Question Conformity

 

 

 

Question Conformity

I define Postmodernism as incredulity towards meta-narratives

–Jean Francois Lyotard

 

Every young generation inhales the fog of Indignation—it is a necessity in defining one’s own identity and a rite of passage in becoming a “mature” person.  In my Dad’s generation, that fog extended away from the USA toward Japan and Germany, and then towards the Soviet Union, and so I was raised in the mist of World War II and then the Cold War.  In my generation (the end of the baby boomers), that fog settled around Vietnam, a sexual revolution, and the Civil Rights Movement—from the wing of Malcolm X to that of Dr. King.  Most of the breathing of that fog occurred on college campuses, but our national media eventually also inhaled.  Viva la revolution.  Within that mist was meaning, purpose, and vision.  This has been true since well before Robespierre and the Revolution of 1789.  Revolutions emanate from the young, and will continue to do so.  This is not because The Young are better or smarter than their forebears—though most temporarily believe they are—but rather because difference and newness are inevitable parts of the psychological differentiation of one generation from another.  Without this, progress comes to a halt—not just in science or technology, but in culture as well.  There must be Difference.  And the status quo must always be tested and challenged.

When I was evaluating my own world and worldview way back in the 1970’s, I was nudged by a well-remembered (I think) slogan:  Question Authority.  Boy did we.  Beginning with long hair, my brother and I questioned my Dad on everything that was “normal” in our family, including in the expression of our faith.  But we were supposed to question all authority—school leaders, military leaders, national leaders (think Nixon), church leaders, etc.  As a military kid, I was optimistic about Authority generally, but I believe that movement still moved me.

Today, I would suggest we need a new slogan:  Question Conformity.  This essay is an elaboration on this suggestion, and I hope it is genuinely life-changing for the reader.  Yes, that’s an ambitious goal for a writer, but I think the current stakes are high:  we seem to be living in an unprecedented age of Confusion, Division, Misinformation, Weak Reasoning, Indoctrination, and Religious Politics.  It’s an age that would drive Mr. Spock to suicide.  (Except that such would be illogical.)

What is it I think we conform to?  In one big word:  Worldview.  We each live according to a worldview.  Do we know what it is?  And have we really chosen it, or has it chosen us?  My hope here is to increase our awareness of these supreme meta-narratives whirring in the background—these worldviews, and in so doing increase our sense of freedom and choice about them.  As a philosophy major in college (Boston University, 1984, BS in Philosophy/Religion), it’s likely that I’ve spent far more time thinking and writing about this than most people, and that’s what makes me focused today on Conformity.  So I have some questions for personal inventory, and some observations.  Questions:

  • Do you know your worldview? Can you describe it?  Defend it?
  • Have you decided what you really want? Or has your worldview recruited and chosen you?
  • Can you, and do you, live with the implications, the consequences, of your worldview? In other words, do you have basic integrity with your belief system?  Can people see your worldview in how you live?  Are you consistent?  If you articulated your worldview, would those who know you well admire you or laugh at you with irony?
  • Does your wordview really “work?” Is it “working for you?” Does it fit with the world as you truly experience it?  Are you happy with it?  I want to challenge us to believe what we believe with Eyes Wide Open.

 

Observations:

 

There are three, and only three, Great Worldviews in our worldwide culture today.  There may be others, but they are not Great within my lifetime and generation—this is not an exhaustive take, but a personal one.  And you are likely swept up in one of the Great Three:  the Judeo-Christian Worldview (JCW); the Muslim Worldview(MW); or the Atheistic, Marxist Worldview (AMW).  As Christopher Hitchens once said to me on an airplane, these three are incompatible.  To live in one is to deny the essential truth of the other two, even if one does so respectfully.

A couple of caveats before going further:  first, I don’t presume to academically critique these in such a short article.  I don’t know anyone who has the breadth and depth to do so.  I am describing my own limited experience of these worldviews.  Second, I was raised JCW—is my worldview already showing?  Probably.  But allow me to expand on that personally and in the culture of my era.

As an army brat of the 1960’s and 70’s, I felt completely supported, culturally, in the JCW.  It was the culture of my parents and grandparents; it was the dominant story of America—a nation “founded” on Judeo-Christian values (not surprising since the early immigrant waves were Europeans, many searching for religious freedom); it was supported in the elementary schools, and I’m reasonably sure that nearly all of my teachers would have identified as “Christian” or “Jewish.” It was supported by the monolithic news media—with not only a pro-US bias, pro-military and a pro-JCW bias, but also a Hollywood bias for JCW values:  the values one could laugh with while watching The Dick Van Dyke Show or The Carol Burnett Show.  Great films preceding and extending into my childhood were often epic Bible films like Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, Fiddler on the Roof, even up to Disney’s The Prince of Egypt, in the 90’s.  Everyone, it seemed, went to church or synagogue, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each school day seemed positively religious.  The great structural challenges to the JCW in my youth were the ban on school prayer and the positive media coverage of an atheist like Madeline Murray O’Hair.  Subversive literature (Elmer Gantry, The Catcher in the Rye) was titillating and fun, but not an assault on worldview I would take seriously.  I was not ready to Question Authority so much, nor to Question Conformity.

All of this began to change in the late 1960’s, and the unraveling of the JCW knitting continues today apace.  I would like to suggest that this challenge was far from a gradual, deliberative development in US culture, but rather swift and historically reactionary: to the horrors of the Vietnam War, the clarity of racism’s reality in the US and the attending need for the Civil Rights Movement—punctuated by the murders of two Kennedys and Dr. King—and the earned skepticism about government power in the Nixon era.

The Nixon chapter alone is especially interesting for its impact on our monolithic media—tilting it left politically (moving away from Eisenhower/Nixon), and encouraging it to assume its own place of real power in our society—a power that is often invisible to media consumers I know today—a counterweight to JCW culture and a power competitor with government institutions.  Universities—centers and breeding grounds in the 60’s for political revolution—also became power centers and continued to be worldview propagators, just not JCW this time. Today, it may be impossible to find a university that openly subscribes to and promulgates the JCW, particularly since it has been tainted, wrongfully in my experience, in these reactionary decades, with sweeping overtones of racism, sexism, and other interpretations of bigotry. These are, of course, very personal interpretations of “my times,” but I trust the reader’s ability to discern and work on their own interpretations of their own “times.”

I have spent a few minutes on the power structures (government—overtly, media and education—covertly) that support a dominant culture because they make the worldview more difficult to see, question and transcend.  As someone who believes in and advocates for the JCW, I must admit I benefited as a child, in ways I couldn’t see at the time, from that support in the 60’s and 70’s.  I tacitly agreed with Bacon that “Knowledge is Power,” not having yet encountered the Foucauldian insight, “Power is Knowledge” (in which Power Centers—whether Church, Government, or Schools—tell us what knowledge is, what they think we should believe.) Those power centers now strongly affirm “multiculturalism” as the larger social truth, having been won over by the AMW, which sees all social life as a dialectical struggle. They simultaneously embrace Critical Race Theory (CRT), which makes visible the often covert intersection of race, power, and law.  CRT is controversial; for some it is just Truth. For me, it has too many pros and cons for race relations to debate in this article—but the relevance here is to understand it as an extension of Marxism, making our new dominant culture one particularly friendly with the Marxist Worldview (AMW).  We can argue about what’s good or bad, right or wrong with this, but the development itself should be obvious to university graduates, and especially to former journalism school students (like me).

What difference does it make?  What are the chief effects of these Great Worldviews when they become the dominant culture?  In this article, I want to highlight a very few, but a defining few for me.  Again, I am hardly an expert in this analysis; it is based on my personal experiences.  I am no theologian, though I am an experienced Pastor and Missionary.  I am not an Islamic scholar, but am trying to learn more month by month.  I am certainly not a Marxist scholar either, but have spent a lifetime trying to understand its great dialectical struggle with Christian faith.  I also know that most Americans know almost nothing about Marx and Marxism, or its expressions in the academic community.  Once more, I am not trying to stand in judgement of these worldviews, just trying to make them more visible.

 

 

When JCW is dominant

 

The Good/The Desired

  • Morals and Values are real, and usually clear.
  • Morals are discovered and explored, not invented by individuals or groups, as expressions of God’s character and will for our psycho-spiritual health. JCW claims that morals are Objective.
  • The Chief Social Unit is The “traditional” Nuclear Family
  • The Church as a Fellowship supports the individual socially, as an adjunct to family.
  • Freedom of Choice emerges as a large meta-narrative—that God has given Man free will. This illuminates economics in “free-market” driven capitalism and foreign policy orientations dominated by the opposition of dictatorship. Writers like Rodney Stark would argue that JCW made early capitalistic developments in Italy, Holland, and then in the UK possible, ultimately lifting millions out of middle-ages subsistence poverty.  Most political historical writers today would at least acknowledge the role of Christian (especially Catholic) Faith in subverting the iron grip and “historical inevitability” of the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s.
  • Freedom is more important than Equality—and this could be seen as part of The Good or The Bad. (see MW). Getting to better Equality is restrained by a stronger emphasis on Freedom, slowing or precluding forms of social or economic “Justice.”  In this emphasis, the Means (Freedom) is more important than the Ends (Equality)
  • Rationality—that we live in the Age of Reason since the Enlightenment—makes atavistic sense because God is rational, and this makes research, science, and modern knowledge possible and desirable.
  • Law and Grace work together to build personal and social Hope. Law from God is clear, teaches Accountability and Responsibility, and gives a society a general sense of “you reap what you sow.”  Grace emerges in this context, teaching Forgiveness, “Second Chances,” Redemption (think of addiction counseling), and Gratitude.  Without JCW, movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Saving Private Ryan would not have been made.

The Bad

  • Faith and politics get mixed and Christians sometimes look like they are interested in their own caliphate, rather than pluralistic democracy. The mixing of Church and State was stultifying to Europeans for many centuries and seen as an instrument of control rather than liberation.  That link was a direct motivation for many groups emigrating to America in the 18th and 19th
  • Tasteless mixing of Faith and Money undermine the seriousness of the faith, and have also caused the “fall” of many religious leaders in the late 20th
  • Support of a culture of social “intolerance” (at least to those outside the JCW) because of Sin Definitions
  • Resistance— “the earth is flat”—to Copernican, reasoned progress. This is because of a misplaced certainty that within the faith, we already Know it All.  The Faith will Save us.  Even though the Age of Faith (including superstition, belief in fairies and goblins, etc.) has been replaced by the Age of Reason, emotional commitment to The Faith still dominates.
  • What Bonhoeffer called “Cheap Grace” undermines gratitude, respect, and the motivation to strive for Virtue. Believers take God, the church, and their salvation for granted.

The Ugly

  • Conducting Jihad “Holy Wars” during the Crusades of 1100-1400, chiefly with Muslims in the Middle East and Spain
  • A sense of missionary entitlement that informed not just merely arrogance, but a Triumphalism (God and History are on our side) that helped make colonization and slavery possible, both from European empires and in the USA.
  • Cultic expressions at the extreme edges such as:
    • The KKK and other fundamentally racist or bigoted groups
    • Jim Jones, Guyana, and “The People’s Temple” atrocities
    • Cruel “purification” movements like Puritanism in New England (think Salem Witch Trials) and the Spanish Inquisition (which no one expected.)
  • Competing with “Science” for “Truth”, sometimes over-stepping (think Scopes Trial) in ways that hurt its own credibility and set up an unnecessary and distracting competition.

 

When the Atheist Marxist Worldview (AMW) is dominant

 

The Good/The Desired

  • Marx’s eye was firmly on Inequality and resolving that above all else. By making it more important than Freedom, he flipped the JCW about means and ends as Machiavelli recommended. In AMW, the Ends (Equality) always justifies the Means (Freedom, or its curtailment).  This is what makes “the dictatorship of the proletariat” justified in Marxist thinking.  To me of course it is a serious and central debate as to whether this really works well or brings a society together.
  • Social harmony is no longer led by the Family, but Society itself. The State increasingly assumes The Lead in forging the central goal of economic Equality, and in our era, the bigger the better.  Bigger and bigger government is needed to manage more and more social needs and inequalities.
  • “Science” is supported as the new doorway to Truth, and there are many economic and social revolutions emanating from scientific progress. This uptick shows the preeminence of post-Enlightenment, Age-of-Reason thinking.

 

The Bad

  • Private Property is undermined (“my tax dollars really belong to The Public, not to me”), as is private responsibility for one’s own future (“the government will take care of me/us”) in favor of Collectivism.
  • Resistance—“the earth is flat”—to Copernican, reasoned progress. This is because of a misplaced certainty that within Modern Science, we already Know it All.  Science will Save Us.  But there are aspects of science that look more like religion at times, such as the overwhelming belief offered Al Gore for his particular take on climate danger.
  • Morals are Invented, not Discovered. There is no ongoing Reformation around Moral Truth or Biblical Truth.  There is only the Competition of Interests, the battling of Big versus Small, Management v Unions, Masters v Slaves, Race v Race, Class v Class, etc.  It’s all and only dialectical struggle.  This supports a divisive and divided culture. When does it end?
  • Darwinism is integrated loosely into this—survival of the fittest. Resentment and Vengeance are, in this context, “natural” and may be easily conflated with, while thwarting, genuine “justice.”
  • Political Power—of the Proletariat—consistently rationalizes colossal mistakes, forms of persecution, and atrocities. See below.

 

The Ugly

  • Cultic Expressions engineered unprecedented levels of murder:
    • Cambodia—nearly 2million killed during Pol Pot’s Maoist movement in the 1970’s. This was one of three Cambodians.
    • The Cultural Revolution in China, 1966-1976—a nationwide, constant purge of weak believers in communism, resulted in 36 million displaced or persecuted Chinese, 1.5 million deaths, and another 1 million disabled.
    • Jim Jones and the mass suicide in Guyana (noted above). Few know that Jones was an avowed socialist, and, of course, a paranoid authoritarian.
  • Darwinian ideas like “survival of the fittest,” juxtaposed with contradictory socialist ideals of Equality create psychological tension. Which is it?
  • Ineluctably divisive motivations: Envy and Resentment are the chief animating motivations, pitting societies members against one another.
  • Circular reasoning and power preservation now—It is supported in our schools and universities—just as was the case previously with JCW. Contradicting or challenging “progressivism” now is like trashing the JCW in 1950—not received well by our social power centers.  You can’t criticize the status quo.
  • Politics of Division thwart unity; in socialism, there’s a philosophical vested interest in keeping conflict permanent. Is this ultimately a lonely way to live?

 

 

When the Muslim Worldview (MW) is dominant (it will be obvious how limited my experience and knowledge of Islam is here; I’m merely noting a few more obvious traits, at least my interpretations of these, in contradistinction to the JCW and AMW.)

 

The Good/The Desired

  • Strength of “Law” with accountability & consequences that are strict, but reliable
  • Respect for Structure and Family is almost Confucian = great social security
  • High and visible degree of “Knowing God’s Will” and conforming to it. “The Truth” can be known objectively.

The Bad

  • Critics will offer that Sharia Islam lacks the concept of Grace—one of man’s basic needs. Obedience and Punishment are more important than Forgiveness and “2nd
  • Support of a culture of social “intolerance” (at least to those outside the MW) because of Sin Definitions in the Koran. Treatment of infidels, transgressors, and women remain in practice at the same standard as during the medieval times.
  • Resistance—“the earth is flat”—to Copernican, reasoned progress. This is because of a misplaced certainty that within the faith, we already Know it All.  The Faith in Allah and Mohammed will Save us.

The Ugly

  • Sin and Crime seem to be treated harshly, sometimes cruelly.
  • Cultic extremes like ISIS have terrorized millions, in the middle east, in Europe, and in the US, with no apparent end in sight. For many of these soldiers, the message to the unbeliever is, “Convert or die.”

 

A Review of Questions for further thinking as you and I Question Conformity:

  • Each of us has a worldview. Do you know yours? If you have been unclear which yours is, then the tail has probably been wagging the dog. Awareness will set us more free.
  • Can you, do you, truly live with your worldview? Does it make sense of your decisions and daily life priorities?
  • Does your worldview well describe what theologian Francis Schaefer called, “the mannishness of man”? Those are the traits/experiences that make Man different from other animals (such as “moral sentiments”).
  • Are you deciding? Don’t let the decision be made for you: The power structures in modern society—now unfriendly to the JCW—are inherently propagandistic and self-preserving, just as they were when I was a kid, when they relentlessly served the JCW.

 

Cancer & Self-Control

I’m celebrating birthday #57 by finishing Round 3 of chemotherapy.  I’m thankful for a day of life, of health, and for lovely friends and family.  I’m still John Lennon tired (earlier post) but trying to take it easy:  rest, walk with Lynne, write.  Rinse and repeat as possible. I am halfway through now; 3 more rounds in the next 3 months, through July.  In the meantime, we’ll have MRI scans to compare what’s happening over time in my skull.  Doctors talk about “No disease Progression” as the goal; I pray for “Utter disease Destruction,” as the goal and ask you to join me in that, especially every 2nd week of the month for 3 months.

Cancer cells need utter destruction; they are essentially genetic freaks that have lost self-control.  May God stop them.  Normal cells have limits and a kind of self-control.  Let’s muse for a moment on Self-Control—it’s my Birthday!

There are all kinds of hilarious language ironies when you are learning Cantonese Chinese from English, as Lynne and I did in the 90’s. Singing Stand in Awe is an example; the high tone sung on “awe” sounds like the Chinese word for vacating one’s bowels.  You get used to it, sort of.  Other phrases morph over time in funny ways.

Our staff used to play volleyball together a couple of times a month.  When players would make mistakes on easy opportunities, team captains would exhort, feeling Biblical, “Self-Control, bro!”  After several months, this became the scarier, “Control Yourself!”  We tried our best.  I have a vision that today the bros would be telling one another to not be a cancer.

Self-control.  The Bible has so much to say about this; these few examples stay heavier with me today:

  • Behavior: God Gives us a spirit of Self-Control (2 Timothy 1:7).  And this is a Grace and not a burden, because God creates boundaries for us regarding sin and righteousness around Behavior, not Mood. Imagine if His standard was, “you gotta get happy inside!”  Tough sledding for me.  But I like the idea that no matter how I feel, I can control my behavior and “do the right thing.”
  • Speech: James 3:2-6, in a passage that sounds like one following a Big Fight with Mrs. James, says this about the tongue (our speech):” We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” What we say and how we say it remains a huge issue in our fellowship—especially the how. We struggle with trying to shut others down, we argue often in weak-minded ways, we struggle to set our feelings aside, and we too quickly question or disparage the reputations of those with whom we do not agree.  Our tongues have too much fire and not enough Respect.
  • Time, Money, and Space: Do we control these well? Do we plan well, keep our appointments, show up on time? Do we respond promptly in communication or “keep people hanging?” This is a matter of Respect and Discipline. Let our “yes” be a “yes” in our time commitments (Matthew 5:37)—this is very German in emphasis. Although many of my German friends will say, “oh, the Swiss; they’re obsessed!” With money, we need a whole article.  Perhaps check out Douglas Jacoby’s website for articles on money. Space—are we hoarders, owning and keeping too many things? Dan Liu once reminded us how in Hong Kong, space is so monetized, so very valuable. Therefore, how I use it for storing or living deserves to be considered thoughtfully and respectfully.
  • Leading your children: Misguided parents today fear hurting their kids’ feelings, feel lonely and want their kids to be their friends, and too often seek the approval of their children. Parents: you’re the leaders. LEAD your children. When you need to say “No” to them, you’re not being cruel; you are helping them have boundaries. And you may be stopping them from doing something they’ll dearly regret. When you discipline your children, say “No,” and stop them, you are teaching them an Internal “No” they will need the rest of their lives. Do not leave them marooned in this life without that tool, I beg you.

 

And on my birthday, I thank my mother and Dad for not so depriving me. I don’t know if I was really a “good kid,” but I do know my parents taught me how to say “No” to myself, and I’ve needed that at so many decisive times in my life.  Thank you Bobbi and Richard!

Now get out there and “Control Yourself!”

Clear Thinking #6–“Make a Right Judgement” (John 7:24)

I’m moving these observations to my blog because I intend to withdraw for a time from social media writing–I feel I’m “triggering” too many people for my own comfort zone;  my goal is not to be a Socratic gadfly or the 21st c. church’s H.L. Mencken;  it’s to just help us think more clearly, in an era that is really murky–full of propaganda and thinly veiled intellectual bigotry.  The single most important piece of extra-Biblical advice I can proffer is from French philosopher Lyotard:  meet All Meta-narratives with incredulity.  Forgetting this may turn you into a lemming or a slave.  Beware.

But tonight–quickly–I want to comment on how to NOT be “Judgmental.”  I have felt its wrath at times (very disturbing as an older person now) and also engaged in it, though not deliberately (“My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent”).  Generally, being Judgemental is making something Final that really isn’t.  (a Judge makes a “final verdict” about your innocence or guilt).  Only God will have the Final Say about you and me.

How do we avoid judgementalism–labeling, making hasty evaluations, making sweeping generalizations about specific events or contexts, characterizing people or their statements in a defamatory way?  How do we protect, in the sense of 1 Corinthians 13, someone’s Intent, and especially, their Reputation?  How do we obey the scriptures–too many to list here– that admonish us to Respect those who lead us, serve by example, and who are Older, while trying to encourage “speaking up,” and other First Amendment pieces of basic spiritual maturity?

Here’s a concrete answer, inspired by my wife, who is more deductive than I (I am more Inductive):

  • Raise questions rather than draw conclusions:  “Scott, do you mean we have to reserve judgement on everything?  Seems too difficult.  What’s your larger view on this?”  instead of, “Scott your ideas on judgement are unbiblical;  just obey the Bible and we will be fine.”
  • Be Dialogical, not monological–what opens up the conversation as opposed to what ends it?
  • Make it your habit to Look for the “health” in others’ efforts, rather than for the flaws.  This is more Faith-based Thinking rather than Flaw-based Thinking.  Make it your goal to protect the reputation of others rather than challenge it.
  • When you disagree, be clear about it–“we disagree.  I disagree,” without making it a matter of spiritual character in the other person.  There are many “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1, but read the whole chapter.)  God gives us remarkable latitude.
  • Engage The Other with Compassion.  Be relational.  Think of how God and Jesus engage us, when they could just send us a laundry list of Commands.

OK, good night everyone.  Thank you for your cancer prayers.  I’m on Round 3 of chemo this weekend.

The Humility in the Heal

This post is an article on racial healing I have been working on for months.  If you have questions or arguments as a response, please contact me not via public FB posting, but rather on Messenger or by email:  greens3@spu.edu.

I want to thnk a host of people who have helped me with advising and editing, including my wife Lynne, my friend and example Gordon Ferguson, and my Myers-Briggs (and 2016 cancer patient)”twin”  Walt Channell, of the South Sound church of Christ’s leadership team.  All have made invaluable edits and suggestions for this effort.  Naturally, though, none but me are responsible for these ideas and content.  I am posting the article both within the blog and also as a FB attachment; I pray these will increase healing more than increase controversy.  Respectfully, Scott

 

The Humility in the Heal:  Our Racial Divide

Spring, 2017

 

In the shadow of President Obama—our first African-American President– finishing his second historic term, and with America seemingly more emotionally divided than at any other time in my 57 years, I approach the topic of racial strife in America and in the Church with much fear and trembling, but also with a little courage born of desperation:  sometimes I fear, as I do with couples who are engaging “divorce talk,” that it may be too late for some. Certainly, the volume of discord and divisiveness in America has been hard of late to ignore—and perhaps the fall election simply amplified and intensified a conflict already there.  In trying to understand it, echoes of my counseling couples’ practice have incessantly come to mind. This is work I have been doing since 2008, and the emotional parallels have been striking.  In counseling, when couples are consistently engaging in divorce talk, (accelerating blame and scapegoating, contempt rather than respect for one another’s experiences) I’ve found then it’s time to try something different, something that has served me well as a practitioner of good ministry and good counseling; something that speaks to the basis of the gospel of Christ, His Cross, and His Grace; something I believe can truly bring healing to the highly reactive American racial conflict, which is part of America’s national spiritual work—no matter what your generation, gender, race, or class.

If this way of working on healing communication proves useful, then we all owe a great debt of gratitude to the ingenious work of Dr. Susan Johnson, whose model of Emotionally Focused Therapy has an almost unprecedented record of positive outcomes for couples in distress (see her website www.iceeft.com).  How her method works will hopefully become evident in this step-by-step application and context—our racially-focused communication impasses.  My dream is that we see more and more positive outcomes for racially-estranged leaders and groups as we apply these methods of introducing and enhancing mutual understanding and compassion.  I strongly suspect that what tears down walls between couples can do the same between disputing groups and even races.

The America I see today, and sometimes the church I see today, is more racially divided than at any other time in my life.  Racially defensive people (feeling blamed as scapegoats) may say that is because our current politics, including what Euro-Americans call “political correctness,” have attempted to silence one side of the story in the name of enlightened, “progressive” Truth; racially sensitive people (who have felt oppression or unfairness) may say it is because we are at long last excavating long-buried attitudes about race in America.  My own opinion is that there is truth in both of these positions or perspectives, in these “stories,” as I call them in therapy work.

The primary question I want to raise in this post is, “is the way we are talking about it these days really useful?”  Is it working, truly?  Is it bringing us closer or pushing us farther apart?  Does it help genuine understanding or merely, as I often suspect, justify one’s internal monologue?”  In my work as a Couples’ Therapist, I often raise this question to couples who seem unaware of the failures and dangers of their current communication strategies and patterns.  The “systemic pattern” of their way with each other is broken and polarizing, with increasing speed and intensity.  They begin to view each other’s communication with suspicion, loss of basic trust, and eventually, with contempt.  They are headed for divorce if it doesn’t fundamentally change.  Each will feel vindicated in the divorce, but divorced they will most certainly be, will all the attending fallout.

If we don’t want a “racial divorce” in the USA, we will need to fundamentally alter our way of talking about our grievances, just as alienated married couples must learn to do. This has become clearer and clearer to me as my therapist practice has grown, and as I have understood my primary models of intervention in a deeper way.  My training is in Narrative work, which assumes that people make meaning of their life events by “connecting the dots” in a certain way, but in a way that is by no means inevitable or Objectively True.  In this way, we each have assumptions about our respective identities that feel true, but by no means take into consideration all the “dots” of our lives.  There’s more data out there than we include in our story.  The same is true of our judgements of others; we have a tendency to simplify the lives of others—make them out to be “one thing” or One Story we can easily categorize and understand.  This is our way of explaining them to ourselves, but such judgements come at a price:  we often disqualify other “stories” about that person, which dehumanizes them and separates us from them.

Of course, we may, in our wearisome experience, feel Judgement Day is justified. Surely there is a time when a therapist looks across the room and sees just “one thing” in a person—seeing a Victim and a Perpetrator, right?  One side mainly in the Wrong, and one mainly in the Right? The answer is yes, although it is a conclusion most therapists resist as long as possible.  There are boundaries at “the edges,” —one end of the extreme— of couples’ behavior and speech, at which blame may seem more justified, and from which there may be no return (that means a divorce is imminent).  But away from the divorce edges, in the middle earth of couples’ experiences, the certainty about Judgement must give way to more Both/And thinking if there is to be hope: “Both your experience And mine can be true here.”  Therapists, as mediators, don’t want to get inducted into one side or the other, getting caught up in, basically, “who sinned first, and who sinned worst.”  Because once the couple has been reduced to Victim/Perpetrator, change becomes incredibly difficult.  These judgmental stories/identities are powerful and recruit from other life events and conversations to confirm themselves:

“You say you apologize for your domestic violence, but how can I believe you?  Your apology is just so you don’t get into trouble with this therapist or with the law.”

“No apology will ever be good enough for you; you always take my attempts at change as insincere or not good enough.  I have an anger problem, but your consistent condescension makes me angrier.  When will enough be enough??”

“You have made yourself out to be The Victim in our relationship so often, that now I feel that I have become the New Victim of your limited view of me and we.  I feel I can’t win.”

“You are defensive and don’t “get it.”  Why can’t you just listen and “take responsibility?”

And so forth. These monolithic, single-storied, polarized understandings of The Other can always “make the case” for themselves, justify themselves, and recite “evidence,” but there is no room for The Other’s experience in them.

And how about us? Is there room for The Other (racial story) in our divided culture? Do we want to make room?  If the only way to hear and understand The Other is for them to admit they are Perpetrators (only) and that we are their Victims (only), then mutual understanding may go permanently on hold.  Let’s talk about ways to do this, applied not just to couples, but prayerfully to broader applications as well: our race relations, gender relations, and the like.  For these ideas, I have more than Narrative mentors and colleagues to thank; I noted earlier that I owe an unpayable debt to the work of Dr. Susan Johnson and her conceptions of vicious circles in Emotional Focused Couples Therapy.  I cannot recommend enough her book, Hold Me Tight, which I assign to every couple I see as primary “homework.”

But before moving on, there are some other personal caveats and notes to make. First, as a white (I prefer “Euro-American,” since I feel that “white” is a kind of short cut that reduces people to a generalization), male, middle-class “army brat,” I have limited racial experience—only my own.  I may make a strong attempt to understand African –American culture, First Nations cultures, Chinese culture, or Hispanic culture, but I will never be able to completely understand it.  This observation, moreover, is self-evidently true, but not worth constantly repeating, since the fact of it may then become a roadblock to treatment—a non-starter:  “you could never understand.”  Second, I have never been traumatically victimized or marginalized by institutions, police, neighbors, or businesses—at least that I am aware of.

By the same token, I have had some unusual “cultural bridging” experiences as a Christian missionary (although I elected to do this utterly of my own choice; no one forced me to do it) that have changed my level of awareness:  living as what I call a “severe minority” in Hong Kong for ten years (HK is 99.9% Chinese) where I was sometimes insulted, marginalized, threatened, or made fun of because of my race; living now in Germany learning a new language, history and culture, and seeing that Europeans have some (not all) “stories” about Americans that are not exactly friendly or honoring.  These life chapters do not make me an expert on this topic, but they inform a passion I have to bring our peoples, our neighbors, our authorities, and our nation to a place of Unity rather than Division amidst the ongoing struggle.  I would like to be a Peacemaker, informed by my own personal work in those contexts.

From whence, then, the hope of Unity?  Here are some steps, borrowing from Dr. Johnson’s insights into human emotion and its discontents.

Generally, the therapeutic steps look like this:

  • Step 1 is “Targeting the Scheme,” rather than one another
  • Step 2 is Facilitating the Emotional, Level II conversation
  • Step 3 is Learning How to Respond Well to The Other
  • Step 4 is Asking More from One Another

First, Step One: the enemy is not one another; the enemy is the schematic, the pattern, the Vicious Circle of Reactivity that informs racial tension and story-making.  In a Christian context, 2 Corinthians 2 speaks of us not being naïve, not being “unaware of [Satan’s] schemes.”  There is indeed always a scheme afoot, often hidden, and it’s important to make it visible so “both sides” can be validated in their experiences but see the pattern at work in their estrangement.  This idea would help not just America, but also the ways people have completely missed each other in conflicts like those in Northern Ireland, or, say, between Ukraine and Russia politically (before the military incidents).  The vicious circle is the enemy to target.  Here’s an example below from a seminar I did in Munich last year, with race relations being “the couple” (it takes up a whole page below):  This schematic is not visible here, I assume for formatting reasons, so I will seek, again, to include it in an attachment to the FB post.

The vicious circle appears to be in the upper “On the Surface” level—the things people say to each other that prompt a reaction, and then a reactive circle, where both people are quickly “talking past each other.”  They cannot hear each other’s points of view.  The second level, below the surface, captures some of the emotional realities that bring energy to the vicious circle. In Fact, the vicious circle is really a vicious Figure 8:  when Mr. White says something in his Q1 box, it actually triggers something in the Emotional Needs (Q2) for Mr. Black, who then says something from his upper box, which, in turn, triggers something “big “in the Emotional Needs for Mr. White.  This is the emotional trap that keeps people fighting more than understanding.  The last, lower level is the “Stories” that inform and support emotion:  these could be personal biases from negative experiences, family stories from family of origin, or social and historical  stories promulgated in “society,” especially in our schools, which tend to refine and confirm strong social narratives.  The goal in this model of communication is to get parties to have the emotional conversation represented in Level II.  Let’s look at the Scheme, then jump down to more of this article below it for Step Two.

As you look at the scheme, remember what it describes and what it does not:  this is a description of a current communication phenomena, circa 2017, post-slavery, post-Civil Rights Movement, within our current frustrations.  It is not a description of the dynamic of slavery-versus-oppression itself, circa 1775-1864.  A scheme in which one person has ownership over another is a hopeless scheme, an unworkable scheme, one that cannot be “healed” per se, any more than a cycle of actual domestic violence can be refereed, arbitrated, “worked with” or made useful.  Such schemes are non-starters because they affirm one side’s absolute power.  Again, the scheme described here is in the shadow of today’s suspicions, and meant to describe not the challenge of literal emancipation, but the current challenge of understanding one another amidst all our injuries—current, real, implied, and historical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Communication Scheme

Actions and Reactions on the Surface: Level I
·  “If you work hard you will get ahead.”

·  “That’s a problem from long ago; today is different”

·  “You are disqualifying my experience” (rinse & repeat)

·  “It won’t matter.  The culture is bigoted. The deck is stacked.”

·  “That’s naïve, and a reflection of your Privilege over generations”

·  “You are disqualifying my experience” (rinse & repeat)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can we transcend such a powerful dynamic?  A willingness to engage, to not give up, is prerequisite.  People must come to therapy to actually get help. Assuming the willingness to heal is there, we first target the vicious circle itself.  Neither Mr. Black nor Mr. White are one thing—perpetrators.  But the cycle itself is toxic and needs to be opposed by both parties.  Second, we want to facilitate the conversation that should be happening—the one from Level II.  As a therapist or mediator, that means I want to get Mr. Black’s emotional story into the room so that Mr. White can hear and respect it.  Then do the same for Mr. White’s emotional story.  With couples I call this “going down the well.”  It requires from me a robust curiosity, my genuine interest, and the awareness that I am modeling for each “side” of the conflict how they can engage one another in the future:  being respectful, and looking for the “health in the story” rather than the “problems with their story.”  In respecting each of them, it is vital to respect (and openly share about) the emotional truth of their story (they “feel true”), rather than argue with their experience—countering, dismissing, citing “data” or “research” to contradict their experience, and so forth.  Healing conversations are not like courtroom testimony. For the disputing parties, self-awareness, self-discovery, and self-location emotionally will be at the core of changing communicagion.  Self-location means me letting you know where I am emotionally—what am I fearing most, right here, right now?  What do I desire or want most, right here, right now?  Such a level of honesty and risk is the beginning of a new pattern.

There really is genuine emotional truth then in each of their stories.  With these parties, I like to use the example of a beach ball—made with various mult-colored panels.  The whole ball approximates “objective” reality.  Our stories, our experience, is like being an inch away from the ball, so that I only see one of the panels, let’s say a blue-colored one.  From where I stand, I only see blue.  But you, coming from a different place in the room, see another panel, perhaps a red one.  To you, the world is Red.  Both views are true, but not exhaustively so.  There a many panels to the beach ball, and each of us sees a part, not the whole.  This is why Humility is a cornerstone to healing. It allows us to suspend our assumptions about Objective Reality.  If you believe the only Truth is the one you see and state, from your experience, then my Truth must conform to yours or be dismissed.  Mutual Humility must be exercised to make progress towards a Shared Story for the future.  And so I discourage parties from believing the canard that “your sins are worse than mine,” (how can anyone so judge?) and “you sinned first in this.” (so what?  Two wrongs still don’t make a Right, right?).  The blame game is a zero-sum game in which one party must “Lose.”  I haven’t found that useful yet in healing.  Rather, it has served as a predictor of divorce.

Another part of Humility means addressing the Family and Social stories (Level III) that support emotional truth.  Usually these stories create a sense of rigidness around a person’s story.  It’s important for me as a mediator to validate the emotional truth of each party, but also call them to a higher look at the beach ball by asking them to question or challenge the social stories they assume to be true.  If Mr. White is captivated with his idea that “working hard is enough to get ahead,” he will be unable to acknowledge times and places of Injustice, and the cynicism it may engender about his belief.  He will have to make excuses for the exceptions to his rule (“so and so worked hard but didn’t ‘succeed’ because of Teachers Unions in his failed school”) If Mr. Black is captivated with the idea that “the system has been, and always is, unfair,” he will be unable to acknowledge the success and progress of many African Americans, such as Mr. Obama.  He will have to make excuses about the exceptions (“Obama was in the right place at the right time running against Hillary in 2008”).  Remember, emotional stories have a gravity in them that recruits events to conform and support the narrative.  A last element of Humility in storytelling is deconstructing our tendency to globalize everything.  We have a tendency to not stick with “our own experience.”  Rather, we import (introject)experiences from our neighbors, our families and from history, via books and newspapers.  This exaggerates our sense of offense and makes us so angry, so outraged, no one can reach us. It’s a serious mistake and roadblock with which I’ve had a lot of up close experience.  I therefore urge both parties in the conflict to “stick really with your own experience.”  Without this, one party will hopelessly blame the other party for all kinds of offenses that the second party had little or no control over.  One party will Demand Respect—itself a Disrespectful Event.  No son can pay for the sins of the Father, and vice-versa (Ezekiel 18).  Globalizing our experiences is not the friend of Healing.  And Contempt for the Other’s Story or Experience is a loud predictor of Divorce.  This doesn’t mean we can’t talk about History or Systemic Influences, just that these are contributing factors, not the mainframe of personal reality, nor the authority dictating our shared future.

Most importantly, it is my opinion, and deeply held conviction, that The Humility needed here can come, and maybe can only come from the Cross of Christ.  This is the operative Healing Piece of Christian Faith.

 

Let’s let that stand alone for a moment:  the Humility we need for Healing can come, and maybe can only come from, the Cross of Christ.

Why is this so?

First, the cross takes away any and all moral superiority.  As collaborative, fellow-sinner,  Christ killers, neither you nor I hold a higher moral ground.  This is the lesson of Matthew 18, in which the fury of the Master is invoked not by the servants’ debts, but by one servant’s Self-Righteousness towards another: “Pay back what you owe me!”  Is “payback” the claim I want to make at the foot of the Cross? Is my Life Narrative really superior to yours, perhaps because I “have suffered more than you”?  Here are some examples of Superiority Narratives, in a racial context, we may need to lay at the foot of The Cross:

  • “Lincoln and the war finally freed the slaves; we should all be grateful now, not spiteful or resentful.”
  • “The US Declaration settles it: ‘all men are created equal.’ It’s done, legally.”
  • “You could never understand my traumatic experience of racism.”
  • “You just don’t ‘Get it’. You lack education on this point.  Your ‘privilege’ makes you incapable of seeing well.”

And so forth. We can defend the “Truth” of all of these statements with real intellectual and emotional commitment. You can probably think of many, many more, in the back-and-forth of defensive discussion.  The point is that we tend, all of us, to justify the Greater Righteousness of our “side” or “cause” or personal story.  We tend to engage superiority narratives, especially when we feel pain. If we continue looking through that lens of life, we will always put ourselves in a morally superior place, one that has no room for our friend, our partner. But if we look through the lens of The Cross, we will eventually see what Paul saw, something truly revolutionary:

“So in Christ you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  (Galatians 3:26-29)

What Paul says here is really tremendous—The Cross connects us, no matter how far apart we start:  “Jew and Gentile” (religious and unreligious); male and female; oppressed and oppressor.   We all have our experience and stories, and they all have some validity—perhaps even very painful validity; but at The Cross, my story is not the only story. Before the Cross, we should not dismiss one another; before The Cross, we should not attempt to Shame one another; before The Cross, we should avoid stories or realities that rule-out other experiences—arguments that are “heads I’m right; tails you’re wrong;” before The Cross, we generally abandon Linear Blame—I’m always the Perp or the Scapegoat, you’re always The Victim, because we both are guilty, fundamentally guilty, at the foot of The Cross.  At the cross I can’t be better than you, and you can’t be better than me.

Second, the Sacrifices God Himself made for you and for me at the cross are a Humility Challenge:  am I willing to Follow Him in Sacrifice?  The alternative is to assert that I am, in this sense, greater than Jesus; that I do NOT have to put myself on the cross as He did; that I do NOT need to forgive as He forgave; that I do NOT need to sacrifice even though He did; that my suffering justifies my Resentment even though He did not go down that road; and that I do NOT have to give up aspects of Justice and Fairness like Jesus did.

Third, the Cross of Jesus calls me to Healing. That’s a callto something, but also a call away from something. That implies a kind of leaving—I have to ultimately leave my Dominant Injury Story for a Future Healing Story. There is journey and psycho-spiritual travel here. This is why Jesus asked the man in John 5, “do you want to get well?”  Not getting well can be a sticky story—one that defines my life in dramatic terms and may inspire compassion and sympathy that serves as a surrogate for the risks of genuine dialogical relationship.  I see this often with couples’ therapy in which one partner has felt silenced for a long time.

All of this is difficult. Where, then, is room for my pain?  The ways I’ve been misunderstood or concretely victimized?  What do I do with that?  As a therapist, I have often been with clients who may have needed to stay in their Injury Story for a while, before they were able to move to a Healing Story.  I became a bridge of Validation for them; a witness of their suffering, and this can work well in therapy because I am not the source of the suffering; it may be their parent or partner.  I am that middle ground for them.

As is Christ, and much more so.  Christ does understand my pain and yours; injustices towards me and you. He knows this in relationship—that is, “relating” to us experientially (Hebrews 4:15-16).  He also knows this empathetically: “if one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  I’m assuming that since Christ is the head, he suffers with His hurting knees (Scott’s brain cancer, for example) and His damaged, broken heart (Dr. King’s persecution & murder).

Is that enough for me?  I hope so.  Because the ways of this world in dealing with racial and gender inequality are not working.  They are getting more intense and loud, but are working even less.  The vicious figure 8 is winning.That is because in this world, a man must often command and demand respect from another; before The Cross, a man is handcuffed to another man as a fellow-sinner.  That is the Healing of Humility.

Earlier we said Step One is about Targeting the Scheme; and Step Two is facilitating the Emotional Conversation from Level II—helping parties locate and reveal themselves.  Step Three is about Responding Well to one another—with empathy and basic respect.  Each party will remain stuck until they can largely validate the other’s experience.  I say “largely” because it is probably not reasonable to expect one party to completely “convert” to the other person’ story.  Instead, they can learn to say, and mean, “I think I see your experience, and can agree with its reality in the main, although it’s hard for me to say it’s the only story in town.  Regardless, I do care about your sufferings.” It should be fair for both parties to say this to one another.  The most important thing in Responding is Connection:  When I hear your story, what in it resonates for me?  What connects to my compassion, and to my own experiences?  It will be important for me to say it and for you to say it.

Step Four is more advanced and should not be pursued unil the first 3 steps are implemented well.  Step four includes Asking for More of one another, and requires a base of trust.  In this mode, each party can ask two kinds of things:  1) “Are there things you want or need from me?   2) “I want to ask this from you.”

So, what would it look like to get leaders of multicultural racial communities to put these principles into practice?  What might if look like for police forces and the community they are supposed to serve?  Or polarized news media elites that only find Truth in their own point of view, then broadcast that to us, knowing controversy keeps ratings high?  Or in our academic elites who believe their truth is The Truth, and that the “other view” is just “stupid” or “uneducated”?  I can imagine it.  It would be a revolution of Humility, Understanding, Connection, and ultimately, Healing.

 

 

 

When Shoes Become Boots

This is a guest blog from my wife Lynne, offering some of her thoughts on our cancer journeys.  Lynne is a cancer survivor (2006) herself and has served in the ministry since 1981 in Boston, Hong Kong, Seattle, and Berlin.  I am so thankful for her partnership, love, steadfast care in this crisis, and her highly gifted work in training women for leadership.  Enjoy!

“We are winging our way back to Seattle for another “shoe day”. For me it feels more like a boot than a shoe. Boots are heavier than shoes, they fall louder and harder. Scott is full of faith and grace in adversity. Me, not so much. I pray daily, I cry daily, I serve , but this is a difficult journey. I am glad we travel it together. In our lives Scott has led me thru some amazing journeys. First  dating…. we had a blast. Then there was marriage, our first years rough, as many experience , but then followed a blissful few of fun, purpose, and comraderie. Then parenting. Challenging for sure, but Scott was a great Dad, helpful to me finding my way as a mother, and sure of what it meant to be family. The journey of the “Green team ” was full of travel, fun, great food, creating memories and building family traditions that sustain us yet today.
Travel and culture have always been a part of our journey. From the Deep South,to Boston, to Hong Kong, to China, to the Northwest and now to Europe our lives have been deeply enriched by our family and friends from everywhere. I was reminded of this yesterday on my 57th birthday when my wishes on FB were from all the many friends and family from everywhere: we are richly blesssed.  There have been a few times of unique challenge along the way. 2007 brought challenges with my cancer journey. Through 9 surgeries and 6 months of chemo Scott was a sincere nurse, a deep friend and a rock for me to rely on. More challenging years followed.  Scott got a masters in Family Therapy. I got a masters in communication ( I always felt the need to keep up). Our kids had normal growing pains and launching challenges, and we journeyed on.
2012 saw some needs in Europe that Scott wanted to respond to. I was content to stay in the US. But Scott has great powers of persuasion:  I will give you 12 weeks in Europe( Lynne’s voice) became 9 months there and 3 in Seattle. I am grateful to Scott for knowing my neeeds and for a great partnership between the EMS and Seattle. Scott wants most to meet my needs and change the world. He does both in a spectacular manner.
This past summer he began to tell me about unusual symptoms he was experiencing. At first weekly, then more often . We  Had had an issue xtremly stressful Spring and Summer, selling our Seattle home and Lynne had major surgery so, initially, we chalked the symptoms up to stress, but as they  starting occurring daily , he realized he must see a doctor. Right before a trip to Munich( 6 hours on the Autobahn with stroke like symptoms did not seem like a good idea) Scott went to the ER in Berlin. We were sure it was stress related and joked it could not possibly  be a brain tumor, so dont borrow trouble. A few hours later the doctors confirmed a 6 cm. mass in his right Parietal lobe.
Surgery followed in Seattle.  We had great support from friends around the world ( thank you McCulloughs for a wonderful place to recuperate); radiation was next with support from HK and China in the physical shape of Pandanny. (Danny Chow and Pandora Lam) I have only blurred memories of those weeks, but know I was sustained by love and care from the family we have in HK and China. Post radiation we had the first ” shoe day”. Our doctor had prepared us that it might be inconclusive, and therefore uneventful, but an important baseline. She called it correctly . Radiation can cause swelling in the brain and some dead cells, so it is not clear what is going on. We then headed to Berlin for chemo.
Berlin  feels like another home and friends there support us. We are grateful. Chemo is hard. Let’s face it , it is poison meant to seek and destroy. It does so indiscriminately. In  the future it will get better, but now it wipes you out. I have watched Scott be brave and strong, tired and weak, yet he journeys on. I feel incapable of walking one more step, but when I see his courage and faith I am called higher. So this week is not a shoe day, but a boot day. Boots protect.  Boots strengthen your ankles. Boots enable you to make it through deeper mud.
So today we strap on our boots and journey on. Mar 28 is boot day.
Thank  you Scott for this incredible journey we share.
Lynne Green

What I Know About Temodar

I’m in my second round of adjuvant chemotherapy (there are six rounds, through July this year), which means 5 days “on” the drug, and then 23 days “off.”  The drug is a cancer poison meant to destroy cancer cells, and I’m all for that strategy and effect.  Failure in this is not a life-giving option for me.  The doctors hope that periodic MRI’s will show that Temodar is zapping all post-surgery cancer cells.

I’m definitely affected.  Tonight I’m home resting while my wife and son are out dining.  Darn.  But I needed to stay home with my cold symptoms in case I actually have a cold.  Do I have one? It seems like I can’t know, or won’t really know.  Is the poison itself sending my immune system into a drugged disco, making me “feel sick,” or has it lowered my white blood cells enough in a few days for me to catch a normal “cold?”  Perhaps my blood test next week will help me know.  But I doubt it.

The reason why I doubt it has to do with the gap between my ability to understand and the complexity of effects in cancer treatment.  When I put these kind of questions to my doctors—who I think really are ingenious people—we have long discussions about “comorbidity,” “side effects,” “clinical trials,” and “studies.”  We talk about many possibilities and some probabilities, and then I go away confused.  We just don’t know.

I don’t mean to say that there’s nothing we know.  There’s a lot of “data” we can know about cancer and Temodar, leading us to probabilities and inferences, and with them, “best strategies.”  There are real “facts” about cancer.  And yet, that’s still different from Certainty and Knowing-for-Sure what we should do.  The relevance of different facts is hard to discern, even for ingenious physicians.  The truth is, from where I lie on my sofa, its’ just too complex even for doctors.  This is hard on us–the word is “humbling”–because we are Children of the Age of Science and Education.  Within our education, we have been indoctrinated to believe that “science” and “more education” will fix things.  I’m not against that of course, but as I read on the internet,  I find we may need more Logic and Clear Thinking than Science.  And hey(!) I say that as a cancer patient!

Our new way of looking at “news” is similar, so I thought this morning.  We are debating on and offline about “fake news” versus “real news,” and depending on your political bias, the two things are hard to differentiate.  It’s always a little amusing—before you start to cry—to see people argue on the internet about “facts:” they post more “studies” from their side of thinking, and post rebuttal articles that “clearly” show the falseness of the other person’s “facts.”  I’ve done some of that myself.

Of course, it’s not convincing, to either of us.  It’s like listening to teens or parents raise their voices in an argument, as if volume brings more Truth into the room.  Just shout louder; otherwise they won’t “get it.”  Get it?

Let me suggest that on the news front, we are confusing facts with interpretation.  I’d also like to suggest that more educated thing we could do is not try to muster more “facts” from the internet, but instead become more aware of how we interpret, and admit that.  Here’s an example:

When we go to war, we lose a lot of young lives, spend a lot of money, often equip our enemies, and enable other, sometimes more ruthless entities (think ISIS) to take power and leadership.  Those are “facts” or at least recent historical tendencies.  But how might we interpret these facts?  Some will say this “proves” we should “never go to war unless it’s about our own survival.”  But others will say this “proves” we must wage war more ruthlessly, more overwhelmingly, as at the end of WWII.  Both of these interpretations are not facts, but reflect principled understandings of the world, human motivation, and moral obligation.

So, are you reading fake news?  Believing fake news?  I don’t know.  You may never know.  I’ll bet you can find lots of “studies” to buttress an argument for or against CNN or FBN.  But, more importantly, I would urge us to discern our “facts” from interpretations.  In doing this, we may not learn more about our world.  Or Temodar.  But I think we will learn more about ourselves and how we interpret this world.

 

I’m So Tired

February 17

I’m John Lennon tired.

After completing a major Teen Event in the summer of 1977 (discovering The White Album), I found myself wailing Lennon’s “I’m So Tired” for about the next 2,372 mornings—that is, until I got married.  No wife wants to hear this from her husband.  It’s hard enough to get your own body to the coffee maker without having a wailer near you creating more psychological weight.

But I’ve started my six six-month chemotherapy rounds—5 days on, 23 off, rinse and repeat until August.  Of course, I had read that the main side effect of the life-saving drug (we hope and pray) was “fatigue”, so I had prepped myself for “fatigue.”  If I dare say so, that’s a little bit like saying the inside of a volcano may be “hot.”

After the five days, I suddenly felt like Earth’s gravity had become Jupiter’s; crawling seemed preferable to walking.  I could not get rid of the pervasive and ineluctable sleepiness that came.  At Sunday church I thought I was literally going to keel over.  I’m sleepy now, and it’s 3pm.

Now, another week later, I feel “normal”, which means, “really tired, but I can walk and not keel over.”  Amidst this, it’s likely, given oddball body temperatures, I also had the flu.  Not now, and I’m grateful.  I’m even preparing to preach the lesson this Sunday in Berlin, and I hope to do a bit of it in German.  Good luck to me.  A nap will follow.

All of this to share we each, by the grace of God’s healing, “bounce back.”  And a ball will bounce, even on Jupiter.  Now I have to say that so far, this is the worst bounce back in history since Lehman Brothers, but it’s still a bounce.  We tend to get better, albeit sometimes really slowly.  But better we get.  Until someday we don’t.  I would say more about that today, but I need to go lie down.

Shoe Day

Today is the 32nd Marin Luther King Jr. Day.  Tomorrow, January 17, is a Shoe Day for me, one in which I will have an MRI done to see if this fall’s brain cancer treatment was effective.  By “Shoe Day,” I mean those days in which the focus of your life or death comes brightly into view, one in which you are wondering if “the other shoe will drop:” What will be found on the scan?  Will the result point to life or not?  As a cancer patient and survivor (thus far), I fight not to allow many days to be Shoe Days, but some, like tomorrow’s MRI, are hard to disguise.  And in the valley of the shadow of death, framed by the idealism of Dr. King’s life, example, and famous words, I have some strong wishes for our church community and for our nation.  How you hear them is wildly beyond my control, but I hope you can trust the spirit with which I write them—sincerely, honestly, and humbly, acknowledging that this is but One More Word on the Topic, not THE Word.  But there are some Great Things I am asking of you today, and of myself in it.

First a quick observation:  why was Dr. King so admired?  What was he doing in the name of civil rights that was so noteworthy?  Philosophers will remember Gandhi and “Satyagraha, and most of us will remember, “non-violent resistance.”  In my therapy practice, we might say this was a Commitment to Process over Content/Results.  It was more important to King and his followers to engage a process of Unity over Division, Love over Hate, Light over Darkness, believing these values would win the day, than to have a forced result—and outcome mandated by torches, pitchforks, or guns.  Fundamentally, King’s movement, in my interpretation, was committed to Inspiring, rather than Requiring, change.  This he accomplished, and such process has a permanent home in my own heart because of his priceless work—work that cost him his life.  I’m confident this is at least one of the reasons he is compared to Jesus.

And how would Dr. King diagnose us today?  I suspect he would not be proud of our division;  not proud of our rhetoric;  not proud of our crimes;  not proud of our runaway slander;  not proud of retribution and resentment;  not proud of the way we “have a national conversation” about our frayed race relations. America, like most countries, has “scandal” in its history.  Duh, you say.  But today’s scandal is our poisonous love of Division.  Why do we love it?  That has to do with Ease and Pleasure.

Temptation and Sin are always pleasureable in the short run.  In the face of our racial differences, it may be easy to be Proud and Superior, rather than Humble and Curious.  I remember in junior high school how true this was even beyond race—I was different because I had come from a military base and family.  Thank God I was fast, which impressed my enemies just enough.

Hate is also a pleasure.  Short-term, it feels good to hate.  For example, I hate the 49ers, and as a fan this generally feels good.  Pray for me.

Essentialism makes division possible:  the idea that The Past is Rubbish, because now, finally, WE have found the Magic Bullet to a particular problem.  I suppose this is another manifestation of condescension.  As Romans teaches, it’s better for us to accept that there are many “disputable matters” on which we should refrain from Judgment.

Dismissiveness supports division.  Think this through carefully: “You just don’t get it,” is not an argument and in fact indicates that you either have no argument to make (persuade us!) or you don’t really understand your own arguments very well.  Another version of this is “the facts show…”  I have found over these decades that while it’s true Facts are Facts, most of our divisive conversations are about how we interpret those facts—yet another disputable matter.  For example, Gallup today reported that eight years ago, 37% of Americans thought our race relations were poor, while today, 67% say so.  Those are facts; but they can be interpreted many ways:  for example, it shows we’re just more “aware” than we were 8 years ago;  or, it shows relations are truly worse;  or, it shows our rhetoric has become more poisoned;  or maybe all three.

The Bible condemns (harshly, in my opinion) division; (there are too many commanding scriptures on it to cite here.  Just Google, “what does the Bible say about Division?”).  In Titus 3:9-10, we all read, “but avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (ESV) Inspiring division is something that can take you out of the community (“disfellowshipped” we call it often);  that’s how much it means to God, and to Christ, who died for our salvation, but also to destroy walls of division (Ephesians 2:13-14).

As Christians and community leaders, we should ask ourselves, “do my actions and especially my words, inspire more Unity, or enable or rationalize Division?”  And in the spirit of Titus 3:9, we should be asking, “is the way we talk about this really “profitable,” or is it “worthless?”  Is what we’ve been doing really working?  If the answer is “Yes,” keep sharing with us the specifics of how that has worked in your family, your community, your church, so that we can learn and imitate.

If the answer is “No,” then shouldn’t we try something different?  Or allow the memory of Dr. King to harken us back to something we forgot or put on the shelf?

The way forward, as I understand it, has some palpable foundations.  First, we must assume genuine dialogue between the injured parties.  When I first began my work as a marriage therapist, I was engaged by a couple that came with a fundamental and, as I quickly learned, prohibitive problem:  only the Husband was The Problem.  The couples’ interactions showed this, and when I met with the parties separately, the wife confirmed the Truth of what I was feeling:  to her, the husband was deficient, flawed, and unable or unwilling to “take responsibility.”  In fact, she had already given up. When I suggested to her that this might prove to be a prohibitively condescending non-starter for healing, she began to assume I was “on his side.”  As you can imagine, our work together soon ended.  She was committed to what I now call, “Divorce Talk,” or Divorce Process; in such a state, collaboration is impossible.  Everything is One Party’s fault.  That person must “take total responsibility” or the other party will pack up toys and go home.  And often they do.

Since those days, I have often asked couples to read Matthew 18:21-35 as a part of homework and assessment.  In this scripture are the fundamentals of Healing between Sinners.  Here are some of the basic realities God expects us to embrace, and these may be hard teachings:

  • We are fellow sinners. Generally, God is not seeing one of us as a Perpetrator and the other as a Victim, though such a concrete tragedy is certainly possible.  The victim of a rape is not somehow “asking for it,” and the victim of racism is not somehow causing it.  But in the shadow of the cross, it’s clear God is looking for more basic equality of fault amongst us sinners rather than looking to emphasize linear (one way) blame. And those boundaries can be quite dynamic between people:  a couple’s  8 years of mutual disrespect and mutual reactivity may precede a concrete move to Perpetrator, in which the man becomes an Abuser in a certain context. In such a context, the Way to Healing will involve a repudiation of Perpetration that is indeed Linear, but then a return to the mutuality process needed to change the longer term and more pervasive pattern.
  • Our debts to each other should be evaluated with respect to the ways we have offended God. We have each offended God far greater than we offend each other;  or at least that’s what the parable is teaching.  If we don’t think that, then the parable is confronting us on our lack of awareness an self-righteousness. God is expecting an overwhelming Humility from each of us that makes transcending our offenses possible.  The Humility is in knowing we have been forgiven “million dollar debts” we owe to God, our Maker.  We must therefore not strangle our fellow servants—even racist ones.  This is something Dr. King clearly understood and lived.
  • Humility banishes Resentment and all our “demands.” The unmerciful servant strangles the other servant and demands, “Pay back what you owe me!”  Shouldn’t he have a right to his resentment?  Isn’t it logical for him to demand restitution?  At the cross, the answer is No.  Jesus himself did not bring Resentment or Revenge to bear.  I want to suggest that if we demand our “right” to Resentment, then we are saying we are greater than Jesus—we don’t have to sacrifice like He did.

In the real world, this means, in the name of Healing, we generally surrender our right to “zero-sum” evaluations and communication.  That means:

  • Making my point doesn’t disqualifying your point. Both can have Truth in them.
  • Validating my experience doesn’t mean invalidating your experience. Both are valuable.
  • “Taking responsibility” is never a one-way effort. We’re in it together
  • Tactics like “You don’t get it,” aren’t useful. It’s like saying, “You’re nothing,” because “I’m a better sinner than you.”

But again,  isn’t there a time and place for linear blame?  The Holocaust? Pearl Harbor?  The KKK has killed my grandfather?  Yes and indeed.  We seek, rightfully, Justice in these cases and pray that our hearts for Justice will not be a hope deferred.  And we rightfully fight for legal systems that will defend this. But far too often, I see and hear disciples trying to turn a more distant and abstract interpretation (“I think my Congressman is a bigot”) into another concrete judgment when we can’t possibly know the heart like Jesus does.  We then dance faster and faster with one another in judgmental opinion-making, until we have burned every bridge and are living all alone in our Rightness.

How do we navigate such waters?  Here are some ideas that have been Healing and useful for me, and which I have striven to teach everywhere in every church:

  • Respect each other’s experiences (1 Peter 2:17). Listen in the spirit of the Golden Rule.
  • Defend Reputation since Love always Protects (1 Corinthians 13:7). That means fight for the best about each other rather than think the worst.  It means looking for the Health more than for the Flaw, which is how God sees us (Romans 4:17).
  • Call out and Oppose Slander (Mark 7:22 and many more). In the USA, we have become a society that enables slander.  Our media is debased by it, and deeply infected with it.  It is “normal.”  But in God’s world, it is a serious and deadly sin.  We should oppose it, and live as if Times v Sullivan (look it up) never happened.  What if it were easy to sue you for Defamation?  We and our pop media are reckless with our words and quick to slander others.  Better to raise questions than quickly draw conclusions (my grandmother 3:11).
  • Defend Process over Short-term Results (like Dr. King did). To Dr. King, the ends did not justify the means.  We desperately need communication processes that afford mutual Respect to quarreling parties, suspicious parties, resentful parties.
  • Try to live in your own Story; don’t import someone else’s grievance from a different city, a different generation, or a different time. Sometimes we do this in a misunderstanding of Empathy.  I can watch Schindler’s List and feel a desperate antipathy towards Germany’s 3rd Reich; that doesn’t mean that’s my current story living today in Berlin on Landhausstrasse.  I don’t want to import that experience and project it onto my current neighbors.  It just makes the puzzle of mutual understanding ten times harder to unravel. Isn’t it hard enough already?

There’s a another shoe waiting to drop.  As I go into the MRI tomorrow, I am praying scans will show overwhelming victory over cancer.  And as I go into Seattle tomorrow, I am praying we look for new, unpoisoned ways of talking about our biases, our bigotries, our assumptions, our judgments, our resentments, and our future.

God bless,

Scott Green

Seattle, January 16, 2017

Looking for the Health

First, Happy New Year, everyone.  May 2017 be a Year of Blessing—may you receive them, and Be them.

It’s now been 2 months since my brain cancer surgery.  I’m done with Radiation, though its effects on my hair, scalp, and energy linger.  I now have one month “off” in order to allow my brain tissues to settle down and resume pre-swelling size and function.  By late January, I will then have a baseline MRI, which will be used against future scans.  Beginning in February, I will go back on chemotherapy for six months—5 days on, 23 off, rinse and repeat until August.

I remain thankful for prayers, positive thoughts, humor, and dear family and friends who stay in touch and visit.  I have loved seeing Stephen and Ariel at Christmas.  My wife continues to vie for sainthood.  It is very difficult to overstate the generosity of the European Missions Society, for whom I work, and the Berlin disciples, with whom I hope to resume work soon.  We miss Berlin and have many dreams on our hearts for the days ahead.

Earlier I was complaining about my hair and scalp—I look, on one side of my head, like a mangy hyena.  Will it get better?  And if it didn’t, what would my outlook be?  It is an important personal exercise in what we call, in Therapyland, “Looking for the health” rather than looking for pathology–my scalp may testify to cancer cure and the answer to many prayers.  That choice of perspective can frame the stories you get about others, about your employer, about your family, about your government, and much more.  It is tempting to look for the flaw—to literally be a flaw-based thinker rather than a faith-based thinker.  When you turn such a gaze on yourself, we call it self-loathing, and I wonder sometimes if that isn’t in play for us when we seek to make our family of churches better and stronger.  Are we trying to “get better” in a healthy way?

For example, many months ago, a good friend of mine, the Senior Minister of the Jacksonville church James Robbins, authored a new way of doing outreach Bible Studies and called it “Paradigm Shift.”  Predictably, it soon stormed social media, and with an interesting bent:  so many commentators used it to question themselves and our ministries in what I experience as a kind of Self-Loathing:  Is our study method all wrong?  Have we been shutting the door of the kingdom in peoples’ faces?  Have we been narrow-minded and judgmental?  Are newer, younger ideas really welcome in the church, or are we just an “old boys’ club?”  And other questions that frame Flaw-based thinking and emotion.

Lately, in a similar way, I’ve been approached by younger Berlin disciples who are concerned about evaluations of our churches:  have we become Lukewarm?  Have we lost our Commitment?  Are we growing so slowly now that we are no longer really given to The Great Commission?

My short answer is “No.”

My longer answer is about Having an Eye for the Health in a thing, and making this the center of your Growing Faith and Reform—not just what you believe is possible with God’s help, but whether or not you see things the way He sees things: “the God who raises the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17).

If you are currently caught up in Flaw-based Thinking, you will be, ironically, tempted to view this idea with negativity: “Well, we can’t just put our heads in the sand!”  “Everyone needs tough love sometimes!”  “We have to speak the truth in love doggone it ”

Yes, there’s a time and place to say, “We’ve given up the Mission.  We’ve stepped off the battlefield.  We’ve gotten soft and self-pitying.”  But I would be careful to assume that set of circumstances for us all, world-wide.  Instead, judge yourself, and start small.  If you feel you and your group have indeed hung up your Sword, then work on local repentance, and light a candle in your proximity.  Go Show Us How.  It will spread.

There’s much more to say about this, and I realize this is just my experience and my opinion.  There’s always the problem of underestimating danger.  And there’s the problem of overestimating failure or sinfulness.  If there is a theological error to be made one way or the other, it seems to me that Jehovah has invested all He has in potentially “erring” on the side of Grace, not Judgement.  How then shall we, as time goes by, as we gray in hair, as our children grow up, as our limbs weaken, reflect upon our work with God, and critique it in a spirit of Maturity not reactivity?  Here are some principles I hope worthy of serious Reflection and Discussion:

Some Pitfalls:

  • Remember that Critiques are Interpretations. They are descriptive maps of our current or historical territory.  But the map is never the territory.  Whether it is our critique or someone else’s, it is one of many, many “stories” about Church Life.  As Lyotard famously put it, be skeptical of all metanarratives, including your own about Self, or The Church.
  • Beware of “one size fits all” evaluations. It’s easy for any of us to do this because most of us are drawn to singular, final, “silver-bullet” answers.  I’m the same way.  Still, our family of churches are hardly One Culture, One Thing, and we need to humbly leave abundant room for different experiences.
  • Don’t panic. Any leader who has read Ezekiel 33 will want to be brave enough to “Sound the Shofar” (Sound the alarm!).  My encouragement, in a context of multiple experiences and judgements, is to work on pluralism:  I may feel it’s time to sound the alarm, but my 3 fellow elders or ministers may see it differently.  Trust the many, but make sure the many are being honest with one another.
  • Watch out for Essentialism—the tendency in academic truth-seeking to claim a radical new insight or solution, while disrespecting or disregarding everything previous to the discovery. I did this myself in my 20’s, both as a college student and as a young minister.  I didn’t respect the shoulders on which we, as a reforming movement, stood.  We tended to disregard anything that was “traditional” church of Christ, seeing this as a ball-and-chain on our reforming sprint.  Too bad.  We missed a lot.  And I want to make sure we don’t keep doing that.  In essentialism, the offender eventually realizes that the Magic Bullet they’ve “discovered” isn’t as magical as they thought, and really does fit as a significant piece of progress into the general narrative of the subject they’ve studied.  Let’s do that.  The status quo is not to be worshipped.  But neither are Silver Bullets that trash our past, including our more recent past.

Some Good Things:

  • Keep to your own experience and let its richness inspire your reflection while letting its local limits inform a humble evaluation. Beware of importing experiences from others and other churches; this kind of introjection will likely make the story you feel bigger than is merited and too dramatic for others to embrace.  These become “Runaway Stories” that are “too hot to handle” in a healthy way.
  • Observe the Golden Rule. Gordon Ferguson and Wyndham Shaw saw this first and saw it well before the storms of the early 2000’s.  Before getting too down on other leaders or other churches, interrogate yourself along GR lines:  what have I personally done about these weaknesses or deficits?  Could I have done, for sure, better than those I’m disappointed with?  Am I part of the solution or just a Clarion of the Problem?
  • Remember that we are always a Reforming Church, whose work is never finished. There will always be weaknesses and perceptions of disasters.  Can we dialogue about them, knowing we’ll always have them?
  • Remember, Show the way; show us how.

And now, a few thoughts about how I personally experience our ICOC slower growth (compare to the 90’s for example) and our struggles with “discipleship” and “commitment.”  These are just my experiences—though these are extensive across 3 cultures, languages, and continents—and these ideas are useful for me, the Berlin leadership, and the Berlin Church in the main.  Perhaps they are not so useful for you, fair enough.  But I do raise these questions hoping each of us will henceforth not only reflect on The Church, but also reflect on how we come to the conclusions we draw.  Is it healthy?  Is it working?  Can we search for the Health?

I believe most of our current frustrations with Commitment emanate from our unprocessed conflicts with aging.  When we first uprooted ourselves within the church of Christ context, and embarked upon a new path, we were largely 20-somethings, college students, grad students, single pros, with just enough “mature people” like the Bairds and Gempels mixed in to make us feel legitimate.  Now here we are, nearly 40 years later, and we who were so full of energy and ideas—we hope and pray we are the Bairds and Gempels.  Would we be so blessed.  Why does this matter?  For two reasons.

First, what I call The Youth Vote (YV) of society (teen, campus, young single) is the Seeking part of society—the revolutionaries, the thinkers, the, yes, Seekers.  At that age, our social networks are incredibly fluid and our minds are often on Meaning, Morals, and What Our Future Holds.  We are both open-minded and open-to-relationships.  Commitment seems obvious to the young Robespieres, and Mentoring—whether you are the mentor or the pupil—is attractive as in no other time of life.  In addition, the YV are naturally spiritually Ambitious.

Second, the older generation (OG), by contrast, is usually building walls and closing down social networks, and our minds then are on Responsibility, including for Family, Money, and Career.  We have the most irons in the fire, and are often out of touch with our need for God until it becomes acute and practical:  my teens are out of control, my marriage is on the rocks, etc.  To the older, mentoring may seem unnecessary, and commitment is defined within a context of exceptions—especially for career and family.  Often, various levels of Ambition—some high, some not so much—  will be present in an older generation, something we may confuse with Variable Commitment.

When the workers in the harvest field are nearly all YV and reaching out to all YV, explosive things are possible, and commitment will look obvious and almost easy.  When the workers are more and more OG, reaching out to more and more OG, church growth is likely to slow, commitment will be challenged more by exceptions, and the need for mentoring will need to be talked about often, as members genuinely grow in competence and–the dark side of that coin–complacency.  More dreams will have been broken along the way, and a faith refined in fire will be singed periodically.

In Berlin, we are challenging the Youth Vote to be the spiritual Sprinters and to Lead the Way for we who are older in outreach.  We want them to drive the outreach agenda.  We are not excusing a failure to grow in other groups; rather, we thirst for it, but know who can really drive that agenda.  Similarly, we are challenging the Older Generation to Lead the way in wisdom, life lessons, refined faith, and counseling.  We want them to drive the Maturity agenda.  We are not excusing a failure to mature in other groups; rather, we thirst for it, but know who can really drive the maturity agenda. Together, we will build a stronger church, a wiser church with “discipling,” a church that can handle more and diverse needs, and, yes, a still growing church (including in numbers).

Next year, in Berlin’s neighboring village of Wittenberg, the 500-year anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation (our words not his) will be celebrated.  The village, Luther’s home, and the various museums there remind me that we, as a Restoration Movement, stand indeed on broad shoulders of history and brave figures.  If we really understand the circumstances and spirit of Luther, we will vow to always remain a “reforming” church and movement; that work will never end.

May God bless us, every one, in 2017, and may we, every one, go be a blessing to those around us in 2017.

December 30, 2016

Dec 19–The Home Stretch

Have you ever ridden a horse and noticed what they’re like on the way back to the barn?  They move with purpose and strength, and you can barely slow them down.  They want to get home, where there’s food and familiarity.  It’s their home stretch.

Lynne and I used to run the Seattle Half-Marathon every year in the 2000’s, often with Jay Kelly, and once including Danny Chow from Beijing (more about him below).  I still have the photo to prove it.  In the Half, there’s also a compelling sense of “home stretch,” after you’ve climbed Capitol Hill in Seattle and begin your decent towards 5th Avenue and the Space Needle.  Your legs are tired but they thump ahead of you like the horse’s, and you begin imagining what it will be like to cross the finish line, receive your medal which says, simply, “Finisher,” and then get a warming “coat” of Aluminum Foil, and finally, going into the exhibition room and looking for Ivar’s clam chowder.  When you are tired, thirsty, and salty, these are invigorating thoughts.

So in the Proton Therapy Center, I’m in the home stretch:  just 3 days to go.  I’ve given some Christmas gifts to those who have helped me the most each day—the Beam Team—and tried to encourage them with the knowledge that they are helping save my life.  So on Thursday I will face the Tumor Boomer (proton beam) for what I hope is the last time in my life and experience “graduation” there, a party thrown by these gifted doctors, nurses, and technicians.

As I think of them, I’m grateful for their Ambition.  I think Ambition has taken a hit since Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (remember Gordon Gecko, and his “greed is good” speech?), because it has often been misconstrued in zero-sum terms:  greed means you don’t care for others, and you become wealthier at their specific expense.  Without getting bogged dismally down in Econ 101, let’s just say it’s way more complicated than that.  And I will assert that without Ambition (not Greed, which is its malignant form), I probably wouldn’t even be alive right now—what striving, imagining, persevering, inspiration, and desire had to precede the inventing of these therapies, push those in med school, prod inventers, and call forth talents with purpose to make this happen.  Without ambition, no one would have invented the saw they used to cut my skull open, the techniques with which to remove a tumor safely, or the physics-apps needed now to zap the cancer into oblivion.

There is a dark side to Ambition, yes, and not just Greed.  There’s a psycho-spiritual turn to Ambition that says to the Self, “You’ve never done enough,” “You are not good enough,” and tries to steal away the joy of actually accomplishing something great, like the summit of an effort or a championship.  You can drive yourself crazy with “drive.”

But it’s worth the risk, IMO.  In our family of churches, I perceive it to be one of our great needs right now—something worth calling people to again, something worth highlighting from the pulpit, and something worth cultivating in our youth again.  Recently I was reunited with my old friend and minister Danny Chow, who really accomplished some legendary things in campus ministry in Hong Kong before anchoring two china mission teams.  I still remember how routine it was for his small group Bible Talk to have over 20 seekers attending week after week.  Many became believers and disciples of Christ.  I see that now in young guys like Nick Mamet in Connecticut and with the Berlin campus women right now, who have too many people to study with.  I’m proud of them, but I really pray this winter that their ambition is contagious.

On the lighter side of brain cancer, my wife pointed out to me this week that the chemo drug I take, Temodar, comes packaged with all kinds of instructions on how to handle it safely (too detailed to scribble here), and yet you ingest it each night.  Seems ironic.  I can’t think of anything about which I said to my kids, “Don’t touch that!  But you can eat it.”

For three more days, I shall handle with care, but then swallow the life-saving poison (another irony).

Thank you for all your prayers and kindness,

Scott