The Forest, or the Trees?

There’s a sort of patriotism that floats around modern churches…a loyalty that’s born of a sense of aligning oneself with an institution, of belonging to something greater than yourself. That sort of institutional loyalty brings with it a “we’re right about this and you’re wrong because you go about it the wrong way” mentality. Like one person has God’s ear and the others are recipients of His dirty looks because they’re pursuing their methodology incorrectly. 

I really hate that. 
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that post-modern relativity reign in our communities of faith. There is a right and a wrong, and there are right ways and wrong ways to do things. I just think that the definitions are a lot broader than we think they are. Preferences are taught at the level of Scriptural mandate all over the country, becoming tradition. Generations of people exist in those traditions, never bothering to check them against Scripture to see what might actually be accurate and what may not be. Like we’re not permitted critical thinking as Believers. 
I really, really hate that. 
I grew up in an independent church that was still denominationally affiliated. I learned as a child that we were right and the other churches around us were wrong, were incorrect in the way they pursued God. Upon entering seminary, I stayed within that denomination, but moved into a church affiliated with a major conference within that denomination. I recognize that this was part of the journey I had to take (although I kick myself for taking so long to act upon what I knew even then to be true). When I resigned my position at that church and left that denomination, knowing that I had lost sight of God and was desperate to re-focus on Him, I was ostracized. I was looked upon with a pity that I had somehow fallen away, that because I had moved away from that tradition and system of preferences I somehow wasn’t a Believer any longer. At one point, someone actually walked by me without even speaking, without acknowledging that I was there. Conversation with friends from that part of my life even now are often strained when they occur, as though they really shouldn’t be talking to me. As though I’m a heretic, misled, and misleading. 
I really, really, really hate that. 
I hate it because it hurts, and that seems to be what most of American Christianity is good at. Hurting. This is the danger I see in institutional loyalties, a “my church is right and yours is wrong” mindset among Christian churches. This is the danger I see in denominations. I see no denominations in Scripture. I can’t conclude that God likes them, because they teach us to hate and distrust one another in very subtle ways. I think that Christ-followers are all members of communities of faith, not churches, because all Christ-followers around the world are members of the same Church, and therefore called away from loyalties to institutions. As part of the same Church, we manifest different communities to exercise different preferences, but most importantly to serve different needs in different locations. I think that, if we woke up and realized that, that we would join forces more readily, and accomplish such enormous work for Him…impact so many lives. Each community of faith has something they do very well, something God has gifted them in. No community of faith does everything well. Why can’t we offer assistance in our strengths and accept it in our weaknesses? Why do have to constantly walk around with this suspicion that God looks down on the people around the block because they’re too loud, or too liturgical? Why are we so busy bickering and causing discord among ourselves that we fail to see the effectiveness we could have in fulfilling the commission of the Church if we would just hold hands, accept each other (as Scripture tells us to do) as brothers and sisters, and agree to disagree on minor things? Why are so divided when we have so much reason to be united? Why do we see our precious institutions as bigger than God? 
Far be it from me to presume, but I think God really, really, really hates that, too. 

Dangerous Labels

Everything has to have a label. 

I’ve worked in behavioral health for a little less than nine years now. I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind: what it’s capable of, and especially what it’s capable of when it breaks. Anyone who’s taken a college psychology course has had some exposure to the fact that there’s a label for everything that can go wrong with the human mind; a diagnosis for everything from psychosis (hallucinations and delusions) to oppositional behavior in a child. 
I’m concerned over the trend of labels, and diagnoses are but one manifestation of this epidemic. My concern is partially the fact that it enables the individual carrying the diagnosis (“I can’t help misbehaving in class, Ms. Jones, because I’m ADHD.”). A second concern, though along the same thought process, is the victim mentality that this produces in the individual carrying the diagnosis (“I’m a product of my environment! I have an Adjustment Disorder!”) And, of course, the complete lack of coping skills that the label can help create in the individual carrying the diagnosis (“I can’t handle this situation right now…I forgot to take my medication this morning.”). 
The second of these concerns, that of the victim mentality, was raised in John Seabrook’s recent article in The New Yorker about current research into the field of psychopathy, those who would be known to most of us as a “psychopath.” This condition goes by  many names these days. “Psychopath” and “sociopath” are virtually interchangeable (they are essentially different manifestations of cultural trends in labeling), or “antisocial personality disorder” is the DSM-IV TR. The current research of which Seabrook reports involves brain scans of prison inmates. The connection is that psychopathy is a condition, a diagnosis, something that should be treated. The problem with this view is that, much like the common cold, criminal behavior is seen as something that cannot be held against the individual in question. Ultimately, it’s not their fault. After all, our culture (and it’s not alone in the world) thrives on fleeing from responsibility. If there’s a way to make the crime that John Doe just committed not his fault, then lets jump on that. Such a shame for anyone to have to take responsibility, right? 
Ironically, the possible good that can come from this may be a recognition of our own brokenness. As Seabrook points out at the end of his article, accepting psychopathy as a disorder makes the concept that “many people have at least a little psychopath in them” commonly accepted, as well. Seabrook seems to be unwittingly pointing to the theological concept of original sin
The push in the psychological field to make every sinful behavior into a “mental disorder” leads us away from what is known in the same field as “ownership of behaviors,” or taking responsibility for what you do. The discipline contradicts itself here, and thereby leaves the public in a state of contradiction as well. Unfortunately, that contradiction leaves us less capable, in many spheres, of dealing with ourselves, our actions, or with God. 
And in the future, I’m sure, there will be a diagnosis for that, as well. 

Not Giving the Time of Day

Last night, I realized, as I do every year, that it wasn’t really 12:30 this morning, but still effectively 11:30 last night. In that moment, as I do every year, I considered Daylight Saving Time (or, technically, the end of it) a beautiful thing. 

This morning, I awoke entirely too early. Sleeping late is still one of the finer pleasures in life for me, and I only get to partake of this pleasure on weekends as a rule. So, being suddenly wide awake at 6:30 this morning as the sun illuminated the bedroom in horizontal, staccato slats through the venetian blinds, was an unduly harsh reality for me. I was up and productive by 7:00. I was out and about by 9:00. This is uncalled for on a Sunday morning. I’m usually a few minutes late for an 11:15 worship service. What had happened? What horrid metamorphosis had occurred???
Of course, I  enjoyed the extra time as the day progressed, and I realized that perhaps now that the sun is up at the time of our alarm clock, I might actually begin to regain some sense of punctuality through the work week. This seemed like a good enough thing. But, as happens every year, the pleasure wore off when it was dark outside by 5:30. 
Anyone who has visited here for more than a few months realizes that I really, really, really hate winter. Bleak skies and early dusk are unduly oppressive to me, and I can’t think of many things I hate worse than being cold (defined as anytime I have to wear long sleeves). All in all, I just don’t do well when I’m deprived of sunlight, and, while I know the logic is that we’ll have the sunlight on the other end of the day now, realistically there just isn’t as much light between now and February, regardless of how you do the math. 
I’ll be screwed up for days. 
I understand that Daylight Saving Time is  there to assist the agricultural areas of our country, and to save energy and reduce traffic accidents, etc. etc. Franklin had a great idea, and a grand social experiment it was. Applause, applause. At the end of the day, though (whenever that actually occurs now…I won’t be sure for a week or two), I don’t think the government has any business meddling in time. They didn’t invent it, they have minimal control over it, and we’re already slaves to the clock anyway. Attempting to control time is above their ridiculous pay grade. Why can’t they just go away and leave us alone? 
I think all of us should follow the example of Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, even some counties in Indiana (I think), and stop observing any time change altogether. As I understand it, energy savings and other benefits are minimal, and surely the consistency would be better for everyone all the way around. 
That being said, I’m going to go try to figure what I should be doing for the next couple of hours while my body is screaming to me that its bedtime as of an hour or more ago. Oh, the joys of tinkering with the clock of life.