Depression and Peace 

I sit here this evening, after a crazy busy day, watching the kids play in the yard. And I realize, I’m more at peace than I’ve been in years. Not just tonight, but overall. I sense it more, I think, as I’m on the upswing from 7 or 8 years of depression and anxiety. What a gift–and yes, I’m being intentionally vague. I’m coming to see both the peace and the depression as a gift.

Over the past two or three years, I noticed that the depression I’d become aware of was trending decidedly downward and that I needed help. So I asked for help from friends, pastors, and a mental health counselor. I’m grateful for all the advice and insight, but ultimately it was a psychiatrist and an antidepressant that brought about a change. So now I’m at the point where I’m at peace; I can honestly say that my life will feel complete if I can raise my family faithfully and leave the areas under my influence a little better. I would’ve believed that on some level before, but it’s true in a fuller sense now. Emotionally as well as intellectually, perhaps.

But, if given the opportunity to go back in time and erase the depression, I don’t think I would (not that I’m eager to get back, though). Here’s a few quick reasons I could think of:

  • I now understand peace in a way I just didn’t before. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” or something like that.
  • I have a richer understanding of how we humans operate as a whole person, how intricately interwoven our mind, soul, and body are. One thing in particular my psychiatrist said really punctuated it. I said that I was struggling to understand whether this was more mental or physical, and where the line was. His response was that there is no line. There’s no way I could’ve really grasped that without feeling the intensely crippling physical effects of a mental disorder and the mental relief from a chemical change.
  • I was able to create and interact with some art. Yellow is my best attempt at explaining the mental turmoil I faced (and continue to face) in story form. I connected with a handful of songs and artists that I just don’t think would’ve been as meaningful with a different mindset.
  • I have a few hundred more reasons to love my wife, who picked up more and more slack as I slid lower. Seriously, the woman’s amazing, I can’t say enough good about her.

I’m sure there are others, and it certainly was no fun. But I’m grateful to be able to start to see some good come out of it, and I’m ever grateful to the One who is able to make all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.

A Lesson from #Ferguson

I have been deeply affected the past couple days as I watched events unfold in Ferguson, MO, following the shooting of Michael Brown. Even following only the account most charitable to the officer who shot and killed him—which other eyewitness accounts don’t seem to support—it is difficult for me to comprehend a way in which it is acceptable for a police officer to shoot an unarmed citizen multiple times. Further, when militarized police units roll in tanks shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed citizens, dispelling media and dismantling their cameras, I again struggle to find just cause; it reminds me more of Tienanmen Square than suburban police monitoring protests and looting.

However, I’m inclined to assume that these police officers are—at least for the most part—genuinely doing what they feel is right and trying to protect the public. So how does it happen? How can a well-meaning police department go so far afield?

As part of trying to process these events, in particular the military-style response, I began reading a book that chronicles the militarization of police forces. One of the telling passages describes how President Nixon had to portray drug abusers and dealers in order to get bills passed.

He declared drug abuse “public enemy number one” and asked for emergency powers and new funding to “wage a new, all-out offensive.” 48 Years later, both this speech and a similar one he gave the following year would alternately be considered the start of the modern “war on drugs.”

Note how the focus is on drugs and drug abuse, without mention of the actual target: the people selling and using drugs. If drugs were really the enemy, it would be relatively easy to round up and dispose of them. Furthermore, there would be no need to make any arrests—at most, seizing and destroying the drugs would be enough. Drugs simply cannot be a problem without people to produce and consume them.

As time and the “war on drugs” progressed, the rhethoric would become stronger and less human. With that as a backdrop, then, the situation in Ferguson begins to make more sense. When Darrel Wilson (the officer) drives into an area of town he perceives to be a haven for drugs, sees a young man carrying stolen cigars, and gets into some sort of skirmish with him, he doesn’t see a person. He sees evil. The enemy.

Show me a war or human rights violation anywhere throughout time, and I would argue that you will also see people who view some other group of people as somehow sub-human. For the Christian, this should be particularly troubling. A fellow image-bearer of God should always be viewed as such and treated with dignity and respect.

Which brings me to an article by one of the great philosophersof our time, Andrew W.K. (best known for the song “Party Hard”). As part of a response to a question from someone who continually argues with his father over politics, he says,

When we lump people into groups, quickly label them, and assume we know everything about them and their life based on a perceived world view, how they look, where they come from, etc., we are not behaving as full human beings. When we truly believe that some people are monsters, that they fundamentally are less human than we are, and that they deserve to have less than we do, we ourselves become the monsters.

This is a lesson I hope to take from Ferguson. When I reduce someone to a set of ideas I can argue against or villify, it’s just as dehumanizing as any of the events I witnessed from afar this week. Conversely, the simple act of treating someone as a whole person and loving them brings peace and heals.

On Princesses

princess mugThis morning, I had the privilege of sharing some time with my almost-three-year-old (and don’t you forget it!) daughter, cuddling and sharing a cup of coffee. I had my black ceramic mug, she her pink plastic princess mug.
I’m a bit conflicted on the Great To Princess or Not To Princess debate. On one hand, I certainly see reason for caution in going to excess on externals and a Barbie or Disney perception of beauty. But I’ve never really understood why it is that some contend that I would need to avoid all princess language with my daughter. Since when does princess necessarily become equivalent to external beauty? I’ve never made that connection, and I don’t see that it’s necessary.

Yes, I can see how the two are related. And I can see how they’ve become more interrelated because of toys, movies, and programming aimed at girls. But I also know that those industries follow the money, and the money wouldn’t be there if girls didn’t crave that. As much as I hate to admit it, my girl loves pink. Loves it. And purple. And girl characters. And yes, princesses. She likes to wear dresses and run to show me how pretty she is. I did my best to not force it on her, and she found all that stuff anyway.

So I’m left with a bit of a dilemma. I want her to be a strong, independent woman. But I also want her to feel free to embrace her femininity, even if she fits some of the stereotypes. I want for her to avoid the trap of letting society enforce an arbitrary sense of beauty on her. I also want for her to feel beautiful, desired, loved, and special.

And—I’ll just say it—I want to be able to say she’s my little princess. I think there’s some real benefit in that. This morning I came to a realization, and I just decided I could go for it. Unapologetic. The only catch is that I’ll make sure I define what it means for her. So, as we talked about the princesses on her mug, I pointed out that they’re all different–that there’s no one like her either. I told her that princesses are important because they could one day be ruling the kingdom, and that’s why they’re special. Princes and princesses need to be protected and taught so that one day, when they’re in charge, they can rule well.

So if you overhear me one day call her “my princess,” know that I’m defining the terms, not Walt Disney or anyone else. Perhaps too, when she sees those films, she won’t get some view that the princesses are only valuable for their appearance, or to attract some certain prince. (I know I didn’t come away with that perception.) Because she’ll have been taught that the princess was already valuable because of who she is.

A Writing Experiment & Request for Advice

I don’t consider myself to be a writer, but (I think) I would like to change that. For a year or so now, I’ve had an idea for a book (and a few other projects) but haven’t been able to get the words down on paper.

This project in particular is intensely personal (it’s a manifesto of my approach to fathering), but it requires me to do a significant amount of research and study to put into words how I think. That’s both part of the goal–I want to expose inconsistencies and omissions in my thinking–and the most difficult part. I’ve tried to spend a little bit of time a few days a week (in addition to a full-time job and family time), but I always seem to just get going when I’ve had to stop.

Knowing the way I think and work, I’ve thought the solution would be to lock myself away for a few days and just write. That way, I could get the “hard stuff” out of the way and at least have the main content on paper and spend a few hours per week revising and adding.

Well, an opportunity came up for me to give that a try. So I’ll be staying in a hotel for 4 days while (I hope) inspiring myself at night attending a short film festival. I don’t get these chances very often, so I want to make the most of it. To that end, then, I have a few questions for writers.

1. Have you used this approach? How did it work out?
2. Are there certain parts of the process that are more suitable for the “burst” approach than others?
3. What should I be doing in advance to be prepared to be most effective?
4. Have you found a “sweet spot” for how often to take breaks for most efficiency? Are there “I need to walk away” signs? How do you make sure it’s a break, not procrastination? (I expect this to be different for everyone, but I’d also expect to see similarities.)
5. Any other ideas/suggestions?

Of course, most importantly, I also envy your prayers that my time would be productive. I know that I’ll be most effective when I’m most reliant on Him.

Crash questions

Well, a fun day turned somber quickly. We were watching the Quad City Air Show and the unthinkable (or is it?) happened–one of the jets didn’t pull out of a maneuver and crashed. I still haven’t heard whether the pilot was killed, but I can’t see how (s)he could’ve made it out alive.

A lot has been swirling through my mind in the last hour or so as we futilly watched and then eventually left the show.

First is guilt for my crass comment as the planes split of–it didn’t look right the way it pulled away, but, thinking it to be part of the show, I glibly said “Oh, look, that one’s going to crash.” I glanced away for a second, heard my wife gasp, and looked back to see the fireball.

But that one’s an easy question to answer–I clearly shouldn’t have made the comment.

A couple harder questions come to mind, though. Am a complicit in a person’s death because I bought tickets to the show? For putting someone’s life in jeopardy for an adrenaline rush? Sure, pilots are paid to take that risk and I didn’t force him into it; I doubt that comforts the pilot’s family tonight though.

The second hard question was prompted by my 3- and 5-year-old sons’ reactions. Of course, they’re still young and don’t “get it” yet. When something gets a big reaction, it’s going to find its way into their play. But I wonder if, for example, by watching auto racing–where the crashes really are the most interesting thing–plays a part in numbing them to the severity of situations like this.

I’m not arguing that either NASCAR or air shows are wrong, but I don’t want to miss an opportunity to think through some of these hard questions for myself and my kids.

I’m interested to hear what you think in the comments.

The Word at Easter

I’m not a preacher. But, just the same, I was asked to bring a short message for an Easter sunrise (ok, earlier-in-the-morning-but-not-quite-sunrise) service. Reposting it here because it’s relevant to a discussion I’m having with someone; also because I meant to but just hadn’t gotten around to it. But, hey, it’s still the Easter season, so it’s not even out-of-date!


There have been a couple big things I’ve been pondering these past few weeks, and then I ran across an article that tied them together in my mind and tied them to Easter.

The first is that I was asked to play Jesus in an Easter musical. The tryout process went something like this: “Hey, you have a beard; will you do it?” It caused me to wonder what Jesus really looked like; I doubt he was Anglo-American with a beard and long (but not hippie-long) hair, always wearing a white robe. I sometimes wonder if Jesus, who knew of these images ahead of time, refused to ever wear white. Chances are that he looked more like people who we, at a glance, tend to look at twice, wondering if they’re a terrorist.

Why, then, has this become the ubiquitous “picture” of Jesus? Well, I’m sure it’s the combination of several hundred years of artists’ depictions, many full of rich symbolism (for example, the white robe to speak of Jesus’ purity). But surely artists would’ve known that Jesus wasn’t born in Europe or America, right? Do you think that one possible reason might be that we like for Jesus to look like us?

The second was the circus of activity around the Trayvon Martin shooting. Regardless of what exactly happened that day (and we don’t know), the reaction we’ve seen shows that there is still an ugly tendency to stereotype and assume the worst about people who don’t look like us. Some were quick to call racism and condemn the shooter. Others were quick to defend. Pictures of innocent-looking boys and “thugs” were circulated. As the story continued to be hyped, things got much uglier and much darker.

So, with those things in mind, I ran across an article about the Martin story. It discussed the story and made some observations about our natural tendancy to favor people who are like us, then came around to this:

“Consider the significance of the second commandment: ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.’ … Neil Postman … conjectures that the commandment was given because
a people who are being asked to embrace an abstract, universal deity would be rendered unfit to do so by the habit of drawing pictures or making statues or depicting their ideas in any concrete, iconographic forms. The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking.”

Think about that: “The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word.” In our day and age, more than ever, it is difficult to imagine this. Every news story has a picture, if not video. Advertisements, Facebook, entertainment. Everything, it seems, needs a picture.

So, then, is that how God expects us to relate to Him? Through just words? How can He possibly compete with the cacophony of images we see? No, God wasn’t done yet. Let’s look in John chapter 1. We’ll read the whole passage, to see it in context, but pay special attention to phrases that mention the Word.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

Imagine what this would mean to a Jew at the time. After spending your life anticipating the promise, now the Word has become flesh. No longer abstract, but here, living among us.

But what of us now? Jesus isn’t our next-door neighbor. Is the artist’s depiction the best we have? No, not by a long shot. Jesus left us something far better. In fact, we pick up the thread back in the second commandment.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Why would we worship a carved image of God, when we can worship an active, loving God. Not a romantic-comedy love, but true, steadfast love—love that cares enough to bring correction when it’s needed. But wait, there’s more. Just when you thought I wouldn’t make it around to Easter after all. Let’s look at John 15. Here Jesus is talking of Himself as the true vine, we’ll pick it up in verse 9.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Jesus came to leave us the only perfect example of love the world has ever seen. That’s the Easter story—true love. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, wrapped Himself in flesh like us, then allowed that flesh to be broken for us on the cross. But, lest it be said that death and hell could triumph over God’s love, Jesus rose again, victorious over the grave.

So, then, what is the image of Jesus to the world? No, not a bearded, long-haired white man. The best way for someone to see Jesus is for those who trust Him to truly love them. I’ll close with the words of I John 4: 7-12:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

You want me to “have a good fight?” OK, let’s go.

Every time—and it happens often—I’m called a liar for saying that I’ve never had a fight with my wife, it makes it hard for me to listen to what is otherwise probably a good message. I could call out a specific preacher, but honestly, I’ve heard the same thing from enough sources that I don’t think I need to. Here’s how it usually goes:

{humorous statement about arguing/fighting couples}

Every husband and wife fights. If you say you don’t have fights, you’re either stupid or a liar.

{laughter}

What you need to do, though, is to learn to fight well.

{rest of the message about resolving conflict properly instead of fighting}

“What are you, some kind of idiot?”

Perhaps—but in this case, I don’t think so. I’m not so naive as to believe that my marriage—or any marriage—is without disagreements. Neither my wife nor I are passive, roll-over-to-avoid-conflict type of people. What we did, though, was to listen to some excellent counsel from good teachers and observe some excellent examples; early on we intentionally developed patterns to resolve conflict together, and now it’s not a struggle.

I don’t say this as though it’s anything I’ve done; I have benefited from the Spirit’s work in my life, from excellent teaching, and from good examples. I am truly thankful for this wonderful gift.

In other words, we’re practicing what you’re preaching. We’re resolving conflict instead of fighting. Or, to put it in the terms you’re using, we’re “fighting well.”

“C’mon, that’s just semantics.”

Okay. I’ll admit that. But I think they are important semantics. Let’s look at a dictionary definition of a fight.

fight, n.
    1. The action of fighting. Now only arch. in phrase (valiant, etc.) in fight . in fight: engaged in battle.
    2. In obvious phrases: to fang, take (the) fight , to give fight , to make (a) fight .
    3. Method of fighting. Obs.
  1. A combat, battle.
    1. A hostile encounter or engagement between opposing forces
    2. A combat between two or more persons or animals. Not now usually applied (exc. rhetorically) to a formal duel, but suggesting primarily either the notion of a brawl or unpremeditated encounter, or that of a pugilistic combat.
    3. With various qualifying attributes. sham fight: a mimic battle (intended to exercise or test the troops engaged, or simply for display). single fight: a duel. stand-up fight: one in which the combatants ‘stand up’ manfully to each other.
    4. fight-off, a contest to decide a tie in a fencing match.
    5. fight-back n. a retaliation, rally, or recovery
  2. fig. Strife, conflict, struggle for victory
  3. Power, strength or inclination for fighting; pugnacity. Also in to show fight.
    1. A kind of screen used during a naval engagement to conceal and protect the crew of the vessel. Usually in pl. Obs. See also close-fight n.
    2. foremost fight n. nonce-use a breastwork on a rampart; = forefight n. Latin propugnaculum.
  4. A division of an army in battle array.

Those aren’t qualities I’m eager to apply to any conversations I have with my wife. In fact, I’ve made a pointed effort to avoid that kind of confrontation.

“But the rest of the message was so good.”

Yes, exactly! That’s why it’s so frustrating for me. It’s somewhere between bizarre and absurd for me to hear an excellent sermon about conflict resolution, but have it called “fighting.” After one of these messages (it was part of an excellent marriage conference), I asked the speaker for his working definition of a “fight,” and his response was essentially, a disagreement with or without verbal/physical abuse. So, why call it a fight then?

I would suggest that the reason is that it (1) sounds edgier so it catches more attention and (2) puts people at ease with the current state of their marriage so they don’t “tune out” the rest of the message.

“So what’s the big deal, then? Why not?”

  1. The second reason above is my first reason against using “fight” terminology. Lulling people to sleep about their unhealthy and sinful practices is not the best way to convince them to change. It is beneficial to strike a contrast between the good and bad way to resolve conflict.
  2. The word “fight” has a connotation in our society; if it didn’t, speakers wouldn’t choose it. The connotation is not one of love and working together, it’s adversarial and divisive.
  3. It alienates those who are genuinely trying to do what’s right when you call them a liar.

I would suggest a couple of alternate terms that will be widely understood and would be more broadly applicable and true to the spirit of the message. I’m sure there are plenty of other alternatives as well.

“disagreement” vs. “fight”
A disagreement is just that, when two points of view are not the same. It applies both to the over/under toilet paper dispute (the correct answer is “under”) or to a violent, physical fight.

“conflict resolution” vs. “fighting well”
The action word in each of those terms is what makes the difference. “Fighting well” is still fighting. In the term “conflict resolution,” the emphasis is on resolving the conflict—facing it, and working through it.