conform. They don’t understand new ideas and they don’t appreciate someone who rocks the boat. This may impact employment. Certainly, I may find an employer that appreciates those qualities. But, if not, I’ll have to find that balance where at work I follow the herd and outside of work I follow my own artistic pursuits. Hopefully, eventually, the two will merge—where my artistic pursuits (particularly creative writing) and my job merge into one. But, until that time, I don’t want to be a starving artist.
            The second issue I need to deal with as a creative is that I need new challenges. I’m not exactly sure how this will work out, but I need to be attuned to opportunities when they present themselves. I also need to be able to find stability in change—a place of ordered chaos, walking that line between an orderly life and a life of new pursuit. I honestly don’t know where I’ll find that balance, but seeking that balance provides a journey worth investigating.
            So, in summary, where I should go? 1) I need to eventually relocate to Denver. Until proven otherwise, this is my spiritual home. 2) I need to follow an employment path that leads towards creative writing. I’m not sure if that will be one step or a hundred, but that is the direction I need to turn. 3) I’ll need to become involved in the organic church movement in Denver. I don’t know exactly where that will lead. 4) I need to be attuned to new opportunities and positive change. 5) I need to stay connected to positive, creative people. 6) I need to listen to my gut.
            That sixth criterion needs further investigation. I’ve found at times I know something before I understand it. In a sense it’s somewhat like the writing process. I knew everything in this blog before I wrote it. But, it wasn’t until I put it in words that I could explain—either to myself or someone else. So, the knowing came first and the understanding came second. This is also true in life. At times this process is just the subconscious, processing millions of bits of information in the background, giving a nudge or gut feeling in the right direction. Sometimes it has to do with a spiritual or emotional connection with other people, God and the spiritual world around us. This intuition (for lack of any better term) can come to us through gut feelings, intellectual revelation, dreams, visions or who knows what else. I can’t exactly define it, but I have to listen to it. It’s real and it has given me good advice in the past.

            So, as 2015 winds to an end and 2016 is readying, I have six criteria. I’m not sure what doors will open or close. And, I don’t know how many steps it will take to reach the destination. But, at least I have something to help light the path.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Who Am I?

            I’ve been going through a process over the last few years of rediscovering myself. This process was kicked into high gear this past summer, when my dad passed away. So, I’m going to devote at least one (if not more) blogs to this. Two big questions loom at the moment. Who am I? And, what is my purpose? I’ll tackle the first one in this blog. As I consider my life as a whole, I think five things define who I am. I am: an introvert, a Christian, a teacher, a writer and a creative.

An Introvert
            As a kid, I was shy. I spent most of my time inside my head—daydreaming and playing with ideas. I wasn’t a complete recluse. But, even to this day, I’m often happiest when I’m alone—reflecting on my thoughts.
            I’ve spent over a decade functioning as an extrovert—teaching college classes. It has required a ton of people energy—at times an overwhelming amount. Through those experiences, I’ve developed the skills on an extrovert.
            I’m not even sure if I’m wired like a regular introvert. I would call myself a spiritual introvert. I can feel people. There’s a certain energy people give off. There’s also a feeling about their emotional state—whether they are angry, happy, sad, confused or whatever. In the classroom it’s very palpable. It’s not just an individual that has an energy, but a group also has an energy.
            I’ve found I have the ability to energize people. I bring the energy of a room up a notch. And, I tend to bring a creative, warm and humorous spirit to those around me. However, as I energize others, my personal batteries drain. I’m somewhat wired like a rechargeable battery. When I’m around people, the battery is on drain. When I’m alone, the battery recharges. People that don’t know me deeply, just think I’m extroverted. They see me as the Energizer Bunny, but they don’t realize that energy comes at a cost. In many ways, it’s my greatest strength and greatest weakness. I really can’t turn off that flow of energy. So, while it helps others, it can be detrimental to my health.
            I have found certain people drain me far more than others. Apathetic people sap my strength. People that are other-directed (that have little internal drive and need to be constantly prodded and motivated by someone else) drain me. I find too much activity and noise around me to be tiring. I like a certain level of peace and quiet. I find people least draining when they put aside their wills and agendas and everyone seeks understanding—a team where everyone is pulling their fair weight.
            I am a deep, analytical thinker. I’m able to create worlds and scenarios in my head. It gives me a unique insight into the world around me. That insight is a source of both joy and consternation. There’s joy in learning, growing and envisioning how to make things better. There’s consternation, because I’ve found many people don’t have the ability to see beyond the world around them. So, I’m often misunderstood.

A Christian
            I accepted Christ when I was seven. Honestly, I’m still not exactly sure what it means to be a Christian. I know following Jesus and living according to Biblical standards is part of it, but studying the Bible and seeking the Lord has caused me to question the church.
            Intellectual, church as it is commonly conducted, has crumbled inside my mind. The crumbling began with my experiences in the college classroom. Overtime, I saw that it was damaging to have an expert-pupil distinction. Students too often look to the teacher for all the answers instead of seeing the teacher as a partner in investigation. The system conditions people to think the experts have the answers instead of teaching them how to figure things out on their own. My teaching experience pushed me towards viewing real education as being hands-on and dialogue-centered.
            As I look at church, I see an organization that is spectator-oriented—where the weekly show is put on by a small group of experts, while the masses sit and passively absorb. I find the model nauseating.
            As I’ve studied church history, what I’ve found is that the current model came out of a Greek rhetorical model, taking its basic form in the 2nd – 4th centuries. The early church was participative, discipleship focused, met from house to house and practiced the priesthood of all believers. The modern church is consumer/spectator-oriented, focused around lectures and programs, geared towards head knowledge, and dependent on buildings. I don’t fit in the modern church. And, I haven’t found a place I really fit. So, in terms of faith, I’m a believer; but, I’m a spiritual sojourner without a tribe.

A Teacher
            At my core, I am a teacher. I’m good at both sides of the coin—both learning and teaching. I understand things at a deep level. And, I’m able to explain those things simply. It’s a God-given gift, but he’s also put me in the classroom for thousands of hours. So, I have a teaching wisdom that only comes through experience.

A Writer
            As life marched on, I didn’t know I was becoming writer. I spent seven years teaching online speech classes. Almost all my communication with students and supervisors was through email. I was writing constantly. And, I was often explaining difficult concepts in writing.
            In the live classroom, I have about fourteen years experience teaching speech, writing, management and math classes. Again—I was explaining, explaining and explaining things in words. Also, in teaching writing, I had to constantly consider all the mechanics—grammar, spelling, punctuation, style and organizational patterns.
            Outside of the classroom, I’ve done some standup comedy, written several books, blog posts, screenplays, a stage play, stories, poems and song parodies. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve flexed, stretched, and challenged all my writing muscles. What I’ve found is that even when I’m surrounded by writers, my writing is special. I have a unique voice and a special flow with ideas. I’m also able to write across several genres. Writing has become both a skill and passion.

A Creative
            I love to play with words and ideas in my head. It is my playground. I’ve learned intuitively how to connect to my own creative process.
            One thing interesting is that my creativity has conflicted with my faith. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say my faith, but with the institutional version of Christianity—with all the clergy-dominated structures, lecture-centric teaching and rituals. The modern church flows contrary to creativity.
            Then I consider God. He is the ultimate Creative. And, I am created in his image. When I write a screenplay, poem or story, I sense his creative joy. I understand him in a new light, because we now share something intimate in common. When I create, I become a little more like him. And, in that becoming, I gain a new understanding and appreciation of him.
            When believers gather, there should be a real sense of creativity. But, often there’s a sense of restriction. When believers gather, God’s creative power should flow—meaning, there should be new births, healings, prophecy and miracles. I’m not saying those things need to happen all the time, but they should happen. Instead, what I see is dry-bone religious institutions, where the clergy rules and the laity follows. I see Christians who, in their search for God, have lost the creative voice they share with God.

            So, who am I? I’m a(n): introvert, Christian, teacher, writer and creative. Now that I’ve figured that out, what should I do with myself?