All posts by Rod White

Avoidant attachment style: Why you might be developing one

Is avoidant attachment style more prevalent than it used to be? It seems so. Many people I meet and counsel have an “ avoidant streak” rippling through their character. I wouldn’t expect a lot of those people to be in therapy at all, since  they don’t usually trust in the good will of intimates (like therapists get intimate), and they generally maintain independence, self-reliance and emotional distance. But there they are.

There they are, more and more, describing their struggles to connect and their overwhelming sense of being put upon and unacceptable. They got me thinking that their troubles, though probably rooted in their childhood reaction to their parents, were being exacerbated or even created by the cruel time in which we live. The leaders and leadership structures of the world right now do not invite trust. Everyone, down to the counter server and the communion server, seems to be playing by a ruthless, negative playbook.  Flip to the macro and Putin is threatening nuclear war while climate change rolls over Puerto Rico. You probably feel at least a little insecure, yourself.

What is attachment style?

I was doing some research on what I was experiencing and came upon a scholarly paper by Mario Mikulincer (Israel) and Philip Shaver (California) which summarizes the outworking of attachment styles  and hints at why I might see adults getting caught in their childhood avoidance or developing levels of avoidance they never had (Title:  An attachment perspective on psychopathology).

Paula Pietromonaco, Nancy Collins, Phil Shaver, Mario Mikulincer, Sue Johnson, Roger Kobak at an adult attachment conference in 2002

You may be quite familiar with attachment theory, by now, since John Bowlby started teaching about it in the 1970’s and 80’s. I appreciated the authors’ succinct way to recount how our attachment experiences result in attachment styles – how we see ourselves and habitually behave in the world.

Interactions with attachment figures who are available in times of need, and who are sensitive and responsive to bids for proximity and support, promote a stable sense of attachment security and build positive mental representations of self and others. But when a person’s attachment figures are not reliably available and supportive, proximity seeking fails to relieve distress, felt security is undermined, negative models of self and others are formed, and the likelihood of later emotional problems and maladjustment increases.

When testing this theory in studies of adults, most researchers have focused on the systematic pattern of relational expectations, emotions, and behavior that results from one’s attachment history – what Hazan and Shaver called attachment style. Research clearly indicates that attachment styles can be measured in terms of two independent dimensions, attachment-related anxiety and avoidance. A person’s position on the anxiety dimension indicates the degree to which he or she worries that a partner will not be available and responsive in times of need. A person’s position on the avoidance dimension indicates the extent to which he or she distrusts relationship partners’ good will and strives to maintain behavioral independence, self-reliance, and emotional distance.

I found it enlightening to see myself plotted on a four-quadrant chart created by anxiety and avoidance axes when it came to my attachment style. The way you can see if you are more or less one way or another is to see what you do when you are threatened or distressed.  People who score low on anxiety or avoidance are generally secure and tend to employ constructive and effective emotion-regulation strategies when life gets hard. Those who score high on either the attachment anxiety or the avoidance dimension (or both) suffer from insecurity and tend to rely on “secondary attachment strategies,” either deactivating or hyperactivating according to their childhood attachment system or the one they’ve recently developed to cope with threats.

Click for Anxiety Canada

Avoidance

I am mainly interested in the avoidance axis today, since I suspect when the CIA reports how many more assets are being killed than usual and Donald Trump had top-secret papers in Mar-a-Lago for a year it makes you want to avoid something! People who should be trustworthy aren’t. A great many people are so avoidant they trust no one. This is not new to the planet, but it is seismic right now.

According to Mikulincer and Shaver, people scoring high on avoidant attachment tend to rely on deactivating strategies – not seeking “proximity, denying attachment needs, and avoiding closeness and interdependence in relationships.” These strategies originally developed in relationships with attachment figures who disapproved of or undermined closeness and expressions of need or vulnerability.

Attachment style may be mostly about baby you, but not completely. It is too limited to think it is  something an individual carries inside and needs to deal with personally. One’s style arose in a relational setting, in a system, first off, with parents, and our habits can develop in new contexts. A marriage or workplace could change us. Donald Trump lying and calling people losers could change us.

Bowlby claimed that “meaningful relational interactions during adolescence and adulthood can move a person from one region to another of the two-dimensional conceptual space defined by attachment anxiety and avoidance.” Recent research keeps showing how our attachment style can develop, subtly or dramatically, depending on our current context, recent experiences, and recent relationships. There are studies that focus on highly stressful events, such as exposure to missile attacks, living in a dangerous neighborhood, or giving birth to a physically challenged infant which indicate avoidance is related to our present distress and the poor long-term adjustment that contributed to it. Our environment may deteriorate or we may create a dysfunctional environment which develops more avoidance.

Becoming less avoidant

Insecure attachment sets us up for other issues with both mental and physical health and strains all those relationships we hunger to have. Creating, maintaining, or restoring a sense of attachment security should increase resilience and improve mental health. Mikulincer and Shaver say,

According to attachment theory, interactions with available and supportive attachment figures impart a sense of safety, trigger positive emotions (e.g., relief, satisfaction, gratitude, love), and provide psychological resources for dealing with problems and adversities. Secure individuals remain relatively unperturbed during times of stress, recover faster from episodes of distress, and experience longer periods of positive affectivity, which contributes to their overall emotional well-being and mental health.

Whether an avoidant person moves toward security depends on how they travel three significant pathways.

View of self. The lack of sensitivity and responsiveness in your parents may have destabilized your self-esteem, or made you over-dependent on the approval of others. Insecure people are likely to be overly critical, self-doubting and likely to defend themselves by committing to perfection to counter how unworthy and hopeless they feel. Avoidant people praise themselves before someone doesn’t. Or they might deny weaknesses or needs because no one will care. The zeitgeist contributes to their view. Criticism is rampant right now. Perfection is a national obsession.

Emotional regulation. Hopefully, available attachment figures taught you to share your feelings and learn how to regulate them in relationship to others. Relatively insecure, avoidant people tend to cordon off their emotions from what they think and do. They may look secure and composed but they leave suppressed distress bubbling inside, which may erupt when crisis unleashes it. Then they need the coping skills and relational support system they didn’t imagine they needed.

Problems with relationships. It is no surprise that problems with our first relationships lead to learning a relationship style that has or creates problems. The avoidant person’s “deactivation” strategy for self-preservation creates issues. They generally have problems with nurture since that is a basic instinct formed with mom and dad. They may seem cold, may be unreasonably introverted, or may be overly competitive for what they see as the scarce resources of affection.

The neuroscience of attachment processes describes how the human brain evolved in a highly social environment. Our basic functions rely on social co-regulation of emotions and physiological states. So, like I said before, we should not see each other as separate entities whose interactions need to be interrogated and reconfigured according to theory. We should accept our fascinating interrelatedness as our normal starting point. When we do that, it helps us to see why separation, isolation, rejection, abuse, and neglect are so painful, and why insecurity-provoking relationships often cause or amplify our mental disorders. The pandemic left many avoidant people hesitant to ever leave their homes.  Teletherapy is a good option for them, but it may also deepen their avoidance.

Our attachment styles develop. We can change for the better. Great thinkers and practitioners are providing us a lot of help to do that. For instance, I discovered the Attachment Project website a few weeks ago. I probably sent its link to everyone I thought might be leaning toward an avoidant attachment style  (here it is). I would not put TOO much stock in this unattested and anonymous site, but it does some nice work to summarize different attachment styles and explain how people who could be characterized as “avoidant,” for instance, tend to behave and relate – and suffer. Please don’t use it to label yourself, we are in a dynamic process, here, getting worse off and better off all the time. But no matter your style, the site might help you get an inner dialogue going — and mentalizing is fertile soil for God to plant something whole and joyful.

Evil: N.T. Wright helps you think it through, again

Friends, clients, and loved ones were wrestling with their experiences of evil this week. One was attacked at work and felt guilty, but then realized the accusations were so irrational, they might be evil.

Another watched The Comey Rule series on Netflix and was reintroduced to the evil ways of Donald Trump. Another was overwhelmed by the sheer extent of evil that has gone into the production of climate change. Another was disheartened because the church is not better than the world and seems as subject to the aforementioned evils as anyone else.

Have I already used the word “evil” too much for you? Or is it still OK to name it where you come from? Last week, Governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbot, both claiming to be practicing Catholics, used immigrating Venezuelans to own the libs in Barack Obama’s playground. Did you call that evil? Name it a political stunt? Call it illegal human trafficking? Consider it an appropriate response to an onslaught of border crossers? Did you sink into confusion? Stay uncommitted? Remain avoidant? Evil is harder to identify than one might think and even harder to deal with, especially in an environment in which it is often a word you’d be embarrassed to say. Maybe you haven’t said “Jesus” in polite company in a while, either.

I was companioning someone in their spiritual growth not long ago and they broke into tears because of the evil done to them. They were “triggered” by their church’s feckless response to the present evils that threatened them. They asked, “Why does God allow evil to flourish if he loves us?”

Exodus 1952-66 by Marc Chagall. Used for the cover of the Chinese version.

Why is there evil?

Brilliant people have been answering that question for centuries, ever since European Christians wanted their theology to compete with every philosopher that popped up. Why is there evil and why doesn’t God save me from it all if Jesus saves? That’s the perennial question. I still like N.T. Wright’s stab at dealing with it in his book Evil and the Justice of God. I rarely think his applications have as much genius as his theologizing, but I think he was mainly gifted to think well for us, so that’s OK. Here is a summary of the book, if you like.

Spoiler alert. People criticize Wright for answering the perennial question by not answering it. He says the Bible doesn’t answer it, which leads him to believe he doesn’t need to either — what is beyond us is beyond us. He is much more interested in talking about what God is doing about evil than what, exactly, and why it is. God’s action in response to evil is a topic the Bible exhaustively explores. Likewise, the Bible leads us to learn what we should do about it, since “the line between good and evil runs through each one of us” [video including Jesus, Solzhenitsyn, and many others].

I thought about Wright when my comrades were lamenting and I was confronted with the question again, which usually feels like a temptation to me – “Why is their evil and why didn’t Jesus fix it for me?” Wright does a better job at what I am about to try, when he tries to get behind what we feel about facing evil in us and around us. But here is a small bit of thinking to keep evil in your sights before it overwhelms you.

God judging Adam — Wiliam Blake. Used for the audible version

Back to Adam and Eve

Demanding an answer to the questions “Why is there evil if the creator is good?” and “Why am I experiencing evil if our loving Savior has already defeated it?” is a lot like the dialogue between Adam and God in the Garden of Eden.

God: Why did you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
Adam: The woman gave me the fruit. It’s her fault.

Somehow the dialogue about good and evil usually ends with shame and blame.

The argument goes on, something like this. We would know; we’re often replicating it.:

God: Why did you choose evil?
Adam: I wouldn’t have had the choice if you had not offered it. You’re God, after all.  Why did you supply it? Besides, I didn’t choose it. It happened to me. It is happening everywhere.
God: But aren’t your questions more important to you than my love? Didn’t you choose the question?

The deepest expression of the image of God in us is love. God is love. God is not you or your knowledge or your control or your safety. The power of the knowledge of good and evil will not protect you from others, yourself, or God.

Roku has been playing a film of a live performance of the musical Heathers in which a high school couple sings “Our Love Is God.” The thought of it was creepy when I first heard it sung and keeps getting moreso as the play goes on. The power struggle in us destroys and destroys.

The Garden dialogue went on, and goes on in us, something like this:

God: As my friend who I gave this garden, as my loved one, you greeted my question with skepticism and reproach. You set yourself up as my judge, and your own. You ate the fruit.
You prefer the control you gain by staying ignorant and miserable instead of being receptive and humble before the unknown. You don’t trust me.

Wright works with this in his great chapter on forgiveness:

It will [always] be possible for people to refuse forgiveness–both to give it and to receive it–but [in the end] they will no longer have the right or the opportunity thereby to hold God and God’s future world to ransom, to make the moral universe rotate around the fulcrum of their own sulk.

I have often said to myself, and to others, in the middle of these questions and answers, “If evil were not happening around you, you would invent it. You are just like Adam and Eve. If we dare to look, we can see how we perpetuate the loveless habits of our childhood self-protection schemes. We can’t part with the patterns because we think we’ll lose ourself without them. Every day we get mad at people we can’t control and keep protecting against the terrible feelings of need we have and rebel against the demand to trust, hope and care.

If you want more on the themes of political and corporate aspects of evil, Wright might suggest Engaging the Powers, by Walter Wink. For thoughts on forgiveness, see Exclusion and Embrace, by Miroslav Volf. For answers to the problem of evil in modern thought, see Evil in Modern Thought, by Sue Neiman or The Crucified God, by Jurgen Moltmann.

If you want to follow Wright into what God is ultimately going to do about evil, you could check out his most accessible book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  In it, he does a final takedown on Greek philosophy and offers a vision of eternal life that matches the Bible better than what most of us have been taught. If you are tired of thinking about how terrible the world is, how evil is at the door, this book might encourage you by opening up a good thinker’s vision of the future. Spoiler alert: It is better.

If you lost Jesus, start by looking in your desires

It is a familiar post-pandemic story. “When I was locked away from people, bombed by loss, steeled against what seemed like an inevitable disease, my faith dribbled away like I had a leak in my soul. “

Some people had the exact opposite experience, of course. The solitude of the season was like fallow ground for them. When they got out from behind their masks they felt renewed and refocused on what is important. They bloomed.

It is not uncommon, however, to hear people tell a different story. When they got back to church, it was gone. People were divided over whether it was safe to meet. About a third of the people had disappeared. The pastors were often exhausted — they went through a pandemic, too! But now they were supposed to present what used to be with less people and less money. What’s more, so many churches chose the pandemic to take a scathing look at their racism, homophobia and patriarchal tendencies. The post George Floyd movement had just gotten to the church when the virus hit and could not be postponed. So when people came back to their community bearing their griefs, with new anxieties to face and thirsty for love, they were surprised by the coldness and suspicion with which they were met. It is like the whole country got strangled, wrung out and did not have a lot to give.

So a lot of people are not in church anymore. And of those people who are wandering, a lot feel they have lost Jesus. They are in the dark. At worst, I think they are holing up and hoping nothing worse happens. At best, I think they are looking for lost desires to be met. If the latter description fits you, hold on to those desires, they will probably see you through.

Befriending our desires

In his book Befriending Our Desires, Philip Sheldrake encourages us to attend to the desires that either drive us to despair or drive us to overcome the unnecessary limitations of our present circumstances.

Desire haunts us. You could say that desire is God-given and, as such, is the key to all human spirituality. Desire is what powers our spiritualities but, at the same time, spirituality is about how we focus our desire. At the heart of Christian spirituality is the sense that humanity is both cursed and blessed with restlessness and a longing that can only be satisfied in God. It is as though our desire is infinite in extent and that it cannot settle for anything less. It pushes us beyond the limitations of the present moment and of our present places towards a future that is beyond our ability to conceive. This is why the greatest teachers of Christian spirituality were so concerned with this God-filled desire and with how we understand it and channel it

In a time when so many of us feel like we did not get what we want and are not getting what we want, what do we do? Do we turn off our desires? distract ourselves even more? turn to law instead of grace to circumvent desires?

First of all, those questions are probably answered by considering how you see God. Is God full of desire? Some theologians have presented God as a sexless, “ground of being” or an abstraction like the “unmoved mover.” I say those are very weak views, when the love of God is poured out so wantonly in Jesus. God wants us, desires relationship with us. His delight in us reveals infinite enjoyment. Is your God full of desire?

On the human side of viewing God, many say the goal of all human desire is God. So does this mean that all other desires are a distraction? That has often been taught. Does it mean I should be celibate so sexual desire does not get in my way? Many monks have thought so. Or is God met at the heart of all desire? That might seem suspicious to you if you have been suppressing your desires for Jesus. But I think a thoroughly Christian, incarnational answer is Jesus is the heart of desire. C.S. Lewis is famous for saying:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. ― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

Proven ways to find Jesus again

New prayer

Ignatius Loyola taught that prayer, our basic connection with God, was all about focusing our desire. Many of my clients bump up against that thought like a wall. They don’t know what they desire. Or they know what they spend their life chasing would not satisfy them if they finally got it. They think they must either ramp up the chase or quit. The pandemic stripped away a lot of what we could get, it took away years of time and took the lives of loved ones. Many of us are still at the bottom of all that and feel we can’t even find Jesus. That’s a good time to pray, if you are with Ignatius in his cave, when you aren’t asking for a new job or just asking to stop doing self-destructive things. When we are wrestling with desire we may come to know how our desires connect with God’s.

Waiting

Some people say as they age, old ways and images wear out and they feel alone in a new kind of darkness. Where is the Jesus I knew? I know after my church reneged on agreements and exiled me, I felt adrift without my church. I was not prepared for that! I am not alone. The surprising new post-Covid statistic is older people are leaving the church in great numbers. They were the mainstays! But one does not need to feel old to feel a bit lost these days.

Many spiritual writers see this kind of wandering in the dark as a ripe, meaningful, realistic place to be. A dryness of experience means you feel what showers of blessings would be like if it rained, not that you don’t care. The loss of previous images and experiences of God, leads into a darkness or an “unknowing” in which desire alone becomes the force that drives us onwards. For Julian of Norwich, “longing” and “yearning” are key experiences in our developing relationship to God. Likewise, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing says, “Now you have to stand in desire all your life long” (Chapter 2). Now is the time to stand open-handed and open-hearted, not assuming that we know best or that we know anything very much. Now is the time to wait in trust, to be like Mary asking the angel, “How can this be?” Waiting is one of the hardest lessons for the serious seeker after God. When we stand in desire we are ready to struggle. We are anticipating a change in  perspective and waiting in trust for God to act in us.

Discernment

Our desire reveals how incomplete we are. The pandemic stripped a lot of us down to our basic desires, like people often talk about when they have narrowly escaped death and now know what is most important (and it is not the 401K). Our desires highlight what we are not, or what we do not have. So desire cracks us open to possibility. It forces us into the future. You might see it in terms of sex, to which desire is often restricted. An orgasm is a wonderful, physical, mutual, experience of now – desire satisfied! But it also feels transcendent. Desires ground us in the present moment and at the same time point to the fact this moment does not contain all the answers or everything we need or want. Discernment is a journey through desires – a process whereby we move from a multitude of desires, or from surface desires, to our deepest desire which contains all that is true and vital about us. If you are missing Jesus, I’d start the search there.

Change

I’ve said quite a few times that living in the U.S. and following Jesus is very hard. Americans take perfection to an extreme and we have the money to make it happen. If desire is all about openness, possibility and a metaphor for change, what does that do to our ideals of perfection and to a God who “changeth not?’ Get the job done. Make it work. Just do it.

For many of us, life is supposed to be organzied and predictable. For most people, I think heaven is pretty static like that. It is where things get finished and we get all that matters to us. The afterlife is all “eternal rest” and no more tears. People see it as freedom from desire because there is no need for “more” and because the sexual connotations of desire are overridden by union with God.

But no one can perfectly know what “eternal life” ultimately means. I don’t see the age to come as an endless, static existence with the unmoved mover. I think it will be more like life with the Creator we encounter day by day. Eternal life will surely have a dynamic quality to it, a life in which we shall remain beings of desire.

Thomas Traherne (d. 1674) is often considered as the last of England’s “metaphysical poets,” which includes John Donne and George Herbert. Most of his poetry remained unknown until 1896, when two of his manuscripts were discovered by chance in a London bookstall. This first stanza of Traherne’s poem “Desire” begins with praise to God for the desire that promises Paradise and burns with the presence of it in the here and now.

For giving me desire,
An eager thirst, a burning ardent fire,
A virgin infant flame,
A love with which into the world I came,
An inward hidden heavenly love,
Which in my soul did work and move,
And ever, ever me inflame,
With restless longing, heavenly avarice
That never could be satisfied,
That did incessantly a Paradise
Unknown suggest, and something undescribed
Discern, and bear me to it; be
Thy name for ever prais’d by me.

To find the Jesus you may have recently lost, step away from politics, processes and problems long enough to let your desires rise and then befriend them. Take them seriously like they matter, like you matter. Don’t follow the first blush of reality they hint at, but listen to them and let them lead you deeper into what is at the heart of life and the heart of you.

Drugs: What do you know about the rising sea in which we swim?

Are you among the many people who will use a drug this month? When you answer, you may first think about what prescriptions you are taking. But include “self-medicating” with alcohol and marijuana — and maybe some other stuff.

You may also be experimenting with “psychedelics.” I am acquainted with people who have had profound experiences with two of the increasingly popular array of mind-altering drugs being offered to people seeking mental health (whether health means eradication or remission to them). Ketamine, psilocybin, and MDMA are high on the list of researchers as they look for new solutions to age-old problems.

In the consumer-driven U.S., buying whatever products are offered almost seems like an obligation, whether we need them or not. We have a lot of what we need, here, and a lot we probably don’t. Drugs are a well-advertised product, so you are more likely to be using them than not. I am with you. I will keep using the prescription drug I have been taking every day until the treatment is over. On our walk yesterday, I thanked God for a pain-killer that was so helpful to my wife, not long ago. According to SAMHSA, about half the people in the United States used a prescription drug in the last month. 24% used two or more. 13% used five or more (13% of the U.S. is 43 million people).

According to the CDC, when people went to see their doctor in 2018, 860+ million of them were given or prescribed drugs. 68.7% of visits included drug therapy. The drugs frequently prescribed were analgesics (pain), antihyperlipidemics (blood), and antidepressants (mental health).

In the same year, people who went to the emergency room were given or prescribed drugs 336 million times. 79.5% of the visits involved drug therapy. The drugs most frequently prescribed were analgesics, minerals and electrolytes (hydration), and antiemetics (nausea) or antivertigo agents (dizziness, nausea).

drugs: top ten drug companies 2022
The FDA approved 50 new drugs in 2021

Last year, the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer (42nd St. NYC), netted $21.98 billion. Johnson and Johnson (New Brunswick, NJ) netted $20.88 billion. Two Swiss companies, Novartis and Roche were #1 and #4 in the top five profit-makers. Local favorite, Merck (Kenilworth, NJ), netted $12.35 billion to be #5. If you watch commercial TV for five minutes, you are likely to hear from one of these worldwide mega-corporations selling their latest wonder.

The medical/pharmaceutical industry is designed to sell products for consumers, like everything else in consumer economies. It is no wonder, with huge corporations needing to sell so shareholders profit and a huge distribution system dispensing drugs as a primary means of healing, there is a lot of encouragement, even pressure, to use drugs of all kinds, legal and illegal.

Suspicious drugs

Like so many products people want, certain drugs that used to be illegal are creeping into mainstream acceptance. People will kill the planet to inject fossil fuels into their environment, so we have companies too big to die who extract and refine those products for them to buy. It is not the same, but similar, with drugs. People do not think they should suffer and die (ever) and will buy whatever promises to stop that.

Drugs that were formerly illegal (or still are) are creeping into mainstream use. People appear to be more desperate for them every year. Legal opioids famously addict and kill thousands of people every year. Prescription opioids (natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone), along with heroin and synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl) caused 21,000 overdoses in 2010. People were aghast when that number rose to 69,000 in 2020. In 2021 the number shot up to 107,622.  2022 is expected to see further increase.

The sea of drugs we live in is full of wonders, but there are a lot of predators in it, too. So the experts are doing studies and the news people are reporting on what they are finding. I am writing because I think the researchers and reporters could be a bit more suspicious.

drugs: psilocybin capsule
A psilocybin capsule Credit…John Karsten Moran/NYU Langone Health, via Associated Press

For instance, the NYTimes published a story last week about how psilocybin (‘shrooms) curbed excessive drinking. The researchers suggested it might be a new treatment in the making. AA suspects it is more likely a new way to lose one’s sobriety. MDMA (ecstasy) is being tested as a treatment for PTSD.

In general, psychedelics are moving into mainstream mental health treatment. Forbes recently published a helpful article about the trend, focusing on treating autism. In it, the author noted the increasing use of ketamine for mental health purposes:

While the drug’s usage carries serious risks if used recreationally, there is a reliable protocol for doctor-controlled use that has a steadily increasing track record of success for treatment-resistant depression. There’s even an FDA-approved spray called Spravato that is helping to make ketamine more and more mainstream, and improve more lives each day.

I think it is easy to notice that most drugs which provide out-of-control experiences are rarely effectively controlled. The Spravato website is worth a look to see, again, how salesmanship leads the way when it comes to introducing treatments.

Generosity about drug use needs limits

With the legalization of marijuana and mainstreaming of hallucinogens, it is no surprise that the use of those substances among young adults rose to an all time high in 2021, according to the NIH.

When the NIH, CDC, DHHS, etc. talk about drugs, they are even-handed. They try to stick to the facts — even though they track illegal uses and deaths, which implies disapproval. I think I might have a similar generosity. I have clients who use cannabis for more than recreation. Other clients have had life-altering experiences with ketamine and mushrooms. In their cases, the impact was not long-lasting. But I don’t know about everyone else. I generally reserve judgment.

Even though our minds are open, our discernment needs to be sharp when we introduce drug technology into our bodies. About seven years ago, the church in which I served offered a time for our theologians to think about drugs together. I wrote about our findings and I think they still provide helpful discernment. What do God and the Church think about drugs? What are some practical ways to approach life in the midst of constant wooing into and opportunity for drug use?

Colombian drugs smugglers shipwrecked
Shipwrecked cocaine smugglers on rising seas in 2019

I’m still pondering and applying what I learned then and have learned over the past few years. Each year, as overdose deaths rise (significantly in my own hometown!), the need to think and act becomes more urgent. I can’t help but notice that as the oceans have risen due to climate change, the sea of drugs has been rising with them. Do the powers-that-be extravagantly use them to pacify the most vulnerable? Regardless, like the Covid-19 vaccines did not solve all the problems of the pandemic, most drugs over-promise and under-perform until the general population feels it is normal to have 100-year floods and 100+ thousand opioid deaths in a year.

I repeatedly encouraged drug use for my clients and loved ones last year. Some wonders were worked. But I suspect I am being too generous about the new normal, in which we use drugs as the first act of healing. I think of giant drug companies as part of the powerful forces who brought the world to the present disasters we face. Now they want us to rely on them to solve the problems with their latest products.

While I don’t think the blanket mistrust rampant these days is the answer, Psalm 146 comes to mind. Discernment begins with trusting God, not just assessing the data and making endless, experimental choices.

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish. (Whole psalm)

Is MrBeast teaching us philanthropy or greed?

One of the benefits of a week with my teen-age grandchildren is learning about what is going on with the internet. That’s how I was introduced to MrBeast. If you are under 25 you probably know all about him. I am way out of his target audience, but he corraled my eyes anyway. He is very good at that.

All week we were watching movies together and spent some interesting time after each film “breaking it open,” as we say (thank you Mel White, I think). Part of our dialogue included seeing the films through a Jesus lens. After one such session, I made a reference to seeing the MrBeast video we watched earlier in the day through a Jesus lens (the one replicating Squid Game). I made the hyperbolic statement, “That video was the greediest thing I have ever seen.” I soon found out a few of my grandchildren knew the myth of MrBeast more exhaustively than they knew much of the New Testament.

My contention was, and is, that MrBeast is an amazing entrepreneur and his money giveaways are, though well-intended, a great marketing ploy and a fun way to surf the wave of greed which constantly churns through the United States. Maybe I stated my contention too defensively, since I feel unfashionable when I mention what the Bible mentions all the time: greed is deadly. I will quote just one verse. Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NIV)

When I suggested MrBeast was dealing in greed, one of my grandchildren immediately looked up his counterpoint on Google, which was “He gives away most of his money. He is not greedy.” I stood corrected, since I had just met MrBeast and was not quick-to-the-draw with Google.

I gave one of those apologies that has a “but” on the end and said, “I just watched him spend a boatload of money, which came from somewhere, to produce that elaborate video full of people doing stunts to get money.” Now that I know more about MrBeast, I could have said, “Most of them got the fun of acting in his video for free. Many got an unusually generous payout. The winner got an amazing sum. Then Jimmy Donaldson (MrBeast) got all the ad revenue from the video, which has 282K+ views on the MrBeast channel with its 102M+ subscribers. Plus he got to sell his merch.” According to YouTube analytics service SocialBlade, MrBeast makes up to $2 million a month from YouTube ads alone. That does not include the in-video brand deals which earn him untold millions.

MrBeast in Rolling Stone

Who is MrBeast?

Jimmy Donaldson is a social media influencer. He was born in Kansas but raised in North Carolina, where he still lives.  Donaldson uploaded his first video to YouTube in 2012. He was just 13 at the time, operating under the handle “MrBeast6000” and rarely appearing in his videos. His earliest output was mostly of the “let’s play” (video games) variety, though he’d also comment on various YouTube dramas, offer tips to potential content creators, and estimate the net worths of well-known YouTube celebrities. His subscriber base consisted of about 240 loyal followers by 2013.

By 2016, Donaldson was gaining in popularity on the heels of his “worst intro” videos, which poked fun at the various introductions he found on YouTube. He dropped out of college around this time to focus on content creation, wrangling old friends to help him and gaming the platform’s algorithm as the subscriber count increased.

His first viral video aired in 2017 when he was 19. He counted to 100,000. It took him more than 40 hours but his efforts paid off.  As a result, he broke the 100,000 subscriber mark. Since first airing, the video has been viewed over 26 million times. It was followed by other successes like counting to 200,000, reading the dictionary, and watching Jake Paul’s music video for “It’s Every Day Bro” for 10 hours straight.

In 2018, the man now known as YouTube’s biggest philanthropist found his niche in the online world: giving away money to strangers. His stunts tend to have a philanthropic angle, like adopting an entire shelter of rescue dogs. It has almost become a joke that when people first see him, they hope/expect to get money.  He talked to his mom about this in 2018 when he decided to give her money. She did not want it. In a video, he told her, “If I don’t give it to you, I don’t have a viral video.”

Where does the money come from?

Like so many popular (and unpopular) YouTube channels, MrBeast’s comes with video ads. See MrBeast (103M), Beast Reacts (19M), MrBeast Gaming (29M), MrBeast Shorts (15M). With each ad comes a respective cost per mille (CPM), which is the amount an advertiser pays a website for every one thousand people who see the ad. The exact CPM can vary from one country to the next, but most sources suggest that it averages out at around US$5 per one thousand views. Multiply that by the millions of views that each MrBeast video racks up and you begin to see all kinds of dollar signs. By 2021, when he turned 23, Forbes estimates he made $54 million.

Donaldson quickly understood his worldwide reach and began to “localize” his videos to increase his influence and revenue. He reports that the English channel views amounted to more than 122M in the first half of 2022, and the localized channel views added up to more than 160M in the same period. In March alone, the combined total number of views for all his channels was above 283M.

MrBeast approaches localization through dubbing. He has created separate channels for Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, and French content, and hired native speakers to provide voice-overs for his videos. These are MrBeast’s international YouTube channels:  MrBeast en español (Spanish), Beast Reacts en español (Spanish), MrBeast На Русском (Russian), MrBeast Brasil (Brazilian Portuguese), MrBeast Gaming en español (Spanish), MrBeast en Français (French), MrBeast Gaming Brasil (Brazilian Portuguese).

By most estimates, 40-50% of MrBeast’s net worth comes as a result of merchandising and other business opportunities. Some sources report that the YouTube star earns as much as $2.25 million a month through merchandising alone, including sales of his own clothing line. Well-versed in internet economics, MrBeast reportedly receives around $1 million a month from the main sponsors on his primary YouTube page. There are further sponsors for his secondary channels and other social media accounts, as well as sponsors for his various charitable efforts and sweepstakes.

In 2020, Donaldson launched MrBeast Burger, a delivery app that brings signature fast food items straight to your door. It’s currently under contract with over 1000 brick-and-mortar locations throughout North America and Europe, with plans to expand. Along similar lines is Feastables, a chocolate bar company that MrBeast launched in 2022. In the spirit of Willy Wonka, the company routinely holds sweepstakes with prizes ranging from an Xbox game system to a Tesla Model 3. You can also download his game app: Finger on the App

Behind the scenes, MrBeast is a fairly active investor and partner in various startups and companies, including Backbone, Juice Funds, Current, Quidd, CSGO Lotto, and TikTok. He is a firm believer in crypto, but he received backlash in 2021 after Refinable, a token and NFT platform that he personally backed and promoted, plunged in value.

He is popular in Greenville, where his headquarters continues to expand.  As of 2022, the MrBeast team was made up of 60 people.

Shall we look through a Jesus lens?

Philanthropy is an essential part of MrBeast’s operation. Not only does he give away considerable cash prizes to the participants of his many stunts, he also donates tons of money directly to charity. Over on the Beast Philanthropy channel (10M), 100% of the ad revenue, sponsorships, and merchandise sales go to charitable organizations (like to my pet causes through Team Trees and The Ocean Clean Up).

He’s also quite modest in terms of his lifestyle. As he told Joe Rogan, “I think living your life chasing like a nicer car, and a bigger and bigger box to live in is kind of like a dumb way to go about life.” Mr. Beast also talked to Rogan about his ongoing struggle with Crohn’s Disease.

Put everything together and you get the picture of a passionate content creator, with an eye on his mortality, who would produce a blockbuster stunt and donate the proceeds before buying himself a fancy car. But keep in mind, MrBeast is only 24 years old and has plenty of time to build upon his already impressive fortune and develop a taste for big houses and sweet rides.

As with every person, I have no intention of judging what Jesus is doing with Jimmy Donaldson, personally. Not.My.Job. As far as what he is doing publically, and as a person who profits from influencing people I love, I have to exercise some discernment. So I did my research.

What I like about him is his alternativity, his simplicity and his community-building.

What I think deserves some skepticism, is #1, the greed factor. Most of what he is doing is about money: making it, giving a lot of it away, and investing it in a masterful, entrepreneurial empire. The Greenville headquarters alone is worth at least $14 million and they are scouting the town for more property. The attention of the greedy, gullible young, worldwide, is the fuel for the enterprise.

Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NIV)

Individually, Jimmy Donaldson “appears” (the all-important YouTube word) unconcerned with possessions. So maybe he could be considered interested in the second clause of Luke 12:15.

But MrBeast sure is good at acquiring possessions — especially subscribers! And his millions of followers are fascinated by his handouts. Most of his performers (except his mother) are greedy for some spillage.

Since we live in the hyper-capitalist US, we should beware of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of living greedy all day but trying not to really be (or appear) greedy. I think MrBeast teaches us greed, but Jimmy Donaldson might like his life to be about philanthropy. If you watch the video about headquarters, you will see that Jimmy lives in a little room inside of the huge MrBeast enterprise (he also has another house) — that picture is a visual warning to us all. We live in the house of greed and only Jesus can save us. Without Him, we will be swallowed. Look at poor Jimmy! Isn’t he a feastable?

Is the Inflation Reduction Act a climate game changer?

Are the climate elements in the recently-passed “Inflation Reduction Act” a game changer? Or are they just a way to lessen the disastrous impact of the U.S. inaction over the past decade? Did you personally do anything to help us collectively stand in front of that inaction train as it carried the world toward a climatic wreck? Maybe you have been preoccupied. The news outlets probably won’t help your focus too much. Both newspapers I read put the news about the House passing this huge bill last week second to Donald Trump’s predictable, attention-grabbing violation of the law and the Republican defense of it. I suppose our leaders will be calling for war on each other when Mar-a-Lago is under rising seas.

The climate disaster is here. Temperatures soared across Europe, the US and much of the northern hemisphere this year – it’s a new normal. What scientists have predicted for decades is becoming palpable, indisputable. The deniers keep denying and the fossil fuel oligarchs won’t give up until all the oil is out of the ground and sold, but it is hard to argue against climate change when the Po and Colorado Rivers dry up.  The new, human-caused climate patterns have far-reaching effects – for the natural world, for global food supplies, for health, for infrastructure and for much more. UN chief António Guterres has likened the crisis to ”collective suicide.”

I hope you already knew all that and are figuring out what more you can do – even though we need massive systemic change, not just individual action. We are all in this together, but it is the systems and the leaders of them who must make the planet-changing alterations. Christians who love their Creator should be their main exhorters. But Christians in the US still generally think climate action is “liberal,” which is another atmosphere that burns me up. They are so individualistic and paranoid they think hunkering down in their bunkers will save their families.

Maybe they will change and care for creation. I know some who woke up long ago. You noticed I said “generally” a couple of sentences ago when I indicted “Christians” because I suspect some of you reading are Jesus followers who voted for Al Gore and still wince when you see Styrofoam. But, unfortunately, Christians are generally not known for being at the forefront of climate action

Celebrate climate action

I’m writing today to add a bit more to our knowledge of the massive budget bill the Congress squeezed by the uniformly-opposed Republicans. “Opposed Republicans” when it comes to environmental protection is a recent change, since some of the first environmental activists in government were Republicans. Richard Nixon organized the EPA! I don’t think the present crew in Congress are all opposed to climate action on principle. They are in a death match for instituting a minority government free of pesky laws (the flouting of which dares the FBI to raid your mansion).

I went looking for what was actually in the unfortunately-named Inflation Reduction Act and it was quite hard to find. The Democrats put out a summary but it doesn’t give many details. The House has another summary with more detail. Why do I think you should care about this?

  • Our empathy needs to expand. Overwhelm diminishes our capacity to care. It takes discipline to care about anyone but oneself and one’s own.
  • We face shame when we encounter change. It takes a lot of self and other awareness not to get stuck in resistance.

I think the Holy Spirit brings us into connection and expands our ability to love – even in the face of climate inaction.

Daniel Hunter encourages bird counters to celebrate (click for article)

Let’s look at the amazing and inadequate features

Energy experts assert the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 will help the United States cut greenhouse gas emissions about 40% below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. That puts the Biden administration within striking distance of meeting its goal to reduce greenhouse gases by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris climate agreement of 2016.

Pray with me, here, as I offer my own summary of the bill Biden will sign this week. The planet’s future is hanging in the balance.

Here are the main elements.

  1. It attempts to lower energy costs
  • Home energy rebate programs focused on low income consumers to electrify home appliances and retrofit homes for energy efficiency. ($9 billion)

Just in case you can’t see how rich the U.S. is, if you personally earned $1 million dollars a year, it would take a thousand years to make 1 billion.

  • Tax credits to make homes energy-efficient and fueled by clean energy — making heat pumps, rooftop solar, electric HVAC and water heaters more affordable. (Lasts ten years)

You can get an $8,000 tax credit to install a modern electric heat pump that can both heat and cool buildings. You could get $1,600 to insulate and seal your house to make it more energy efficient.

  • Tax credits for lower/middle income people to buy used clean vehicles ($4,000), or to buy new clean vehicles ($7500).

I apparently bought my new hybrid too soon.

  • Grant programs to make affordable housing more energy efficient. ($1 billion)
  1. It retreats from the global economy and encourages domestic production of climate related products
  • Tax credits to accelerate manufacture of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and processing of critical minerals. ($30 billion)

A piece about “critical minerals.”

  • Tax credits to build clean technology manufacturing facilities, like facilities that make electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels. (10 billion)
  • Money through the Defense Production Act for heat pumps and critical minerals processing. ($500 million)
  • Grants to retool existing auto factories to make clean vehicles, ensuring that auto manufacturing jobs stay in the communities that depend on them. ($2 billion)
  • Loans to build new clean vehicle manufacturing facilities across the country. ($20 billion)
  • Money to fund National Labs to accelerate breakthrough energy research. ($2 billion)
  1. It begins work to decarbonize the economy
  • Tax credits for clean sources of electricity and energy storage
  • Targeted grant and loan programs for states and electric utilities to accelerate the transition to clean electricity. ($30 billion)
  • Tax credits and grants for clean fuels and clean commercial vehicles to reduce emissions from all parts of the transportation sector.
  • Grants and tax credits to reduce emissions from industrial manufacturing processes, including almost $6 billion for a new Advanced Industrial Facilities Deployment Program to reduce emissions from the largest industrial emitters like chemical, steel and cement plants.
  • Money for Federal procurement of American-made clean technologies to create a stable market for clean products, including $3 billion for the U.S. Postal Service to purchase zero-emission vehicles. ($9 billion)
  • Money for a clean energy technology accelerator to support deployment of technologies to reduce emissions, especially in marginalized communities. ($27 billion)
  • A Methane Emissions Reduction Program to reduce leaks from the production and distribution of natural gas. The bill forces oil and gas companies to pay fees as high as $1,500 a ton to address excess leaks of methane, and undoes the 10-year moratorium on offshore wind leasing established under Trump.

Here is a little local color that includes methane capture.

  1. It includes a focus on environmental justice
  • Environmental and climate justice block grants will invest in community-led projects in marginalized communities (and the agencies poised to use this money) to address disproportionate environmental and public health harms related to pollution and climate change. ($3 billion)
  • Neighborhood grants will support equity, safety, and affordable transportation access. The aim is to reconnect communities divided by existing infrastructure barriers, mitigate negative impacts of transportation facilities or construction projects on marginalized communities, and support equitable transportation planning and community engagement activities. ($3 billion)
  • Grants to reduce air pollution at ports will support the purchase and installation of zero-emission equipment and technology. ($3 billion)
  • Money for clean heavy-duty vehicles, like school and transit buses and garbage trucks. ($1 billion)
  1. It pointedly includes farmers, forestland owners and rural communities
  • Money to support climate-smart agriculture practices. ($20 billion)
  • Grants to support healthy, fire resilient forests, forest conservation and urban tree planting. ($5 billion)
  • Tax credits and grants to support the domestic production of biofuels, and to build the infrastructure needed for sustainable aviation fuel and other biofuels.

This summary of tax implications tells you how complex this all is.

  • Grants to conserve and restore coastal habitats and protect communities that depend on those habitats. ($2.6 billion)
  1. It does not neglect the fossil fuel addiction companies

The big oil companies, fresh off their record-breaking pandemic profits, did not make a big push against the bill, which says volumes. The Democrats agreed to a number of fossil fuel and drilling provisions as concessions to Senator Manchin of West Virginia, a holdout from a state that is heavily dependent on coal and gas. The measure assures new oil drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet.  It expands tax credits for carbon capture technology that could allow coal or gas-burning power plants to keep operating with lower emissions. It instructs  the Interior Department to also hold auctions for fossil fuel leases if it approves new wind or solar projects on federal lands.

What do you think God thinks about all of this? What does Jesus want you to believe and do about it all? Let’s pray today and hope. We are the salt of this poor planet.

Jesus gives 5 ways to endure the shame: Kansans lead the way

Was the Kansas vote last week a striking affirmation of the right to choose? Or was it a repudiation of shameless, corrupt Christianity?

I would not ask such an incendiary question if it did not beg to be answered all the time, both in my office and in other relationships. Many Jesus followers are suffering shame because they feel associated with politicians who claim to be leading the country in the name of Jesus.

ABC News

I haven’t seen any confirmation of this suspicion. But it is at least possible that Kansans, about 80% of whom identify as Christians, were trying to regain their faith, not lose it, during the recent vote.

Kansas people are known for being fiercely independent. Their faith probably has an independent streak, too. The Kansas Supreme Court said, in their ruling,  “The natural right of personal autonomy is fundamental.” So women can decide what to do with their bodies. The state has led the way toward greater individual freedom in the past, too. In 1861, the Kansas territory established itself as a free state — which provoked terrorist raids by pro-slavery factions and helped incite the Civil War. In 1867, Kansas held the first referendum on women’s suffrage in the United States. On the same ballot they gave voters the opportunity to eliminate the word “white” from voter qualifications in the state Constitution three years before the 15th Amendment was ratified. Both ballot measures failed, but Kansas voters would grant women the full right to vote in 1912, well ahead of the 19th Amendment. I think many Christians might like some autonomy when it comes to coercive “Christian” leaders enacting their vision of an ideal American Empire in the name of Jesus, who is about as non-coercive and welcoming as one can get as he leads his transnational and transhistorical body!

Maybe normal Christians are fed up

I wonder. Are people finally embarrassed enough by the inept autocrat, Trump, his increasingly-incarcerated gang, and his enablers to do something about it?

Call me naïve, but I don’t believe the typical Kansan, and I know a few, would ever think of doing what their legislators did in trying to overcome their Supreme Court’s 6-1 decision that abortion was protected by their state constitution. They are probably mostly pro-life, like I am, in a broad-minded way. But they are not likely in favor of politicians controlling women and controlling pregnant people with abortion bans. What’s more, whether “life” begins at conception or birth is still an open question, and they might be thinking about that, too.

I doubt a normal Kansan would want to gerrymander, voter-suppress, and dark-money their way into office, to begin with. They don’t favor elections that are threatening and where the results depend on who is running them. And they are sick of being overwhelmed with misinformation like the rest of us.

So it is possible they did something about it. The anti-abortion lawmakers and their supporters tried every trick. They placed a major referendum on a primary election ballot, in order to sneak it through at a time they expected low voter awareness and turnout. They knew Democrats would have little to vote for during a midterm primary and expected them to stay home. What’s more, about 30% of Kansas voters are unaffiliated with any party, so they don’t vote in primary elections. They might not have known the abortion measure was on a ballot normally of no concern to them.

Are Kansans the only Americans not subject to being hoodwinked by power-hungry aspirants to the Empire’s thrones? The anti-abortion side used confusing language in the amendment, which suggested a yes vote (to change the constitution) would ban taxpayer funding of abortions — a ban that already existed. They said the yes vote would institute laws to protect victims of rape and incest, who already had that protection with their legal access to abortion. The proponents insisted they had no intention to pass a total ban on abortion, but The Kansas Reflector obtained audio from a meeting in which a state senator and amendment advocate who promised an attempt to pass just such a ban. On top of that, the day before the election, Kansas voters received deceptive texts to vote yes to preserve “choice,” confusing untold numbers of voters. (Sarah Smarsh, NYT)

All the ploys did not work. I can imagine a Kansan saying, “Just how stupid do they think we are?” And I don’t mean MSNBC-watchers who were dancing in the streets. I mean the kind of practical people I know who generally disapprove of people who don’t say what they mean and mean what they say.

Life among the hoodwinked

You would think such honest, forthright people are the kind who follow Jesus. But that assumption is like a ship that sailed long ago from the harbor of popular imagination. Christians, as far as many people know, are more likely to be led by Trump, whose friends, it appears, all specialize in illegality. They are more likely to be led by Tucker Carlson, who is enamored with an autocrat from Hungary.

I have a long history of failing to push back the tsunami of lies autocrat-types and their thralls use to usurp power. Back during my short stint as a pastor in Central PA, I used my “monarch pastor” status to decree that listening to Rush Limbaugh was not of the Lord. In an Anabaptish church I had to demand that no political guides be left on the info table. I did not fully succeed in converting some minds captivated by the latest deception.

The endless failure to have anything one says mean anything drives pastors to despair. They specialize in the truth business. The people who believe the election was stolen from Trump (or that the facts  don’t matter) also say Jesus rose from the dead. Makes church leaders wonder, “Will anyone think anything matters?”

Suskind’s book

Heather Cox Richardson verifies how embedded the unreality propogated by power-seekers has been this whole centrury. She writes:

Way back in 2004, an advisor to President George W. Bush told journalist Ron Suskind that people like Suskind were in “the reality-based community”: they believed people could find solutions based on their observations and careful study of discernible reality. But, the aide continued, such a worldview was obsolete. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore…. We are an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Maybe reality is starting to reassert itself. It can’t be too soon for Jesus followers who are ashamed of the Church. A reader wrote of their:

intense feeling of shame as a “Christian” over how the faith has related to the creation (using and abusing it a resource to be used up since we are all going to heaven and won’t need it anymore), the treatment of indigenous peoples (as objects to be removed, subjugated, transformed into Northern Europeans), and now the movement toward white nationalism as the model for leadership going forward (even the Russian Orthodox Church is justifying the war on Ukraine using white nationalism as a base of thought, and I think it is the long term strategy of the Evangelical far right efforts at controlling the courts, women, Congress).

You can empathize. The present is saturated with the loss of something, either facts or ideals. Many people are experiencing an unusual emptiness, frailty and disappointment. It gnaws at them.

The first followers knew how to endure

For the hopeful and despairing I have five words from the first Jesus followers. You might think I am going to get them to comment on the present political landscape, since that is where this got started. But I think they can do better than bed down in nonsense. They help us endure. They overcame their own nonsense. Like them, from our blessed place of reconciliation with God we can keep on being and doing good, no matter what happens.

  • The success or failure of the American Empire is not your direct responsibility.

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty. — Mary, in Luke 2:51-3

Many Americans have an imperial point of view which implies they should have enough power to remake the world in their image. Jesus has overcome that worldliness. He endures.

  • Suffering for good is a terrible vocation but you may be called to it.

But if you endure when you do good and suffer for it, this is a commendable thing before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.  — Peter in 1 Peter 2:20-21

Most Americans have bitten the “we’re exceptional” apple (even Obama). So suffering seems inappropriate. If gas costs $4.50 ($7-8 in Europe BTW) that’s a national crisis. The economy and everything else is just supposed to get bigger and better and no one should be allowed to get a piece of my piece. Suffering for good like Jesus gets us off that hamster wheel. It is how we endure.

  • Shame is a soul-killer so get beyond it

[Look] to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.  — Priscilla (IMO) in Hebrews 12:2

If someone (like Donald Trump) is sick enough to be shameless and leads others astray, it is not incumbent upon you to bear his unborn shame. Refuse to be shamed — if someone nails you to it, go through your seven words and rise again. It is grandiose to bear the sins of the country. Repent of your own sins, your complicity, your privilege (if you have it) and live in reconciliation with God, or the work of Jesus in bearing our shame is of little account. If you can’t access the hope of joy on your “cross,” Jesus will help you endure. Follow him.

  • What you do matters

 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. — Jesus in Luke 12:6-7

I feel like a wandering fool many days. I look for my past church and for some future perfection and miss the good I might do and be in the present. It is a great temptation to not be good enough, and then to project that intolerable feeling on someone else, or the whole nation, or God — someone other than me needs to not be good enough, unworthy of  love and honor.

I don’t know how many clients have told me this month, after I got excited over their growth or good deed: “It was nothing” or “Should have done that twenty years ago” or “Its no more than anyone would have done.” Meanwhile God is counting the hairs on their heads — I suppose I would say, “But I have so few hairs. No big deal.”

If everything goes wrong, you still matter. What you do in a terrible situation still matters even if it does not effect the difference you desire. We can always do more and better, but if that aspiration undermines the joy of expressing the truth and love of Jesus right now, I think it is a sinful aspiration.

  • Declare independence

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. — Paul in Galatians 5:1,13

Unlike the Constitution of the U.S., the Kansas state consitution includes the promise in the Declaration of Infdependence of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I guess people did not move to Kansas so someone could tell them what to do. I also think most of them were Christians and bristled at the thought of wearing any yoke but Christ’s.

I hope many more people will declare their independence from leaders who will do anything for power, including threats and lies. I hope people all over the world will unite to use what freedom they have to “serve one another humbly in love.” Until that day, I am on the road with Jesus looking for opportunities to use my freedom to endure the trials and experience the joys of living in truth and love with all the joy I can muster.

Harry Styles gets free of “As It Was”: You might try it

At 28, Harry Styles has plenty of time to become the most influential person on the planet. Already, people in India argue whether his Vogue cover in a dress (above) is appropriate — you can buy a copy for $300 on Ebay, in case you missed it. No matter where he shows up these days, he will probably be prominently featured in the photo history. His stint at modeling for the rebranded Gucci catapulted him into a fashion icon whose willingness to play in public makes him hard not to look at. People and GQ have both collected his best fashion moments for you.

After Christopher Nolan cast Styles in Dunkirk in 2017 he admitted he was unaware that Harry was so famous – and now worth over $100 million. Nolan just turned 52, so you also might be too old to be fully aware of the singer, songwriter, actor, activist, and fashionista. But you might benefit from getting to know him. I think his latest hit song “As It Was” is worth pondering.

“As It Was” was released on April 1 and spent 10 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. It is the lead single of the Album Harry’s House.  Like his fashion sense, the lyrics are more about ambiguous impressions than direct statements.  The first impression you get comes from Styles’ now-five-year-old goddaughter, Ruby Winston,  introducing the song with, “Come on Harry, we want to say goodnight to you.” Harry impresses me as pretty clean. He’s notorious for not partying on tour because it diminishes the energy he needs for his manic performances.  I hope he and Ruby are spreading kindness. At least I felt sincerely invited into Harry’s House  — I imagine him at the door wearing one of his signature sweater vests (my only fashion connection to him).

Ambiguity is closely seconded by melancholic nostalgia these days as the most popular post-pandemic outlooks in art and daily relationships. Harry is looking around his house, like your probably are, wondering what happened to his life.

After mask mandates were recently reinstated in some places, I heard people groan about never getting over the virus crisis. We groan about children who don’t have memories of a time before pandemic procedures and caution. We groan about losing a world in which we could feel safe from gunfire and free from climate-change induced deluge or drought. Most Christians are so deeply in bed with capitalism that they can’t imagine what to say about the mess we are in. But Harry is working on it. He asks, “What used to be in the house? What has changed? Who am I now?”

Spinning

An Apple Music interview with Styles suggests “As It Was” is about a metamorphosis that occurred during the pandemic. As he was forced to slow down and he wasn’t as wrapped up in his music performances, he remembered he was also a friend, a brother, and a son. Even more he realized, “Everything that happened in the pandemic, it’s just never going to be the same as before. All of the things happening in the world, it’s so obvious that it’s just not going to be the same. You can’t go backward, whether that’s us as a people or me in my personal life or any of those things.”

Holdin’ me back
Gravity’s holdin’ me back
I want you to hold out the palm of your hand
Why don’t we leave it at that?
Nothin’ to say
When everything gets in the way
Seems you cannot be replaced
And I’m the one who will stay, oh

In this world, it’s just us
You know it’s not the same as it was
In this world, it’s just us
You know it’s not the same as it was
As it was, as it was
You know it’s not the same

The video gives more than an impression that things are spinning and what will remain is uncertain. All we have, really, is us. That sentiment is so popular that Jesus followers  despair over whether they can even talk anymore about not being “just us” in the universe. Humankind has a special relationship with their Creator which is elemental to making us an “us.” But has Jesus spun off the wheel of time?

Regardless, things are changing. Harry is pushing some of that change. He is an influential advocate for gender assumptions to “not be the same as it was.” In a 2022 interview with Better Homes and Gardens (I told you he was everywhere), Styles objected to the expectation he should publicly label his sexual orientation as “outdated.” (I’ve been on his wavelength for a long time). He said, “I’ve been really open with it with my friends, but that’s my personal experience; it’s mine,” and “the whole point of where we should be heading, which is toward accepting everybody and being more open, is that it doesn’t matter, and it’s about not having to label everything, not having to clarify what boxes you’re checking.” Meanwhile, whole denominations are splitting up over getting the labels right.

Trauma

Styles’ parents divorced when he was seven. He claims to have had a good childhood with supportive parents. But his lyrics suggest he’s still working out his attachment issues.  Again, the lyric has just enough personal-sounding elements to make it relatable for all of us — feeling alone, self-destructive behavior, an absent father, a broken marriage. Someplace in our family systems, all those things probably exist and make an impact.

Answer the phone
“Harry, you’re no good alone
Why are you sittin’ at home on the floor?
What kind of pills are you on?”
Ringin’ the bell
And nobody’s comin’ to help
Your daddy lives by himself
He just wants to know that you’re well, oh

Chorus

I’ve been pondering the person who questioned me last week when I was generalizing from the people I had talked to: “You mainly see people who are traumatized, right?” They had a point. I hope I don’t assume everyone is in trouble just because I hear about troubles every day! — so don’t let me mislabel you. But I still think many of us are “sittin’ at home on the floor” and many of us are spinning. I’ve talked to many Christian leaders this year, and I know they resemble that impression. Only they are not getting checked up on, they are being criticized and cast off.

Styles has been pondering how to have a healthy life in this mess. In October 2019, teaser posters for his world tour concerts included the phrase “Do you know who you are?” and the acronym “TPWK” (later made into a song). To mark World Mental Health Day, Styles launched a website bot called “Do You Know Who You Are?” that gives users positive randomised messages using words such as “bright, determined, loving,” and “wonderful,” and ending with “TPWK. LOVE, H”

Intimacy issues

In an interview with The Guardian in 2019, Styles said “If a song’s about someone, is that fine? Or is that gonna get annoying for them, if people try to decipher it?” He has no intention of being normal. But he would like to be normal. He’s the master of fame culture on most platforms but he would like to be private. So “Do you know who you are?” must be an important question. And “Will you every have a lasting relationship?” must be a close second. Many of his fans think his former girlfriend,  Olivia Wilde, inspired the following part of “As It Was.” Wilde, ten years older than Harry, has two children.

Go home, get ahead, light-speed internet
I don’t wanna talk about the way that it was
Leave America, two kids follow her
I don’t wanna talk about who’s doin’ it first

As it was
You know it’s not the same as it was
As it was, as it was

I think one of the reasons Harry Styles is so popular is because his songs speak to everyday circumstances. His lines are ambiguous in fact but clear in meaning. Perhaps it is truthiness. Or maybe we are all truly running in circles, never keeping up with what the internet is making us, and never able to keep up our relationships.

I think Styles is managing to be kind about who he sees in the looking glass and how he sees and relates to others. At the same time, he is trying to make a difference in hard times. He said “We’re in a difficult time, and I think we’ve been in many difficult times before. But we happen to be in a time where things happening around the world are absolutely impossible to ignore. I think it would’ve been strange to not acknowledge what was going on at all.”

Jesus followers could learn a few things from Harry Styles. He seems to have a lot fun with is art. He seems honest. He’s alive in his moment. He is serious about kindness and mental health. That’s not usually our reputation — even though Paul tells us, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

In appreciation for Ron Sider

Ron Sider was a large influence in my life, especially as a twentysomething seminarian. His seminal book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (1978) changed my viewpoint and helped make me a lifelong advocate for the poor. He even influenced our intentional community’s vision to devote ourselves to caring for the hungry.

In seminary I wrote a paper that compared his book to Vernard Eller’s The Simple Life: The Christian Stance Toward Possessions (1973), in which I found myself more committed to Eller’s premise than Sider’s more-evangelical stance. But Sider continued to influence me theologically and relationally, as I ended up in his first denomination and in his home town. Meeting him for the first time was a thrill.

In honor of his good, long life I thought I should republish a book review I wrote with Jonny Rashid in 2017 for a Brethren in Christ publication.  It demonstrates how he kept fresh and engaged for over sixty years in the cause of keeping the American church, in particular, accountable for our social action. Rest in peace good teacher and partner.

Book Review: The future of our faith: An intergenerational conversation on critical issues facing the church.
By Ronald J. Sider and Ben Lowe. Brazos Press. 2016
Reviewed by Rod White and Jonny Rashid

Ambitious people flock together

Ron Sider and Ben Lowe demonstrate their admirable ambition for the life of the church throughout The future of our faith: An intergenerational conversation on critical issues facing the church — the latest of the more than thirty books Sider has published. When some of us read it, we may feel pale in comparison as they marshal their experiences, drop names, and demonstrate their points with great acumen. Ron, especially, has amassed a wealth of knowledge and connections during his stimulating intellectual, ecumenical and literary life. He’s had quite a journey out of a little BIC church in southern Ontario! The Future of Our Faith is an extravagant title but don’t let it intimidate you. It is really about two caring people who are brilliant enough to deserve attention as they demonstrate the kind of dialogue that might stem the American church’s swift decline as it meets the next generation.

We share similar convictions about the next generation of the church and the dialogue that holds it together in love.

When I (Rod) was asked to write this review, I immediately thought it would be good to write it with Jonny. The book is trying to bridge differences between young and old, new and seasoned, and is interested in bridging the divides that societal labels reinforce. Ron appreciates the multicultural Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia, where we live. Ben’s church, the Wheaton Chinese Church, is consciously working at a multicultural oneness. Jonny and I also represent the ambition, the age difference and the discipline of connecting people in the love of Jesus who might normally be at odds..

This book gravitates toward getting involved in the bigger issues on which both men have been concentrating. Both men mainly address their concerns through parachurch organizations, which are mostly driven by their personal energy. Jonny and I have been concentrating on the same issues in our community context, relying on our mutuality to take us where we need to go. I think we are the church they are looking for when they keep pointing out how lost the evangelical church has been since it first started hearing from Ron in the 1970’s.

These are their concerns, in brief

Ron Sider is concerned about evangelism surviving as millennials embrace social action more than biblical principles, truth in the postmodern era, the foundation for marriage where it is deteriorating, and having a gracious debate on homosexuality. Ben Lowe is concerned about having lifestyles that reflect faith, good political engagement, reconciling divisions in the church, and caring for creation.

There is little disagreement between them. Ron sounds like an engaging and aware 70-something who is going to die trying to make a difference. Ben sounds like an orthodox, been-burned 30-something who likes to push the boundaries of his background in order to do good.

Jonny and I do not disagree with each other much either, if at all. We agree to agree. But our agreement is forged in the fires of dialogue, which is mostly missing in the church, The BIC Church has spent a decade eradicating meaningful dialogue from their General and Regional Conferences (which are now more accurately labeled “assemblies”) as well as in general principle and practice. If this book has any wisdom to share, it is that such a move is the exact wrong direction for the future of our faith.

Jonny and I decided we could best serve you if we modeled the structure of the book and each chose a teaching to share and then responded to what the other said.

Rod’s thoughts on a big assumption

I do not think there is much wrong with this book. It might be a bit hard to read for people less aware of evangelical organizations; the authors are steeped in the subculture and in evangelical academia. But they are good writers who break it down well. They want to talk about key issues and they succeed in doing that.

What I will say has to do with their assumptions. They note an intergenerational tension in the family of God over what it means to be faithful today, and how we need to find a better way to sort these things out. This is true. But the problem might be that evangelicals (and church people in general) can’t stop talking about themselves. This book assumes people can talk to each other in the church about the intergenerational tension when one generation is quickly exiting the building.

Last summer, the Mennonite Review included a review of Robert P. Jones’ The End of White Christian America. That book summarizes what Sider and Lowe are combatting. “Younger people today are simply less interested in religion. Looking at the numbers, Jones says the proportion of Americans who are white mainline Protestants and white evangelicals today is 32 percent, down from 51 percent in 1993. The reason for this change? More and more Americans are leaving organized religion, with 20 percent today considering themselves religiously unaffiliated. Many of the unaffiliated are young adults, who are less than half as likely as seniors to identify with a church. This rejection of organized religion by youth, Jones says, is a ‘major force of change in the religious landscape.’ Looking ahead, ‘there’s no sign that this pattern will fade anytime soon,’ he says. “By 2051, if current trends continue, religiously unaffiliated Americans could comprise as large a percentage of the population as Protestants.”

We started working on this crisis of faith twenty years ago and most of our church members are millennials. It is not easy to evangelize among them when the vast majority of what is left of the evangelicals vote for the godless Trump who epitomizes what Lowe laments as faith without lifestyle. Plus Pence represents the narrow agenda of the religious right while climate change action is rolled back and minoritized people are targeted for police action. Sider and Lowe may be talking to a church that ceased to exist ten years ago.

Jonny’s response

I also do not find much issue with the text and I am grateful for Ron and Ben’s contribution. I think it will be good for those that need to read it. As I will say below, the assumptions are a little too vague and broad. I am unsure the audience of the text is listed specifically enough, and at times I think the strokes the authors paint with are too broad. But they definitely have their place, especially when considering popular (and vocal) evangelical audiences.

Jonny’s thoughts on priorities

As a 31-year-old pastor, it was quite an interesting experience Sider and Lowe speak to me about my priorities. As it turns out, Sider wasn’t far from the truth when he listed what my generation thinks is important, but I think one thing they may also find important is not being generalized. Across race, class, and regions, I think young Christians have a myriad of priorities. I think that the generalizations the authors made about millennials were particularly germane to a city-dwelling transplant in the Northeast U.S., but I do not think they would translate well to say, black people, suburban folks, or even millennials I know in the Midwest and the South. Since Jason Fileta wrote a sidebar in the text, I will note, that millennial Egyptian immigrants–like him and me–would likely “side” with Ron on many of his issues, and might actually need to learn something from Ben’s chapters.

Rod and I have had many robust discussions over the years in which I was on the side of the “older” generation and he the “younger.” The stereotypes (or “generalizations” to put it more mildly) simply have not been true in my experience. As it turns out, many millennials I know, are not interested in politics, race, or the environment; while many older folks I know are progressive on issues like gay marriage, are steeped in postmodernism, and are on the front lines of our political witness. Bifurcating the audience may cement them in their stereotyped places (or create more conflict between the groups).

As a millennial, the main thing that develops my faith is being taken seriously by my elders, especially in Circle of Hope. I was only 24 when I planted the church with fifty comrades six and a half years ago! When older leaders took me seriously, I took them seriously too. Our divisions, if any existed, were erased by working toward a common vision together.

But let me conclude by saying, I think this book does a service to the church by undoing many of the stereotypes unbelievers, from every generation, have about it. Like Rod noted already, the loudest Christians in our country are making it hard for us to prioritize issues like evangelism and truth, as well as debunk misunderstandings about how Christians see the environment and U.S. race relations.

Rod’s response

Jonny points out what might be a flaw in the book’s premise and in evangelical thinking. The authors seem to be speaking mainly to their subculture but they make universal assertions. That being said, it is good to know that Ben Lowe, in particular, is working hard at bridging the divisions. He even ran for Congress as a pro-life Democrat! His book Doing Good Without Giving Up reminds us, as C. S. Lewis put it, we don’t get second things by placing them first; we get second things by keeping first things first. As Christians, we don’t just aim at change; we aim at faithfulness, and out of faithfulness comes fruitfulness. Ron Sider also has an impressive history of not giving up — even writing this book in his 70’s! Ben Lowe is similarly inspirational (as is Jonny Rashid!)

We are glad to share their conclusion

As they summarize their work, the authors share an inspiring conclusion we could all share. “We come from different contexts and perspectives, and often struggle to understand or relate to one another. Overcoming this involves intentionally reaching out, opening up, and being vulnerable. It takes humility, patience, and sacrificial love. It may often be hard, and sometimes we’ll get hurt. But it’s still both possible and worthwhile. We all have weaknesses, prejudices and blind spots, both as individuals and as generations, often it’s our differences that help draw these out into the light where we can deal with and grow from them….The reality is that what separates us is far less significant  than what binds us together. Or rather, who binds us together.”

Please people out of love, not defensiveness

Thanks to David McElroy

A man reluctantly agreed to marriage counseling. When he got to the session, resistance was written all over his body language. She predictably got the ball rolling with a string of criticisms which she assumed I would consider well-intentioned facts. I turned to him and wondered out loud what he was feeling. He said, “I’m the one who organized this therapy.” She said, “You wouldn’t have done anything if I hadn’t nagged you, like I usually have to.” He said, “It is impossible to please you.” Their defensive exchange quickly arrived at deeper understanding. But it doesn’t always go that way.

Defensiveness

The Gottmans include defensiveness as the third horseman of their Four Horsemen of marriage apocalypse. They define it as “self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack.” Many people become defensive when they are being criticized. It might be more effective if they just said “Ouch.” But what they usually do is take an eye for an eye and respond with blame. The husband above did not listen to the legitimate complaint behind his wife’s criticism, he justified himself by shifting the blame to her for not recognizing his efforts.

We have all been defensive. When any close relationship is on the rocks, it is a good time to notice what is important to you and what scares you. You are probably defending it the way you do that. The storms of intimacy have a way of uncovering what we might keep hidden. What is hidden by us or from us is often well-defended.

We hate feeling exposed. We rarely start off talking about what we keep hidden because we prefer it hidden or are no longer conscious of what we hide. When someone considered why their mind went blank when certain subjeccts came up, he noticed a little person in a subterranean control room getting a command when he was threatened to, “Shut the gates!” We all have a “switch” of sorts that activates our defenses.

Acting defensively is usually a knee-jerk reaction. We all have defense mechanisms we organized when were very young to make sure we survived. These behaviors usually involve our deepest emotions, which we may or may not be conscious of. But the behaviors are very familiar and feel crucial. We have a childish commitment to them.

When you feel unjustly accused or threatened in some way, you usually first try to get your partner to back off. You defend yourself in a reasoned way. Easy-to-see defensiveness is shifting the blame. We say, in effect, “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.” The Gottman’s have a good antidote for de-escalating a relatively superficial power struggle. They teach us to accept our own responsibility. If you have a problem, check with yourself, first.

If you are activated by certain situations over and over, it is likely your partner is hitting that button in your unconscious where you have a deep need to feel cared for and it is not happening. For instance, if I already feel unworthy and you criticize me, I will get defensive. Actually, if you just point a finger at me and start a sentence with “You!” I will probably feel defensiveness rise up.

Have you noted the last time you were defensive yet? Have you noted the effects of your own and others’ defensiveness in your life? If not, now would be a good time.

A favorite Christian mechanism: reaction formation

In power struggles, it is usually the most powerless people who think they have to exercise the most power and bear the most burdens. Strong people feel fine about being strong and doing things strongly, perhaps with little self-awareness or compassion. Powerless, fragile, wounded, or traumatized people often feel alone against strong forces and come up with all sorts of ways to protect themselves. I wish all this defending were invented by adults; it would be easier to see. But most of it gets built before have much ability to think about what we are doing. We are surviving. But even as asults we often react like powerless children when we are most distressed.

The definitions the Gottmans use above for how couples are defensive are quite accurate. But they are also oversimplified. For instance, I think one of the greatest defenses a child learns is to appear to be defenseless, to appear compliant or pleasing. Rather than expressing themselves to ignorant or inattentive parents they discover a pleasing personage (Tournier)/persona (Jung) which engenders some validation of their worth, or at least gets them fed. You may have tried to be pleasing enough to avoid the violence lurking in the household or to be more pleasing than a sibling to get a better share of limited resources. Many children begin to unleash themselves from this form of defense with the terrible twos when they explore the boundaries of what they are being schooled to obey. Others just perfect their false self and even forget how furious they are with how relationships hurt and shame them.

I think many of my Christian clients are working out this subtle form of self-defense. They have been well-schooled that causing conflict with parents or the church system is a big no-no. So they defend their place in the family or the larger system by looking like they are being good while seething inside (or being depressed because they don’t know they are seething) — this is the seed thought of many semi-autobiographical novels, right? Freud called this mechanism “reaction formation.” You might feel guilt or shame so you act out the opposite of what you feel by looking compliant or self-assured, effectively hiding what you fear to have exposed. The classic example Google will immediately tell you is of the elementary boy who bullies a girl because he can’t deal with the attraction he feels. I think I remember blushing when a playground friend accused me of liking the girl I had just beaned with a four-square ball.

Christians are notoriously seen as repressed hypocrites because they never allow their true feelings to despoil their appropriate behavior. When a child learns they are powerless against their abusive or neglectful parents, they may adopt the persona that works for their best interests, hopeless of ever being truly seen. When such a persona marries, they surprise their partner when a person does not show up. I suffer for people who have a mate pointing a finger at them when all they are trying to do is please them. They’re like the poor man who said, “You can’t be pleased.” Being pleasing was the main weapon he had to use in the power struggle and he is disappointed it does not work.

Roman sacrifice: Suovetaurile

Try not to find your defenses in the Bible

For many church people, reaction formation seems like a tenet of faith. If you want to find it, you can read it into many scripture passages. For instance, look at Romans 15:15: 

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself, but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” NRSV

I think this is easily interpreted to say, “Jesus did not please himself, but others. So you should please others, not yourself. That’s love. And such love will be rewarded. Don’t please yourself if you want to go to heaven.”

When I was young, some teacher taught me the way to J-O-Y is Jesus, others, yourself, and they meant in that order. I instinctively put the three words in an inclusive circle, but my teacher definitely meant it as a hierarchy. Other teachers left off the Y altogether and encouraged me to annihilate or at least severely discipline myself for Jesus; these days some people call that mentality “cruciform.” Even though Jesus says you lose yourself to find yourself, and Paul says he leaves his false self to receive a true one in Christ, many Christians spend a lifetime denying themselves and presenting the same false compliance they did as a child, often feeling the depressing or anxiety-causing effects of resenting how they are never recognized for all they do and are.

Love out of love

We have seen a lot of angry Christians on the screen in the past few years. I think they drive people out of the church with their reaction formation. They are obviously angry, but they think they are behaving in the loving way Jesus would prefer, and saving people from sin. Not acknowledging I am miserable or being curious about why, while I insist I am just trying to please you, quickly undermines trust in any relationship. When you cause such suffering, don’t blame your mate for persecuting you like Jesus was.

If you read the whole account that leads up to the often-misinterpreted snippet of Romans, above, you’ll see that Paul acknowledges the weakness of people who are frightened by pagan meat. He doesn’t tell them to eat it and pretend they like it. To the strong who are just doing whatever they want, eating whatever they bless and feeling blessed, he says to attend to the dark side of the strength they have – the side which would ignore the poor for the pleasure of their own freedom or power.

If, when you please me, you are mainly trying to get loved, I will feel that. If you care for me because you are defending yourself, I will probably know that, eventually, too. We won’t be tuned in to each other because you won’t really be there, just the persona you think pleases me. If you are having a similar relationship with God, same results, by the way. You might not be so aware of it, but I will probably pick up on the anger and resentment you really feel, which you try to hide behind your appropriate behavior. What’s more, I will likely feel like I should be helping you in your project to “love” me, because you will be even more angry or depressed if you don’t succeed at it. Your success means I accepted your sacrifice of your true self for me as of supreme value.

I’d rather you loved me out of love not defensiveness.