Archive for January, 2010


who knew?

As I pen this latest reflection I am back in my room on the 8th floor of the Hilton Hotel in Clearwater Beach, Florida, trying desperately to process everything that has been offered over the past three days of workshops. We are on the eve of the conclusion of the 31st annual “Institute on Behavioral Health and Addictive Disorders” conference. Which is funny since I am a pastor and not a clinical therapist like almost everyone else here. But since I am working a lot now with people with addictions I thought it would be a great way to pick up some learning on the topic of addiction.

I am not (necessarily) trying to become an addiction counselor, but there are some really interesting things I have learned about the whole addiction process, both by being here and through some of the reading I have done. The workshop I attended this afternoon was taught by a “nutritional psychologist” (of all things) who was dealing with the whole concept of eating disorders. He began the session by going through a lengthy, clinical and chemical analysis of the processes that happen in our brains when we eat. He dissected the reasons that explain the mass appeal of chocolate and really helped shed light on why it is that for some people, food becomes a real problem.

I was nodding off a bit during the science part, but when he got to the conclusion of the whole workshop, he made a statement that just jumped up and bit me on the butt. He talked about the lengths people go – whether through food or alcohol or drugs or sex – to create certain responses in the brain that produce what we experience as a sense of peace or satisfaction. He then went on to say, “But the thing we often forget is that there are other, more direct and certainly more healthy ways to get these responses in the brain; You get it by hope, you get it by forgiveness, you get it by compassion, you get it by altruism, you get it by relationships.”

I had to go up and talk to him after the session and tell him how much I really enjoyed the conclusion and what sort of citations he might have for those. He (his name is Ralph Carson, in case you were curious) cited a book by Martin Seligman called, “Authentic Happiness” in which Seligman goes to great lengths to point out the links between these effects and the virtues that we spend every waking hour espousing in church!

So… it turns out that the results of intense scientific study and research has come to the conclusion that loving, serving, forgiving, hoping, and caring are what we human beings are WIRED FOR! These are not just moral imperatives that we “ought to” abide by (that is, if someone makes a really, really compelling case for us). These are who we were created to BE, for crying out loud. In this context we can pretty quickly see that heaven consists of living our lives in concert with the way God made us. Hell is just the opposite. It is seeking the outcome but ignoring the process.

Forgive me God for thinking I had to go outside your inspired Word in order to believe you. Have mercy on my urge to validate your truth through the tools of modern science. Thank you for your patience with my pride.


The gift of perspective.

Earlier today as I drove along the highway, I heard a radio commercial that made me laugh out loud. The problem is, I am pretty sure the people who produced that spot were not going for guffaws. I think the commercial was for a life or health insurance product of some kind, but the “cackler” at the end was the line that went, “And with ______, you have the option of speaking to a human being whenever you call.”

I laughed because I am old enough to remember the time when talking to an actual, living, breathing human being on the phone was not some kind of amazing breakthrough. It was the thing that happened every time you made a phone call. Granted, you may not have spoken with anyone who could offer anything at all helpful, but the person was really real. No endless phone tree of “press one for billing, press two for customer service, press three for a personal zodiac reading, press four to spin the prize wheel,” etc.

And as I finished my hearty laugh, I was more or less immediately grateful for the gift of my life experience that had made that radio commercial funny. I am pretty sure that no person under the age of 35 would see the slightest humor there.

And since this all took place on Martin Luther King Day, I also stopped to reflect on how the gift of perspective plays a role in our ability to appreciate the significance of this day. A piece that aired later that day on NPR featured an interview with Deval Patrick (governor of Massachusetts) talked the fact that because of a recent mayoral election, a citizen of the town of Newton, Massachusetts today can stop and take stock of the fact that they have an African-American mayor, an African-American state governor, and an African-American president of their country.

For young people, the governor said, this trifecta is just “… the way it is. No big deal. Nothing superextraordinary.” But for people of a certain age – especially for African Americans of a certain age, this is an awesome and incredible reality of life in 2010. I am sure there are those who would never have pictured that kind of political vista, even in their wildest dreams.

Thank God for perspective. Thank God for age!


Sorting essentials

Be brutally honest… when was the last time you sat down and named the things that – for you – are absolute essentials in your life? I was just musing about this question the other day and found myself a little more challenged than I thought I would be to make the decisive list… a list that pushes a little more deeply than “food, air, shelter, companionship,” of course.

Even more interesting is to begin trying to look backward in your life a little bit and see how that list might have changed and evolved over time. Was “having a lot of money” ever on your list? Is it still? And then, after you have taken a look at the things that have fallen off, things that have been added, you are able to probe a little deeper and try and figure out what forces were at work in the shaping of your list.

For example, for me as a practicing Christian, “Faith in God” is absolutely front and center on my list of life essentials. But I can’t honestly tell you that he was always there. In fact, it is almost embarrassing for me as a pastor to admit to how recently in my life that element has been added. Please understand… God has not been a stranger to me for that entire period. But until certain events transpired in a certain way that led me into certain paths, I did not list God as an essential!

What I sincerely hope is NOT the case is that God became a part of my list as a function of age. In other words, because my years are advancing (I am 58, by the way) and I am having more and more frequent encounters with the fact of my mortality (aching joints and depleted energy reserves, etc.), it should be expected that I would start considering the fate of my eternal soul a little more seriously. But if that were the sole or even primary driver behind God’s ascension to my personal list of essentials, it would seem a very shallow or utilitarian basis for faith. It would also let everyone under the age of 35 completely off the hook by saying – in effect – “You really don’t have to start taking this whole faith thing seriously until you begin to see the hearse backing up to your front door.”

So for self preservation purposes if nothing else, I will credit my increasing wisdom as the reason that a vital, living, evolving faith in God is now firmly planted at the top of my list of essential elements for a life worth living.

What’s on your list?

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