The Genesis Problem: The Methodological Atheism of Science

“There is no such thing as philosophy-free science. There is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”
– Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

YOU DECIDE TO SIT DOWN and examine science in order to come to a better understanding of the empirical world around you. This seems to be a sound proposition, yet there is a problem. The issue is not with modern science itself, but rather with a faulty view of science: The idea that science is a complete framework for understanding man and the universe, and that unscientific claims should be automatically rejected. Scientists naturally like to think of themselves as reasonable people, ready to follow the path of evidence no matter where it takes them. Carl Sagan’s boast is typical in this regard: “At the heart of science is … an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counter-intuitive.” Of course, we must also remember that virtually everyone comes to a subject matter already in possession of a particular bias or worldview. That’s fine. What is not okay is when an individual denies his or her biases or presuppositions, or, worse yet, is dishonest about them when presenting their findings.

Stephen Hawking explains why a large number of theorists were attracted to the steady state theory of the origin of the universe. Steady state theory posits that the universe is always expanding, but it is maintaining a constant average density, with matter being constantly created to form new stars and galaxies at the same rate that old ones become unobservable as a consequence of their increasing distance and velocity of receding. He said, “There were therefore a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a big bang … Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention.” For some time Hawking had given the impression that he is neither a strong believer nor disbeliever in a higher power, but in 2014 he told a symposium, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” This is decidedly quite a reversal of opinion.

Astronomer and physicist Lee Smolin complained, “Must all of our scientific understanding of the world really come down to a [seemingly] mythological story in which nothing exists … save some disembodied intelligence, who, desiring to start a world, chooses the initial conditions and then wills matter into being?” Man must ultimately confront nature in order to develop a sense of who he is within nature itself. Indeed, by default one’s worldview will have an impact on how one defines nature. For example, Western societies do not generally confront nature with the same sense of respect. For us, the physical realm of “not man” is indifferent to man. In the Western Hemisphere, we believe nature exists for man to harness for his own purposes. We do not conform to the universe; rather, we seek to conform the universe to us and our needs. Phillips, Brown & Stonestreet. (2008) How we confront and interpret nature has a direct impact on understanding our place in it.

Today all evidence of God is a priori rejected by science. Even empirical evidence of the kind normally admissible in science is refused a hearing. It doesn’t matter how strong or reliable the evidence is, scientists acting in their professional capacity are obliged to ignore it. If you know anything about the history of the church, all of this may seem surprising, in view of how science developed out of the theological premises and institutions of Christianity. Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle, and others all saw a deep compatibility between science and religion. All believed in God. Today, however, scientists typically admit there is a specific orderliness to the universe and nature, but refuse to consider the source of that orderliness. Science has front-men like Stephen Hawking to attempt to convince everyone that the laws of physics and the language of genetics came from nothing.

Today’s atheists, Dawkins and the others, seem naively to believe they are the apostles of reason who are merely following the evidence. It is important to note that modern science seems to be based on an unwavering alliance to naturalism and materialism. Naturalism is the doctrine that nature is all there is. It is a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes. Supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted. Materialism is the belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Material reality is the only reality. Of course these philosophical doctrines – naturalism and materialism – have never been proven. In fact, they cannot be proven because it is impossible to demonstrate that immaterial reality does not exist. Naturalism and materialism are not scientific conclusions; rather, they are scientific premises. They are not discovered in nature but imposed upon nature. In short, they are articles of faith.

Here’s something to ponder which was written by Richard Lewontin, geneticist and author of Billions and Billions of Demons:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment – a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori commitment to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” [Emphasis added.]

The million-dollar question: Is science intrinsically atheistic? Well, yes. From a procedural or narrow sense, science is anti-God. And this is probably okay, because we don’t want scientists who run into difficulty proving their theories to get out of the dilemma simply by saying, “You know, I’m not going to investigate this any longer. I’m just going to put it down as a miracle.” Could you imagine what would happen to the “reputation” of miracles if we called everything we cannot understand a miracle? Moreover, there are many religious scientists who find no difficulty in working within the domain of procedural atheism while at the same time holding their religious beliefs. Biologist Francis Collins says that as a biologist he investigates natural explanations for the origin of life, while as a Christian he believes that there are also supernatural forces at work. Science is not the only way of knowing.

The more I read the works of today’s apologists and the counter-arguments of today’s atheists, the clearer it becomes to me that we are slowly uncovering scientific facts that speak loudly of the existence of a creative force in the universe. I see that reality goes much deeper than the scientific portrait of it. Many people regard scientific and religious claims as inherently contradictory simply because they are unwitting captives to a second type of atheism, which has been identified as philosophical atheism. The best way to define this term is the dogma that material and natural reality is all that exists. Everything else is illusory. Atheists of this persuasion, and this would include Richard Dawkins, pretend that because God cannot be discovered through science – which is a dubious claim anyway! – God cannot be discovered at all.

Here’s the thing about philosophical atheism: Only data that fit the theory are allowed into the theory. By contrast, the theist is much more open-minded and reasonable. The theist does not deny the validity of scientific reasoning. Again, we have only to look to the great scientists who were Christians. The theist is entirely willing to acknowledge material and natural causes for events. After all, it is God who put the laws of physics in motion when He created the universe. I am of the firm belief that physic did not exist before the universe existed, therefore physics cannot be used to explain how the universe came into being. (Consider, for example, the first law of thermodynamics.) However, the theist also admits the possibility of other types of knowledge

Let me take a moment to point out something very few have focused on in arguing that God simply cannot exist because the explanation of a supreme deity is far too simple to be true. They claim belief in God cannot explain the complex theory of evolution. Richard Dawkins, in his seminal book The God Delusion, faults theologian Richard Swinburne’s concept that examination of electrons shows God’s hand in all of creation, and His ongoing sustenance of all that exists. Swinburne said billions and billions of electrons, all with the same properties, all working together in perfect symmetry, is too much of a coincidence. Dawkins states, “But how can Swinburne possibly maintain that this hypothesis of God simultaneously keeping a gazillion fingers on wayward electrons is a simple hypothesis? It is, of course, precisely the opposite of simple. Swinburne pulls off the trick to his own satisfaction by a breathtaking piece of intellectual chutzpah. He asserts, without justification, that God is only a single substance. What brilliant economy of explanatory causes, compared with all those gigazillions of independent electrons all just happening to be the same!”

First of all, Dawkins and many others continue to quote statements made decades, and sometimes centuries, ago in support of their attack on theists, and do not include remarks that indicate how far science and religion have come as partners in discovering the origin of life. For example, some modern theorists see randomness as a genuine design feature, and not just as a physicalist gloss. Their challenge is to explain how divine providence is compatible with genuine randomness. (Under a deistic view, one could simply say that God started the universe off and did not interfere with how it went, but that option is not open to the theist, and most authors in the field of science and religion are theists, rather than deists.)

Elizabeth Johnson (1996), using a Thomistic view of divine action, argues that divine providence and true randomness are compatible: God gives creatures true causal powers, thus making creation more excellent than if they lacked such powers, and random occurrences are also secondary causes; chance is a form of divine creativity that creates novelty, variety, and freedom. One implication of this view is that God may be a risk taker – although, if God has a providential plan for possible outcomes, there is unpredictability but not risk. Johnson uses metaphors of risk-taking that, on the whole, leave the creator in a position of control (creation, then, is like jazz improvisation), but it is, to her, a risk nonetheless. Why would God take risks? There are several solutions to this question. The free will theodicy says that a creation that exhibits randomness can be truly free and autonomous:

Authentic love requires freedom, not manipulation. Such freedom is best supplied by the open contingency of evolution, and not by strings of divine direction attached to every living creature. (Miller 1999/2007: 289)

What’s fascinating to me is that none of these cherished atheist theories can account for the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, or the origin of human rationality and morality. Any theory that cannot account for these landmark stages can hardly claim to have solved the problem of origins, either of life or of the universe. The universe could not have evolved solely through natural selection, as the universe makes up the whole of nature. Someone made the universe and prescribed the laws that govern its operations. There are innumerable life forms in the universe. These life forms are the product of evolution (natural selection), and Darwin and his successors have elegantly elucidated how the selection process occurred. Of this I have no doubt. Accordingly, I am not a hardcore young earth creationist. But evolution has no explanation for the origin of the universe or its laws. So how can evolution undercut the argument from design as it applies to the universe itself and the laws that govern it?

Simple. Scientific truth is not the entire truth.

REFERENCES

Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Mariner Books
DeCruz, H. (2017). “Religion and Science.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Science. (Spring 2017 Edition). URL: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/religion-science/
D’Souza, D. (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity? Carol Stream, IL: Tyndall Press
Phillips, W., Brown, W. and Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company

 

The Things They Carried

I met an older gentleman at church last Sunday who served in Vietnam. The conversation actually started with the current opiate epidemic in America. I said unfortunately thousands of young men came back from Southeast Asia hooked on heroin. He saw many soldiers smoking weed in order to cope with the horrors of what they were being asked to do, but did not personally see any servicemen using heroin. He was aware that it was going on. He related how he was able to avoid the hell of alcoholism and drug addiction that took hold of countless young men.

I became great friends with a minister who lived across the street from my parents for several years before he and his wife, also a minister, returned to Santa Barbara, California. He related to me the horrors of serving in the Vietnam war. He was a sergeant, and said several of his men died in his arms. In the interest of his traumatic experience and his privacy, I will not give any further details here. I will simply say I was shocked to see that he made it out alive, and is living a life of love and service, in full commitment to the Lord. My uncle also served in Vietnam. I know from family conversations that it was very hard on him. I never felt comfortable asking him to divulge the details. He died several years ago after fighting non-cancerous lumps in the back of his lungs, immune deficiency, and kidney failure. He’d been on dialysis for years. My aunt was told his death was due to exposure to Agent Orange. She receives an additional widow’s benefit specific to his exposure.

My conversation with the fellow churchgoer regarding heroin use among the troops in Vietnam made me think of Air America. Air America was an American passenger and cargo airline covertly owned by the United States government as a dummy corporation for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The National Security Agency farmed out the airline to various government agencies. Air America was used by the U.S. government covertly to conduct military operations, posing as a civilian air carrier, in areas the U.S. armed forces could not go due to treaty restraints contained in the Geneva Accords. Air America’s slogan was, “Anything, Anywhere, Anytime.” The airline flew many types of cargo to countries such as the Republic of Vietnam, the Kingdom of Laos, and Cambodia. It operated from bases in those countries, and also from bases in Thailand, and as far afield as Taiwan and Japan. It also on occasion flew top secret missions into Burma and the People’s Republic of China.

Air America flew civilians, diplomats, spies, refugees, commandos, sabotage teams, doctors, war casualties, DEA officers, and even visiting VIPs like Richard Nixon. Air America moved tons of food, water and livestock into villages devastated  by Agent Orange, as well as ammunition and other materials for troop support. During the CIA’s secret war in Laos (you might remember Nixon’s secret bombings), the CIA used the Hmong population to fight local rebels. The Hmong happened to depend on poppy cultivation for hard currency. Amazingly, poppy has been used for trade in commerce for centuries. When rebels captured the Plain of Jars in 1964, the Laotian air force was unable to land their transport aircraft for opium transport. They had no light planes that could land near poppy fields to load opium. Consequently, the Hmong were facing economic ruin. Air America was the only airline available in northern Laos. Air America began flying opium from mountain villages. How can we not think some of that opium smuggled out of Laos by the CIA ended up as heroin on the streets of America?

THE REASON I BROUGHT THIS UP

I have become captivated by the history of America’s war on drugs. Sometimes, during research, we get led down paths we never expected. This is what happened when I started looking into heroin and Southeast Asia. I found a wonderfully written, haunting, vitally important piece of literature written by Tim O’Brien called The Things They Carried. I began reading, and I was there, in the jungle, with my uncle. With the gentleman from my church. With the men in the story. This was no Full Metal Jacket experience. It was not like I was watching Platoon or Hamburger Hill. Please understand me: Those movies do a great job, as does Saving Private Ryan relative to World War II. This book, however, is literature. It’s like a living, breathing journal. I could not stop reading. It’s been several months since I’ve done a book review, and this is sort of like that, but it’s more like a peek inside a piece of literature that captures the daily life of soldiering in Vietnam. The scene where I pick up the action is graphic, so please be prepared. I don’t make political statements on this blog, and I will not do that in this post. This is more about heroism, service, dedication, obedience, fear, and the raw experience of hell on earth. It’s about literature. Robert Louis Stevenson said, “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.”

I know what I want you to think, to consider, to feel, about this issue. I would love to hear your feedback. Maybe you know someone who served in Southeast Asia. Perhaps you have a family member or loved one fighting ISIS in the Middle East or the Philippines. Don’t stay silent. If this post sparks an emotion, post your reply. Literature at its best provides us with a blueprint of human civilization. It should remind us of what we’re feeling inside. It should provoke us. Literature plays the vital role of preserving knowledge and experience and passing it on to our successors. Literature might even make us ask the big questions: Why are we here? Who are we? What are our responsibilities? In the instant case, The Things They Carried causes us to think about the idea of war. Is war ever just? What does it mean to be noble? When should we help another nation? When is it proper to back away?

I thought you should know that this book is as much memoir as it is literature. O’Brien served in the 23rd Infantry Division.

From The Things They Carried.

The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition. Lieutenant Cross carried his good luck pebble. Dave Jensen carried a rabbit’s foot. Norman Bowker, otherwise a very gentle person, carried a thumb that had been presented to him as a gift by Mitchell Sanders. The thumb was dark brown, rubbery to the touch, and weighed 4 ounces at most. It had been cut from a VC corpse, a boy of fifteen or sixteen. They’d found him at the bottom of an irrigation ditch, badly burned, flies in his mouth and eyes. The boy wore black shorts and sandals. At the time of his death he had been carrying a pouch of rice, a rifle, and three magazines of ammunition. “You want my opinion,” Mitchell Sanders said, “There’s a definite moral here.” He put his hand on the dead boy’s wrist. He was quiet for a time, as if counting a pulse, then he patted the stomach, almost affectionately, and used Kiowa’s hunting hatchet to remove the thumb.

Henry Dobbins asked what the moral was.

“Moral?”

“You know.”

Moral.

Sanders wrapped the thumb in toilet paper and handed it across to Norman Bowker. There was no blood. Smiling, he kicked the boy’s head, watched the flies scatter, and said, “It’s like with that old TV show, Paladin. ‘Have gun, will travel.'”

Henry Dobbins thought about it.

“Yeah, well,” he finally said. “I don’t see no moral.”

“There it is, man.”

They carried USO stationery and pencils and pens. They carried Sterno, safety pins, trip flares, signal flares, spools of wire, razor blades, chewing tobacco, liberated joss sticks and statuettes of the smiling Buddha, candles, grease pencils, The Stars and Stripes , fingernail clippers, Psy Ops leaflets, bush hats, bolos, and much more. Twice a week, when the resupply choppers came in, they carried hot chow in green mermite cans and large canvas bags filled with iced beer and soda pop. They carried plastic water containers, each with a 2-gallon capacity. Mitchell Sanders carried a set of starched tiger fatigues for special occasions. Henry Dobbins carried Black Flag insecticide. Dave Jensen carried empty sandbags that could be filled at night for added protection. Lee Strunk carried tanning lotion. Some things they carried in common. Taking turns, they carried the big PRC-77 scrambler radio, which weighed 30 pounds with its battery. They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries, insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, plastic cards imprinted with the Code of Conduct.

They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. They carried the land itself — Vietnam, the place, the soil — a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity. They moved like mules. By daylight they took sniper fire, at night they were mortared, but it was not battle, it was just the endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing won or lost. They marched for the sake of the march. They plodded along slowly, dumbly, leaning forward against the heat, unthinking, all blood and bone, simple grunts, soldiering with their legs, toiling up the hills and down into the paddies and across the rivers and up again and down, just humping, one step and then the next and then another, but no volition, no will, because it was automatic, it was anatomy, and the war was entirely a matter of posture and carriage, the hump was everything, a kind of inertia, a kind of emptiness, a dullness of desire and intellect and conscience and hope and human sensibility. Their principles were in their feet. Their calculations were biological. They had no sense of strategy or mission. They searched the villages without knowing what to look for, not caring, kicking over jars of rice, frisking children and old men, blowing tunnels, sometimes setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village, then other villages, where it would always be the same. They carried their own lives.

The pressures were enormous. In the heat of early afternoon, they would remove their helmets and flak jackets, walking bare, which was dangerous but which helped ease the strain. They would often discard things along the route of march. Purely for comfort, they would throw away rations, blow their Claymores and grenades, no matter, because by nightfall the resupply choppers would arrive with more of the same, then a day or two later still more, fresh watermelons and crates of ammunition and sunglasses and woolen sweaters — the resources were stunning — sparklers for the Fourth of July, colored eggs for Easter — it was the great American war chest — the fruits of science, the smoke stacks, the canneries, the arsenals at Hartford, the Minnesota forests, the machine shops, the vast fields of corn and wheat— they carried it like freight trains; they carried it on their backs and shoulders — and for all the ambiguities of Vietnam, all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry.

References

O’Brien, Tim. (1990). The Things They Carried. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

What Good Is Work? Is Government Assistance Biblical?

“Christians must revive a centuries-old view of humankind as made in the image of God, the eternal Craftsman, and of work as a source of fulfillment and blessing, not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight, and so fulfill itself to the glory of God. That it should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God’s image, should make things, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing.”
                                                                                                                                Dorothy L. Sayers

Public Assistance

I know from experience that lack of work almost always leads to complacency, stagnation, negativism, and laziness. It can eventually lead to serious financial woes, including insolvency and lack of preparedness for emergency. I suffered a back injury in 2004 while helping a gentleman “flip” houses for a living. I did a lot of concrete work, tear outs of old kitchens and bathrooms (oh, the cast iron tubs and old radiators!), and hanging drywall. I spent hours at a time on extension ladders painting the eves of houses. Due to my injury, and the subsequent collapse of discs in my lumbosacral spine, it became impossible to work in any capacity for several years. I subsequently began receiving welfare benefits, then, ultimately, social security disability benefits. Recently, I have been able to hold a part-time job or two while still collecting SSDI benefits.

A sense of guilt eventually set in, and I felt it necessary to return to the “world of the working,” which to me is akin to the world of the living. I am currently attending online classes at Colorado Christian University to finish my undergraduate degree in psychology, and will graduate next year. I have applied for admission to the master’s degree program in professional counseling at Lancaster Bible College (with a concentration in addictions). Classes begin September 2018. It is thrilling to me to be able to finally complete my education in psychology which I started at the University of Scranton in 1982. It is my intention to work as an addictions counselor until the day I can no longer make it out of my house and to the office.

It’s is sad to see the extent of “welfare as a way of life” in America today. Indeed, it often spans generations. There are so many factors that feed into this dilemma; too many to get into here. I think there are two ways we can help break that cycle. One is through an incentive-based public assistance program. We have to STOP allowing people to collect benefits while doing nothing whatsoever to improve their station in life. The other is to make college much more accessible to lower income families. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, approximately 25.3 percent of the Commonwealth’s population (one in four) receive some type of vital support, ranging from cash benefits and food stamps to medical assistance and low income home heating grants.

Welfare Benefits Pie Chart

In the matter of people who are incarcerated, it is paramount that we focus on vocational, psychological, spiritual, and educational programs and not merely on warehousing of criminals. In addition, we have to do something about the stigmatizing of felons, which is disenfranchising them from the workforce upon their release. Then there’s the nationwide opiate epidemic, mainly heroin, and our tendency to criminalize what is actually a brain disease. Yes, the individual makes a choice to get high, but the power of the morphine molecule is impossible to resist by sheer willpower, and the result is relapse and recidivism.

From a Theological Perspective

I read Courage & Calling by Gordon T. Smith for a class at Colorado Christian University. It’s available on Amazon.com by clicking here, and I highly recommend it. Gordon believes God calls us first to Himself, to know Him and follow Him, but also to a specific life purpose, a particular reason for being. This second calling or “vocation” has implications not only for our work or occupation, but also includes our gifts, our uniqueness, our life community, and what we do day-to-day. When we fulfill our specific vocation, we are living out the full implications of what it means to follow Jesus.

There seems to be this huge assumption in our social context today that work is bad (or, worse yet, something to be avoided) and leisure is good. Billions of dollars are spent every year on ways that help us relax or escape from the toils of work. God made man to work, and that work was to be meaningful. I believe God made mankind workers so that they could be co-creators with Him – not in the sense that they are creators of the Earth, but that their work was a part of God’s continual re-creation. Man is to be a steward over creation. Over all there is.

In Courage & Calling, Gordon says it is important to have a biblical theology of work. The witness of the Scriptures and of Christian spiritual heritage suggest that responsible human life includes stewardship of our capacities and opportunities. A biblical theology of vocation provides us with a critical and essential lens through which to view our lives and what it means to be stewards of our lives. So, we can ask not only “What good is work?” but “What is the good work I am called to do?” Living well, surely, is a matter of taking seriously the life that has been given us – the opportunities and challenges that are unique to us, to our lives, our circumstances. Taking our lives seriously means that we respond intentionally to these circumstances and the transitions of life. This is something I had no concept of, or capacity for, while in active addiction.

I had to come to understand three things. First, our lives are of inestimable value. Second, living our lives to the full is precisely what it means to be good stewards of our lives. Third, we live fully by living in a way that is deeply congruent with who we are. In the Scriptures there is a clear proclamation of what it means to have human identity – a person created by God, with worth and significance. It is also true that the field of psychology has enabled many to appreciate the full significance and weight of this scriptural insight. No lives are dispensable. No one can say that their life or work does not matter. Each person brings beauty, creativity and importance to the table.

Let’s Go To The Scriptures

The Bible has much to say about work, which in its different forms is mentioned more than 800 times. This is more frequently than all the words used to express worship, music, praise, and singing combined. The Bible begins with the announcement, “In the beginning God created…” It doesn’t say He sat majestic in the heavens. He created. He did something. He made something. He fashioned heaven and earth. The week of creation was a week of work. From the very beginning of the scriptures we are faced with the inescapable conclusion that God himself is a worker. It’s part of his character and nature.

Proverbs beautifully illustrates the work ethic. “Take a lesson from the ants you lazy bones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor all summer, gathering food for the winter. But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up?” (Proverbs 6:6-9, NLT)

In Genesis 2:15 we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (NIV) [Italics mine.] We were created by God to be stewards of His creation through our work. Work is actually a gift from God, and by it we employ useful skills to glorify Him and to help our neighbors. The Fall did not create work, but it did make in inevitable that work would sometimes be frustrating or seemingly meaningless. I believe Adam’s work in the garden can be seen as a metaphor for all work. In the story of Creation, we see God bringing order out of chaos. A gardener does the same thing by creatively using materials at his disposal. Adam was called by God to essentially rearrange the raw materials of a particular domain to draw out its potential for the benefit of everyone.

I believe our true calling evolves over time, and tends to emerge as we discover and hone our God-given talents into skills and useful competencies to be used for the glory of God and the service of our fellow man. Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Here’s the key: When it comes to work, there is no distinction between spiritual and temporal, sacred and secular. All human work, however lowly, is capable of glorifying God. Work is, quite simply, an act of praise. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (NIV) Our work matters profoundly to God. We must be committed to the idea that we express our Christian discipleship through our employment, which is an important part of life. It is in this realm that we are called to stewardship.

Certainly, it can be argued that we will not have a meaningful life without work, but we cannot make our work the meaning of our life. As Christians, we must find our identity in Christ, not in our work. Yet, work is the major way we respond to God’s call in our life. It gives us the platform from which we can be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. Interestingly, the idea of rest must also be in the picture. God rested from his labors on the seventh day, and so should we. Please know I’m not talking about a dogmatic observance of “the sabbath.” There are literally dozens of interpretations of sabbath from a religious perspective. In Courage & Calling, Gordon tells us the pursuit of diligence can sometimes become the burden of perfectionism, which is a burden to you and to those with whom you work. It can easily lead to a person feeling overworked and exhausted. Our only hope is to keep a balance.

This is only possible with a clearly defined pattern of sabbath renewal in our lives. The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew shabbat, which is derived from the verb shavat, meaning “to cease.” By regular sabbath rest, we are freed from seeing work as a burden; it is ultimately God’s work that is entrusted to us for six days a week, but we are not responsible for, nor should we feel the need to, feel the burden of carrying this work seven days a week. The sabbath gives us perspective. I will go so far as to say we should not call it a “day off,” because this does nothing more than define our day of rest negatively in terms of the absence of work. Sabbath actually builds a sense of rhythm into the whole of creation.

Closing Remarks

Work is a lifelong endeavor. Genesis 3:19 says, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (NIV) It is important to realize that through the doctrine of work God changes culture, society, and the world. The entire world has fallen into a state of injustice and brokenness. Redemption is not just about helping individuals escape this world, or saving souls condemned to eternal spiritual death (although this is certainly the message of the Good News), it is about restoring the whole of creation. I can think of no better way to contribute to this goal than through fulfilling God’s call on our lives. We must integrate our faith and our work. It is critical that we perform our jobs with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability.

You and I were designed by God to work. Work is not a curse that we must endure, it is the way we experience purpose, meaning and joy. It’s what we were created to do: work and produce. In fact, not working takes a greater toll on us in the long run. Our attitude toward work should be without parallel. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.” God wants us to work in a vocation that compliments the way we were designed to act. Ultimately, this means discovering our skills or talents and using them rather than burying them in the ground or hiding them away. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

The Self and the “New Atheists”

Paradoxically the most important oversight of the new atheists is the most human datum  of all: themselves. The ultimate supraphysical/physical reality that we know from experience is the experience itself, namely, ourselves. Once we acknowledge the fact that there is a first-person perspective, “I,” “me,” “mine,” and the like, we encounter the greatest and yet the most exhilarating mystery of all. I exist. To sort-of “reverse think” Descartes, it’s as if we’re saying, “I am, therefore I think, perceive, intend, mean, interact.” But who is “I?” “Where” is it? How did it come to be? Your self is obviously not just something physical (anatomical), just as it is not merely something supraphysical (or spiritual, if you prefer). It is an embodied self, an ensouled body; “you” are not located in a particular brain cell or in some part of your body. The cells in your body keep changing and yet “you” remain the same. If you study your neurons, you will find that none of them have the property of being an “I.” Of course your body is integral to who you are, but it is a “body” because it is constituted as such by the self. To be human is to be embodied and ensouled.

In a famous passage in his A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume declares, “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself…I can never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception [itself].” Here Hume denies the existence of a self simply by arguing that he (meaning “I”) can’t find “myself.” But what is it that unifies his various experiences, that enables him to be aware of the external world, and that remains the same throughout? Who’s asking these questions? He assumes that “myself” is an observable state, much like his thoughts and feelings. But the self is not something that can be thus observed. It is a constant fact of experience and, in fact, the ground of all experience.

Indeed, of all the truths available to us, the self is at the same time the most obvious and unassailable and the most lethal for all forms of physicalism. To begin with, it must be said that denial of the self cannot even be claimed without contradiction. To the question, “How do I know I exist?” a professor famously replied, “And who’s asking?” The self is what we are and not what we have. It is the “I” from which arises our first-person perspective. We cannot analyze the self, because it is not a mental state that can be observed or described.

The most fundamental reality of which we are all aware, then, is the human self, and an understanding of the self inevitably sheds insights on all the origin questions and makes sense of reality as a whole. We realize that the self cannot be described, let alone explained, in terms of physics or chemistry: science does not discover the self; the self discovers science. We realize that no account of the history of the universe is coherent if it cannot account for the existence of the self. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and naturalists like Carl Sagan, want to explain our perceptions solely in terms of sensory perception and our neurochemical reactions to them. They claim it’s all binary, just like computer processing: zeros and ones.

Even if that were remotely so, how did life, consciousness, thought and the self come to be? The history of the world shows the sudden emergence of these phenomena – life appeared soon after the cooling of planet earth, consciousness mysteriously manifested itself in the Cambrian explosion, language emerged in the “symbolic species” without any evolutionary forerunner. The phenomena in question range from code and symbol-processing systems and goal-seeking, attention-manifesting agents at one end to subjective awareness, conceptual thought, socialization and the human self at the other. The only coherent way to describe these phenomena is to say that they are different dimensions of being that are supraphysical in one way or another. They are totally integrated with the physical and yet radically “new.” We are not talking here of ghosts in the machine, but of agents of different kinds, some that are conscious, others that are both conscious and thinking.

Carl Sagan always adhered strictly to a materialistic perspective when discussing the emergence of Mind, which he defined as “intelligence that is inseparable from the brain.” I read his book The Dragons of Eden during my first semester at Penn State University in 1980. Sagan discussed the search for a quantitative means of measuring intelligence. His chief tenet was that brain-to-body-mass-ratio is an extremely good indicator for intelligence, with humans holding the highest ratio, and dolphins the second-highest. Sagan attempted to explain the evolution of the human brain with the Triune brain model first developed by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean. According to MacLean, the human brain is structured in three parts: the reptilian complex, the limbic system, and the neocortex. He reduced human experience to localization of basic brain function and electrochemical processes.

human-brain-in-parts

The reptilian complex (R complex) is the situs of species-specific (reptiles, birds) instinctual behaviors involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays. The limbic system (which includes the hypothalamus and the hippocampus) is a set of interconnected brain structures responsible for feeding, reproductive behavior, and parenting. The Neocortex is exclusively found in higher-functioning mammals, specifically humans, and is responsible for development of language, abstract thinking, planning, and perception. This is precisely the concept relied on by proponents of evolution to explain how the human mind has developed over hundreds of thousands of years. It’s noteworthy that the standard-bearers of evolution cannot properly explain how the human mind is “aware” of itself.

Man has created computers capable of processing information and providing data measured in speeds so fast it is impossible to comprehend. The latest is a teraflop, which is a unit of computing speed equal to one million million  (10 to the twelfth power) floating-point operations per second. It is used to quantify the mathematical ability of a computer’s processing unit. Saying something has “6 TFLOPS” means it is capable of handling 6 trillion floating-point calculations every second. To put this into perspective, a traditional calculator may need only 10 FLOPS for all its calculations. So when we start talking about megaflops (a million floating-point calculations), gigaflops (a billion) and teraflops (a trillion), you can see what sort of power we’re talking about.

But no matter how fast a computer can “think,” it is completely incapable of knowing it’s a computer, or realizing that it is computing. Humans, on the other hand, are aware of awareness, are conscious of the fact that they are in the midst of figuring out a problem, and can even grasp the impact their decision will have on their circumstances, their immediate environment, the rights or circumstances of others around them and, ultimately, the long-range impact on human history. Whether it will ever be possible to teach a computer to be “aware” of such ramifications will likely remain a mystery for millenia to come.

References

Flew, Antony. (2007). There is a God. New York, NY: Harper Collins
Sagan, Carl. (1977). The Dragons of Eden. New York, NY: Random House

The Goal, Attitudes and Dangers of Counseling

Counseling is neither easy nor simple. But the problems connected with it can be reduced to a minimum by carefully adhering to biblical directives.  Those who fail to do so harm themselves and reduce the possibility of being effective. Because it involves the welfare of others, how counseling is done is vital. Some, becoming aware of the dangers, withdraw altogether and disobey the command to restore one another. God will not allow that; He has called me to this ministry as a believer. Since I may not back out of the responsibility to counsel, I must learn how to set proper goals and objectives, how to develop appropriate attitudes, and how to avoid the many pitfalls inherent in counseling .

The ultimate goal behind all Christian activity, including counseling, is to glorify God. (Col. 3:23) Christians are never to be humanistic. In each endeavor, there is an overall objective that one seeks to reach in order to glorify God. What,then, is the overall objective of lay counseling? The Apostle Paul calls us to restore erring brothers and sisters to their place of usefulness to Christ in His church. (Gal. 6:1) Restoration to usefulness, therefor, is the objective of Christian counseling. Whenever you counsel another you need to ask, “How has his usefulness been diminished by his problem.” And you must not rest until usefulness is restored.

The goal of restoration ought to guide the whole of one’s attitudes and activities. The counselor counsels not to punish, or to expose the failures of another. He counsels to restore the person to usefulness. Moreover, with this goal constantly in mind, the counselor will  do what he is doing not only to help the counselee (as important as that is),  but also to accomplish other goals. It is perfectly correct to care for the counselee and to seek his well-being; apart from such caring in which the counselor may even “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice,” neither the ultimate goal (God’s glory) nor the overall objective (restoration) are possible. However, Christian counselors, unlike others, are not merely oriented toward the counselee; they want to honor Christ and, like Him, they also care about His body, the church. The welfare of the whole body is adversely affected by the failure of any part. Counseling, therefore, is not only an interaction between a counselor and one or more persons in a counseling room; it also interacts in any number of ways with the whole flock and all of its activities.

The one essential attitude, beyond caring for the counselee’s well-being, is having a spirit of meekness. This is an attitude of being humble and gentle. Such a counselor is not weak. Someone who approaches you in a spirit (attitude) of meekness can have a much greater impact than one who judges, or bullies, or makes demands. Whatever force he possesses is in his character and personality. In practice, he is the opposite of the person who would say to you, “Well, I see that you’ve been at it again,” or, “Well, I told you so.” Rather, you are more likely to hear him say something like, “I’m here to help you because you need it and because Christ sent me. I am not any better than you are.” Indeed, his attitude is expressed most fully when he says, “I’m helping you today, but who knows whether I may need your help next week?”

In Galatians 6, Paul wisely points to a phenomenon in counseling that is well known to us in other areas of life. A drowning man may also drown his rescuer along with himself unless the one doing the life-saving knows about this possibility and has learned the proper precautions to avert it. Many counselors, for example, have become involved sexually with clients whose sexual problems were the object of counseling. This phenomenon may explain Jude’s concern about showing mercy to others “with caution, hating even the clothing spotted from the flesh.” (v.23) One must despise and avoid the sin that has debilitated a counselee as he would the pus running from an open wound caused by an infectious disease. With all he does in counseling, he must take the utmost care to maintain a righteous condition so that he will not become a victim of the sinful condition of the counselee. A wise counselor will do whatever is biblically legitimate to preclude self-infection.

All counseling aims at change. Without this element, a person may be attempting to do something, but whatever that is, it isn’t counseling. In the word restore, a term that is used often in Christian counseling, the need for change is clearly implied. Something (or someone) that has lost its usefulness is changed (or restored) into something (or someone) that is now, as a result, useful for the purpose for which it was made. The counselor must determine what is it that must be changed? What will bring about that change? The goal of the counseling sessions is to find answers to these questions. There are a lot of sayings that have been written over the years about change, or lack thereof, but my favorite is Nothing changes if nothing changes.

In order to counsel effectively, the lay counselor must spend much time studying the Scriptures carefully so that he may minister the Word with accuracy and efficacy. The proper study of counseling, as of man himself, is the Bible.

Baa Baa Black Sheep

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A black sheep stands out from the flock. In the English language, black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group. It seems nearly every family in America has one. The troubled child. A lightning rod of sorts. The center of attention. Always in the hot seat. The squeaky wheel in need of grease. Chances are, if you are the black sheep of the family, then you’ll know about it. Unfortunately for you, you were born as the runt of the litter and your family isn’t exactly pleased with your existence. At the very worst, you’re the stereotypical black sheep – an alcoholic, drug addict, gambler, delinquent, and a constant disappointment to your family.

But not every black sheep is as dramatic as that, and it may just take something little for you to set off your family’s wrath. You may be an atheist in a family of Christians, unemployed, a party animal, have trouble in school. Maybe you got your high school sweetheart pregnant the summer you both graduated. All of these attributes can make you the black sheep, and make your parents wonder where they went wrong. However, being the black sheep of the family doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means that you’re different. You see things differently, have you own opinions, and you’re probably the only one on your side, so it feels like you’re fighting a losing battle.

Perhaps some of this sounds familiar:

  • Your parents were more strict with you than they were with your other siblings.
  • Your mistakes were blown out of proportion and/or punished disproportionately.
  • You always carried the feeling that you “didn’t fit in” with your family, and you didn’t develop strong connections with them.
  • You were mocked, ridiculed and/or made fun of on a constant basis.
  • Your family seemed intent on making you feel “deficient” and as though you were always fundamentally lacking.
  • You developed mental or emotional disorders, and/or substance abuse problems as a result of being scapegoated and overburdened.
  • Your family didn’t show any interest in who you really were as a person.
  • You were criticized, completely ignored, or or emotionally manipulated if you rebelled in any way.

The role we played as children and young adults in our families contributes immensely to our present sense of self-worth, feelings of social approval, and our psychological and emotional well-being at large. If you’re like me, you may have got stuck in a role that undermined your sense of being a fundamentally “good” and “acceptable” person deep down, something that still affects me to this very day.  You may find yourself identified as the trouble child or the black sheep of your family, and this may cause you a lot of shame and depression in your life. Families often focus on the behavior of one child who seems to struggle with behaving properly. Dysfunctional families tend to avoid their own internal pain, disappointments and struggles by pointing the finger at another family member as the cause for all the problems they experience.

I took a class on marriage and family last semester at Colorado Christian University. The core textbook for the class, The Family: A Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home (Balswick & Balswick, 2014), indicates that it’s critical for children to develop into their own unique selves within the context of family unity. Family scientists and counselors refer to this as differentiation – the process of maintaining a separate identity while simultaneously remaining connected in relationship, belonging, and unity. Another way to describe this process is interdependency.

Balswick & Balswick believe that family relationships involve four sequential (non-linear) states: covenant, grace, empowerment, and intimacy. Covenant has to do with commitment to family members, and hinges on unconditional love. Grace involves forgiving other family members and being unforgiven by them. Certainly, from a human perspective, the unconditional love of God makes no sense until we look at it through the eyes of grace. Grace is truly a relational word, and means unmerited favor. John Rogerson (1996) takes the understanding of grace as a natural extension of convenant love and applies it to family life. He believes the family unit to be “…structures of grace…social arrangements designed to mitigate hardship and misfortune, and grounded in God’s mercy.”

Family relationships, as designed by God, are meant to be lived out in an atmosphere of grace, not “law.” Family life based on contract leads to an atmosphere of law, and is a discredit to Christianity. Christ came in human form to reconcile the world to God. This act of divine love and forgiveness is the basis for human love and forgiveness. We can forgive others as we have been forgiven. It is the love of God within that makes this possible. Of course, humans are limited and fallen. We can never fulfill the law. Thankfully, we are free from the law because of Christ’s perfection and righteousness, which leads to our salvation. When it comes to family relationships, none of us can expect to measure up. In a family based on law, the members demand perfection of one another.

Shame is often born out of a fear of unworthiness or rejection. When shame is present, family members put on masks and begin to play deceptive roles before one another. Children who experience the wrath of a parent on a nearly daily basis try to escape that wrath by employing various avoidance behaviors, such as lying, hiding, and deception. However, when family members experience convenant love, grace, and empowerment, they will be able to communicate confidently and express themselves freely without fear. Typically, family members should want what is best for one another. There must first be an atmosphere of unconditional covenant in the family, as well as open communication and honest sharing without the threat of rejection.

Inasmuch as all family members are imperfect, each with their own individual temperaments and experiences, they progress at different rates in the realization of God’s ideals of unconditional love, grace, empowerment, and intimacy. That is to say, all family members fall on a continuum between hurting and healing behaviors. When families choose hurting behaviors and move away from God’s way, the entire family will be negatively effected. Among the hurting behaviors in a family environment are conditional love, self-centeredness, perfectionism, fault finding, efforts to control or punish others, unreliability, denial of feelings, and lack of communication. With such behaviors, the focus is on self rather than on the best interests of the other family members. When children are raised in this type of family, they are limited in their ability to love others unconditionally.

Hurting families tend to withhold grace, often demanding unreasonable perfection, and blaming those members who don’t measure up. Individuals in these families fear they will make a mistake and be rejected because of failure to meet the standards. So they try harder to be perfect. What they need is acceptance for who they are, and forgiveness when they fail. Members of hurting families are typically not able to get in touch with their feelings. Their fear of rejection keeps them in denial of their emotions. What they need most is a safe atmosphere in which they can express their feelings, thoughts, wants, and desires, and be heard and understood by the other family members. Open communication helps each person share more honestly rather than hide feelings and thoughts.

A child who was loved conditionally (with strings attached) needs to experience unconditional love in order to feel lovable. This would go a long way to break the perpetual cycle found in hurting families. Such a breakthrough is predicated upon receiving God’s unconditional love. Being cherished by God no matter what you’ve done gives you a sense of self-worth and a new self-perception. (“I am lovable!”) Drawing on the Holy Spirit and maturing faith, the individual now has reason to follow God’s example and adopt healing behaviors. Living in covenant love is a dynamic process. God has designed family relationships to grow from hurting to healing behavior. As families accomplish this, it helps family members to eventually reach out to people beyond the boundaries of the family.

Conclusion

We know what the black sheep of the family looks like. He’s the “bad” guy who gets in trouble all the time at school, and later with the law and society in general. The “wild child” with poor impulse control who begins abusing drugs and alcohol. Someone who tends to embarrass the family by making all of the family secrets apparent to the world. Obviously, the family can’t be that great if little Stevie ended up drinking and drugging and spending three years in state prison, right? No matter what the family does to undo that image, there’s always Stevie to contend with. And how did he grow up so “bad” if he came from such an upstanding family?

Black sheep are basically scapegoats raised by parents who have a particular issue with morality. Either they are rigidly moralistic and can’t abide the slightest infringement of the rules, or they are unable to own their own mistakes and shortcomings. They tend to project these issues onto one of their children, seeing that child as wrong, “bad,” immoral, or evil. Often, the child will take on the bad, swallow it deep down into the unconscious, and then work really hard to be “good.” However, having not been empowered by his parents, such a child is typically incapable of self-control.

In this type of situation, parents unwittingly react to the challenge of controlling the bad child by talking to the child. Unfortunately, this makes him feel as if it is hopeless to even consider changing. Perhaps the parents are sincerely worried about what’s going on, but they don’t recognize the unconscious projections that are occurring in the home. They might even show him affection during this talk. They look him right in the eye with a sincere worry about what might happen to him if he doesn’t stop. The child, again taking on the emotional content of the conversation as if it belongs solely to him (as the empathic scapegoat child generally does) assumes that not only is he bad for upsetting his parents, he must be really hopeless if his parents are worried.

We can’t change the past. Our childhood experiences have shaped us into the men and women we are today. Both the good and the bad parts. What we can do, however, is change the way we view our past. It is important that we make sense of our life story. We need to think about experiences in our past, and how these experiences have shaped the actions we take today and in the future. By linking past experiences to our present, we’ll be able to better understand the motives behind our actions, and move forward in such a way that that our past, while remaining an integral part of ourselves, doesn’t define us for the rest of our lives.

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Anxiety, Depression, and the American Adolsecent

The cover story for Time magazine, November 7, 2016, by Susanna Schrobsdorff, tells of American teens who are anxious, depressed and overwhelmed. Experts are struggling over how to help them. Schrobsdorff’s article is strikingly titled “The Kids Are Not All Right.” The article begins with the story of Faith-Ann Bishop, who was in eighth grade the first time she cut herself. She took a piece of metal from a pen and sliced into the soft skin near her ribs. There was blood and a sense of deep relief. “It makes the world very quiet for a few seconds,” she said. “For a while, I didn’t want to stop, because it was my only coping mechanism. I hadn’t learned any other way.”

Faith-Ann indicated that pain from the superficial wound was a momentary escape from the anxiety she was fighting constantly, about grades, about her future, about relationships, about everything. For Faith-Ann, cutting was a secret, compulsive manifestation of the depression and anxiety that she and millions of teenagers in the U.S. are struggling with. Some experts say self-harm among adolescents is on the rise. Self-Harm Increasing Among Youth.

As Schrobsdorff indicates in her article, adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilient and more overwhelmed than their parents were when they were growing up. Sometimes they are called spoiled or cuddled or “helicoptered.” But a closer look paints a far more heartbreaking portrait of why young people are suffering. According to the Time article, anxiety and depression in high school kids have been on the rise since 2012 after several years of stability. This is a problem that cuts across all demographics – suburban, urban and rural; those who are college-bound and those who aren’t.

It is very alarming to learn from Schrobsdorff’s article that in 2015 about 3 million teens aged 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.) More than 2 million reported experiencing depression that impaired their daily function. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 30% of girls and 20% of boys – totaling 6.3 million teens – have had an anxiety disorder. Even more alarming, Schrobsdorff reports that only about 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment.

These adolescents are, according to Schrobsdorff, “…the post-9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.” Schrobsdorff also reminds us that “…every fight or slight is documented online for hours or days after the incident.” Faith-Ann Bishop told Schrobsdorff, “We’re the first generation that cannot escape our problems at all. We’re all like little volcanoes. We’re getting this constant pressure, from our phones, from our relationships, from the way things are today.”

Other Concerns Not Discussed in the Time Article

From a distance, depression can seem like no big deal. After all, who doesn’t feel a little down in the dumps now and then? But depression in America is a big deal, and, according to the CDC, it is projected to become an even bigger and more serious issue in the next four years. CDC Mental Health Report. Mental illness is defined as “all diagnosable mental disorders” or “health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.” Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (43.8 million, or 18.5%) experiences mental illness in a given year. Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13 to 18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8 to 15, the estimate is 13%.3. Mental Health By the Numbers, National Alliance of Mental Health.

Although adolescent depression may not differ significantly from adult depression, the adolescent brain is different, and it seems possible that these differences may affect teenagers and their responses to depression. Teenage propensity for risk-taking and poor decision making can turn untreated depression into a dangerous game. A study released by researchers at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy suggests that depressed teenagers are more likely to self-medicate with marijuana and illicit drugs. Depressed teenagers are almost twice as likely as their non-depressed peers to become psychologically dependant on marijuana.

The White House study also suggested that use of drugs like marijuana can make depression worse. There was a higher percentage of youth with a major depressive episode in 2014 than in each year from 2004 and 2012 – similar to the 2013 estimate. Youth who experienced a major depressive episode in the past year were more likely than other youth to have used illicit drugs.

When adolescents are depressed, they have a tough time believing that their outlook can improve. But professional treatment can have a dramatic impact on their lives. It can put them back on track and bring them hope for the future.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK.

“Be the Change That You Wish to See in the World.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

There are a great number of professions whose novices hold the same sentiment: I want to make a difference. I want to change the world. This is true of junior senators, rookie police officers, young law school graduates, teachers, mental health counselors, pastors, nurses, and many others. Reporters are motivated to make a positive impact on society. They live to be first with the basic facts of a newsworthy development. I read a comment from a reporter who said, “When you can look at all the dots everyone can look at, and be the first to connect them in a meaningful and convincing way, that’s something.” That’s exactly what Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did when they cracked the Watergate case wide open in June of 1972.

Writers and poets also hope to make a lasting impression on the world. Dylan Thomas said, “Some people react physically to the magic of poetry, to  the moments, that is, of authentic revelation, of the communication, the sharing, at its highest level. A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.” The questions raised by Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mocking Bird were part of a conversation that echoed around the country. It’s a conversation that is still going on in America in 2016. The book endures because people can relate to it in so many different ways. It’s about race. It’s about prejudice. It’s about childhood. It’s about parenting. It’s about love. It’s about loneliness. Atticus Finch understood the importance of being the change that you wish to see in others.

Although Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me is a worthy sentiment, what I am speaking about has more to do with what God is producing in me than what I am producing on my own. When we get outside of our production mindset, we’re able to look at what it means to “bear fruit” with fresh eyes. This phrase does not refer to our own good deeds, but rather speaks about the fruit of the Spirit that God cultivates within us. To “bear fruit” means for a thing to reproduce that which resembles its very essence. More importantly, the thing can only produce more of the thing itself. To put it another way, we cannot effect positive change in the world from a position of darkness or weakness or selfishness. Our desire to change society must be rooted in a wish to improve life for everyone, not to change the rules or circumstances to serve our own interests.

Our good works are not the purpose of our calling. Our calling is not defined by the earthly outcomes of our efforts. No, our calling is to bear fruit from above: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) It is primarily in this way that we are made useful in the work of justice. The Bible never speaks of our role in the pursuit of justice and restoration outside of our relationship to and with God, because there is no such thing as justice outside of God. This is why it can be so exhausting and infuriating for us, and potentially destructive for those we think we’re helping, to pursue justice separate from God.

It is right to want to make a difference. To improve things. Those of us who have found a solution to self-centeredness then find it possible to grow more Christ-like. Of course, this needs to happen before we can find our calling or purpose. It truly does feel good to stop living a life of thievery, manipulation, deception and bullying. It is freeing to stop judging others and using others, and start looking toward Christ for our identity. Some will tell you that turning your will and your life over to God will make you a non-entity. Some kind of automaton. Let me assure you that is a lie from the devil. It is liberating to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution.

Calling is not a code to crack. God is not holding out on us. We won’t find fulfillment in achievement. We’ll find peace when we understand our purpose is not to seek justice, but to become the type of people who want to seek justice. You don’t need to graduate, start that non-profit, get that job offer, or wait for the kids to leave the house in order to start making a difference. You can be the change you wish to see in others. So yeah, let it begin with you.

 

Face

I thought I could hide my face; that
outward declaration of what I am thinking,
or who I truly am inside. I stand at the bathroom mirror,
not thrilled to catch my eye.
See those two vertical lines between my eyes?
This is an indicator of just how hard I am on myself.
I have a difficult time believing I’ve done any good
at any time since the moment I first drew breath.
Then I notice a faint third line right down the middle of my nose.
This is the supposed marker of a perfectionist.
As I stare at my face, I notice two deep lines below my nose and
on either side of my mouth; a telling giveaway of prolonged sadness,
a companion of mine for longer than I can remember;
one of interminable duration.
My doctor said horrible, puffy eyes could be evidence of weak kidneys.
Most inspiring to me, however, are the nasolabial folds that extend
from the sides of my nose down to the corners of my mouth;
these are an indication that I am on the right path,
living an authentic life. They prove I’m heading in the right direction,
fulfilling my purpose in the world, moving ever closer to being the
man God chose me to be the moment I was born.

©2016 Steven Barto

Not As Likely As Dad

I don’t always post this type of comment on my blog, but for some reason it felt very fitting. If you’ve been around my blog for a while, especially if you’ve read my ABOUT PAGE, you’ll understand where these thoughts and emotions are coming from. I opened up Facebook earlier, and was faced with the Daily Question: What’s On Your Mind? Well here’s what’s on my mind today.

What’s on my mind? The election made me think that I initially registered as a Democrat. I did this mainly to get my dad’s goat! I figured there was no way I was going to be like him. For those of you who have known me over the years, this is a true statement. I have never been like him. I have never been as responsible as him. As judicious as him. As hard working as him. As fair-minded as him. As honest as him. As respectful of others as him. As organized as him. As principled as him. As good at picking friends as him. As good at picking a wife as him. As good at picking the right fight as him. As good at learning to live without as him. As good at protecting your reputation as he was. As careful with my money as he was. As likely to pay a bill on time as he was. As good at balancing a checkbook as he was. As likely to establish and stick to a monthly budget as he was. As good at preparing for “terrible times to come” as he was. (We still have the Faraday Cage!) As likely as he was to always look a person in the eye when speaking to them. As likely to save things that are important to you. (Poor Yoda!) As quick to realize that sometimes we need “a little push,” and we should not take the nudging of others personally when we get that push. When a “son” in his mid 50s, the oldest of four siblings, realizes how unlike his father he has become, and then realizes he might not have a lot of time left in his life to work on these numerous failings or, if you prefer, character defects, that son begins to panic. But, when that “son” finally aligns his will with God’s will, and begins to acquire not only some of his father’s character traits, but begins to acquire some of the traits outlined in 1 Corinthians 13 (The Love Chapter), that “son” begins to focus on what he can become and what he is becoming rather than what he could have been. It all starts with having a fine example of a father to model yourself after in the first place. Thank you dad.