Tag Archives: fear

Paranoia is running deeper: Help for attending to it

Researchers at Yale found a way to be happy during the pandemic. The crisis  gave them a rare chance to study what happens when the world changes rapidly and unpredictably. One of the things that happens, they confirmed, is people get more paranoid. During the recent troubles, especially in places where masks were mandated and the rules flouted, people felt betrayed and acted erratically — its part of being paranoid.

Paranoia

The researchers also found that people who were more paranoid were more likely to endorse conspiracies about mask-wearing and potential vaccines. They were also more likely to accept the QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits, among other ideas, that the government is protecting politicians and Hollywood entertainers who are running pedophile rings across the country.

When fear grips someone, one way to exercise self-defense is to project that fear outward rather than feel the full weight of it. When someone is gripped by this behavior or unaware of it, their actions can be labelled “paranoid.”  Someone experiencing paranoia puts their fear on someone or something outside themselves where they can fight it, contain it, or, sadly, kill it.

Back in the volatile 1960’s, a time torn apart with Vietnam War protests, antiracism marches and assassinations, Buffalo Springfield sang about what happens when fear is rampant.

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

Am I becoming more paranoid?

If you are becoming more paranoid, it would not be surprising. Many people are. When I was talking a couple of weeks ago about why the Trump effect is not over yet, one of the reasons was increased paranoia.

Nancy McWilliams says  the “essence of paranoid personality organization is the habit of dealing with one’s felt negative qualities by disavowing and projecting them: the disowned attributes then feel like external threats” (in Psychoanalytic Diagnosis). She goes on to say that people experiencing their paranoia not only struggle with anger, resentment, vindictiveness and other visibly hostile feelings, they also suffer overwhelming fear.

Paranoid people can be hard to help. To hear some people talk about it, they stopped going home for Thanksgiving during the during the Trump era because Uncle Bill would not quit talking about conspiracy theories. The general atmosphere of paranoia makes normal rules of politeness less relevant; there was no way to talk to Uncle Bill in a civil way. In therapy, or in the church, paranoid people can be difficult. They are mainly dealing with shame and guilt by loading those internal enemies they fear on you and making you the enemy.

When it comes to shame, paranoid people may use denial and projection so powerfully that no sense of shame remains accessible to them. Their focus on the assumed motives of others rather than on what is happening internally makes it nearly impossible to relate to anyone who is not sharing their paranoia.

Paranoid people are also profoundly burdened with guilt, usually unacknowledged and projected. If you try to help them, you will probably excite the terror they have that you might really get to know them. Because, if you do, you will be shocked by all their sins and depravities, and will reject or punish them for their crimes. They chronically use their energy to ward off such humiliation and transform any sense of culpability into dangers that threaten them from the outside. They unconsciously expect to be found out, and transform this fear into constant, exhausting efforts to discern the “real” evil intent behind anyone else’s behavior toward them.

Unfortunately for us all, like the Yale researchers found out, paranoia breeds more paranoia which causes people to act outside usual norms – the “norms” they suspect are fronting evil intent. Suddenly all Democrats are pedophiles and all Republicans are Nazis. So leaders such as school teachers, doctors, pastors, and block captains need watch dogs more than followers.

How does one become paranoid?

Psychological traits are all on a spectrum from healthy to harmful. They mix with other styles to form complex approaches to life. So “becoming paranoid” is not like crossing the border into a new land.

Chances are however, one is paranoid because they are very afraid. They had a good reason to think someone or something was out to get them. More paranoia may be induced by:

  • Intense fear. This fear may have been as a result of experiencing trauma, especially if it was in one’s family, but also if one witnessed violence or was threatened. Being overwhelmed by fear could cause someone to constantly worry about further harm.
  • Isolation. If one felt alone as a child or lived in a disorganized or dangerous family, they might have developed hypervigilance to survive.
  • Drug use.  Research shows substance use can cause suspicion and fear which then increases the risk of living with paranoia on a regular basis
  • Detrimental view of self. When one feels fatally flawed or worthless they are likely to suspect others think and feel the same way about them and are ready to shame them for it.

Paranoia causes mistrust; and once-betrayed, one can  remain in a state of suspicion. This suspicion will not only have an impact on one’s psychological well-being but also their feelings,  thoughts, behaviors and physical health.

If you think you are being watched and that your life is under threat, this is going to cause higher levels of anxiety, increased levels of stress or worry, and may cause you to avoid going out. I have clients from marginalized populations who are nervous about the thought someone could be watching our Zoom session via their laptop camera or phone. Constant surveillance increases paranoia. During the recent coup in our church, people stopped talking, stopped reading newsfeeds on social media, blocked people from communicating with them because they suspected anything they said or posted would be collected, misconstrued and used against them. Paranoia strikes deep, into your life it will creep

Pandemic sleep disorders contributed to the increase in paranoia and paranoia increased sleep disorders. Living under threat has an impact on one’s sleeping patterns and is an overall high risk impact on one’s general wellbeing and mental health.

What can stop someone from reaching out for help?

Continuing to live in fear can have long term effects on both physical and mental health. If you have symptoms that worry you or someone has told you you have them, it is important to reach out for help.

The most graphic example of someone in the Bible who did not reach out for help is King Saul. Paranoia took over his life. When Saul realized young David had captured the hearts of the people of Israel, he became angry and began to keep a suspicious eye on him (1 Samuel 18:6–9). David had made no threatening moves toward Saul, yet Saul’s jealousy turned to paranoia and he began seeking ways to kill David. The Bible records that “an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul” (1 Samuel 18:10). This seems to imply that, in his jealousy and hatred toward an innocent man, Saul opened the door for demonic influence in his own heart. His paranoia became so overwhelming that he went on a murderous rampage, convinced that David was out to get him and that everyone else was against him, too, including the Lord’s priests (1 Samuel 22:13–19) and his own son Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:30–33). We often think a king might be above such trouble, but we are all vulnerable.

A person experiencing paranoia always has reasons, often unverifable, for why they won’t get help.

  • They are afraid to tell anyone what is going on and the reasons they feel the way they do.
  • They have been warned not to speak to anyone. Their internal dialogue or real oppressors threaten them.
  • They are afraid to leave their home or visit an unknown building because it feels uncontrollable.
  • They are afraid they are being watched. They may not want to drag someone else , like their theerapist, into the bad thing they expect to happen. Paranoia and secrets go together.
  • They are experiencing hallucinations – for example, hearing voices. Their voices are fearful of people who will diminish their reality.
  • They have no idea where to go for help.

All of the above reasons to avoid seeking help can be fed by paranoia. Thankfully there is support out there to help you to overcome this. If you or someone you care about needs help, just Google “paranoia hotline.” If you want a more secure, personal connection, call Circle Counseling or the Council for Relationships.

Resistance: The vaccine fight may be an example

My dear friends left their Florida vacation early. They were just in time! Now the Florida ICUs are packed to overflowing with people who refused to be vaccinated. In Philadelphia, where I live, my nurse friend claims the hospitals are not overwhelmed, but they are not sure how long that will last. Once the schools get going they might turn into daily superspreader events!

In the face of all this frightening news, one acquaintance is refusing the vaccine. They said, “I guess you think I am really dumb. But from what I have studied, I seriously think I might die if I let that needle get into my arm.” Thinking I might consider them “dumb” was not dumb. Many people in Philly base their faith on some semblance of science, so anyone who is skeptical of the vaccines automatically ends up in a persecuted minority group.

I am not going to go into the politics of how the vaccinated can turn into the Red Guard and the unvaccinated into the Rohingya, as interesting as that is. I am interested in why some people resist the vaccines. I am interested in the resistance we all feel to change, even positive change, like getting some assurance we won’t die if we are vaccinated.

invisible wall of resistance

Resistance is one of the mysteries psychotherapists (and pastors, social workers, parents) encounter all the time. Peter Michaelson writes

Psychological resistance is like an invisible wall that stands between aspiring individuals and the actualized self they desperately want to become. Bringing this resistance into view is vitally important to our personal development.

People continually bump up against this wall, get knocked back on their duff, get back up, and incomprehensibly repeat the procedure ad infinitum. We don’t even know we’re bumping into a wall. We’re just left feeling confused, dazed, and disoriented, unable to make any sense of recurring self-defeat or self-sabotage.

Why did you come to psychotherapy if you did not want to develop? Why did you get into this group if you did not want to participate? Why did you marry me if you did not want to be vulnerable? Why did you go to the amusement park if you did not want to ride roller coasters? The answer to those questions is probably, “Resistance.”

Relief of Adam and Eve from the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, dated to 359 CE

Resistance is about shame

The “discovery” of resistance was central to Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. He was fascinated by everyone’s personal repression project. He, and everyone since, trace the foundation of resistance to shame. If the resistance is becoming visible, it will peek out from behind our various fig leaves:  perfectionism, criticizing, disrespect, self-criticism, preoccupation with appearance, social withdrawal, independence, invulnerability, and our inability to accept compliments or constructive criticism.

If you have been reading the Bible you can see most of these traits in the story of Adam and Eve. We could all tell our personal history and it would look like the Adam and Eve story. We don’t really need to study the Bible to find a story about resistance — we are all listening to the snake charm us into eating the fruit of it. We seem to choose freedom to be alone and against rather than the freedom to be together and moving with God —  even though we don’t really want to.

Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me some of the fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:9-13)

Until our eyes were opened to our own potential for evil, we were fine being naked. No one told us we were shameful. We were fine with our privates and had no need for privacy. But now we sure do!

Does shame make us immune to the vaccine?

Many people have written wonderful books on the subject of shame/repression/resistance. I was just trying to give you the gist of how I see it so I could talk to you about how to respond to people who refuse to get the vaccine.

I think my few clients who are resisting the vaccine may be finding a huge and convenient way to occupy their fear and shame in the cause of their autonomy, much like Adam and Eve arguing with God.  I heard of someone saying the vaccine was like the mark of the beast and they should be brave enough to be deprived of work if it was really the end times — I am so out of touch with Evangelicals I had not heard that connection yet. Another said even if the FDA approved the vaccine they would not allow anything to teach their cells to do things — they immediately referenced the Tuskegee experiments as a good reason to be skeptical. I thought that was at least a better argument.

But their arguments mostly seem based in resistance. We might make a good argument, but we might not recognize our feelings, fantasies, and motives underneath it. Pretty soon we are canceling or rescheduling appointments with our therapists because they might talk about things that don’t fit our narrative. We might forget the work we already did in therapy. We might not remember homework assignments. Those could all be signs of resistance to growth. Shame tends to lock us out of the territory where our feelings run free and we explore without judgment and it tends to lock us into the lame defense systems that delude us into thinking we can protect ourselves from what we fear without faith, hope and love.

Is there a way to change a vaccine-resistor’s mind?

Quite a few of my young, “blue” friends have had a hard 2021 with relatives (often older) who are sure not wearing a mask and refusing to bend the knee to liberal scientists is the cornerstone of their God-given freedom. If one is not up on all the conspiracy theories and misinformation on social media, arguing with them may be even more futile than it usually seems. For example, one of my clients told me about the mysterious deaths their friends reported (third-hand sometimes) about people who had received the AstraZeneca/ Johnson and Johnson vaccine and died of blood clots so thick the usual procedure to remove them was clogged up! That’s a lot of detail! Many people are become experts, they think, on the virus and the defensive cloud of the evidence they collect makes them dig in their heels when it comes to the vaccines.

I think their process has a lot to do with the invisible wall of resistance.  Jennifer Delgado gave some helpful summaries of what it takes to change one’s mind and heart. She says, “We can feel motivated to change, but if something keeps us” from acting, “like fear, motivation will not be enough to overcome the resistance.” Right now, I think many people are facing the most fearsome time of their lives. Many are applying defensive skills they have been developing since childhood harder than ever to resist the threatening change that is upon them.

In the midst, Jesus says:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

The cycle of resistance to personal change

As they watch people face their fears when they need to change, Delgado and others have referred us to the well-known stages Elizabeth Kubler-Ross noted in the emotional cycle following a death. A pandemic is fear coming at us, but it meets fear coming from us, the fear stored up in us. The false autonomy we protect masks the shame that motivates it. The thought of losing our defense against feeling our fear and shame is terrifying. It takes a lot for us to accept we need to do anything but protect ourselves from it. Making a good decision about vaccines would better come from the fearlessness we gain when we trust Jesus and receive His peace. But trust may not be our knee-jerk reaction.

Regardless of whether we trust Jesus or not, we will likely go through some version of Kubler-Ross’s stages when it comes to the little death we experience when we change.

  • We probably feel paralyzed or blocked when we first confront change. We hit the wall.
  • We may close our eyes to reality and to the need for transformation. We carry on as if nothing is happening.
  • When we can no longer deny the change, we probably react with frustration or rage. At this point the feelings we repressed earlier usually emerge.
  • We try to find a way out of what is already happening. We are moved to avoid it. We don’t fully accept what is evident.
  • We finally accept that change is inevitable. But we do not accept it, which usually leads to irritation or depression.
  • We realize we must react. We look for realistic solutions and new ways to cope which adapt to the new reality.
  • We come to a new homeostasis. We move forward into a new stage of development.

When it comes to arguments about whether to get vaccinated, we might be talking to someone stuck at that second bullet point, someone in denial. They have their reasons for resistance, some of which they might not know about yet. I don’t think people should be bludgeoned because of their lack of development. Jesus is patient with each of us.

As you look at the stages above, you can see that people might get stuck at any one of the further steps toward new awareness or new behavior. How many divorced people are still angry? How many abused people are still depressed? How many perfectionistic people are still dithering about how to let go of their control?

10 challenges for the vaccine resistors

We want to change. At the same time we want to remain the same, or do the same things. We want to return to the garden, but we also just redecorated the psyche we formed outside its walls. For instance, I just finished grandchild “camp” and they thought this year would be the same as the last. Stable grandparents are comforting. The changes disappointed them before they tried the new events.  Change unleashes resistance. The more we face up to it, the greater our transformation might be. In the case of the vaccine, we have heard many people recently hospitalized begging people to get the shot, now that they have been hurled into acceptance by the disease.

I have been trying to get my mind and heart around this invisible wall into which I and many of my clients and fellow church members are colliding. I want to be generous with people who are not “dumb” but are facing tremendous fears in the face of decisions about how to live through the hardest era of their lives. Here are ten things vaccine resistors might need to face, in my opinion, before they can make the choice to get the shot. One or more may reflect the resistance you feel as you are facing any change that pushes your shame button. Be generous with yourself and others.

  • Need to get out of the zone of control. Most of us feel relatively safe in our “comfort zone.” I’ve started calling it the “zone of control” since a lot of people are not comfortable in their status quo even if they are committed to protecting it. If we think what we have done for years will keep working, many times delusionally, there is no reason to change. If the disease has not struck close to home or has been survived, people feel justified in their zone.
  • Need to face fear. Fear is the basis for resistance to change. Usually, we jump into the unknown only if we believe what awaits us is worth it. Fearful, often disinformed people are frantically making a deal, under pressure from untrusted authorities, to risk their lives by accepting the vaccine.
  • Need to learn new things. When we believe we do not have the skills, abilities, or strengths needed to cope with transformation, we often do not recognize it, but resist it. This includes learning about ourselves (and that dreaded shame!). The massive amount of information and disinformation about the vaccines shuts some people down.
  • Need to challenge habits. If we have done things in the same way for a long time, it will be very difficult to change. We rarely just do something new because it would also impact how we relate, think, and feel. We already have ruts in our brain where our habits run free. Our relationships have habits. Our brains and our schedules supply physical resistance to our psychological resistance.
  • Need to be humble. When we perceive change is imposed on us, our first reaction is usually rejection. If we are not consulted, we will likely participate minimally, if at all. Americans might be the least humble people on the planet, so it is no surprise our virus incidence is high, even though we can effectively fight it.
  • Need to go beyond the overwhelm. The Covid years have pushed us over the edge. So many people are anxious and depressed. Our tolerance level for change has been exceeded. We have been overwhelmed so much by events and the media amplification of them, more resistance has developed to stave off further exhaustion and saturation. I think I noted this at the Phillies game last week when almost no one would get ramped up when the screen shouted “Make some noise!” We screened out the noisy demand to make noise. We’re tired.
  • Need to get beyond the either/or. Sometimes change presents a breaking point with some of our beliefs or opinions. Our brain might be fritzed with internal disagreement. “If this is the mark of the beast, I’d better not take it” meets “I am going to be so embarrassed if God does not protect me and the vaccine was a gift I refused.”
  • Need to act. Change usually requires the best we’ve got. Like we say, “Dig deep.” If we can’t marshal the motivation, we might give up on the transformation we desire. A client’s spouse finally agreed to get vaccinated like her mate, but she hasn’t gotten around to it for several months. It must be resistance.
  • Need to broaden one’s capacity. We are often capable of more than we think. Shame diminishes us. Our resistance to change may be due to it occurring when we already feel like we are in a tough spot. “I can’t face one more thing. I am going to wait it out and see what happens.”
  • Need to develop new traits. Some of us are naturally or developmentally more willing to change while others are tied to what they know. If you are suffering from certain mental illnesses you may think you have control over everything that happens to you or you have a low tolerance for ambiguity, you will be more resistant to change. Psychotherapists often diagnose and label people with “illnesses” and those labels end up as identities and those identities end up as strait jackets. You may think you are condemned to not cooperating with your salvation, but Jesus still holds out his hand to you.

I needed to write this for myself, so I hope it helped you, too. We all wake up every day to a world that seems to be hurtling toward disaster: conflict all around, disease, climate change. It is no wonder people resist the vaccine! We were fearful before we had all these good reasons to be fearful!

I found myself resisting my natural empathy as I became frustrated with resistant clients and heard stories from others relating a similar way. But I choose to spread peace with Jesus today. I will not let my heart mimic the trouble I find in people and respond to their fear with fear. I want to learn more about speaking peace to them as they struggle through their difficult process: bumping into the wall of their innate resistance and bending under weight of fear that falls on them no matter how hard they try to avoid it. I certainly do not need to threaten or shame anyone who is already fighting a losing battle not to feel their fear and shame!

I woke up fearing fear: Being pulled toward the edge of the inauguration.

fear is a liar

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. – 1 John 4:16-18 (NIV)

I woke up pondering these verses. I think the Holy Spirit was helping me face the fear that seems to be infecting the world around me and infecting me! Many of us feel like we are being pulled toward the edge of something as we move closer to the inauguration. It is scary.

Some of us are lashing out in various ways and maybe getting ready to get on the bus to head for Washington to lash out in a big way. They have undoubtedly been told, perhaps by the silence they meet when their voices get louder, that such behavior is wrong.

Others of us are pretending nothing is happening, as if by sheer force of will we will render the fearful things unreal, or irrelevant. They have undoubtedly been met by some passionate person knocking on their foreheads, sending them another email, barraging them on Facebook requiring them to get out of their denial and face the enemy before it is too late.

Meanwhile we have the 24-hour infotainment industry, the 1%’s plaything, managing perceptions, wondering how to deal with Donald Trump tweeting lies that somehow need to be considered seriously because he’s the president.

I woke up pondering these verses because I woke up pondering fear, my own and everyone else’s. John had a lot to say to me. He comforted me. There are so many good things that he wants to give us, the church, in this frightening, unpredictable day in just these few lines! Pick out what you need. I picked out three things:

  • Confidence
  • Perfect loves drives out fear
  • Whoever lives in love lives in God

People have said so much about this passage over the centuries, that I feel like referring you to a Google search project. But let’s just be us and see what God is going to do with us today. We face a lot of fear.

One of the things that kills the community of the church is a common reaction to fear: I think something bad is going to happen in our relationship so I plan for it not to happen in advance. I try to solve the problem you might have before you have it. I might not even let you say much about what you are feeling because I already fear what you are feeling before I hear you say it! Likewise, I don’t say much about what I feel or think because you are going to react negatively or I might be offensive and we would have a conflict, or you might be silently offended and leave. So in order to connect, I don’t connect. This happens in close friendships, marriages, and business partnerships, but let’s think about the church: all our cells, teams and budding partnerships. John has a few things for us to apply.

Don’t let fear steal your confidence.

Our confidence comes from God who is love and who loves us. Some people read John’s words, above, as if he is saying: “We will have confidence on the Day  of Judgment if we are like Jesus.” There is something to that. But if that is all there is, it is a good reason so many people who believe it never get out of their starting blocks because they are afraid they won’t finish the race.  I read it as saying: “We have confidence because God’s love is with us; so we know we will be able to stand before Him without fear, now and forever.” Paul says it even clearer, but I will just refer you to him.  Don’t let fear steal your confidence.

Don’t let your love be driven be the fear of imperfect love.

Love is a powerful weapon. People seeking the common good all over the world know this, even when they don’t know Jesus. Most of us feel that love makes a difference. Love upends things, even fear. When John says “Perfect love drives out fear,” some people focus on the “perfect” in the sentence. I do think John means to say God’s love is perfect and we should perfect it. But the point is not to be perfectly loving so you can be perfectly disappointed in how bad you are at loving and how ineffectual your love seems. We can end up being fearful of not being perfectly loving, right? — even fearful about being fearful!

Such an attitude about oneself usually results in criticizing others for how unloving they are; then there we go again in our usual judgment-laden struggle. I think what John means to say is this: Jesus is bringing us confidence to face our fears as we face them in the middle of his love. We love, not fear, because He first loved us. As a result of this great, self-giving love of God in Jesus, we end up connected to God again and so able to bring God’s kind of love to the world. Don’t let your love be driven be the fear of imperfect love, just receive God’s love in Jesus and give what you’ve got.

Hang on to the love where you find it

Love is the best we can do. I know a lot of brilliant people who know a lot about a lot. They are going to apply their wisdom and all that intelligence to make the world a better place. I just watched Hidden Figures (loved it) in which three black women friends rose to the top ranks of NASA in the 60’s. The movie made you feel like miracles can happen, and they happen. But most of us are not going to do or experience a movie-makeable miracle this week. And John does not promise that, or even imagine the expectations of the 21st century, where if you don’t do something amazing, nothing is happening. What he does promise is this: the great love who-God-is and what-God-does-in-Jesus is infecting the world with eternity. Even unbelievers who latch on to that great breast are fed with possibilities for all we long to receive. Like Paul also says, even the best ideas and greatest ambitions without love are gone like the ring of a bell that has stopped disturbing the air. The love who God is and the love God does is greater. Hang on to love where you find it and let the seed of God there lead you into fullness.

Yes, it will be hard to have confidence in such love because it is imperfect. But your judgment is not always the point. God is the creator of love and none of yours will be wasted.

12 Things spiritually wise people do not do.

Our character is tested every day. We need wisdom to survive.

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you. — Proverbs 4:6

Wisdom is hard to find. If you talk to social scientists they will tell you it is a combination of IQ, EQ and personality and toss in a description of brain research to verify what they say. That’s all fine, but while we are trying to apply their science, we are being tested. We are dealing with toxic relationships, maybe a dead-end job, or a struggling marriage or family issue. Whatever the challenge, Jesus calls us to see things through a new lens, take confident action and keep moving in the wisdom God provides.

It sounds easy, but it isn’t.

Spiritually wise people find a way to see and act that allows them to go a different way from the self-destructive crowd. Where others see impenetrable barriers, they tend to see opportunities for faith, hope and love or they see challenges to overcome trouble with the strength Jesus provides.

Too many people fall prey to the mistaken belief that inner strength comes from natural, unteachable traits that belong only to a lucky few. It’s a common misconception. In reality, faithful, available and teachable people can grow in spiritual wisdom and grow in effective application of it. Social scientists helpfully label various quadrants of our being and define common experiences and behaviors that we can watch to good effect, but spiritual wisdom goes deeper.

Wise people imitate.

Getting wisdom mystifies a few of us because it is somewhat intangible. But we can learn it from people we know who have it. Like Paul tells the Corinthian church:

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. “ — 1 Corinthians 11:1

If you’re up for it, start with these twelve things that spiritually wise people are careful to avoid.  Each of these categories started, for me, with a category an EQ salesman concocted. I quickly realized that his science had led him back to the Bible! So see what you think. Wisdom from social sciences agree with the Bible that we should consciously avoid these behaviors because they lead us to destruction.

  1. They don’t stay in their comfort zone.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7

Let’s just say spiritually wise people no longer think their comfort zones define reality. They live with God in a comfort zone that does not depend on their circumstances working out according to plan. This makes them brave enough to look into eternity and to look into the depths of themselves – neither being immediately comfortable places. But one does not become wise unless they dare to look at someone and something outside themselves.

  1. They don’t give in to fear.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:30

They say that bravery is being scared to death to do something and doing it anyway. Many times, that’s true, even when it comes to one’s career, or marriage, or spiritual experience. The fear doesn’t have to come from facing something extreme like rushing into a burning building; it can be a fear of public speaking or going out on a limb to try for a promotion or expressing your needs and desires. Spiritually wise people are as afraid as anyone else, probably, they simply trust God, respect their gifts and fight on regardless of the fear.

  1. They don’t stop believing in their potential.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

Spiritually wise people persevere. They don’t give up in the face of failure, and they don’t give up because they are tired or uncomfortable. They are focused on their goals, not on momentary feelings, and that keeps them going even when things are hard. They don’t take failing to mean that they’re a failure. Likewise, they don’t let the opinions of others keep them from fulfilling their calling. When someone says, “You’ll never be able to do that,” they check that opinion out with God.

  1. They don’t beg for attention.

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. – 1 Corinthians 4:3

People who are always begging for attention are soaking up energy they should be distributing. We are tempted to rely on the attention of others to form an identity – we are what others see in us, or say we are, or allow us to be. Spiritually wise people do not make relationships like that. They do what they want to do and what needs to be done, regardless of whether anyone is protecting their fragile self-image. They find their main source of attention by attending to God and finding God’s love and hope in those who follow Jesus.

5. They don’t act like jerks.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

Acting like a “jerk” is a relative term – being mean is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. But you probably have an idea of what I mean, and may have some opinions about when you are acting like a jerk. People act like jerks when they act out of the things that make them unhappy and insecure. They act like jerks because they don’t have the strength to be nice when they don’t feel like it, to forgive as they have been forgiven. Spiritually wise people place high value on their relationships, which means they treat everyone with respect, regardless of the kind of mood they’re in. They love like Jesus.

Ravens hold grudges against cheaters
  1. They don’t hold grudges.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. – Ephesians 4:31

Spiritually wise people know they are not just looking out for themselves when they overcome evil with good. But not doing self-destructive things, like holding a grudge, is actually good for them, too. The negative emotions that come with holding onto a grudge are actually a stress response. Holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on one’s body and can have negative health consequences over time. Researchers have shown that holding onto stress contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease. Grudges not only wreck the body politic and the body of Christ, they wreck our own bodies.

7. They don’t hang around negative people.

Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man,
or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself. – Proverbs 22:24-5

“Negative” is a judgment we need to apply judiciously. Because people act in ways we label “negative” because they can’t solve problems and can’t focus on mutual solutions. They often try to draw people into blaming others for their faults and failures so they can feel better about themselves. We often feel pressure to listen to negative people because we don’t want to be callous or rude, but there’s a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear to someone and getting sucked into their downward emotional spiral. Spiritually wise people avoid getting drawn in by setting limits and distancing themselves from negative people when necessary; it is possible to judge a situation without being judgmental.

  1. They don’t feel entitled.

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? – 1 Corinthians 4:7

Spiritually wise people know that the world is a gift. They soberly assess what they have been given and freely exercise it without competition. They do not worry about their earning power and are not subject to the meritocracy. Yet they are also free to work hard and deserve what they earn.  They live in a world that has love behind it, so they can love it back, not fight over maintaining a locus of control within themselves or be solely responsible for their successes or failures.

  1. They don’t close their minds. 

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. – 1 Corinthians 2:14

When people close their minds to new information or opinions, it’s usually because they find them threatening. They think admitting someone else is right means they’re wrong, and that’s very uncomfortable for people lacking spiritual wisdom. Jesus followers are not threatened by new things; they are open to new information and new ideas, even if it means admitting that they were wrong. Their wisdom is based on following their Guide into what is next, eternally, fearlessly.

  1. They don’t let anyone limit their joy. 

Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. – 2 Corinthians 10:12

WWise people have their joy. Comparisons are odious.hen our sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from comparing ourselves with others, they have become our masters. When spiritually wise people feel good about who they are or what they have done, they don’t let another’s detraction or a comparison with another’s accomplishments steal their joy. Even when they need forgiveness or have failed, they still have a kernel of joy inside that comes from being the beloved of God. We are free to listen to others and learn from them, even when they hurt us or just barely know what they are talking about. But our main interest is how God thinks of us. The Lord’s view is incisively true but overwhelmingly kind.

11. They don’t get eaten up by jealousy and envy.

For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? – 1 Corinthians 3:3

Spiritually wise people understand that the happiness and success of others doesn’t take away from their own, so jealousy and envy aren’t an issue for them. They see grace as being in unlimited supply, so they can celebrate the successes of others. They are not clawing their way to get a piece of a limited pie anymore, so they can share with others and rely on someone else to care for them, as well.

  1. They don’t live in the past.

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 29:11-14

Failure can erode our self-confidence and make it hard to believe we will have a better outcome in the future. Most of the time, failure results from taking risks and trying to achieve things that aren’t easy. Spiritually wise people know that success lies in their ability to “rise from the dead.” Jesus followers, of all people, know their past is forgiven and their future is bright. So they are free to take risks to be true selves and loving members of humanity because they know that their past failures as a human cannot stop them. When you live in the past, that is exactly what happens—your past becomes your present and prevents you from moving forward.

So what do you think of this recasting of thoughts from the EQ community? Maybe you would like to add further things to the list. What DON’T spiritually wise people do?

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Get Out There in the Face of Fear

When our second Network goal for 2013 appeared, some people immediately asked some anxious questions and some got downright upset! But all it said was that “people need to see Jesus where they live” and “we need to be good storytellers,” so we are going to “generate opportunities for our worship to be more public.” We already have public worship every week in our buildings and lots of people have found us there, but we are going to make it even more public by taking it to where people live in some way.

buskersWhat could be the big deal? People did not have a big problem with the idea (the discerning process came up with it, after all), but they were less aware of what it might mean until they saw suggestions for how it would be implemented, like “improv” and “busking” and a “touring PM team.” They suddenly had visions of intrusive preachers with portable microphones, and of people thinking that we are cheesy Christians imposing our cheesy songs on an unsuspecting public. The whole idea seemed too out there, too embarrassing, too prone to getting a bad review on Yelp. Seriously.

How did Jesus get out there?

We caused an interesting debate. I sympathize with some people who can’t imagine Jesus with his guitar out on a Capernaum sidewalk (the fact that there were no sidewalks is another matter, have some imagination!). And he did tell us not to pray on street corners. But what about this from Matthew 8?

When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.  He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.
When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“He took up our infirmities
and bore our diseases.”

The question I ask of this scripture is this: was Jesus trying to be private and people found him in spite of all his efforts? Was he just doing a private act of kindness for his best friend into whose house he felt comfortable enough to enter and find his mother laying around?  That might be a shy Christian’s dream: healing as personal, private, intimate, secret, and in the family. They might say, “Jesus was just being good and people found out about it; they took the initiative, so He didn’t look proud. He didn’t look like he was trying to make a big deal about being the Son of God and doing miracles, or looking like he thought people should be impressed with him and pay attention to who he was and what he was doing. He wasn’t making trouble for someone by doing miracles in their backyard without a permit, or causing some uproar with the police.”

Or did Jesus walk into Peter’s house unannounced, even, or walk in because someone in the crowd told him the woman had a fever, just busting in to her private space. Did he touch her, fully knowing that it would be all over Capernaum and on up the hill to Nazareth in a couple of minutes? Shouldn’t he at least have had a feeling that by evening all sorts of people would be showing up to be healed? And didn’t he have some sort of consciousness that he was meant to be known for bearing people’s diseases? Did he ever do anything that he didn’t think was going to make a difference and didn’t he always think he was born to make a difference?

There are reasons to be scared

I think we are just a little scared to get “out there” in ways that put us next to uncontrollable people and bring us in contact with the authorities and powers that run our streets.  And there is reason to be scared. To be honest about the example of Jesus, it won’t be long after Matthew 8 that he will be in trouble with all sorts of authorities and powers. So there is something out there to inspire fear, if we are so inclined.

But it is a little strange that some of us can’t get our heads around the example of Jesus going to where people are! Some of us are out selling energy products, we meet people giving us free vodka in bars, we get free tastes in the Reading Terminal and we experience all sorts of people finding every way possible to get on our screens. Yet Jesus is supposed to wait until he is somehow discovered lest we seem too aggressive.

We say that Life in Christ is one whole cloth. As we participate in and love “the world,” we bring redemption from the Kingdom of God to our society. Jesus is Lord of all, so we have repented of separating “sacred” and “secular.” But it is true that the secularists have not repented of isolating the sacred and legislating against anything but what they deem tolerant. So it is hard to present oneself as a Jesus follower and not expect opposition, perhaps vocal and even legal! I think the younger one is the scarier it has become: “I won’t be able to have a job. They’ll find a picture of me busking. I’ll get tagged as an extremist. They’ll label me a hater.”

Nevertheless, I am still glad for the courage that prompted our goal. I don’t think the goal came from nowhere. I think it is intimately connected to the heart of Jesus. Who busted into Peter’s disease-filled house with healing and then poured his goodness on everyone else who thought he just might be their Savior. Taking worship to more public places is such a sweet way to confront the powers with epiphany and help seekers find us. I suspect we have even more “out there” ways up our sleeves.

What It Takes to Have a Decent Impact

I just returned from two weeks of travelling to California—Mexico—California–Georgia. (My bags are still not back from California!)  It was wonderful to see old friends and visit new places. Now I am eager to get on with it. Circle of Hope always looks so beautiful from a distance! —  close up, too, of course, but ravishing from a distance. And the mission we share with other Christ followers seems even more pressing, given all the things I experienced.

Here are three of the things I learned, again, about our mission during my travels:

1) To have a decent impact on the world for Jesus, it takes living in a community that can get along. It would be great if people just did what they were told, but they need to be loved, heard and included in order to get to being led.

At the BIC General Conference our community was falling apart and we spent all our efforts and passion trying to figure out whether we could hold together. Just last night I spoke to another person who attended the conference who was scratching their head, wondering at the fear-based approach we seem to practice. It seems to be an assumption that people will not get along, so don’t let them try. It seems to be a big fear that unseemly people will say things, so we don’t let anyone say anything. That doesn’t work.

People know the Lord by how we love one another, Jesus says. Working out authentic community is a top priority for the mission.

2) To have a decent impact on the world for Jesus, it takes solitude and rest. If we are in mission with Jesus, we are in over our heads, just putting our hands to the plow. We are not superheroes (like Batman taking punches from Bane); we need to recuperate and get some resources.

Playa La Mision, Baja

Sitting on a beach in Mexico is a luxury for most of the world, so I understand that my resources afford me great privilege in gaining some rest. But however one can achieve it, it takes Sabbath to do good work. It takes not working to work. If we are just surviving the daily onslaught without gaining resources of personal strength, we basically have to shut down and be steely most of the time, grit our teeth and survive. We should never underestimate the power of our personal defense systems to shut us down when we are threatened. We can live perpetually threatened and never have the sense of capacity that allows us to reach out with truth and love. It takes a lot of personal time with Jesus to have our defenses eased.

People know the Lord by knowing people who know the Lord. Having enough space to develop our relationship with God and not just keep the wheels turning is crucial.

3) To have a decent impact on the world for Jesus, it takes leaving one’s family and home and coming back married to Jesus. It is painful, but there is often a contest between those we love for who gets to direct our lives. Jesus should win or everyone loses.

At the wedding I had to note how easy it is to put up with our loved one’s self-destructive behavior, even adapt to it, rather than speaking and living grace into it. There is nothing like entering a family system and an extended friendship circle gathered for the blessed event to get a good look at how things work. Jesus was rather plain about loving his family and friends, but he also very plainly told them to get behind him, as if they were Satan, if they tried to deter his mission. How we love who we love is probably the hardest thing we ever have to learn as a co-worker of Jesus. If our small loves undermine the greatest love, it is a great loss.

People get to know the Lord by hearing and seeing the revelation clearly. There is not really a way to keep the picture totally unmuddled, but we can’t serve the muddle, nonetheless.

Do not be afraid

This is my favorite Bible verse of the week. I think I will meditate on it with you again.

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 10:24

The whole nation of Israel was like God’s child. Israel was like a “son” to God (See Exodus 4:22 and Hosea 11:1). In this verse, Isaiah is speaking for the Lord, who is telling his children, the people of Israel, “Don’t be afraid of the Assyrians,” even though the Assyrian empire is huge and is undoubtedly going to take them over, and even though their king, Ahaz, is trying to make a deal with it instead of trusting God. Be faithful to God.

From a very fun video http://youtu.be/MyePSvvb4QQ

What moves me the most is that Isaiah, speaking for God, acknowledges the infant pain of the nation of Israel, which is now a grown-up nation facing a huge disaster. The Assyrians, who have their clubs lifted on the border are reminiscent of what the child nation experienced in Egypt. Isaiah notes 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.

I love it when my psychological studies world and my faith world collide. The social scientists keep “discovering” what has been common sense for wise people throughout history. The pains of our childhood are the foundry that builds flaws into our future character as adults. The great task of a mature adult is to be conscious of our fears, among many things, and make choices to be our true selves. My understanding is that such choices are not fully possible without being reborn through the work of Jesus and having our birthright restored as a child of God. But I admire the psychologists, especially, who bravely dig into the reality that, “If I was beaten in Egypt, I will probably be afraid of being beaten again when the next oppressor raises his club.” The tripwires in our hearts are easy to set off and difficult to defuse.

When God tells his child, Israel, “Don’t be afraid,” the Lord knows they cannot just shut down their fear; it is installed deeply. He even inplants that understanding in Isaiah’s prophecy of impending doom. I find that very encouraging. Because it means that when God tells me, “Do not be afraid,” he must remember my 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. I have huge empires bearing down on me too.

But God is with me! If I did not trust God, I would just have brilliant psychological reasoning to comfort me as I was beaten again. Or worse, I would just have an admonition to “Don’t be afraid,” when my distressing past is meeting my horrifying future.

As I was meditating on this verse, I could not help but remember many of the stories of “Egypt” I have heard lately. Several of them were stories of actual beatings! Some of us have stories we don’t even want to tell, they are so painful to recall. Some of us have stories we can’t tell because we can’t remember the traumatic experiences, we blocked them out so completely. All of us have a story about how sin injured us. The stories were being formed when we were just a small human. There is no way God is telling us, “Don’t be afraid,” as if we were never in “Egypt!” He encourages us to not be afraid because we were in “Egypt” and we needed to be rescued. What’s more, we need help because the “Assyrians” are coming upon us.

Do not be afraid because God is with you. If you are bravely on your own in the face of the next gigantic power that is eager to consume you, God be with you. I think that kind of self-reliance is madness, but I admire your courage. Fear can generate a lot of energy. As for me, I am happy that God called me out of “Egypt” and is helping me face my “Assyrians.” God is with me.

Child, imagine fearlessly walking with God

I bought a best-selling children’s book the other day called Bubble Trouble. It has an intricate rhyme that entertains me. Upon first-reading, it proved to be a bit over Josiah’s head. He had trouble figuring out the plot. The first question upon turning a page, several times, was “Where is the baby’s mother?” We needed to establish that, because, I discovered, this was sort of a scary book about a baby who floats away in a bubble until the townfolk rescue him. When we were finished, Josiah’s first comment was, “I am too big for a bubble to take me,” followed by a hopeful look at my face.

How do we ever learn to deal with our fears? I am still learning. It helped that I had a grandmother who read to me. I got to experience some of the scary things about the big world while snuggled in her rocking chair. It also helped that I was sent to church as a little child to snuggle up with Jesus.

For some reason, a song that was 80 years old by the time my Sunday school teachers taught it to me as a child has kept rising to the surface lately. I think it has always helped me walk with God and resist fear.

Can a little child like me
Thank the Father fittingly?
Yes, oh yes! be good and true,
Faithful, kind, in all you do;
Love the Lord, and do your part;
Learn to say with all your heart,

Father, we thank Thee,
Father, we thank Thee,
Father in Heaven, we thank Thee.

If you want to hear it, try this link.

The fact that I, through some great blessing, retained that song through the onslaught of all the info that started piling up in my lifetime seems kind of miraculous. Every verse is a winner. They all take children seriously and respect them for who they are, according to their capacity. Each calls us to be honorable and good.  “Don’t be afraid! You can do it!” I think Monster’s Inc. is trying to do something like that. But there is an awful lot of plot that muddles up the teaching these days.

Mary Mapes Dodge

Mary Mapes Dodge (1831-1905), who is buried up the road just south of Newark, included “Can a Little Child Like Me”  in her book Ba­by Days: A Se­lect­ion of Songs, Stor­ies, and Pic­tures, for Ve­ry Lit­tle Folks in 1877. It was a follow-up to her best seller Hans Brinker (which you can still enjoy on Disney reruns).

When people write about Mary Mapes Dodge, she receives the treatment so many Christians of her era receive these days. Her faith is extracted and her work is treated like she was not a Christian. She becomes one more purveyor of plot lines for the plot machines churning out material. But I am pretty sure that in her mind Jesus and Hans Brinker went together. Hans had learned to be like Jesus. She most likely hoped children would learn to love the Lord by sitting in a chair with her or singing her song in church. She had learned to face her own fears, along with her children, after her husband killed himself and left her a widow. Her faith fueled her second life as an author and editor.

You’ve probably got a child in your life somewhere. They are undoubtedly facing the same fears you are still facing. Take a good look at them and love them. It is better that they learn from you than they are left alone with their fears to extract whatever random thing they latch on to from the tsunami of info that keeps washing over them, and which will keep flooding them the rest of their days, no doubt.

I think my meditation today should center on retrieving the good things God has given me via all the good people who loved and spoke for him throughout my childhood – and thank him. The visions we shared in various rocking chairs and song times during my baby days opened my mind and heart to imagine fearlessly walking with God.

Do You Get Harry Potter?

As of today Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has grossed $461,318,990 worldwide. Gwen and I contributed to that last week at the over-priced Bridge Deluxe near Penn (but how nice to walk to the theatre!). Do you get what is going on here? Just what is selling all these tickets? I have not been able to get into the books and I have been caught looking at my watch during the movies. What is the attraction?

There is something going on. A bazillion people are concerned that another youngster is threatened by unseen forces and fighting overwhelming evils. Is every movie required to have this plot this year? — By use of some kind of magic (a transforming car, the Starship Enterprise, etc.) young people enhance their developing, misunderstood awesomeness to overcome the evil with the help of their friends, but not at the expense of their own self-esteem and uniqueness.

This propaganda is getting to be old hat. But, if the trailers are any evidence, the expression of it may be getting darker and even more dire. I felt quite educated by the previews before Harry Potter started lumbering into its 2-1/2 hours. I can’t remember them all. The next Twilight was one of them (Bella leaves vampire boyfriend with werewolf boyfriend; danger ensues, but will true love save even the undead?). 2012 was another (John Cusack and Woody Harrelson survive global catastrophe). And there was a creepier, Potteresque something I can’t remember. I was not encouraged, but perhaps enlightened.

This generation has some high expectations of success and happiness and it secretly blames insurmountable, possibly evil, forces for the inevitable shame they feel about their deprivation. That is my lesson du jour. Voldemort gets Dumbeldore killed. My boyfriend wants to suck my blood. We’re all about to be killed by a natural disaster and only John Cusack will survive. Anxiety. Fear. Unfulfilled dreams. Pass the prozac. Or please, pass the gospel. You people need a savior; Harry’s wand is not making it (and it is make-believe, anyway, btw).

The other strand that might be running through these movies is this (OK, this is lesson du jour deux): “I really want someone to love; I want community.” — Life-long school chums who are as weird as I am and know me, and accept me, as I am; the boyfriend who is wild and crazy but who will resist killing me (he’s so awesome) and may kill others for me; the brave survivors who restart the world from their little tribe. Connection, Hope. Restoration. Pass the church.