Wednesday, August 31, 2011

You Tell Me!

I hate public speaking and would never enjoy giving lectures or sermons, partly because I'm a raging introvert but mostly because I never want to answer questions people aren't asking.  That's why I prefer counseling - I have the opportunity to sit with an individual, couple, or family and speak to their real issues and make sure by the end that they have what they need.  So I want this blog to be the same, an opportunity for people to get answers to questions relevant to them.  My approach up until now has been just to comb through old files and approach common issues and concerns that come up often and I'll continue to do this, but also wanted to add this option.  You can leave a comment below, publicly or anonymously, or you can email me at and give your request for a blog topic.  Obviously this isn't meant as free or even an effective replacement for counseling but rather an opportunity for topics to be brought up that I may not have thought to address.

So what are your ideas for me to address?  One client said she would bring in all of her negative self-views relating to her ADHD for me to give the positive flip side of for a blog entry.  I want to do more marriage stuff regarding communication and conflict resolution stuff, more parenting tips, dealing with specific conditions like ADHD or Depression or Anxiety, and more Christian theology and living.  It always shocks me which blog posts get the biggest hits, this of course was right after I got over the shock that tons of people are actually regularly reading the blog at all.  Biggest topics - Christian theology and living - so maybe more of that?  How can an all powerful and all loving God allow for pain and suffering in the world?  Is the goal of the Christian life eliminating sin?  How does God's sovereignty work?  What the heck is supralapserianism?  Maybe I'm not the best to answer all of that but I am interested to hear what your questions, concerns, and ideas are for future blog entries!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just Another Kid To Take Care Of

Often in marriages where one person has ADHD and the other has a "normal" brain a dynamic gets created that looks a whole lot like a critical parent with a rebellious teenager.  The husband or wife with ADHD gets lumped in with any other kids as a liability, a nuisance, or at the very least incapable of responsibility which might be fine but the expectation is usually that they grow up and start thinking differently at some point when they really never will -  The other problem I will discuss today is when we, with ADHD, demand to be respected and assert we are normal and really just aren't. I believe the key to success with ADHD is to really look hard and honest at ourselves and see what really is there, rather than what we wish was there, or what we have been lectured by parents, teachers, and spouses to believe should be there.  When we realize we are great at some things and inept at others we spend less time making grandiose promises to ourselves and our spouses about how we will never make that mistake again and just learn to compensate so we don't have to.

Two things people with ADHD have in common; we are all convinced we are awesome at multitasking, and we really suck at multitasking.  We confuse constantly being distracted and flitting from one task to another out of boredom as effective multitasking when our brains are wired to obsessively focus in on one thing of passion at a time with a hyperfocus.  Being fully present wherever we are is very difficult for us, even if we aren't the hyperactive kind that is physically on the move our brain always is.  So can we really watch TV while chatting with our wife - nope we will do one or the other effectively but not both so choose one.  Can we really check out Facebook real quick while we play with the kids, nope we can do one or the other with no concept of time elapsed either way.  This helps if we can accept it because we can stop getting defensive when our spouse asks us to put away the smartphone at the dinner table because we will become engrossed with it and ignore everyone else not because we are crappy parents, but that is just how our brains work.  We can stop getting defensive when our spouse reminds us to take the next exit; even if we remembered it this time our spouse remembers the forty times we drove right past it because we were caught up in a conversation.  You have to drop your shame and stop interpreting your spouse's suggestions as critical attacks reminiscent of a bad third grade teacher - but rather reminders that your brain don't work like that.  Just shut up and do it and you'll be glad later that you were actually able to connect with your spouse, be there for your child, or not have to figure out how to make a U-turn on 485, all for the cost of a little bit of defensive pride.

The second way we can improve ourselves to better accommodate marriage is to be a little less non-compliant and non-conformist.  Part of it is just part and parcel with the deficit as we have higher impulsivity which results in creativity, so we dress like Lady Gaga and expect everyone else to think outside of the box like us.  Creative is fine, but sometimes our impulsivity can make us embarrassing to our spouses by saying or doing inappropriate things at inappropriate times as we kind of ignore social graces.  The part we can work on is the "I'm not going to be told what to do" rugged independence that usually comes from insecurity for having never lived up to your potential as a kid.  Whether authority figures busted on you for being spacey, forgetful, or inattentive, other kids picked on you for being different, or you were just always haunted by a feeling that hard as you try you just can't quite accomplish what you feel you are capable of, we don't like being told we are wrong.  So accepting that our brains are wired to help us do amazing, wonderful things, but are also pretty inept at other things means we can just be unique individuals getting help with our weak spots rather than the stupid kid who will never do right or the sour grapes kid that says, "That's fine, I'm better than them anyways..."  Get an organized secretary, hire someone to do your taxes or housekeeping, and let your "normal" brained spouse help you in your other weak areas - like being fully present, eliminating distractions, establishing work boundaries to get a certain amount done and come home, remembering events and tasks, and following through on promises.  Once again, just shut up and do it - you'll find when you comply without resentment you end up accomplishing more, enjoying more, and disappointing yourself and others less.  I'd say the same for teens or kids with ADHD but they probably aren't reading my blog.

Previous post on ADHD here -

Monday, August 29, 2011

Being Married to Rainman

Well, since I managed to lose my compiled master list of over fifty blog post ideas I will write today once again about living with ADHD, but as requested from a marriage perspective.  I will probably have to break this up into two posts and even then won't be able to fully address the impact the deficit has on marriage.  I believe it has the ability to greatly enhance or destroy marriages depending on whether both partners can fully embrace the enhancements ADHD provides while understanding and compensating for the deficits.  First post will mainly focus on the "normal" spouse as it can be very irritating living with someone like Rainman who is phenomenal at counting cards but doesn't seem able to dress themselves in the morning.

First off we are absolute slaves to the present, who rarely focus on anything from the past or anything in the future.  We have low frustration tolerances so it is easy to get defensive really quick in the moment but the good part is it is really hard for us to hold grudges.  Living in the present means we are likely to frustrate our spouses with our lack of preparation for the future, but also make it easier for them when we are able to drop offenses from the past.  As with most things within marriage we can focus on the negative or positive, and here is the first opportunity.  The ADHD wife could be berated by her husband for not thinking through the steps required to plan a birthday party or for not having sent the invitations out in time, or she could be celebrated for spending an entire afternoon completely absorbed with her children without a care in the world for how they kept her up too late the night before or all the things still to be done on the to do list.  The ability to be completely absorbed in the present means the ADHD husband can be absorbed in getting three stars on every level of Angry Birds while the kids he is supposed to be watching light themselves on fire, or he can stare into his wife's eyes on a date night completely in the moment when a normal husband would be worrying about his performance review the next day at work.  Living in the present can be great or frustrating, depending on what the hyperfocus is narrowed in on.

Hyperfocus is the blessing/curse where we are able to narrow in on one thing like a laser, completely oblivious to the rest of the world.  This can make us have an encyclopedic knowledge of every sports stat ever created, be uncanny at recalling crucial information regarding our jobs, hobbies, or passions, and allow us to work 12 hours straight on a creative project without eating or hardly blinking.  But it can also mean we can step right over a mound of laundry on the way out the door, wait until the last possible second to get the kids ready for school, or get caught up at work and not realize it until we are already two hours late.  Brain scans show a little dead spot in our brain that in a normal person would stay awake and regulate attention and impulsivity, but is gray and dead in us until something that ignites our passion lights it up from time to time.  It would be nice if we could quickly and easily program our brains or our spouse's brain to hyperfocus just on things of great worth and value but that isn't the case - it is determined by things mostly unknown to us currently but involving the release of pleasurable and painful chemicals within the brain.  Shaming your spouse about failures, criticizing them for forgetting things, and showing them contempt for not following through like a normal person would are unlikely to produce pleasurable chemicals and train their brain to see you as a worthy target of their hyperfocus.  It's about their focus, not your value.

If you look at your spouse with ADHD as in control of their brain and just lazy, selfish, or uncaring then you see them as a horrible person, if you see them as in control of their brains and not horrible then you have to see yourself as just not that important to them, but if you see them as not really in control of their brains you can feel empathy.  Most common complaint I hear about ADHD spouses is their lack of follow through and how that breaks their spouse's trust and I often wonder why this really has never been a huge complaint of my wife about me.  Is it because I remember important things and follow through, heavens no!  I believe my wife realized early on into marriage the key to putting up with someone like me - realistic expectations and tons of grace.  Two recent examples show off the awesomeness of my wife:  First is the other day she had a list of four items that needed to be done around the house while she was at work and as she began spouting them off I cut her off mid-sentence and said "Do you mind writing those things down and leaving them on the counter for me somewhere I will be forced to see them?"  She could have responded with one of many replies I have heard in counseling ranging from "I want a man who is grown up and responsible enough to know these things need to be done, I don't need lists to get things done around here" to "My dad never needed lists and he went to work every day at the 8 am on the dot at the salt mines, because he actually cared about his family" to "You know what?  Forget it, I'll just do it myself since you can't be bothered with adult responsibilities, I have three children including you!"  Instead she said, "Sure, here it is," because she recognizes that I truly love her and want to get it all done but for either of us to trust my verbal memory would be silly.  The second was the other week when she was getting ready to head to work and handed me my new iPhone that came in the mail, still in it's box and said, "I know you are very excited about this and you could easily spend all day hyperfocused on it, but this is your day with the kids so I don't want you missing out on time with them.  Do you mind just focusing on them and leaving this til tonight when you can play with it after they are in bed?"  That is a woman who knows me, knows ADHD, doesn't vilify either one, and has the ability to tell me what I need to hear when I need to hear it.

So if this is the first half of how to put up with us then tomorrow will be how to succeed in marriage when you have ADHD.  The key to both - recognize that this isn't laziness, selfishness, or a lack of value given to the "normal" spouse, but rather a hyperfocus and impulsivity that will never ever change.  Each partner must use their strengths most effectively while compensating for weaknesses rather than making grand promises and getting upset when they are not followed through on.  Tomorrow's key for people with ADHD?  Learning to be humble and accept influence rather than getting defensive, allow the person with the fully functional brain to use it by helping us.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Last Man Standing!

Parenting is not easy, regardless of who you are.  Marriage is tough, but parenting is like trying to hit a moving target - the goals keep shifting, what worked before just makes things worse now, and when we start to feel comfortable we realize we have entered a whole new game.  This is especially true of the shift from raising a child to raising a teenager, a shift that happens at different ages for different kids and rarely are they kind enough to send you a memo giving you a heads up.  "Dear Mom and Dad, thanks for the great job so far raising me, you have kept me alive in spite of regular decisions on my part that have been working against that.  Just thought I would let you know that all those tools and techniques you have developed so far are now worthless, you'll have to develop a brand new approach and you may or may not be good at it."

What is the shift that needs to happen in order to effectively parent a teen - move from overpowering to empowering.  What starts off as a reasonable enough way of establishing authority becomes less and less practical - whoever is the biggest, loudest, smartest, strongest person in the house gets to make the rules and tell everyone else what to do.  Often we don't even think through the situation we are creating, we just follow suit from our parents who just told us what to do - or else!  It would take a whole other blog just to cover why parents no longer have inherent authority like they used to but the who system of our society is different than it once was.  So when we have a two year old who is running into traffic we just yank them up by the collar and tell them to do what we say because we are bigger, stronger, and smarter.  When they are 16 and they won't do their homework we try the same approach and we find a new challenger in the ring wanting to see if maybe THEY can now be the biggest, strongest, and smartest.  We can escalate and try to assert our dominance silverback style, and for the first couple of years of adolescence this just might work, but inevitably it results in one of two responses based on their available assets.  If you have a big dumb oaf then their best bet is to bully and intimidate you with their burgeoning size to get their way, if you have more of the bookworm type they will probably just smile to your face and then passive aggressively do whatever they feel like. Either way it really won't work unless you were blessed with one of those people-pleaser teens who will be great now but struggle their whole adult lives because of the pressure to keep making everyone happy.

The solution - recognize the real power you DO have, and then solve your own problems while letting them have theirs, so you end up giving them all the power in the world.  You provide them a place to live, nice clothes, food, spending money, rides around town, etc. and those are all privileges not rights.  You can't make them talk or not talk, obey, make good decisions, or really much of anything so if your approach is MAKING them do something they'll quickly pull back the curtain on your wizard of oz.  What you CAN do is set them up in a world where when they do good they are rewarded and when they do poorly they see the consequences of their actions.  This is where it is good to inventory their problems and your problems - hygiene, social preferences, homework completion, and what they spend their own money on are THEIR problems - whether chores are completed, whether you are addressed respectfully, and how your money is spent are all YOUR problems.  Let them see the natural consequences of their own problems and then set up effective rewards and punishments to make sure your problems are taken care of.  They don't want to mow the yard, that is fine, they are completely in control - it just means the gas and spending money you would have used to take them out that Friday to hang with their friends is now going to hiring the neighbor kid to mow - either way YOUR problem gets solved, their problem gets worse but that is their decision.

Ultimately if you want to go head to head with a teen in a control battle they have a distinct advantage - youth, energy, and far fewer responsibilities - winning can be their full time job.  So drop the control battles and give them all the control, you just make sure they see the consequences of their decisions.  Often we fight hard to get teens to do what we want, never offering them alternatives other than do what I say, then when they fail to do it we rescue them from the natural consequences like arguing with their teacher for them to get an extension on their project deadline, but then set up an artificial consequence like grounding them.  What do they learn, two things - they can do their project whenever they feel like it and their parents are buttholes for grounding them.  If in some rare instance you have to fight a control battle - then win it no matter what - step away from 99% of the control battles and if one must be fought, do not lose.  Great resource on creative ways to make this happen?  Parenting Teens with Love and Logic by Cline and Fay.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

GIFT of Anger

Often when we get angry at others we assume that it is they who made us angry, we have no other way of responding, and that when we express our anger they will reassure us and make us feel better.  More often when we get angry at someone they really only have two options, either "Well, good luck with that" as they really don't know what to do with us while we are angry, or "You're angry? What about me, I shouldn't have to put up with this, I didn't do anything to deserve this!" and we end up arguing about who has the right to be angry.

The reality is that anger is always a secondary emotion - we feel some other emotion because of our interpretation of the situation and because of that primary emotion we get angry.  When we express these softer underlying emotions then we invite the other person to help us is a more specific way.  It's the difference between expressing displeasure as a baby as opposed to as an adult - you can whine and cry and expect someone to magically know what is wrong and fix it or you can say, "Hmmm, I'm not feeling good.  I bet it is because I am hungry.  maybe I'll ask them for some food."  In the same way we can get angry and spew it on the other person or we can figure out what is underlying and express that and they can better respond.  Good way to remember the four most common underlying emotions - GIFT.

Guilt - often we feel bad about something we have done and instead of confessing or asking for forgiveness we lash out at the person who is a reminder of our fault.  They could be rubbing our nose in it or completely unaware of the transgression but our self anger gets leaked out on them.

Inferiority - sometimes we feel talked down to, less than, unimportant, not valued, or not chosen over other things and it makes us really angry.  If we can express this and ask for reassurance we are more likely to get it than the continued approach of spewing anger than just makes us seen as even more inferior.

Fear - many times we get afraid and the fight or flight response kicks in resulting in lashing out around us rather than expressing the fear and being soothed and reassured.  Many times people we love step on core fears of ours without even knowing it and get a bigger emotional response than expected when our fears of abandonment, rejection, or being controlled get triggered.

Trauma - this may be the most common, but rather than coming out and saying we are deeply hurt by the other person we lash out in revenge.   Saying you were disappointed or hurt may feel like admitting weakness but it's the only way to realistically get an apology and reconciliation.

Express the underlying emotions and the other person can do something with it, just express anger and you can expect either indifference or defensiveness.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Throwing Fuel on the Fire

My beautiful wife was kind enough not to call my blog boring, but did suggest I make it shorter and not drone on and on - so here is my attempt at a shorter post.  I'll discuss deescalating and keeping conflict less intense within the context of marriage, but I really believe these three principles are critical in parenting, dating, friendships, etc. as well.  They are Soft Start-ups, Checking, and Accepting Influence and they can make the difference between huge blow-ups and reasonable disagreements.

A Harsh Start-up is anything that initiates a conversation in a way that incites defensiveness in the other person because it starts off as an attack.  Research says women tend to make this mistake more than guys in marriage but also that they initiate the vast majority of communication anyway so it really is just they are the ones that start so more often it is harsh.  If you get that the first 10 seconds of the conversation really sets the tone for the whole conversation then you realize you can kill the whole talk in your opening sentence.  Start off with generic criticism of their character, exasperation, and a harsh tone and they are unlikely to hear anything after it.  Start with a reassurance of how you really feel about them, then give a complaint and it can be heard, start harsh and you will only get defensiveness.

Second is Checking, where you simply choose to not overreact until you are sure you heard what they were trying to communicate.  It is sort of a time-out where you say "It sounded just then like you were saying I purposefully left my socks in the middle of the floor just to anger you, was that what you were trying to say to me?"  Rather than assuming you know what they are really trying to say, give them your interpretation and let them give their real message so that you don't waste emotional energy blowing up at something they didn't actually mean to communicate.

The third is Accepting Influence, where regardless of what is presented to you, being willing to hear it and validate it.  Research shows women are naturally good at this but that men struggle much more - leading to the complaint that we are bad listeners - truth is we hear it, we just swat it away quickly before accepting it.  Maybe it is the fragile egos that take a contrary opinion as disrespect and a threat to our truth, or a fear that if we accept this and go with it then we become weak, controlled, and subservient, but we tend to do it less.  When we throw up a wall it just signals to our spouse that they need to find a way through or around it by jackhammering, sniping, or whatever approach we think will assist in message delivery.  When you respond to anything the other person says with acceptance it disarms them and leads to more conversation.  Rather than blocking and punching it is more like Aikido where you diffuse the other person's energy with redirection, and you become the strongest person in the room because you are teachable and able to grow.  "I can see how you view it that way.  That is totally valid.  I'll definitely try to be more aware of that in the future as I definitely did not mean to hurt you like I did."  Agreeing and validating aren't the same - even if you disagree you can still see it from their perspective and take whatever can be learned to heart so you are better able to communicate how you really feel in the future.

Start with a soft start-up, respond by accepting influence and if it ever threatens to escalate then check it before you wreck it.  The majority of conflict can avoid destructiveness with just these three steps.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A House Divided

Sex, Money, and Families - the three topics couples argue the most about, all have the same thing in common, they are hard to share because we have different viewpoints.  It's my body, my money, and my family, but in marriage we have to negotiate to make it all OURS.  Fights about families usually revolve around how to handle our insane in-laws or the blog topic for today - how to handle parenting.

The problem is that most us feel like we have no idea what we are doing but we are positive that what our spouse is doing must be screwing up our kids.  We'll never say it but we feel like if our spouse would just totally adopt our way of parenting then we could create perfect children - problem is it is a theory we can never prove. When parents come at the same kids with two different approaches often the result is two people undermining what the other parent is doing resulting in a net gain of zero.  Chances are if you backed off completely and just went with their approach or they went with yours, either way it would create more productive parenting, but no one will give in and while the parents bicker the child skates off whistling, thankful you created the smokescreen for their getaway.  How does this come about?  Does anyone go into parenting thinking "I sure hope I can be so hard on my kids that they tremble when I walk in the room, placate me in my presence and then talk junk about me when I leave the room" or "I want my kids to some day see me as just their peer, disrespect me openly, but at least let me be their confidante, but with no authority at all."  But that is where couples find themselves due to Parental Polarization.

The same thing happens with finances or other areas where at the beginning of marriage one spouse is a little more frugal and concerned with saving than the other, while the other is a little more impulsive and comfortable enjoying their income.  Pretty soon the saver has to compensate for the spender and vice versa and before long they are far more extreme than they started or even they want to be.  With parenting we each start a little more towards focused on the rules or focused on the relationship, but before long we overcompensate for the other and become polarized caricatures of parents.  The strict one feels like the kids will get away with murder if they don't step in and correct them, because heaven knows their pushover partner will never make the kids listen.  The permissive one feels like the poor kids will be crushed under the cruel dictatorship of their partner unless they swoop in to console and reassure, letting them have a little bit of freedom.  The result - they both openly or subversively undermine the authority of the other resulting in kids who are at best confused and at worst decide to discount them both.  In mid-tirade, vein freshly bulging the strict parent gets lopped off at the knees when the savior parent swoops in to reassure the kids that the cruel ogre in their midst really doesn't have the power to make their lives miserable, they won't let them.  As the permissive parent reason's with the kids hoping to convince them to want to do what they want the, the strict parent barges in and in one quick interchange establishes that the other parent never had any credibility, and should continue to be ignored.  When we get mad at the other parent totally undermining our parenting it just gets interpreted as them pushing their "I hate rules" or "I hate the kids" agendas and the bickering just continues.

The solution - you have to have a balance of rules and relationship, they have to be independent of each other, and they both must be pursued by both parents simultaneously.  This means it is vitally important for kids to be taught right and wrong, cause and effect, have their character shaped with consequences, and be held accountable for their actions so they become respectful, responsible adults.  It is equally important that they feel loved, cared for, accepted for who they are, and comfortable sharing their inner world with their parents so they grow up not being a people pleaser, a perfectionist, or full of shame.  It's important that each parent balance both of these, using God's example of being the perfect balance of grace with truth, so they get the full message without two messages drowning each other out.  So this means if each parent needs to overcompensate it isn't in the direction away from what their partner is doing, but rather towards it.  The black and white rules lawyer concerned with what the neighbors think of their parenting job needs to focus on building a strong healthy relationship with their children full of grace.  The bleeding heart rescuer wanting to spare their kids from any hurt, disappointment, or consequences needs to focus on establishing real authority with rewards and punishments taking their kid's character seriously.  The key to doing this is seeing each role separately and not allowing them to overlap.  Just because your kid screws up royally doesn't mean you should pull back on your relationship with them - that's not what God does for us, he maintains his relationship with us through any and all mistakes because he loves us and we are His, not because we are lovable.  And just because we want our kids to feel loved and cared for doesn't mean we ignore their poor character and shield them from their own consequences, that's now what God does, and it really isn't loving it's just pleasing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Apples and Oranges

When it comes to the Christian faith there is how Christians see themselves and how they are seen by those on the outside, and rarely are those the same.  Often we focus on trying to either be or at least portray ourselves as being perfect hoping that others will want some of the good stuff we have, when really all they see is hypocrisy.  Sometimes in this pursuit of looking perfect we also present the idea that we know everything, and that saying "I don't know" somehow threatens the truth behind what we do know.  If I walked into a McDonalds and said "Hey, those fries are amazing, how do you make them taste so good?" the employee would likely tell me he opens up a bag, puts it in a fryer and when it beeps he puts the salt on, but does he really know?  Is it some special kind of salt, or magical potatoes farmed by Grimace himself?  We may never know, we just know they are good, and we don't look down on the employee for not having all the answers.

When you ask a Christian questions about science we often feel like we need to answer them with our favorite science textbook - the Bible.  What is the origin of the universe?  Are homosexuals biologically predisposed towards their sexual attraction?  How old is the Earth?  What is the most effective medical treatment of anxiety?  At what point in gestation does a child develop rights?  How far away is the nearest star?  What caused dinosaur bones in the ground?  We feel like if someone asks us any question in the universe then we should be able to answer it with a Bible and maybe a concordance, when maybe it was never written to serve as a science book, a carpentry manual, surgical guide, or an exhaustive historical account of everything that happened before 100 AD.  Maybe it serves exactly the purpose it was inspired to serve rather than purposes ascribed to it over time by people with agendas.  If I had intense pain in my side and right before an appendectomy my surgeon walks out with a Bible and says, "Listen, I'm a Christian surgeon, so that means the Bible is my authoritative text for life, not those worldly medical texts presuming they know what is inside of humans" I would run, and fast.  If right before takeoff my pilot said, "Let me say a quick prayer before we take off, God directs all of my actions so no need for me to understand how planes work.  If we hit turbulence or at any point need to land I'll just consult my Bible and we will be just fine," I would get off the plane as quick as possible.  But when we go to a pastor for "counseling" and he tells us everything we need to have a good marriage, be good parents, cure our depression, or get off of drugs is to read your Bible and pray more, we believe it and figure if we fail it was just a lack of faith.  When we sit in science class and learn about evolution, or that if the Earth was only 6000 years old then it must have been created with fossils already in it and lights travelling through space that give the illusion of a star being millions of light years from Earth then we freak out.  We throw the Bible out as the authoritative text on science and in the process make ourselves feel better but look more silly to those on the outside.  We look like the McDonalds employee who answers our above question with, "Well, the employee manual says the fries come from the freezer and the salt from the large sack so we must believe that is where the good taste comes from - the kitchen."  What about the truck that brings the ingredients, or that french fries come from potatoes which must grow in the ground?  These questions must be ignored to maintain the employee's perfect image and supreme knowledge of the universe.

Why does this debate matter for me - three reasons.  First I believe the best method for counseling marriages and families, for treating mental illness, and helping people achieve full healthiness can't be found exclusively within the Bible, but must be supported and reinforced by solid research, quality scientific knowledge, and years and years of clinical understandings of the way people work.  Second is I don't want Christianity to be relegated by our culture as irrelevant because Christians define themselves by standing in opposition to science - who said the two were even fighting so we had to pick sides.  Maybe it's apples and oranges and the questions asked by religion and science are different and can't well be answered by each other.  If so then we won't find ourselves in the all too familiar spot of bundling Christianity with beliefs about the physical world that science goes on to disprove.  I have no idea how the church was able to recover after the whole "The Earth is the center of the universe" fiasco, and I don't like to think of the damage it would do if Evolution was ever able to be proven.  Do I know whether the Big Bang happened or if we evolved from a lower species, or how old the Earth is?  Nope, and I'm OK with that because my faith doesn't rest on it and I'm OK not having all the answers.

The third reason this is important to me is because on a regular basis I have clients that question their faith as their scientific knowledge increases and not getting answers from the Bible makes them question the whole deal.  What do I know?  The same thing we all really know - what I have personally experienced - A God who has revealed himself to me over and over again in minor and major ways, often through the Bible, often in relationships, and even in nature.  So if needing to know all of the answers is necessary for you to accept God's free gift of grace or to continue allowing him to guide and direct your life then it just ain't going to happen - because we just don't have all the answers and we never will.  So then they will say - just the answers to the really important questions, then they can believe, and they usually boil down to one of two questions.  Theodicy - or the question of how do you reconcile an all-good and all-powerful God with a world that has pain and evil is a question that I'll hit in a later post but even then won't answer.  The other is refusing to put on blinders of scientific ignorance and needing to reconcile the creation narrative within the Bible with modern scientific knowledge.  For this question there are also others far more qualified to answer this than I, but my simple answer is that maybe they don't contradict.  Believe in a literal reading of the creation account and say evolution is a bunch of junk, that's fine, it is just a theory and has yet to be proven.  Believe in the Big Bang, evolution, the whole deal, that's fine, it can be reconciled with the creation narrative in a myriad of ways.  Why is this?  Because the Bible is more concerned with letting us know that the fries are really tasty than how they are made - that there is a great and wonderful God that has been at work in our world from the very beginning and He wants to join with us in our lives to recreate them into something better than what was there before he got involved.  Seven literal days, seven periods of time, or maybe that portion of Genesis was written in poetic format much like psalms and proverbs so really wasn't trying to read like a history or science textbook.  Was Adam the first human created, or like early Jewish readers would have read it was he the first Jew set aside to found his chosen people, or was he the first ruler over creation meant to bring God's order to a people already in chaos, or was he the first Homo Sapiens evolved from the other neanderthals ready for God to use in mighty ways?  Lots of theories are out there but most serious biblical scholars will tell you the more you know the more you realize what you don't know, so humility and grace for the interpretations of others are the way to go.

So the Bible is great for wisdom, a revelation of God's plan for his creation, and contains the greatest gift mankind will ever see, the free gift of a reconciled relationship with their creator, but it is as useful for a science or history book as it is for a cookbook or boat-building schematics.  If you have big questions and you think being a Christian just means pretending they don't have answers then you are cheating yourself - get a Bible Commentary, a Systematic Theology, or a scholarly book on whatever your big questions are rather than just burying your head in the sand.  You'll expand your own view of a God we'll never fully grasp as well as helping the Body of Christ become more knowledgeable and informed.  Good Systematic Theology - Millard Erickson's - nice and balanced and short.  Good blog entry on the Adam and Eve debate - Storied Theology -

Wherever you fall in any of the various interpretations just don't get too comfortable - Christianity is about a relationship with a real person not a book or set of beliefs, so when He moves in your heart, reveals a little more of himself, or gives you a different way of viewing things it is just to keep you dependent on him.  And when you think you have it all figured out and are judging the ludicrous views of others, all you really know is those fries are fantastic.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Compromise The Key To Marriage?

Ask anyone what it takes to make a successful marriage and they will likely tell you two important things - good communication skills and lots of compromise.  The problem is that both of these nuggets of wisdom are crap, and actually are hallmarks of really bad marriages.  Research seems to show that in highly conflictual and low enjoyment marriages that the communication is crystal clear, they are very accurately portraying exactly what they want to communicate to each other, like "I hate you", and "You are the most selfish person I have ever known."  Nothing unclear there, just straight to the point and right from the heart.  Another hallmark of really bad marriages is where compromise rules supreme and everything is fair, there becomes a tit-for-tat, quid-pro-quo way of interacting that is anything but love.

I kind of cringe when I hear couples talk about compromising or making deals with each other and I think it links back to the previous post that says the focus of marriage should be on growth and sanctification rather than making yourself happy.   So maybe I am wrong but compromise to me seems like two people cleverly negotiating their selfishness with each other so no one has to give in, or ever lose.  Maybe if we can come up with elaborate schedules requiring graphing calculators to determine the exact exchange rate of a poker night with the guys - three mornings to go running?  A week of country music in the family car?  A fifteen minute conversation with her mother-in-law without a sarcastic remark?  Maybe if I can recreate the final ring ceremony romantic extravaganza from The Batchelorette, then I can trade that in for you taking those pole dancing lessons I heard about?  If you have an affair does it makes things better if I just use my free pass to go find someone else?  I think the reason this mindset bothers me is that it inevitably leads to the next logical solution, which is to begin doing all this without even talking - to just decide that since he didn't do this, I won't do that.  Because she isn't meeting these important desires within me I will withhold what she desires as well.  And so we end up in an 80's action movie stare-down waiting for someone to slip up and show weakness.  

So what is the alternative to compromise?  Submission.  Everyone in the marriage just decides to see themselves as steward leaders under authority and in authority.  I won't be able to completely flesh out true biblical submission here in this blog entry but for now lets just assume that it is mutual between both partners and that their ultimate authority is God.  I think Emerson Eggerichs in Love and Respect lays out one of the best models for mutual submission within marriage where both spouses see their ultimate authority as God and they have been charged to meet the core desires of each other to build each other up.  A man was designed to need respect, and women were built with a unique ability to speak life into us, to help us feel good enough, competent enough, accepted enough for who we are to go out and conquer the world.  But when a wife criticizes, complains, compares her husband to others, and defines him more by what he is lacking than what he has it cripples him.  A woman was designed to need love, and men were designed with an ability to give and sacrifice themselves in a way that puts their wife up on a pedestal and creates a confidence that nothing will be placed above her.  But when a husband becomes lazy and selfish, content to count his paycheck as all that should be required of him, and treating his wife with apathy and indifference unless she is naked it pushes her towards anxiety and insecurity.  Circular spirals happen both directions, positive and negative, as it is far easier to give respect and love when you are getting yours in return.

The problem comes when you look at your overweight husband piddling on his iPhone while ignoring the kids, after having spent the entire Saturday playing golf following a week of working late every night combined with mandatory happy hour since he needs his "Me Time."  Or when you overhear your wife equating your relative worth and value as a human being to Casey Anthony to her mother during her nightly venting session before mocking your attempts at physical intimacy by laying out every mistake you ever committed with detail that makes you question whether she has hidden cameras.  Kind of hard to drum up respect for a guy who doesn't deserve it and it seems stupid to lay your heart out out for a woman that looks to devour you unless you develop telepathy and never make a mistake.  So if you go with the compromise route then everyone gets what they deserve and no one is really loved.  But if you decide to submit and respect the husband who doesn't deserve it and love the unlovable wife, then everyone gets their needs met and we become far more likely to become respectable and lovable - that is speaking life into our spouse.

A warning needs to be thrown out here that often when we start trying to be a better spouse and submitting we are really just caving, building resentment across time, unless we start getting some payback.  That's not change, that's exchange - it's quid-pro-quo compromise just on layaway.  So either we become the spouse God has called us to be out of submission to him, not our spouse, or we build in frustration looking to get paid back.  Basically if we respond to our spouses by what they deserve we give them very little but if we respond to God's love poured out on us by loving our spouses unconditionally we give them our all.  It's ultimately what we want for our kids - that they will find someone who will love them like we do, and that even if they screw up their spouse will be everything they need - the same God wants for his children.  So when you see God as your heavenly father-in-law it gives you a different perspective on how to treat your spouse.  You can tell me you love me all day long but if you treat my kid like crap then I don't really buy it.  So maybe the greatest test of your love for God is how you tangibly treat His son or daughter - Ouch.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Driving a Ferrari with Bicycle Brakes

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may be the most poorly named condition in the DSM-IV - it's neither a deficit of attention nor always accompanied by hyperactivity. It also may be one of the most vilified and least understood learning disabilities in our culture causing just as many people to go undiagnosed as those hyper kids who get drugged up to get off their parents nerves. My goal with this blog entry would be to briefly go through what ADHD is and is not, help people better understand it and in the process better understand me. I have ADHD - Inattentive form, have had it my entire life and will always have it yet didn't manage to figure this out until this last year. How is it that I could make it to 33, be a counselor who can diagnose and treat ADHD, wrote a thirty page paper on ADHD in grad school, and have never figured this out - because even I had a host of misperceptions about the disorder and myself. There are two types and those kids, more common in boys, who have the hyperactive variation they are usually spotted and singled out for being a disturbance, while the inattentive variation is largely undiagnosed, or more accurately misdiagnosed as lazy.

ADHD is a neurological disorder affecting the executive functioning area of the prefrontal cortex responsible for regulating attention and impulsivity. In brain scans the rest of the brain is lit up with activity while one small spot shows gray and dead when completing regular tasks - but it isn't dead, it's just sleeping because when the subject engages in an activity that is exciting, taps into a passion, offers an interesting challenge, or if the fight-or-flight response is engaged it lights up bright. What this results in is a kid who can play Call of Duty for 12 hours straight without blinking but can't stay focused long enough to complete their homework or an adult like me who has a ridiculous ability to photographically recall enough information to fill up libraries but will take two hours to do fifteen minutes of paperwork. This is where our society and especially the Christian subculture will often just say this is a heart problem, we are just lazy and irresponsible. Problem is that when you look at us in an area that is of passion and interest to us we are more responsible and hard working than anyone on the planet. The frustrating part not just for you guys putting up with us but for us as well is that it isn't that we have no focus, we just have a hyperfocus, but only on the things that wake up our brain. If your normal brain is like a shotgun, we have lasers - you can spread your attention between several things at once and can decide which activity deserves your best attention, we are like Cyclops from the X-men without his fancy glasses. So if we are doing monotonous tasks, busy work, or anything that doesn't wake up our brain then anything out there in the background that could be more interesting will forcibly grab our attention - email, a bird flying by, a conversation across the office. If we are engaged in a task that ignites our passion then nothing else exists, our hyperfocus gives us the brain raw horsepower of a Ferrari engine without power steering and bicycle brakes - full throttle intensity with very poor handling.

The other hallmark of ADHD is little to no impulsivity control, if it pops in our head we just run with it. Therefore we are horrible with time management, financial restraint, and we are far more likely to develop addictions. We are prisoners of the now, able to immediately get over being hurt and very unlikely to plan ahead. If something is not directly within our field of vision then it doesn't exist, and even if it is right in front of our eyes but isn't our focus then it doesn't exist. We're the person who says the wacky thing that pops into our head which half the time makes everyone crack up laughing and the other half of the time gets nothing but blank stares and uncomfortable silence. Impulsivity is fantastic when it results in creativity as a brain without caps can create art or music that a normal brain would never come up with. It isn't so great when our emotions don't have the normal cap that other people's have - we feel the same emotions as others but with more intensity. When we are sad or hurt we feel it stronger than others often looking like depression, when we are anxious our mind can race faster than someone with real anxiety, when we are irritated and angry we can snap at people before we even register what happened. A low frustration tolerance, moodiness, and a hard time forcing ourselves to just snap out of how we are feeling are almost always there, even if we have developed a personality that wants to make people happy and so would never express these things on the outside.

In addition to the attention and impulsivity problems that are biological we usually end up developing secondary problems as a result. We feel weird and different so often become loners or even embrace weirdness as our identity. We don't always track with people because our attention wanders so we feel like we are socially awkward when usually others don't even notice. We become procrastinators because if mundane tasks don't wake our brain up then we come to rely on last minute anxiety to give us a shot of adrenaline to get the task done. We often become very driven and self-critical because we end up believing that we really are just lazy and need to try harder, but even when we try our potential never matches our productivity. When we can finally accept that our brain works differently, not better or worse we can do what it takes to succeed - medication can keep that part of your brain woke up increasing attentiveness and impulse-control - counseling or psychoeducation can help us develop skills in things like time management, responsibility follow through, and budgeting - and just becoming more informed means we don't just see it as a curse, but actually quite a gift.

So why did it take so long for me to get diagnosed? Well I believed a lot of the myths floating around that lazy hyperactive kids must just have bad parents, that if this was ADHD then everyone must have it - they don't, and I had figured out all sorts of ways around it. My hyperfocus growing up was always school which really doesn't often get you in trouble, and being naturally intelligent meant I could still get good grades even when I forgot my homework, spaced out for half the lecture, or forgot there was going to be a test. My personality has always been one that wouldn't allow me to have a temper problem, and so my low frustration tolerance never became much of a problem until I had kids.  I assumed the meds were just to tranquilize unruly kids into zombies rather than tools that can wake up the brain so that I can better direct my own attention and resist impulsive drives.  There is no miracle pill but it definitely helps better than my previous medication - caffeine.  I really believe the key to success, however, is mostly within accepting that if you have ADHD then you will be really bad at some things and really good at other things and that whether you like it or not that is OK.

At some point I'd like to throw in some of my adult ways of compensating that may help others as well as how best to parent a child with ADHD, maybe something on how ADHD affects marriages, or how to succeed in your career with it, but those are for another blog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Finished Product

Parenting can be the most rewarding, frustrating, exhausting, overwhelming, fantastic thing in the world but it is a job with a clear start date and a fuzzy end date. Sometimes we choose to be parents, sometimes parenthood chooses us. Sometimes we are excited, sometimes we are terrified, but forever we are changed. Before we have kids we look at and judge the frantic shell of a woman pushing a cart through Walmart with her hair undone, puke on her shoulder, and a screaming tyrant of a child who is blowing snot bubbles on the tile floor until a suitable tribute of M&Ms is offered and smugly think it will never be us. Before we actually live with a real live teenager we assume it is crappy parents that create disrespectful, belligerent, little monsters convinced of their own superiority in all things regarding intelligence, morality, and dating decisions. No matter how prepared for parenting we are, everyone looks at their kids from time to time and wonders if they truly have any clue how to parent based on the unfinished product, and usually this comes when we don't have a clear goal of what we want the finished product to look like.

Let me start with a clear caveat that I do not in any way believe that good parenting creates good kids that become good adults, because that is not something that is within our power. Too many books, sermons, and smug neighbors assert that if you just do the right things in the right way you can create great kids that become great some day. The truth is that it is our job as parents to set the best possible environment and put the best ingredients into the product we are working towards, but that fantastic parents often have worthless kids who reward their hard work with defiance, and just as often horrible parents do everything wrong and end up with fantastic kids. Ultimately what they become is up to them, so stop blaming their friends for corrupting them and stop blaming yourself for every wrong decision they make. God is our heavenly father but he isn't responsible for the bad decisions we make.

That said, I think it is important to determine an end goal as early into parenting as possible - what end product am I wanting to put out into the world at the end of 18 years of parenting? You have some options here and some pitfalls to avoid. The first is training your kids to avoid annoying or irritating you by snapping at them when they do anything out of line with your constantly shifting whims and desires - make everything a battle from how they chew their food to what grade of gasoline they put in their tank. This creates a finished product that learns to avoid you when you are in a bad mood, placate you in your presence, and do whatever the heck they want when you aren't around and unless they have a boss some day with all the same annoyances and preferences as you then they haven't really been prepared for life. The second option is to immediately do anything and everything you can to make them happy non-stop every day which creates a very frustrated adult that walks into life as a dictator who has lost his only subjects. Another goal might be just trying to make them look good in comparison to other people's kids - are they better dressed, act better at parties, get better grades, score more touchdowns, and have more Facebook friends? This is the parenting message our culture gives us which is to focus exclusively on the achievements of our kids and look at them as a walking report card of our parenting based on what they are able to accomplish. When asked about our kids we will likely spout off their GPA, sports involvement, relative attractiveness and such like we are a promoter describing a boxer or a headhunter raving about someone's resume.

What if our focus and goal was on our kid's character rather than their achievement, what if when asked we described our child as responsible, compassionate, respectful, and hard working? Rather than letting kids do whatever they want or trying to perfectly mold them into a telepathic robot that can read your mind and always do what you want, maybe we should pick our battles and just fight hard on a few things. What are those things? Well, that depends on what values and character traits are most important to you and your spouse. I say pick like 3-5 character traits and enforce them over 18 years with rewards and consequences and you might have a shot at making them stick. The Prasse family is shooting for Respectful, Compassionate, Responsible, Faithful, and having Integrity but your family may include things like being a Servant, being Hard Working, or Generous. Get on the same page between parents or else you will bicker and cut each other off at the knees constantly because you have two different goals in mind and if you sabotage each other then neither set of values stick. Whatever your main values are catch them doing it well, catch them going against them and if anything bugs you but doesn't correlate to one of the values then it is your problem not theirs. Kids are supposed to be annoying at times, we're just supposed to have maturity, grace, and the ability to see our kids as distinct human beings from us.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Marriage - Horrific Prison or Best Tool Ever?

Have you ever wondered who came up with the concept of marriage anyway? An institution that seems to be entirely contrary to the natural bend of the human heart could only have been introduced by God. No man sat around thinking "Wouldn't it be great to only have sex with one person for the rest of my life, and only when I haven't done anything too wrong that day to stave off a barrage of criticism and comparisons would I be given the opportunity?" And no woman one day decided, "I know, I'll take this guy who is currently wooing me and offer him a deal where he has me for life regardless of whether he continues to deserve me; he can completely quit and turn into a lazy selfish couch potato and I just have to be happy when he grunts in my direction!"

So why did God come up with marriage? Here are some theories. One is that he is just one big fun Nazi in the sky doing the best he can to ruin any sense of enjoyment we may ever get out of life. Another is that he just loves the sheer entertainment value of watching millions of simultaneous reality shows where men and women flounder around trying to make a relationship work. Our culture proposes that the goal of marriage is to make us happy - just find somebody who makes you happy, marry them and keep staying married until they stop making you happy - hence the current divorce rate. In the book, Sacred Marriage by Gary Chapman, an alternate theory is proposed - maybe God designed marriage to make us holy rather than happy?

It really makes more sense if you think about it - I mean if God wanted to create marriage to make us happy it probably would have been designed quite differently. Marriage is very tough work just to survive much less the effort it takes to accomplish a great marriage that you look forward to coming home to. Maybe marriage is an opportunity for two totally different people to be made better for having to kill their selfishness and pride so that they can become one unified entity that reflects the image of God better than anything else possible. In marriage growth and selfishness are inversely proportional - either your selfishness grows and your marriage dies or your marriage grows and your selfishness dies. So we can allow our marriage to shape us more and more into the image of Christ or we can skip off to someone else who will temporarily under the anesthesia of romantic love make us happy, or we can work tirelessly trying to fix our spouse into something that better suits our selfishness. So under this model it really isn't about finding the perfect person to marry but really just picking any old sinful, flawed human being. It isn't about assessing your mate to determine if you really are soul mates or if they are good enough for you. It isn't about trying desperately to please our spouse hoping they will be happy with us. It's about choosing to love our spouse not how they deserve to be loved, but in response to how God has loved us. God's job requirements will always be more stringent than your husband or wife's.

So when we look at marriage we can easily think it was designed by Satan to torment us but really it is a gift to address our greatest needs. the need to get past our own immature selfishness and learn to care about someone else more than ourselves. the need to be confident and secure enough to really be ourselves without fear that we will lose our spouse the second we stop being perfect. The need to constantly be given a challenge to greater and greater possibilities that can never be taken away - our spouse can reject us and leave, they can take us for granted, but the character and confidence that are developed when we die to ourselves and give our all toward a great calling is never wasted. But if there are two of us really doing this we have the ability to really create something amazing that stands out when others look at us, because rather than reflecting our culture we are actually reflecting the image of God.

But what if you have a really horrible spouse, does that give you a free pass? Short of extreme cases like abuse, adultery, addictions, and such then you are really being given a gift when you get a lazy shiftless husband or a nagging queen of the harpies wife. Because the greater the struggle it is to live with a person the more potential character that can be developed - the greater the challenge the greater the payoff. It's true in weightlifting, education, careers, and every other area of life, why wouldn't it be true in marriage. So if your spouse is a colossal pain in your butt then send out a quick prayer of Thanks to God for the opportunity He has given you to be better shaped into his image.

This viewpoint has the ability to totally shift your perspective on marriage so you stop berating a sinful flawed human being for being imperfect and start looking for how they can help you become more patient, loving, kind, forgiving, and accepting. Marriage is no longer a concentration camp where death is inevitable and you can only hope to jump the walls, it can become an incredibly effective tool to chisel away the parts of you that aren't holy so you can be revealed for the potential you have within. Given this tool should probably be investigated by the Geneva Convention as being cruel and unusual, but I am guessing the big lump of rock wasn't too thrilled about the vicious hammering and chiseling that transformed it into the statue work of art.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Three Sources of Worth

Back in college there were a number of classes that I had to take that met requirements but seemed pretty worthless at the time - I place Anthropology in the list of worthless classes but Film Appreciation was awesome. In my UNC-Chapel Hill class, Introduction to Ethics, we can assume Christianity wouldn't be the accepted cultural worldview, so one goofy question caught me off guard when I was asked to argue it.  Why is it that killing and eating animals is all right but killing or especially eating people is not, is it not just species bias that makes us think we are better than animals?  If you take belief in a God who created humans in His image out of the picture then it becomes pretty tough to come up with a valid reason why chickens and humans shouldn't have equal rights.  You can't even go with the argument that we are stronger and smarter or we have to say aliens should have the right to kill and eat us if they are smarter, or that killing babies, mentally retarded people, or anyone less strong or intelligent must be OK.  So why are we as humans better than any other animals in creation?  Well, we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, with infinite worth and value because of the spark of the divine within us - period.

If we take this to be true then it keeps us from finding our worth, value, or acceptability in anything other than His image - our race, our possessions, our status, our education, our job, our family, etc.  Anything else we could base our worth and value in can be taken from us, as the storms come and destroy the house built on the sand, only the strong foundation of our Imago Dei can withstand the trials and tribulations of life.  What happens when we get let go from the job we gave our best to for thirty years, when our last child heads off to college and we are no longer just a Mom, when Alzheimer's threatens to steal what we have stored up in the treasury of our minds - our very identities are threatened unless the foundation was seeing ourselves as God see's us.

Problem is most of us buy this for everyone else in the world, just not us.  You would never kill or even intentionally hurt another person because you see others as having worth and value just for being a human being created in the image of God.  It's just us, we are somehow inferior to others and don't have the same worth and value.  If the above viewpoint is the truth then there are two lies that threaten to steal our worth and value in our own eyes.  The first lie is Ascribed Value - we are only as valuable as what other people say about us.  Gold has value because people decide that it has value, not because it is particularly useful - it's too malleable to make any decent tool out of but we pay tons of money for it and fearful Americans are pouring their life savings into it.  But what if tomorrow we just decided gold wasn't all that great?  It would cease to have value.  If that is our view of ourselves then we need to do everything we can to sway the opinions of those around us - please as many people as possible, have as little conflict as possible, and work hard to get people to like us.  Our view of ourselves will be a roller coaster depending on who we are around - in one group we are valued and deemed worthy but around someone else we are nearly worthless, our value is like the stock market, constantly in flux.

The second lie we could believe is that of Utilitarian Value - that we are only as valuable as what we are able to do.  Like a shovel we have value because we can be used to do stuff for people, so the more we accomplish, the more we do for others, the more value we have.  But what if we are going through a busy or difficult time and can not do as much for other people, do we feel bad and lose worth?  If we are in a car accident and are paralyzed and can never do anything for anyone or even ourselves, do we cease to have value?  We become human doers, not human beings, constantly striving to do enough to be deemed worthy in our own eyes, but we can never do enough.  Ultimately this was the lie of the Nazi's, that in order to create a better nation you must only kill off any humans who can't make it stronger, anyone considered weak.  So maybe you start with the physically and mentally disabled, those considered inferior like Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies, and eventually just the Aryan race is left.

We don't have worth and value because other people say so, we don't have it because of what we are able to do, we have worth and value because we are human beings and humans were created unique and special by God to bear his image and accomplish great things in his name.  This applies to all humans, even you.  The only way our worth can be static and defined is if humans, those around us or ourselves, don't get to decide our value - God does.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ambition, Culture, and Influence

For my first real blog I figured I'd give insight into what prompted me to start blogging as well as how it may encourage you.  It was staff meeting here at Carolinas Counseling Group and it was Linda McGrew, one of the founding partners', turn to share with the group.  I have been here over nine months and have effectively dodged having to present anything to the group as of yet - mostly because I feel like an elementary school student being asked to present to a bunch of Nobel prize scientists my science fair project volcano.  She spoke about the most recent conference she went to sponsored by the CS Lewis foundation where she went to Cambridge and Oxford for like 10 days and got to do cool stuff like eat in the big dining hall from Harry Potter, though she claims candles did not float and ghosts did not speak to her.  There were numerous speakers like Os Guiness and Chuck Colsen, and the theme was Paradigms of Hope: Transcending Chaos and Transforming Culture.  The gist I got from it that was pretty interesting is that we usually think of culture as what the majority of people in a given population think and feel, and that if these beliefs are good and godly we will have a good culture, or not.  That a few major important people influence culture and that most of the power to transform culture lies within elected government officials.  So as Christians we should just convince as many people as we can to believe like we do, vote good Christian people into office, and sit back and watch our nation's culture transform into a Christian utopia.  Problem is that most all of that is complete bunk.    In the 60's 98% of the population claimed to believe in God, currently it is still at 88% yet our culture is increasingly secular - so maybe the majority really doesn't rule.  The Jewish race has never made up more than 3% of the American population yet Jewish-Americans have had a hugely disproportionate impact on American culture it's entire history - films, art, science, entertainment, education, etc.  Homosexuals only constitute about 1.4% of the American population, and while I am no conspiracy theorist about some sort of an agenda, it is clear that our culture is saturated with references to homosexuality.  Most of the major political, legal, and cultural victories for homosexuals were gained during the Reagan and Bush administrations, so apparently just electing conservative leaders doesn't create a conservative culture.

The assertion of Os Guiness at the conference is that culture can better be seen as a resource that is produced and used as a source of power much like money.  This, of course, reminds me of the video game series Civilization where your options for conquering the world are military, economic, scientific, or cultural victories - where towns produce culture based on great people, wonders, etc and this culture is quantified and seen as a source of power.  From this model a college degree doesn't make you any smarter than a person without a degree but it does give you more cultural capital and therefore more ability to impact american culture.  A degree from Harvard may not be quantitatively better than a degree from NC State, but it grants a lot more cultural capital.  Kirk Cameron may do a much finer job acting in Fireproof than Growing Pains, but the one on nationally syndicated television impacts our culture more.  So culture is produced by institutions, is represented by famous people, and is powered by a strong financial base - Billy Graham is a great evangelist but it is the network formed around him and the initial financial backing of William Randolph Hurst that propelled him from backwoods preacher to cultural icon.

What does this mean for me or for you?  The ability to really change our world doesn't actually lie in supporting another politician or party or agenda, but to do our individual bests to leverage our cultural capital for God's kingdom.  Having the right beliefs and voting for the right people do not equate to changing the world, but rather using the gifts God has given us in the positions he has placed us while accruing as much cultural capital as possible has the ability to impact the world.  So why do we as Christians not do this?  We avoid power, influence, and notoriety because we see them as bad or worldly - we even openly criticize and mock Christian leaders who attempt to accomplish big things and become a part of culture.  We criticize pastors for promoting their church through advertising, or for having a large church budget, or for attempting to invade and infect American culture.  We encourage intelligent Christian students to stay close to home or go to small Christian schools rather than encouraging them to apply to Harvard.  We applaud people who remove their kid's from society and insulate them in a bubble for as long as possible.  We fear that culture and power are evil and will corrupt us when we as Christians possess the hope of the world and the power of the resurrection within us so if we believe God is more powerful that the world why do we work so hard to keep him out of it?

I would argue that the creation of a separate and distinct Christian subculture in America has done far more to secularize America than any evil cultural icon we could blame.  By creating our own music, films, clothing, schools, etc we have shot ourselves in the foot for being able to truly impact culture.  We become obsolete, isolationist, and an afterthought while secular influences are the only ones left in the only institutions that really matter when it comes to shaping our world.  It was years ago, I think at a Catalyst conference, where I first heard the concept that maybe if we really want to help shape America into more of a Christian nation then rather than isolating ourselves in a Christian ghetto we would do better to try and be the next Stephen Spielberg or Dr. Phil or Oprah - because they and the institutions behind them are what is truly shaping America.

So maybe it is false humility for me or you to think we have no platform, nothing to say, and no power.  I could easily just be a loving and devoted father and husband and miss out on the opportunities God gives me to impact the world.  So thus a blog - I will begin impacting people virtually and who knows where it may lead - I may get my doctorate or write a book or some other way to penetrate our culture.  The same can be said for you - how can you be like Esther or Joseph or Moses or the many other Biblical examples of people who leveraged their cultural capital and power to be used by God in big and powerful ways.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Starting my very own blog...

Over the years I have had several people ask me if I have a blog or suggest I start one, but I have always scoffed at the idea for two main reasons.  One is that I have always feared that if I started one I could never keep up with it - I really admire the people who can daily or weekly update their blog and always have something useful, insightful, or challenging to say and in my black and white view I either wanted to do it right or not bother - hence years of not bothering.  The second main reason is I feel like I would run out of interesting stuff to say and the only blogs more annoying to me that the ones where people post once a year on average are the ones that post daily but without anything of substance.

So here is my solution - to the best of my ability I will try to keep up with this and be both consistent and follow through across time, but I will also only post if I think I have something relevant, helpful, and purposeful to post.  I won't presuppose that my musings on life or what I had for breakfast would constitute something anyone would bother to read so I will use what I have to try to help others - Good or bad I am a walking encyclopedia of information - most useless but some actually helpful, and most all of it pilfered from others more brilliant than I am.  Even when I think I have come up with something brilliant and original it usually is just me forgetting where I read it or who I heard it from.  Hence the title of my blog - pilfered wisdom - if it seems to have value and the information has the potential to help people that can't actually pay to come see me for counseling then hopefully this can be a platform for lives to be enhanced.

It may be current or former clients reading, friends, family, or just random people who have my blog suggested to them through something like facebook, but whoever checks it out I hope it is helpful.  So there you go, I just completed my first blog entry and had nothing of substance within it, but at least I am ready to start posting!