Category Archives: Psychological growth

Grief: Make room to grieve in every way you need

I wonder if what has been making us mean in the last few years is unprocessed grief. Maybe we have not grieved at all, or haven’t considered all the ways our souls are working through the losses and sadness we carry.

Do people in the United States have good ways to grieve anymore? Were you taught anything by your family system that helps you?

I am connected to many people who are not conversant in grief at all. If I suggest we talk about their loss and the grief they feel about it, they almost immediately deflect. They can talk about trauma, anxiety and depression, which are words the therapeutic language we use allows.  But the deeper, soulful grief they are passing through and which they will continue to bear is hard to admit. For many men, especially, grieving seems weak, shameful, irrelevant, or just annoying.

You can see grief behind the meanness

It is possible, isn’t it, that not making room for grief is contributing to how mean we are getting. Many people have noticed our agression and disrespect growing, especially if they drive a car, and even more viscerally if they have been to the U.S. southern border. Americans are meaner. David Brooks wrote a great (long!) article about becoming meaner in The Atlantic last fall. But he did not highlight grieving.

Even though we went through a pandemic and even though the death and fear of it is not really over, Americans generally seem to brush off their need to grieve. Our president, at the outset of the health emergency, minimized the disaster and his followers loudly distrusted the vaccines which undoubtedly saved the lives of millions of the 111 million Americans who have been infected, so far — (yes, a full third of the country! and it may be more). Even with the vaccines, 1.2 million people have died from Covid so far in the U.S. — that’s over 1/7 of the estimated deaths worldwide. Donald Trump is famous for appearing on the porch of the White House, fresh from the hospital, still having trouble breathing, pointedly denying anything significant was happening.

I know many of us did not take his lead, but I think the country, by and large, buried its grief. The persistent irritation of unrecognized, denied, or avoided grief could make us mean and even sicker than we might normally be.

Maybe Trump takes his cues from the screen, since he is famous for having a lot of TV time. The screens contribute to our inability to grieve. We often learn how to live from them. And the screens are sketchy about what they teach about grief.

If you see grieving on the screen, it often moves through in a few moments. Some movies are enlightening stories of grief, of course — but even those films tidy things up, generally, after about two hours. Learning grief from film or TV shows may stunt us. They may desensitize us to our personal process because our catharsis happens while watching someone else, and someone who is not real, at that. It is not the same as having our own experience.

Our experiences rarely match  the screen. Most screens show grief in stereotypic ways. A Reddit ranter says:

I’m home alone watching Kingsman (I know) and the main character loses the son he spent his whole life protecting and after 3 mins of air time grieving, he’s smacked into reality and goes back to work…. Like, is this annoying to anyone else but me? A close friend can give you a pet [sic] talk to physically hit you and now you’re okay again?!!?!

The boatload of heroic spy and superhero movies we’ve had in the last decade usually include this message about grief: there is no time for it. Besides, we’re too tough to give into it. Heroes tend to say, “I’ll honor your moment of silence for the latest victims, even acknowledge your single tear squeezing out. But then it is back to the work of revenge or raining overwhelming force on our enemies.” For instance, here is Thor dealing with his grief in Guardians of the Galaxy:

He gets slapped. Then he “gets it together” in record time. Grief meets meanness on the screen.

Maybe we need grieving room

Leanne FriesenLast week a book my acquaintance wrote about grieving showed up in my Kindle. I forgot I pre-ordered it. I admit, I was hesitant to open it because I really admire this woman and I did not want to not like her book. But as soon as I read a few pages, I could not put it down. It is a charming, honest, helpful book about grief: Grieving Room: Making Space for All the Hard Things after Death and Loss. In a world that wants to rush toward closure and healing, Leanne Friesen gives us reasons, and maybe more important, gives us permission to let loss linger. She teaches us to give ourselves and others grieving room when the very worst happens.

I wrote a bit about grief last week, too, because I need to give it room, just like anyone else. I was not prepared for loss. I think the most I heard about grief in my family growing up was when my mom shouted “Good grief!” — which isn’t quite the same as demonstrating healthy living or having a serious discussion!

Reading Friesen’s book creates much-needed time to meditate on old, unfinished griefs and space to accept more recent, raw ones. She is mainly reflecting on her own life-changing experience of losing her relatively-young sister to cancer. But I think what she says easily applies to losing several years to a pandemic, to vicariously losing mass-shooting victims or Palestinian children, to being fired from your job, to losing your child to estrangement, or to many of the other losses we don’t think to make room for.

She also focuses on her own emotions, which she can readily access; there is lots of crying, angry outbursts, and tenderness. That does not mean you can’t use her book to help you grieve the way you do. Men who have rarely cried as an adult can read it, traumatized people whose losses are terrifying can enter in at their present level, even Christians who think the Holy Spirit bears all their griefs so they don’t have to can benefit.

The Bubble

One of the most helpful images in Grieving Room comes in the chapter “Room to Never Get Over It: Always Missing the One You Lost.” In that chapter Friesen faces the hard thing we all face when someone asks, “Are you over it yet?” — or when we fear someone might ask that because we should be over it, or when we ask ourselves that question because we want to be over it. She says:

There is a season when you live right inside that big cloud of grief. In the grief bubble, it feels like you live surrounded by grief all the time. This is a normal part of grieving. It is also true that at some point, we transition to a time where we live beside the bubble, instead of inside it. Moving to this season can take a long time. Even when the big cloud shifts, your grief never really leaves. It is still part of us, forever.

It could take years for us to get out of our grief bubble. If we don’t make room for that reality, we’ll probably get mean to ourselves or others — and who knows what else might happen?

This award winning short film reduces the process of grieivng to ten minutes, but it seems more accurate to me than many depictions. You might see the bubble in it.

Jesus in the dust with us

Even though Friesen is a protestant church leader, she realized she might not make room for resurrection. In the chapter right next to the one I just mentioned is “Room for Resurrection: Starting to Find New Life Again.” She writes:

One of my favorite quotations, from Frederick Buechner, says, “The resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.” [The Final Beast (1965)]…Had the idea of all of us rising together ever meant something to me before? It had a little but even more now. Until I lived through my very own worst thing, I didn’t know the truth of the idea that the resurrection means the worst thing isn’t the last thing. It took a lot of death for me to start to see resurrection. I had never really needed  resurrection until [my sister] died.

Unlike Friesen, many of us are tragically alone in our grief! To hear her tell it, her life is full of family, good friends and caring churches. I think it’s possible she could make room for the many hard things of grief because room had been made for her and her emotions in her family and community. She can look forward to rising from the dead with her family and friends!

That may not be where you are at right now. For one thing, the pandemic killed a lot of churches and the ones left are still recovering. Nothing will ever be the same. So if you had that togetherness it might be hard to find now. On top of that, you may have ended up too alone, locked down, to dare grieving. You’re more like Thor: hyper responsible for everything (but without a hammer) getting slapped. With morality gone, like David Brooks claims, and Christianity taking a nose-dive, you might basically be without God, too.  So many of us suffer a deep sense of being completely on our own.

Being alone, or feeling alone, might make it that much harder to to get out of that overwhelming bubble of grief. Grief might become a chronic experience. Resurrection, the other side of the deaths we experience and the losses we carry, might seem like a fantasy.

The New Testament is honest about how slowly resurrection dawns on the grieving disciples.  The Lord’s #1 woman, Mary Magdalene, thinks Jesus is the groundskeeper outside his tomb. At one point the risen Jesus finds his irritated disciples gone back to fishing.

The resurrected Jesus can be hard to recognize. He has a different look on the other side of death. We do too. Things look and we look different on the other side of our losses. I think the whole world looks different after the millions of deaths during the pandemic.

Before death comes to us or on us, resurrection can be an easy thing to keep on the outside of us, maybe more like a nice thought or an inspiring principle. Even Peter rebuked Jesus for wanting to go to Jersualem — no death, no need for resurrection, let’s keep things controllable. When death gets inside our defenses, into our heart,  resurrection becomes crucial. When grief can no longer be denied or prevented, we have nowhere to go except to the one who holds the words of eternal life.

I think this very short video does a nice job of bringing us to rest in the hope of Jesus being with us, not only in the bubble, but in the challenge of facing death, inside and out, every day. I’ll leave you with it. When you say with the psalmist in Psalm 22,

“My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death,”

may you experience how God lays down with you in your dust.

Judith Viorst’s Necessary Losses: A helpful guide through your loss for Lent

Judith Viorst’s Necessary Losses (1986) is a book I have recommended many times to friends and clients over the years. If you are ready to meet an honest but encouraging guide as you move through the losses along your way toward development, she is a good one.

Judith Viorst and Alexander (still having a bad, no good day)
Judith Viorst and Alexander (still having a no good, very bad day)

Inevitable loss and glory

Now that I think it is safe to say I am officially “old,” loss cannot be as easily denied as it used to be. My also-old friends are deteriorating with me. And I find it much harder to avoid the yet-unfinished griefs and fears of childhood. There are tender scars of betrayal and failure to bump into. There are unmet needs (and my complicity in keeping them unmet) to feel. And there is the mean old world lapping at the sinking shoreline beneath my feet.

Life is wonderful and difficult at the same time! For instance, we had such a wonderful Valentine’s Day! We rehearsed all the things we like about our relationship over dinner and then found so many reasons to laugh during Mrs. Doubtfire. But it was not long before I watched myself doubt my own fire and long for some intangible thing I felt was missing in me or my life. Difficulties arise daily. As Paul would say,

I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. — 1 Cor. 15:31

Yet in the next letter he says,

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. — 2 Cor. 4:16-17

Death and glory travel together.

Lessons from Judith Viorst

As I prayed about these things, I remembered I wanted to recommend Necessary Losses to a client. But then I thought my inspiration might really be God encouraging me to pick the book up for myself, which I did. I thumbed through to the final page and was encouraged all over again by Viorst’s frank and hopeful view of how we develop. Here’s some of it for you:

In thinking about development as a lifelong series of necessary losses—of necessary losses and subsequent gains—I am constantly struck by the fact that in human experience opposites frequently converge. I have found that little can be understood in terms of “eithers” and “ors.” I have found that the answer to the question “Is it this or that?” is often “Both.”

That we love and we hate the same person.

That the same person—us, for instance—is both good and bad.

That although we are driven by forces that are beyond our control and awareness, we are also the active authors of our fate.

And that, although the course of our life is marked with repetition and continuity, it also is remarkably open to change.

For yes, it is true that as long as we live we may keep repeating the patterns established in childhood. It is true that the present is powerfully shaped by the past. But it also is true that the circumstances of every stage of development can shake up and revise the old arrangements. And it’s true that insight at any age can free us from singing the same sad songs again.

Thus, although our early experiences are decisive, some of these decisions can be reversed. We can’t understand our history in terms of continuity or change. We must include both.

And we can’t understand our history unless we recognize that it is comprised of both outer and inner realities. For what we call our “experiences” include not only what happens to us out there, but how we interpret what happens to us out there. A kiss is not just a kiss—it may feel like sweet intimacy; it may feel like outrageous intrusion. It may even be only a fantasy in our mind. Each of us has an inner response to the outer events of our life. We must include both.

Another set of paired opposites which tend to merge in real life are nature and nurture. For what we come into the world with—our innate qualities, our “constitutional givens”—interacts with the nurture we receive. We cannot view development in terms of either environment or heredity. We must include both.

As for our losses and gains, we have seen how often they are inextricably mixed. There is plenty we have to give up in order to grow. For we cannot deeply love anything without becoming vulnerable to loss. And we cannot become separate people, responsible people, connected people, reflective people without some losing and leaving and letting go.

I may be old, but I am still developing. Letting go of my losses is not the only way I do it. But letting go is an essential skill if we don’t want to run into a psychological and spiritual wall every day. I know this personally. Letting go of some significant losses in the past few years has opened up many new avenues for growth and love for me. My spiritual direction group helped me let go of something just last week and the freedom is still taking shape! It feels great. None of us is finished yet.

Lent would be a great season for meditating through Judith Viorst’s book and letting go of the necessary losses that lead us to resurrection after resurrection.

Lent is another both/and. It is right now and quite deliberate, but it is also a window into the losses of the past and a view into the promises of the future. It is the turning season, a yearly  invitation to move into the way of life after death: daily and eternal, out of the old self and into the new, out of the past and into the future. You may or may not feel the immediate results of your Lenten disciplines, but, come Easter, you may come to recognize you feel inwardly renewed, and you will likely come to feel the delight of sensing the glory of God unveiling your true glory.

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Today is Xi Shengmo Day! Meet one of the first modern Chinese church leaders who renamed himself “Overcomer of Demons” @ The Transhistorical Body.

Is it disobedient to be afraid? (2012)

In my long stint as a Philly pastor, I often answered “frequently asked questions.” This speech reflects a time when someone asked me, “Is it disobedient to be  afraid?” Someone must have asked me for more Bible study, because there is a surprising amount of scripture here.

Is it disobedient to be afraid? We are going to talk about that. The answer is, generally, yes, but probably not for generally accepted reasons.

Rhyolite bank building

What are you afraid of?

I am afraid of heights. I’ve done a lot of things to try to overcome this fear, but I am not very successful. One time I got stuck on a ruin Rhyolite, Nevada (like the one above) when I was out in the desert with some friends and could not get down from my climb because I was too afraid to bridge the gap between my foot and the next foothold. They had to come up and rescue me.

But I think I am more afraid of depths. It is hard to look into certain territories inside. I am not alone in this.

But the worst thing might be that I am most afraid of people I am close to, even people I love. I have a nagging fear of you, right now. I am so afraid of the things that might hurt me again, or make me feel too alone, or make me feel smothered or shamed. My reaction is so automatically fearful I am afraid of my reaction! What’s more, I am afraid to be myself because that might hurt someone else. I not only don’t want to do that, I don’t want them to do it to me.  Are you as messy as me?

So if the Bible teaches I am being disobedient to God when I am afraid, I am pretty much disobedient a lot. I’ve got sin ready to pop out all the time!

The Bible does say, “Do not be afraid” a lot. Like in the famous account of the resurrection. Some one read it and everyone read the bold part.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  — Matthew 28

Jesus has died, there has been an earthquake, an angel has appeared to the soldiers and they have fainted they were so afraid. The women see the angel (note they do not faint) and he says, “Do not be afraid.” I suppose it is disobedient to not do what a messenger of God tells you to do.

But also note that in verse 8, they are disobedient, still afraid, but they are filled with joy. You might want to hold on to that seeming incongruity for later.

So they are obediently running to tell the disciples the news that Jesus is risen, when they run into Jesus! They fall on the ground. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

Is it disobedient to be afraid when Jesus says “Do not be afraid?” I honestly think the answer to the question is “Yes.” It is, at some level, basically disobedient to be afraid. It is idolatry, the fear has a bigger place in your worship than Jesus.

People organize their lives around fear every day. Why are our national leaders so afraid of people in Northwest Pakistan? There are a lot of reasons that could be given. But they are not afraid because they trust God!

Why are we so afraid of each other? You get next to someone and suddenly you are afraid of what they think of what you just said. You are so concerned about what they might feel  you are anxious and miserable all day. When all the while, if you actually follow Jesus, you are going to live forever, which means even if what you experience kills you, things will work out OK.

What can mere humans do to me?

The writers of scriptures from about 1000 BC to 64 AD have a common memory verse that you might like to add to your thinking: what can mere humans do to me? My spiritual director often asks me, “What can really happen here? Really, what’s the worst thing? Why be so locked in fear?” He does not always succeed in getting me to not be afraid, but he is right to ask.

Four of you read one of these as an invitation to us to give up our fear. Don’t read the reference:

  • In God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere human beings do to me? — Psalm 56:11
  • When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; / he brought me into a spacious place.
    The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. / What can human beings do to me?
    The Lord is with me; he is my helper. / I look in triumph on my enemies. — Psalm 118:5-7
  • What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. — Matthew 10:27-9
  • God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can human beings do to me?” — Hebrews 13:5-6

So yes, God tells us to not be afraid — and for some very good reasons. If we don’t trust him and are afraid for our usual bad reasons, then it is disobedient. God commands us to act for our best interests. Trusting God is in our best interests.

How to Calm a Fussy Baby: Tips for Parents & Caregivers - HealthyChildren.org

Is there a fearless human somewhere?

All that being said it would be bizarre to find a fearless human. They might be a sociopath. Some Christians seem to be to have some kind of psychological talent that allows them to act like they are not afraid and pretend they have no fear.  They are committed to being obedient, they saw that the Bible said “Do not be afraid.” So, by God!, they are not afraid. But I think they might be afraid of being afraid, deep down inside. And they might be so afraid of God that they would shut their feelings down in order not to offend her. They might be afraid their religious house of cards will tumble if they call God “her!”

Contrary to that, I think it is very likely that all those scriptures that say “Do not be afraid,” were intended to be comforting scriptures. Those passages are more like when you are holding your screaming child and you say, “Don’t cry honey.” I think they are saying “God and all his messengers know you are afraid. Don’t be afraid.” They are pointing out our fear, acknowledging it exists and working with it.

We have a strange problem in this era. We think what we feel is who we are. If I feel fear, I am afraid. I think It makes more sense to separate feelings from actions. You can be afraid and filled with joy, too! God and his angels might scare you, but you could respond with worship.

After all, Isaiah says:

Therefore, this is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says: “My people who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians, who beat you with a rod and lift up a club against you, as Egypt did. “

Isaiah is speaking for the Lord, who is telling his children, the people of Israel — the whole nation is like his offspring, “Don’t be afraid of the Assyrians,” even though the Assyrian Empire is huge and is undoubtedly going to take you over, and your King, Ahaz, is trying to make a deal with them instead of trusting God. Be faithful to God.

Isaiah notes however, that the experience of being beaten is installed in the nation’s memory, since that is what happened in Egypt when they were slaves. When they were just a child of a nation God rescued them from their abusive condition, but the fears born of having been in that condition are still real.

When God tells you don’t be afraid, he remembers your beginnings, too. I have a story about why I am still afraid inside, even though I can act fearlessly in many ways. I have an Egypt in my past where I was hurt. Some of you have stories you don’t even want to tell, they are so painful to recall. Some of you have stories you can’t tell because you blocked them out completely. They were being formed when you were just a small human. There is no way God is telling you, “Don’t be afraid,” as if you were never in Egypt. He encourages us to not be afraid because we were in Egypt and we needed to be rescued. And now the Assyrians are coming upon us.

We have a lot to be afraid of

Get a picture of what you are afraid of in your mind. Even make a mental list. I am not going to make you tell us what it is, so don’t be afraid. But I am going to offer the opportunity to a couple of people, so we can be honest, like God is, about carrying things that scare us. Any body want to tell us the first thing that came to mind?

I don’t think being obedient is not ever being afraid. I think being obedient is listening to God’s call and trusting him when we are afraid, which is pretty much all the time. “Do not be afraid,” should be translated, “I know you are afraid. Listen to me. Trust me. This is going to go someplace. I am with you. Act in faith even though you are afraid.” The scriptures suggest ways to live that out.

Meet God in the night

Everyone read this if you can:

Do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you, …
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. — Proverbs 3:21-2,24

I sometimes wake up in the night and can’t resist making a list of things that trouble me. I did it last night, because I forgot to do something I needed to do and I was afraid of the consequences. My fears get to me when my defenses are quieted by sleep and they can get out. I hope that does not happen to you. But for most of us, it does happen, at least once in a while.

To be obedient, try some rituals. You might need to get up and pray or get up and deal. You might need to push it off. You might recite the Jesus prayer and re-center. You might use your new memory verse “what can humans do to me?’

When we become aware of our fear it tests our obedience to God’s command. We need to meet him in the fear. The Lord is calling into the fear for us — calling us out. If you experience fear, it is a place to meet God.

Trust in the touch

Let’s all read this in a mysterious whisper:

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. — Revelation 1:17

 This is John in Revelation thinking about the end of time. The other day we got a movie out of Red Box called Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. It turned out to be a God-free rendition of John’s revelation! The movie was all about fear and finding someone to touch before the meteor hit. It was touchingly disobedient and lovingly hopeless. I think John’s vision is better. John’s vision is such a wonderful thing he experiences as he is awaiting the end of this age, exiled on his island. He has a vision of the risen, ruling Jesus, and Jesus tenderly touches him. Do not be afraid.

God is going to touch you where you are afraid. But you will have to let him and learn to let him when you are too afraid to let him or too accustomed to not letting him. You learned to be afraid and not let it touch you. You have a tendency to fall down dead in the face of what you fear. The touch of God, who is the beginning and the end, before you began and bringing you to your end, is how we deal. That is obedient.

Take a step

Let’s have a woman be Moses:

See, the LORD your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  — Deuteronomy 1:21

This is Moses telling the people of Israel that the people of the promised land are not too big for them and they should go inhabit what God has given them. They are afraid. We come up against things that make us feel tiny and helpless every day, don’t we?

One of my grandsons is learning to swim. When he is done screaming, he is quite proud of what he can do. He feels better because he has gone through a fearful thing. We don’t get very far if we don’t travel through fear to get there.

One of my directees talked to his father after five years recently. It turned out even worse than he expected. But not talking to him had clogged him up with the fear of not making that connection. He feels like he is getting free. He took a step.

You are not going to be unafraid when you take a step. See what the Lord has given to you. See what those who have taken steps before you are telling you. Go with it.

So is it disobedient to be afraid? Yes, if what you mean is you are ruled by your fear and not by your faith in God. But no, it is not disobedient to be afraid. You are just afraid. It is a feeling, and one that makes a lot of sense, given your circumstances. It will pass through.  “Do not be afraid.” Have joy in your fear, Jesus is with you.

The basic motivation that keeps us going.

I noticed an uptick in my motivation this morning. My zip contrasted with the nagging zapped feeling several of my clients reported.

My energy was also right on the heels of a client’s sense of victory over the issue that drove him to therapy: his lack of motivation. It is sort of a mystery why some of us change and others struggle. I sometimes feel like I am surfing the tempest more than channeling the stream, myself.

8 Reasons Why You Feel Unmotivated – Psych2Go

Why are we unmotivated?

So, I started a little research project on motivation. I was intrigued (OK, appalled) by one of the first articles Google supplied (there are hundreds). It was from a website called Medical News Today, which looks like it is based in Great Britain (it uses an “s” for organize) but exists mainly on the internet. It is led by fortysomethings (apparently) who may be interested in making hay on the web. They boast 85,000 readers.

I want to improve upon their teaching on motivation. But first let me complain about it: What makes people lose motivation?

Like most articles for professionals now, this one starts with a summary so you can decide whether you want to read for another 5 minutes. Here is theirs:

A person may experience a temporary lack of motivation when they are overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out. However, a sense of apathy, or lack of interest in doing anything, can be a symptom of something more severe.

Lost motivation could indicate a mental health disorder, such as depression or schizophrenia. It may also occur in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

I can only hope my more tenderhearted/anxious/traumatized clients do not read this article and worry, “Oh no, I have Parkinson’s!” Apart from scaring people, the only thing the writers have to suggest is the common idea that lack of motivation comes from being “overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out.”

But, of course, people may be overwhelmed, stressed, or burned out because they are unmotivated. I think there are medically trained people who do not just look in their textbook for symptoms but also have some sense of deeper places: light and dark, known and unknown, obsessed about and shunned – all the things that motivate people!

I think “overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out” is usually applied to the workplace. There, people need to stay motivated to do all sorts of semi-interesting things in semi-conflictive relationships. I think the article is probably looking there for readers, since that is where the money is — one has to keep the workforce working, somehow! Being burned out is a real condition, especially in the workplace. But I have usually thought the designation feels superficial. Identifying burnout rarely resonates with anything beyond a certain track in the frontal lobe.

What fuels lack of motivation?

Instead of plowing through Google I decided to bring to mind my clients who are concerned about or afraid of their lack of motivation. I jotted down about thirty reasons that seem to cause it or fuel it in them.

While I think they might just be going through what humans always go through, I also think they might be like canaries in the coal mine for humanity as it barrels unconsciously into the next era of troubles. They might be the ones who can’t respond to superficial diagnoses by doctors handing out ill-attended-to medications. They might be the people who can’t cope because what they experience should not exist in the first place. They might be honestly shutting down in the face of something that can’t be conquered by indomitable will or a positive view of human potential.

For the sake of dialogue, I boiled my brainstorm down to four big elements that de-motivate people I know or leave them listless and looking for wind in their sails. By listing these things, I think you might see your own condition. Even more, I hope you will take heart in my conclusions.

Why are some people unmotivated?

They are addicted.

Addiction colonizes motivation (“colonises” for Brits).

These are my acquaintances’ addictions: Marijuana/alcohol/street drugs/nicotine, their “meds” (some of which are crucial, of course, but some probably aren’t), TikTok (and anyplace there is a “reel”), online games and gambling, porn, food or trying to control food.

Long before they met me, most of them knew they were medicating their lack of motivation with substances, prescribed or not. Many suspected they were vainly searching for how to avoid that lack, or get around it, by using the predatory offerings advertised in online markets.

They are trapped

They feel like they can’t change.

Their living situation is or feels unchangeable. The leaders of the nation, workplace, or association are terrible, and they don’t know where to turn. They are married and parents (or one or the other) and it does not feel good.  The weather is frightening. They are aging and their bodies feels more like a cage than an ally.

Feeling trapped and thinking one has to be responsible to survive or escape leads many people to shut down. It is too much.

They have been or are being abused

The terrible past is present.

They were bullied, neglected, stunted, injured, especially in their childhood, and every similar circumstance triggers their deeply-installed reactivity. They were betrayed loved ones and it challenged their sense of worth. They are in or on the other side of power struggles that sapped their energy. Society has no morals so they live in fear. Huge corporations and bureaucracies demand a lot of energy to get basic necessities or to avoid jail.

I am amazed at the courage people demonstrate as they come up against forces that threaten to destroy them. They face truly overwhelming things; I often feel overwhelmed vicariously.

They are immature

They missed a developmental onramp.

Their parents did not or could not provide the love they needed as a young child or help them through the crucial teens and twenties. They are run around by negative, often secret, self-talk: “You are a loser. You are damaged. You are unlovable. You are stupid. You are unwanted. You are a bother. You must not let them know you or you will be abused or cast off.” They believe the myth which says it is all up to them. They just need to believe in themselves. Never give up. Do it right or don’t do it at all, etc. They are alone.

In the U.S. The “invisible hand” generally does not value adult development or wisdom.  I am surprised at how much knowledge people have but how unable they are to feel it or do something with it. Instead of growing into who they know they are and doing what it takes to embody their true selves, they shrink back. They give in to their resistance. They blame or criticize others and perfect many other defensive behaviors.

Any one of these realities will undermine one’s motivation. You probably saw what you were up against as your were reading them and maybe even did that thing you do when you are faced with what needs to change and grow. One client had to say “No porn.” Another had to resist “blanking out.” Another had to tell themselves, “Turn away from that damning voice!” Another had to resist dismissing all I said because they could not trust it, or me. The deeper things that undermine our motivation are not simple or easy. I rather resent the article I read for implying, “If you aren’t handling this you might be schizophrenic.”

The basic motivation

I love and hate that heading. I love it because I know life surges from a basic, common fountain and we can all drink it. I hate it because it implies that something is basic in the sense that you’re a dummy if you haven’t achieved it yet or it is basic equipment and you are missing the part. Motivation is not a one-size-fits-all dialogue. It is about the deeper, mysterious parts of us that are not easily measured.

For instance, several clients lately have expressed beautiful looks at their inner life and felt enthused about what they could do and intended to do. They even felt some joy. But they immediately, almost automatically, followed up their joy with a set of observations about themselves and why they would not or should not change: “That’s not me.” Or “I remember when my ex-wife told me she never loved me.” Or “How will I ever find time for this?” Or “I’m not very good at self care; I’ve failed before many times.” Or “I never truly stop my addictions.” Or “It will all work until my husband comes home.” They often don’t know they are contradicting that other “sunshiny” self! Their inner dialogue is just rolling along.

Beyond the Horizon | Dark Life Note
Click the pic to meet Vadimka Rassokhin making music for the soul in Izhevsk, Russia

I have told a couple of people who have introduced faith into their development that they may need something more than just their own capacity. The love of God, the truth of God, the Spirit of God, the prayers of Jesus may be what they find when they stop trying to avoid hitting bottom. Beyond the parameters of their top and bottom, that uncontrollable control system, is the kingdom of God.

I think surrendering to the reality that God is with me is highly motivating. I experience it every day and throughout most of the day, even when I deal with Comcast (like I did last week, AGAIN). Refusing the grace of God, not being beloved, contradicting the Lord when she sees you worthy of his relationship is the sin that keeps us pushing a rock up a hill and seeing it flatten us every day.

Better to feel it like the Psalmist:

we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place  — Psalm 66:12 (and James Taylor, NPR)

What if God really is on your side? What if you are created beautifully? What if you are loved? What if the future holds possibilities? When such questions take root and hope starts building a narrative, a new story tends to overwhelm the other one that tells the old, enervating tales of being alone, in charge, or impossible.

Top Ten Posts of 2023

2023

Group communication “sad?” Try on some Virginia Satir.
My new group reminded me of two things Virginia Satir taught me: 1) Tell your own story, 2) Be aware of your communication style.

Slander divides: Six ways to overcome it
Trump has unleashed a slanderfest. If it threatenes to swallow you, what are some things you can do? I’ve needed to try a few myself!

The Upside-down Apocalypse: Power fantasies be damned
My acquaintance, Jeremy Duncan, wrote an intriguing commentary on Revelation that makes so much sense I wanted to add my review to advertise it.

A call to prayer: Frodo and Sza on Mt. Doom
The dialogue Frodo has with Sam and Gollum on Mt. Doom is just like what is happening in us (and Sza).

The Spirit of God is Praying for You
Forget cetrainty. Prayer is all about discerning the presence of God who is constantly praying for us, who desires to be with us and hopes to see us flourish.

The Sad History of Christians Co-opted by the Powerful
The good things Jesus creates and recreates in the world are always threatened by some power that wants to co-opt them or just eliminate their alternativity.

The Common Emotion Wheels Need Unpacking
The emotion wheel charts imply emotions just happen in us, they are built in, “it is what it is.” I not only think we make meaning of our thoughts and feelings, I think we make choices that create them and heal them.

Beyond Trauma and Resilience Is Love
Psalm 139 has always been a good reminder, a symbolic representation, of what we all know in our deepest hearts beyond our brokenness. We were created in love.

I am Disconnected: Why? Can I change?
A perfect storm of troubles has atomized the country and wicked people are capitalizing on our disconnection to seize power and keep us divided, as they historically do in such circumstances.  What should we do?

The Wonder of Being Saved: A collection of Ways
Nobody in The Whale wanted to be saved. If you do, there are many ways to get there and stay there.

2022

FFF #17 — Brendon Grimshaw and his Seychelles wonder
I loved being in solidarity with the Fridays for the Future climate strikers.

The church in the rearview mirror
While on retreat I get some vision for my future that might help you move on, too.

I believe in you: I’m rarely talking about me
My 50th reunion gives me a lot to love about the community I have.

Jesus gives 5 ways to endure the shame: Kansans lead the way 
The first followers of Jesus would applaud the declarations of independence from corrupt Christianity some people are proclaiming.

Should I forgive them if they never offer an apology? 
Forgiveness is hard under all circumstances. When reconciliation is unlikely, it is even harder.

“How I Got Over:” Mahalia Jackson helps us do 2022
I have been singing with Mahalia all year. She did, indeed, help me get over.

The new movement of the Spirit takes lament, commitment, action
Time with the Jesus Collective inspires me to move with the Spirit now.

Overwhelm: The feeling and what we can do about it
The word of the year might be “overwhelm.”  Better to name it than just wear it.

Three reasons the Trump effect is not over yet
The elements of the Trump effect are not going away too soon. The wickedness has a “trickle down” impact.

In this uncertain now: Who are you Lord and who am I?
I have had a tough couple of years in a few ways. How about you? Who are you and who is God now?

Top ten posts from the past — many of them read more than 2023’s

Dissociation: Alive and unwell on the sidewalk and TikTok

I often need to study issues which show up with loved ones in my office. So I was studying how people experience dissociation.

I paused to go out and see if the workers were finished with the new railings for our counseling offices. As I chatted with the general contractor, the boss of the metal workers came up on crutches with an amazing device attached to his leg. The limb was held motionless by about a dozen pins protruding from a cylindrical framework and into his body. The G.C. asked, “What in the world happened? Car accident?” He said, “No, I was shot three times in North Philly.”

2: a) An Ilizarov fixator, commonly used in the stabilization of bone... | Download Scientific Diagram
a) An Ilizarov fixator, commonly used in the stabilization of bone fracture b) The corresponding X-ray image. Image

I’m standing on Broad Street, humanity passing by, metal workers on my porch, then someone hobbles up who has been shot. The scene quickly brought me right back down to earth from the ether of my studies. Even more, the strangeness and horror of talking to someone about how they were caught in gunfire just up the street, helped me understand that much better why people dissociate.

There are reasons people dissociate.

You might relate. Have you ever “zoned out?” (That term is another new entry for my emotions list – a phrase tailor made for 2023). Most of us know how zoned out feels. Many of my clients take it farther. They have added “I dissociate” as a way to describe what they feel and do in certain situations.

It is small wonder they have learned to dissociate.  Generally, dissociative disorders are clinically reserved for the severely traumatized. But it appears the defense mechanism and the disorder are on the rise. Just because “I dissociate” is entering common parlance does not mean more truth is being told. But there might be something to the new recognition that many of us use dissociative defenses or experience dissociative disorders to deal with the general trauma we experience.

Here are some elements of the general trauma coming at us this week. Israel and Gaza. Russia and Ukraine. The gold rush poisoning rivers in the Amazon (not to mention the parts being burned down as we speak). Biden and Xi. Inflation. Trump on trial. Mass shooters. People wonder, “Are drivers really getting crazier?” You might confess, ” I sometimes feel alone on my busy street.” You might say, “I’m terrified now that I know someone who has been shot.” Plus, “There really are neo-Nazis? Really?”

Some people criticize the soft, general public for not having enough gumption to cope with such things. (They are snowflakes). But that kind of bullying is part of the zeitgeist to which people arre reacting. My homeowners association meeting last night featured people yelling at each other and openly expressing their distrust. Most people were watching the meeting on Zoom (keeping their distance). But the majority of the condo owners would not have touched the meeting with a ten-foot pole on Zoom or otherwise (quite unassociated with the association). I think overwhelming forces are causing people to cope the only way the disempowered can, by turning off. Why vote? Why go to school? Why not shoot up?

Dissociation is a new thing on TikTok

The experience of dissociation is so prevelant, it was briefly written up in the New York Times last month. The author noted that most of us know what dissociation feels like. It is just the “ability to disconnect from our thoughts, feelings, environment or actions.” Jalen Hurts is doing it when the commentators say he is “tough as nails and will play through the injury.” Authors might do it when they forget what time it is (and the fact they have a family) and concentrate on the novel until it is done.

For us non-atheletes/authors, dissociation is a reaction, not an action.

“Rather than fight or flee in a stressful or threatening situation, some people ‘freeze,’” said Dr. Frank W. Putnam, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and an expert on dissociative disorders. “That’s the dissociative state where you shut down and you kind of go away.” (NYT)

1-3% of the population might have actual dissociative identity disorder or depersonalization/derealization disorder.

This defensive reaction gets diagnosed as a disorder when it begins to organize how people see themselves and habitually behave. Such disordered behavior usually occurs after experiencing overwhelming trauma; the dissociation used to cope with the trauma gets stuck and becomes habitual, even extreme. Severe dissociative disorders result from horrific, chronic, inescapable harm, usually before the age of 7 or 8 — You might say, “Of course the minds of little children must fragment to survive having breakfast every morning with a parent who assaults them in the middle of the night.” Lord have mercy!

Many people are surprisingly familiar with those disgnoses. The internet helps them “discover” them and adopt them as their own. They might even “perform” them. We all might zone out in reponse to troubling situations that don’t really qualify as trauma. But it seems many people are being trained for dissociation by the overwhelming experience of being alive in this era and are further lured into dissociative behavior by the isolation of the internet.

According to the Times,

People are capturing their experiences with dissociation and posting them on social media. TikTok videos hashtagged #dissociativeidentitydisorder, or D.I.D., have been viewed more than 1.7 billion times and #dissociation has drawn more than 775 million views. Some show what it looks like to dissociate, or use visual effects to explain the eerie feeling of living outside your body. In others, people describe their different identities, also called alters or parts.

I would add that much of what I viewed was in error, misleading, or click bait lies and misinformation. Whew!

Let’s have some grounded dialogue

Even though TikTok misleads people, I think the dialogue is relevant because I keep meeting people who describe some form of dissociative coping. It is not unusual to meet someone quite conversant about their out-of-body experiences or how they are accustomed to looking down on themselves as if they were observing their reality from afar.

While the article in the NYT was useful, the comments were priceless. They represent thousands of zoned out people who are searching for some connection while feeling desperately out of touch.

Tisha fromSacramento wrote:

I’ve been working with a therapist for the past few months to support me with childhood sexual and emotional trauma. I have been processing the ways in which I coped with the abuse. One way was through elaborate extensive daydreams. I would retreat into long complex storylines of my own creation like a Netflix miniseries in which I was a strong,competent, beautiful heroine. Often popular actors and singers were my romantic interest. This was a refuge for me and a way to role play a different way of being. Sometimes I would choose to do this instead of spending time with others, reading, doing a hobby. To that extent it fits into a possible category of disassociation called maladaptive daydreaming. I never talked to others about this because I knew it was a different behavior, but I realize now that I’m not alone in engaging in this coping strategy.

Jane Dough replied to Tisha

@Tisha, I had the same experience. I lived almost entirely inside my own head, Walter Mitty style, for over 25 years. It was a skill I developed in response to a childhood characterized by sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. I finally quit the habit because I was so ashamed of it, but it was just as difficult to release as any other addiction. Even though I see a psychiatrist and a trauma therapist now and have told them all the gruesome details of my abuse, I have been much too embarrassed to mention my years lost to “maladaptive daydreaming.” Thank you for sharing your story. Knowing I’m not alone makes me feel much less ashamed.

Alongside my compassion for these facinating people I noted two important things.

1) They found each other on their screens.

I am glad they found each other and probably experienced validation and relief. But I am concerned the means they used might have normalized and deepened their dissociation.

The internet is drawing more and more people into a dissociative, unreal world. Putting on an avatar in a video game, having arguments and making confessions anonymously are obvious examples of how the web grooms us to live outside out bodies and face-face community. I’m sure there is something on Netflix right now that celebrates someone’s capacity to not have a body (remember Altered Carbon?).

2) They were relieved to finally tell someone about what they thought was their peculiar coping strategy.

“Tisha” told her therapist about her defence and then the world via the New York Times. “Jane” had never told anyone before  she anonymously told “Tisha” (and you and me and the world) on the Times platform. None of the comments were verified as coming from actual people, but I read many of them and now so have you. And now we share a common unreality.

I did not look for it, but I would not be surprised to find a worldwide “Maladaptive Daydreaming Network” forming on the web. But even if she were part of it, would “Jane” actually be less alone? Would she be derealized watching herself feel connected? I hope she feels more connected. But I have significant doubts.

“Jane” represents so many of us who have no one to talk to. The fact that she is talking to the Times anonymously shows how many of us do not know anyone we feel is trustworthy or capable of understanding us. We seem to have less solid ground to stand on all the time.  Having a weighty conversation seems like a rare event — many people might not  know what a “weighty conversation” feels like. You might also feel alone in a very threatening world — and the numbers appear to be increasing. I hope bringing the subject up helps jar a few people into having an in-their-body, self-caring, grounded conversation with someone real enough to help them heal the wounds they carry.

*****

Today is Leo Tolstoy Day. Remember him fondly at The Transhistorical Body. Thanks for subscribing here and there.

If creation were friendly, how would you love?

It is not that easy to be a human, easy to be married, or easy to love your neighbor as yourself when you forget to love yourself. And it is strangely easy to just forget about love altogether.

John O'Donohue: How he loved and how he died - Irland News
John O’Donohue (1956-2008)

Sometimes, when I am attempting marriage counseling, I would like to send the couple off with John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom (1998/2022) until they can feel the possibility of another context for loving than the one they inherited from America or their  traumatized and confused parents.

A soul friend to yourself and others

When O’Donohue begins his lovely book, he tries to describe a place in which to live that is hard for postmodern people to imagine. He wants us to return to a lost place the Celts knew well. He says of them:

“Their sense of ontological friendship yielded a world of experience imbued with a rich texture of otherness, ambivalence, symbolism, and imagination. For our sore and tormented separation, the possibility of this imagination and unifying friendship is the Celtic gift. “

Every marriage will be better if the partners have a sense of “ontological friendship.” That is, the sense of living IN Friendship with a capital F. That is, not sorting out the world or trying to get some power over it, but being a welcome and welcoming part of it — curious, receptive, awestruck, and creative. If we listened to our mate (and everyone, of course) from that context, it would be great.

Instead, we often come to our relationships from our “sore and tormented separation.” And the way we evaluate one another’s words more than feeling with someone beyond their words keeps us wounding others and creating distance. Sometimes I try to force a partner into a new way to listen and they realize they really do not want to give up their wound or their distance. If they lose their aloneness, they are not sure who they will be. Moving into an unknown place with trust in God and others is one of the things O’Donohue wants us to relearn.

John O’Donohue can’t help being poetic. When I bought Anam Cara (“Soul Friend”), I have to admit I was disappointed to find out it was not a collection of his poems. But as I read, I realized I was not disappointed after all, because his prose is basically poetry. I have arranged his following paragraph as a poem. In it he offers two important things I wish couples would learn so their conversation and experience of each other could get closer to the longing of their hearts.

If we become addicted to the external, our interiority will haunt us.
We will become hungry with a hunger no image, person or deed can still.
To be wholesome, we must remain truthful to our vulnerable complexity.
In order to keep our balance, we need to hold
the interior and exterior,
visible and invisible,
known and unknown,
temporal and eternal,
ancient and new,
together.

No one else can undertake this task for you.
You are the one and only threshold of an inner world.
This wholesomeness is holiness.
To be holy is to be natural, to befriend the worlds that come to balance in you.
Behind the façade of image and distraction,
each person is an artist in this primal and inescapable sense.
Each one of us is doomed and privileged
to be an inner artist who carries and shapes
a unique world.

Interiority

Our “vulnerable complexity” takes time in silence and vulnerable dialogue to form an “interiority” that is fearless and pliable enough to connect with someone else. To have a better marriage, explore yourself.

Since we, unlike the Celts, generally live in an unfriendly world, we struggle to be friendly and struggle even more to get some friendliness. We’re very external these days: a picture on social media, a presentation at an interview, a constant smile (or fear of one) that is always looking for a safe place to land. All that energy pouring out leaves us accustomed to emptiness, but hungry.

I heard a person say once they broke up with a long-term dating partner because they both realized they just did not have enough substance to give to a relationship. They were both hungry, but they had no food to share, they were starving together. But their brilliant, honest analysis did not still their hearts. Being truthful about often being out of balance and hopeful about reality beyond our control often provides the stillness where we can be known to ourselves and others.

Picture
Fleurs et mains by Pablo Picasso

Threshold

To have a good relationship, we need some wholesomeness to share. That holiness develops when we accept we are “doomed and privileged” to carry and shape the unique life we have been given. We are the threshold into the unique territory that is each of us. Holiness/wholeness is being formed in us – or not. No matter how many SUV commercials lure us to look for some rare wilderness where we will have an external experience that nourishes us, it will always be a false hope. The wilderness is in us.

People say the pandemic made everything that was getting bad get worse. I think one of the things it made worse was our fear. There is a lot of talk lately about how a child’s freedom to play has been declining since the 1980’s. You may have never been allowed to play on your own recognizance by your fearful parents and now you are not confident enough to goof around with your mate. You’re frustrated that what you think should come naturally just doesn’t. It feels difficult to welcome someone over the threshold.

The huge complex being built at Broad and Washington in Philadelphia is mostly studio and one bedroom apartments. We don’t even plan for families, partners or groups anymore. We’ve institutionalized fearful aloneness. Part of the reason we are so alone is we are conditioned to keep people on the other side of the threshold of our hearts. We could justly blame that attitude on the world around us, but when we do we are more likely to be subject to the unfriendly, unbalanced world within us. Acting in faith and friendship with God, ourselves and others is the beginning of being the artists we are created to be.

Friendly creation

Our interiority will haunt us” and “You are the one and only threshold of an inner world” could seem very threatening if we are committed to living alone, or just trying to survive an unfriendly world. It surprises me how many marriage partners feel resigned to their “sore and tormented separation.”

But O’Donohue inspires me by telling a truth I think we can feel. We bring beautiful things together in ourselves. We create wonder alongside God when we love others. The world is on our side, providing for and encouraging my wholeness.

When I bring that view of myself and my partner to our dialogue our “sense” of “ontological friendship” brings us together. It might even allow us to play. It would undoubtedly improve the depth and pleasure of sex. And it will eat away at the fear that is eating away at us.

Right now and forever: Life at the end of the world

At least three of my clients last week were talking about the end of the world.

When the Circle Counseling therapists got together for their monthly meeting, I asked them if they had similar experiences. They not only had similar conversations with their clients, some of them personally sensed the same apocalyptic zeitgeist that worried them.

Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween Ends
Jamie Lee Curtis (the latest Great Mother) endures our never-ending Halloween in last year’s Halloween Ends.

Our stories piled up until we had a lot of evidence that people feel the end of something is happening. I immediately thought the pile resembled R.E.M.’s dreamy nightmare song from 1987: It’s the End of the World As We know It (and I Feel Fine). Here are a few of the scenes in the nightmare I heard about:

  • the hollowing out of Late Capitalism courtesy of consultants like McKinsey,
  • everything global warming,
  • the terrifying and tragic war between Israel and Hamas,
  • a man with a combat weapon at large in Maine,
  • a Trump-affirmed election denier elected Speaker of the House, and more

The powerlessness is palpable.

How do we help each other endure this time? Can we find faith, hope and love in it? Or are we doomed to throw off such niceties and just survive? The therapists did not answer all my questions. But I did come away with some inspiration to stay in a place I have been trying to remain, into which I invited a couple of clients when they were feeling overwhelmed: right now and forever.

Psychologically, it makes sense to stay in the present and work with what is in front of you, not living in regret about the past or in what ifs about the future. Spiritually, if we nurture our right-now relationship with God, we can live in a transcendent, eternal reality that fuels our hope in hard times and often creates possibilities for goodness to emerge from the most recent tragedies we experience.

The Transhistorical Body

I think my right-now-and-forever relationship with God includes being part of the transhistorical body of Christ that emerged with Jesus and is eternal. Even though the Church is getting tossed around by the zeitgeist, it is still the home for the hope of the world, it is still stationed in the hollowing out middle, and it is still a place where everyone can find relief and restoration.

When my former church became the end of the church as we knew it, my son and I retrieved some of our intellectual property before the web archives all died and reformed The Transhistorical Body website. Day by holy day, our collection of wonders will reinforce how Jesus has been present in every era and in all sorts of people bringing the hope of resurrection. [Here’s the link if you want to subscribe. It goes live with the All Saints Day triduum, October 31]

Living in right-now and forever with God in the transhistorical body of Christ brings freedom from being over-responsible for Russia’s takeover of Crimea and under-responsible for caring about the person in the elevator with you. Being part of the Transhistorical Body comforts us by reminding us how Jesus has found people in every era who follow him and make a difference, and it comforts us by reminding us we can’t possibly know or control just how creative God when times are scary.

I want to leave you with one example from the transhistorical body who might help explain why Mike Johnson is Speaker of the House (especially if that scares you) and why it is crucial to have a right now and forever relationship with God.

First, Mike Johnson

Speaker Johnson was born in 1972 to devout Evangelicals in Louisiana. Few people know a lot about him, yet. But I do know a lot about the church of his childhood, since I was there. It was obsessed with the end of the world. (Michael Stipe was born in 1960, raised as a Christian in a family full of Methodist ministers and says his song reflects that preoccupation).  Apocalyptic movements often thrive in troubled times. Reactive groups look toward a golden age. They often follow a person they believe is God-ordained. If you want to get deeply into the weeds on this, read this fascinating paper by Paul Ziolo that traces occurances.

In Mike Johnson’s case, Trump is his leader (yes, people think he is ordained by God) and the golden age he longs for hearkens back to a time before godless people infected his beloved church with abortion and same-sex marriage — and before capitalism was regulated (how that gets in there still mystifies me).

Johnson’s goal as a child was to become a firefighter like his idolized father. His life changed forever when he was twelve and his father was permanently disabled while fighting a fire. His father could not save his (notably black) partner who died in the fire and spent the rest of his life running a foundation named in his memory. Johnson, the oldest child, took on a great deal of responsibility, became a lawyer, and became a leader among the lawyers who have been working to take back America for Jesus.

The ongoing influence of Joachim de Fiore

Strangely, I have found, Mike Johnson’s view of the world and the urgency he and his fellow election-deniers feel follows the path laid out by one of the most influential teachers you’ve never heard of: Joachim de Fiore. Fiore’s extremely influential prophetic writings in the 12th and 13th centuries reshaped European thinking and formed the basis for many subsequent reactions to the troubles of the world, right down to the cult of Trump. In Fiore’s case, the Church has been particularly transhistorical.

There is no way I can sum up the intricacies of Joachim’s thinking, which mainly interprets the Book of Revelation. But Lucas Coia gives us a good start on his groundbreaking theories which now seem very familiar:

Simply put, Fiore believed that the events recorded in the Old Testament prefigured those of the New, which in turn, predicted the future.

This was linked to Joachim’s famous tripartite division of history, with each epoch corresponding to a person of the Trinity. Thus, the Age (status) of the Father began with Adam, came to fruition with Abraham and ended with Christ, while the status of the Son began with King Uzziah of Judah, came to fruition with Zechariah—John the Baptist’s father—and was about to end in Joachim’s own time.

This last point accounts for the popularity of Fiore’s prophetic message. According to Joachim, the Age of the Holy Spirit, believed to have begun with Saint Benedict of Nursia, was soon to be fulfilled. In fact, this would occur in the year 1260. And people needed to prepare.

Why 1260? Well, Revelation 12:1-6 reads: “A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun … and (she) fled into the wilderness … so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.” Yes, it was that simple.

Fiore’s tripartite “tree” (above) is reproduced in all sorts of European programs for world improvement from then on. His approach to history infects almost everything, especially in the 20th Century when technological revolutions make enormous power possible and Eurocentric thinkers believe they can control the world.

  • Hitler’s idea of the Third Reich directly reflects Fiore’s view of history.
  • Marxists look to the withering away of capitalism and a golden age of communism.
  • Jihadists, like Hamas, look to the defeat of infidels and the universal rule of Sharia law.
  • Americans believe dictators will be defeated and they will make the world safe for democracy.
  • Evangelicals look to bring in the second coming of Jesus by making the Gospel available to every people group.
  • I still sing “this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”

Fiore’s patterns thoroughly infected thinking in Europe long before the 20th century. One example from Paul Ziolo illustrates:

During the 17th and 18th centuries — the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ — thinkers sought to redefine the ‘modern age’ and the core of their legacy is the still-current tendency to dismiss the past as an aberrant prelude to modernity, confining it within the  straitjacket of ‘mainstream’ history teaching — the three epochs, Ancient, Medieval and Modern, with the last held equivalent to Joachim’s Third Status — the Age of Reason now, rather than the Age of the Spirit. For the French philosophes such as Voltaire, Montesquieu and Descartes, reared as they were within the Latin Catholic cultural ‘attractor’ and therefore closer to the psychological roots of the Joachimite program, the viri spirituales that were to supplant the clergy and catalyse the Age of Reason were philosophers. Yet the unconscious ties of these philosophes to their psychoreligious past became clear when Reason ‘herself’ was deified during the French Revolution — as an avatar of that vast, complex and hidden deity that is always the last resort of humanity in psychological crisis – the Great Mother.

Mike Johnson inherited an interesting mix of Joachimite and philosophical/scientific Christianity. He must have heard about the Seven Dispensations in the Bible and seen charts about the 3-7 Biblical Covenants so popular in Protestant churches. They look and feel like variations of Joachim de Fiore’s Three Ages/Status.

What to do with an unsettled age

His law training made Johnson a congenial legal scholar for the law of God, too. In 2002, he left his lawfirm to work with the Alliance Defense Fund, as it was then known. This Christian nonprofit, a conservative answer to the American Civil Liberties Union, has been at the leading edge of litigating high-profile cases contesting protections for abortion, contraception coverage and LGBT rights. His work was energized by miracle. He said, speaking about his father, burned over 80% of his body, “From a young age, I saw that prayer and faith are real, tangible things. I watched God work a miracle and save my father’s life.” That defining experience seems to have provided ongoing motivation to bring about a righteous age.

The rapid changes and troubles in the age of Joachim and Francis are strikingly similar to what Mike Johnson has experienced. Me too. I have a categorically different, Christian response contrary to Johnson’s, but it would be wrong to say I don’t share any of his hope for the age to come or don’t feel an obligation to bring about the fullness of the age of the church.

I am unsettled by the turmoil in the news and even more unsettled when my clients spill it into our sessions. It is tempting to be swept up into the zeitgeist which only needs a match or two to flame into hysterical, apocalyptic reactions similar to other outbursts we can easily see in history. Some of the reactions were astoundingly good, like the Beguine movement of the 13th-16th centuries. Some were horrifying, like Mao Zedong or Pol Pot purging their people to create socialist utopias free of the past. I think the latter kind of movement can be seen in what has been happening in many churches, both left and right leaning, since the pandemic launched the world into hysteria.

When Jesus taught his disciples about the troubles that lay ahead of them and the whole world (Luke 21), he gave them three instructions:

  • Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
  • Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
  • Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place and to stand before the Son of Man.

My response to my turmoil this morning had a bit to do with the words of Jesus.

  • I took a step back and see the big picture: the transhistorical nature of the Lord’s work in the world which is much bigger than I could fully know. And I looked into the eternity spreading out before me, which is wondrous — right now and forever.
  • Even more, I determined to let my anxieties go for a while and sink into the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus with me. In that green, leafing space I was reoriented, aware of being healed, and restored to a sense of well-being.
  • I became more awake, shaking off the tiredness that accompanies the constant onslaught of powers too big to control. And I shook off the notion that my time was the most important one and my actions crucial to the world’s survival. I let my trust in God prevail.

I can’t say what happens to you when you pray and meditate, we’re all on our own road, but I became much more ready to love who was in front of me. My wife came back from an early appointment and said, “I am back.” I stopped typing, stood up, embraced her and said, “I love you. Please keep coming back.”

Perhaps Jesus says the same thing, “Please keep coming back.” Please be who you are and do what you can to love what is in front of you, yourself included. That love is always the first step on the road to deeper and farther, especially in times like these.

Biden in Israel: The problem with being the chosen ones

Being chosen is a wonderful thing. The surprising hit show The Chosen films the feeling wonderfully, most of the time. Everyone who finds themselves chosen by God — including Jesus appreciating his own self-awareness, is thrilled with the pleasant absurdity of being noticed, appreciated and singled out. There is a lot of “why me?” voiced, both in joy and suffering. We see that being chosen is an experience, a relational reality, an undeserved grace, love.

When I think about the delight of being chosen I usually go back to having a higher-than-expected rank, at times, when I was picked for a team at recess. Or I remember the evening I asked a  young woman at the jr. high cotillion dance (yes, I did that) to be my partner when she did not feel like she was someone who would be asked. She was surprisingly pleased.

Gideon’s army being reduced. James Tissot.

The “chosen people” in the Bible are having the same experience, as far as I can tell. Sarah is chosen to give birth as an old woman and laughs out loud. Her grandson, Jacob is blessed as the second son and is shocked his elder brother does not try to kill him. Jacob’s son, Joseph, is elevated from an Egyptian prison to the highest ranks of government. Moses is called to lead even though he is a stuttering felon. Gideon is told to make a point by collecting a weaker army which can only succeed by relying on God. David is called from the forgotten outskirts to be king and repeatedly restored from utter failure. Then, of course, there is Jesus, the Chosen One, born in a manger in the Roman Empire backwater Israel still is at the time.

The perversion of being chosen

Then there are the people who apparently missed the main teaching. They are proud of being chosen and do not intend to let anyone take that mark of their value away from them. Jesus tells the Pharisees who are restoring and beefing up their identity as Abraham’s offspring:

“Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance; and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Luke 3:8).

After Emperor Constantine co-opts the Church in the 300’s, Jesus followers generally stopped accepting the main teaching and started living in palaces instead of prisons. After Constantine, being a “chosen one” becomes a badge of privilege and entitlement instead of an experience of surprise and undeserved endowment. By the time Europeans divide us all into nationalities and identities, everyone can have a little sense of being chosen over someone else.

Americans, especially the Evangelical portion, have mostly assumed the privileges and responsibilities of being the chosen people. Even Barack Obama made a point to reaffirm  the idea the United States deserves its special place in the world. He, like the rest of us, was taught the U.S., like Israel was given Canaan, was given North America. (Thus we have towns named New Canaan, CT). The myth is, CRT notwithstanding, we kept becoming more deserving of our special place in the world. After WW2 we were chosen to lead the free world. (As if the country had not always had such designs– Thomas Jefferson famously called it an “empire of liberty”). The idea is, the U.S. is chosen to give the world a choice, unfettered by tyrants and tradition. Obama said in his famous “A More Perfect Union” speech,

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law, it is our willingness to affirm them by our actions.“

He wanted a new kind of exceptionalism, but he did not doubt he is one of the chosen people.

When Biden spoke to the country last week about Israel and Ukraine he asked,

What would happen if we walked away? We are the essential nation… And as I walked through Kyiv with President Zelensky, with air raid sirens sounding in the distance, I felt something I’ve always believed more strongly than ever before: America is a beacon to the world, still, still.

We are, as my friend Madeleine Albright said, the indispensable nation.

The dangers of protecting one’s choseness

Ronald Reagan, of course, was much more directly religious than Obama or Biden about it. He was always quoting John Winthrop calling Massachusetts a “city on a hill”  (as in “the light of the world” in Matt. 5:14). He said it again it in his farewell address (here lovingly augmented with background music by the Reagan Library).

At the same time Reagan was preaching, some Christians were writing books about how proud they were to be part of the chosen American people. When my wife took over directing a bookstore in an Assemblies of God church during the Reagan years, she came upon a big display of The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall Jr., son of the famous Senate Chaplain, Peter Marshall, and the famous author Catherine Marshall. It is arguably the most popular Christian interpretation of U. S. history ever written.

If you are looking for a starting point that ends in the Trump cult, peopled greatly by Evangelicals, this engaging book could be it. In the intro, Marshall and his co-author David Manuel summarize their thesis with this rhetorical question:

“Could it be that we Americans, as a people were meant to be a ‘light to lighten the Gentiles’ (Luke 2:32)—a demonstration to the world of how God intended His children to live together under the Lordship of Christ?  Was our vast divergence from this blueprint, after such a promising beginning, the reason why we now seem to be heading into a new dark age?”

Their answer is “Yes!”  And they proceed to make an historical argument that the U. S. came into being as a Christian nation; it had a special calling from God to be a light to the world, and had fallen away from God, forgetting the Lord’s “definite and extremely demanding plan for America.”

These thoughts have been developing since then. When Catholic, Supreme Court “originalists” ask “What would the Founders do?” it becomes a proxy for “What would Jesus do?” Pastors all over the country impute this kind of moral authority where God has not granted it.  That is idolatry. But idolatry or not, many people thought they were taking back the country for God on January 6. I suspect some Representatives think breaking the House is a small price to pray for returning America to its “calling.”

Biden's visit to Israel yields no quick fixes: ANALYSIS - ABC News

Biden and Netanyahu: a meeting of the chosen peoples

Equating the state of Israel and the United States with the Bible’s description of the “chosen people” is not only heretical, it is dangerous.

Nevertheless, the idea is laced into the country’s thinking and maybe yours. Dallas Jenkins, the writer and the director ot The Chosen says, when it came time to give the show a title, he decided on the name because of the term “Chosen One” is used when referring to Christ.

“We look at and use the term for Christ as the ‘Chosen One. ‘ So, it refers to Christ in many ways. The Jews are God’s chosen people. Even as an Evangelical, I believe that. And the people that Christ chose to follow Him and be on his team – as we like to say – it’s a little bit of a nod to that.”

What if you take that farther and apply Israel’s Old Testament, land-based assumptions to preserving a Christian nation-state?

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1)

For many Evangelicals, the U.S. is Israel 2.0. The countries are team mates making sure history turns out right.

The state of Israel translates  its choseness as a right to exist, which Hamas decries. Radically religious Israeli settlers are willing to risk their lives to secure Abraham’s patrimony. The mostly-secular states of the U.S. and Israel are absolutely committed to securing the safety of the Jewish state, even though it has a diverse population that includes Palestinian Christians, both in Israel, and the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The religion involved in all this political turmoil is ancient and complex. But the sense of chosenness is clear.  Biden promoted his “arsenal of democracy” as an expression of the obligation of being chosen  in his speech. He spoke of the “iron dome” protecting Israel as if it were sacred.

Reclaim being chosen

Psychologically and spiritually, we need help to be sure we are chosen, which always needs to be metered by our desire for the Chooser. Like with sex, we can settle for pleasure and never make the vulnerable connection of love. Being chosen can stay dangerously superficial, attached to whoever has enough power to protect their special status. But that quest for power never satisfies our desire to feel chosen, which requires an ongoing experience of mutuality. We wake up every day wondering if we are wanted, together, and safe. Against our best interests, we might defend our chosenness against anything that threatens our status, but that usually leaves us alone behind our defenses, insecure about being chosen.

The powers that have corrupted God’s gift of being chosen cause us great misery. I keep pondering the irony of the “great Christian nation” firmly supporting Israel’s recent bombs on the Christians of Palestine. The dissonance flabbergasts a doctor at the only Christian hospital in Gaza, which provided shelter to people until it proved unsafe. [Link in case the embed does not show up]

In the middle of the power struggles of the world the upstart, crowd-funded TV series The Chosen reasserts what it means to be chosen over and over. It is an obscure, overtly Christian show that doesn’t deserve to get made or be popular itself! But there it is. When it depicts Matthew chosen by Jesus to become his disciple (in the following clip), it gives me hope that many, if not most, Christians understand the Bible and feel the truth about being chosen in their very bones.

 

9 reasons you are such a know-it-all

Someone may have called you a know-it-all – maybe even to your face – and you are considering whether to listen to the criticism. This post might help you.

Or maybe you are tired of co-workers “mansplaining” or tired of “authorities” who enforce household or office rules, or tired of endless arguments about factoids that bore you. This post might help the people you despise.

How would you define a know-it-all?

“Know-it-all” is not a diagnosis from the DSM, but it is probably a defense system someone uses to protect themselves from further harm or uses to regain something that was lost or neglected. If you try hard enough, I think you can probably add “know-it-all” to  descriptions of certain enneagram numbers (they are looking at you, number 1), or to several Myers-Briggs types (watch out NTJs). Regardless, most of us can spot the behavior in others (if not ourselves) when we run into it.

Lenny on the Polar Express

Someone will be correcting what we say (even our memories and feelings), or they will launch into detailed descriptions of their own (or our) history or book plots which only tangentially connect with what we were just saying, or they may appear to know more than everyone about any subject brought up during any meeting. One person complained a co-worker could not resist blurting out “That’s not right” when someone was sharing a thought. They did not blurt back, “Who made you the arbiter?” — but they were blurting in their mind. A person on the search for “rightness” often gets tagged a know-it-all if they always have the correct thing to say.

This “type” of person is so common there is a Wikihow article about them, which is helpful. Eze Sanchez just updated it in May. Here is his intro:

Smarty pants, wise guy, smart aleck – we all know one. Whether at family get-togethers, at the office, or in a social setting, know-it-alls are everywhere and they know everything. Sometimes it is utterly unbearable to spend time with these annoying individuals even if you have tried to engage, endure, or even empathize with them. In the end, it might be best just to avoid them, but if they are friends, family, or coworkers of people you know, it is still possible to come into contact with them. Therefore, you better be prepared to deal with them.

This is not a study or much of a lit review, but I offer nine reasons you might be, or at least come off as, a know-it-all. Eze goes on to be more empathetic after his intro above, and I also want to help us care for people who are messing up social situations or locked in self-destructive patterns they can’t see. Just “avoiding” know-it-alls or “dealing” with them is not good for them psychologically and does not reflect the way of Jesus very well, either. I hope this list will help you see yourself with kindness and also help us see one another with understanding and hope, rather than with more judgment.

9 reasons I am a know-it-all

  1. Knowledge is power and I want to be one up.

I think this is what we usually think about a know-it-all. They are power tripping. They are working on being greater than everyone or they think they already are.

The apostle Paul had a whole faction of know-it-alls spring up in one of the first churches. In his first letter to that church he wrote, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). By his second letter he is saying, “I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am untrained in speech, I certainly am not with respect to knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you” (2 Cor 11:5-6). The know-it-alls were challenging their teacher!

In the info (and false info) age we live in, everyone thinks they are, can be, or ought to be a Google-aided expert. So life has become an endless argument. We are all know-it-alls in training. For example, Progressive Insurance is filling our football games with commercials about people “going to replay” to verify that they are right.

  1. I am an affirmation pig, since I am, somewhat hopelessly, still trying to get parental approval because I grew up in an affirmation desert.

I think this is much more likely than #1. Being a know-it-all could be a misguided approach to finding soul-food, just repeating a habitual approach that never really worked. If I am smart, I will get praised (for once).

  1. I actually have more knowledge than most people, but I have few social skills. I would like to be an expert for people. I learned stuff, but not how to relate. I might be “on the spectrum.”

Some people are just smarter and many people have worked hard to learn stuff. They might be bursting with it (ask any dissertation writer). Respecting them might be appropriate.

But some otherwise smart people might be less smart about how to present what they know. An Asperger’s/HFA mom wrote on a forum:

I can become hyper focused on topics and want to know as much as possible about them so that they, too, become part of my mental algorithm for connecting dots. I retain a lot of the info and am able to think about possible solutions to problems that others seem to either miss, or just don’t research enough to see. I try to impart topics to people in an attempt to help them (oh you have dry eyes- get your zinc levels tested) but it’s about 50/50 whether it’s received well, or taken negatively as if I’m trying to demean them with some perceived superior intelligence.

  1. Looking like I am smart is a façade to mask my insecurity. I don’t trust you to love the real me.

A lot of us reading this probably have this wound, which leads us to think we should be competing with the other know-it-alls for some kind of recognition that validates the persona we use to protect our vulnerability.

Married couples run into this when they are longing for intimacy. One person in counseling, who admitted they are something of a know-it-all, frankly said, “I married a know it all, so ‘active listening’ does not work well. We both have too many corrections and ‘but whats’ to get in there.”

  1. Performing knowledge tricks is the main way I have gotten attention my whole life. I had to compete.

This is a lot like 2 and 4, it just focuses on how we train children to feel attended to. Most of our training comes from a school of some kind. “One achieves what one measures” is a Western culture proverb. We measure the intellectual development of children and they are good at figuring that out. They may keep achieving smartness at your Thanksgiving dinner to get attention.

  1. I have no reflection time. I am mostly making up things as I go along. So anything you bring up I expand on as I am incorporating it. I might be dyslexic or a verbal processor.

A lot of people get their view of self by grazing in social situations, they never eat a home-cooked meal. They might not be correcting you when they are chewing on what you just said as much as spitting it back out as if they thought it in the first place. This might irritate you if they don’t “quote” you, but it could be taken as a back-handed compliment.

During neurodiversity week this year a dyslexic woman said, “My dyslexia has given me more strengths than weaknesses. My ability to read people’s emotions and situations extremely well means nothing can get past me, and I always know when to ask someone what’s up.” She may have trouble reading a book and having an inner dialogue about it, but she may be able to read you and quickly use what you say.

  1. I have to be right or I will go to hell. And I have to make you right or you might go there, as well.

Everyone who latches on to some kind of fundamentalism, religious or not, thinks what they know is salvation for themselves or others. Sharing their knowledge (or imposing it) seems like a gift to humanity. This reflects #3 in the sense they may actually have knowledge others need or should want. But it could also reflects any of the other numbers, only the truth behind it is subsumed under a religious or social justice rubric.

  1. I learned it was unwise to trust others, so I try not to need anyone. I know it all to be self- sufficient. And I don’t care what others think because they are untrustworthy.

Jada Pinkett was on the Today Show last week marketing her new memoir when she revealed she and Will Smith have been unofficially divorced since 2016. She said, “Why it fractured…that — that’s a lot of things … By the time we got to 2016, we were just exhausted with trying. I think we were both kind of just still stuck in our fantasy of what we thought the other person should be.” A know-it-all might be consigned to their own sense of truth and justice because they only feel safe alone. Kelly Clarkson sang about it once. It hurts to feel disdained. But before you take on a know-it-all’s scorn, you might want to see if you should feel sorry for how alone thye are.

  1. I am isolated because everyone else is a jerk. I project my own inner critic on others. It is especially hard to go to class or church because the leaders always have a flaw.

This is similar to the previous idea only the energy is going out, not in. A know-it-all might not think they are smarter than you, you are just receiving the knife edge of their projected self-loathing. They may see themselves as radically flawed or were taught to see themselves that way. It is so intolerable, they have to project the criticism on someone else. Any imperfection is fair game for them. I hope they are not reviewing your play or restaurant!

After collecting aspects of the common label: “know-it-all,” it seems like a less-than-useful description, doesn’t it? We’re all rather complex. So reducing our irritating behaviors into a single label might be the height of know-it-allism! Most of the time, what irritates us about others is also in us. But even if people are lost in their ignorance, malice or power hunger, a sympathetic, curious and life-affirming (but appropriately boundaried) realtionship with them will do more for the world than more judgment, cancelling and fearful self-protection.