Tuesday, February 28, 2006

To gain the world but lose the soul

Ingrained in almost every Christian's doctrine is the notion that humans have within them a soul that although non-physical (spiritual) resides within them. However, Brown and Murphy argue in Whatever Happened to the Soul: Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature that humans do not actually have a soul but that the concept of the soul was brought into Christian thought from the Greeks and that our mind is so complex that it is capable of "soulishness."

First off I want to discuss the obvious apprehensions any Christians can and probably should have about discussing this issue. What scares people most is that if we take away a notion of spiritual being then we are left with just flesh and blood that carries no value to it. I think this is simply false because as Romans 1:20 says, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - —his eternal power and divine nature - —have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." So clearly the natural world, which has no soul, can carry an appearance that has the mark of the divine upon it. Another understandable reservation is that the concept of soul is so pervasive throughout Scripture that it is impossible to just fill in "a transcendent aspect of human nature" for "soul" without there being something lost from the author's original message. Fair enough, I don't consider myself an expert on the topic, but I feel that the Bible is true but that it is presented through a worldview (culture) that is different from our own and one great task in studying the Bible is learning how to apply what it says to your own individual life. So all I ask is that you keep an open, yet still critical, mind.

To introduce the topic I suggest reading a fellow Fuller student's, getting a Ph.D. in Philosophical Theology, blog as an introduction. But if you want to learn more you can read Brown's lecture on Descartesian concepts of mind (soul) and body, on recent neuropsychological research, and on determinism and free will in physicalist models of self. These lectures are more technical but offer a more in-depth look at the issue.

There are two main parts of his argument: that the soul is not necessary in Biblical faith and that despite pure physicalism humans can retain free will. I won't go into detail in the first. The second I find much more interesting. Here's the common argument: if humans don't have a soul, then they are just a bunch of neurons firing and so humans don't have any agency or free will. This was the main reason I believed in a soul. I thought that we needed to have some power that could overcome our mental wiring. If we live in a world of cause and effect, then everything that happens is deterministic and we have no control over what we do. We may have the experience of free will because we think we are thinking over different options but in reality, it is said, we are fixed in what we do and even in what we think about doing.

In a society that firmly believes in choice, as America does, it seems pretty obvious why this belief has not caught on more. We simply don't want to believe it. But
Brown's point in the lectures is that humans are capable of having free will and being purely physical beings at the same time. The argument, which is pretty hard to follow, is that the mind is so complex and full of networks that we are capable of circumventing deterministic problems. The familiar placebo effect will illustrate this better. The placebo effect occurs when the individual believes that some treatment will make them better, even when it is not actually doing anything physically. This is an example of a top-down influence on neuroanatomy, humans are able to exert control, albeit unconsciously, on the way their minds work.

Of course, there are clearly some issues that arise: artificial intelligence, severe brain damage, the concept of life after death, and many others. But the comforting feeling that arises is that we do not NEED to believe in a soul that we cannot prove exists (or can we?) in order to believe in free will. As a potential psychologist this means that to produce change in a client I will not always need to reward positive behavior and punish negative behavior in order to bring about change. By allowing the client to gain greater awareness of what is occurring inside of them, they will be empowered to change. It is a strong philosophical defense against those who believe that there is no right and wrong, that humans are simply a product of their environment.

And in case you're interested on my opinion on the matter, I am still deliberating. I find the prospect of a non-reductionistic physicalism to be consistent with my notion of spiritual growth as a process of training - or spiritual discipline - rather than as a supernatural intervention. But at the same time I remain hesitant because I'm not sure how my understanding of God and demons and the spiritual realm would be able to connect with a purely physical system. I accept that certain things occur outside of the realm of understanding and so I humbly accept that I will probably never know.

Questions? Comments? Concerns?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Thinking about My Orientation

I've been thinking about my orientation lately. No not my sexual orientation; my theoretical orientation. What kind of therapist do I want to do? There are several things to consider when you consider theoretical orientations. The first is effectiveness. Does it actually work? Does the therapeutic intervention do what it is supposed to do and does it do it better than other interventions? I have learned that some therapies work better than others but there really isn't one that is a cure-all for all problems. Cog-B and interpersonal therapies work best with depression. Behavioral therapy, like systematic desensitization, work best with phobias. By no means will I be able to become proficient in all 400 psychotherapy modalities and so I must choose to understand a select few.

The second thing to consider is the philosophy behind the theory. If I were to be a strict behaviorist then I would consider human beings to be like machines without any free will. Obviously that poses a problem for me as a Christian. So what I have to do is admit that some behaviors are less controlled by free will than others. Of course this makes sense Biblically because although we are said to have free will, there is plenty of evidence that God believes in using punishment and reward to encourage and discourage different behavior. If we were truly beings of free will then we would not be affected by consequences.

However, most theories don't break down so readily and so I need to reflect on what I believe constitutes the human experience. Does mental health mean freedom from psychologically distressing symptoms or does it mean emotional well-being? Do I believe that humans are essentially good or evil, or perhaps neither? What is the Imago Dei that God places on us? Obviously these questions have no clear answer - or at least it's not clear to me right now.

Thirdly, one must consider who you want to work with. This goes back to effectiveness again but we must consider what population we would work with and understand the philosophical questions well enough to know how you want to work with them.

Finally, I'm going to need to think about how to bring my faith into how I practice psychology. That does not always mean telling them about Christ, which would be unethical to do to people who are paying me for my time. But it does mean bringing in an understanding of grace and forgiveness that I can share with them. I believe one of the key ways to change a person is by teaching them to forgive. And the only way to teach them that is by showing them just how wretched they themselves are.

So there you have it. Welcome to a little bit of my world.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Suffering and Theodicy

My last post I discussed one of the lectures I attended on Friday and this blog will be about another lecture I attended that was on theodicy. For those who are unsure what theodicy means, as I was at the beginning of the lecture, it means the belief that God is good in the face of suffering. It is also commonly referred to as the problem of pain. I read several chapters from C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain in high school and I believe it was an honest and forthright attempt to explain God's goodness in the face of suffering. However, for those that have ever suffered it would probably leave one rather wanting.

The lecture was entitled The Problem of Pain Revisited: Some Insights & Implications for Servant-Practitioner-Scholars by Richard Butman of Wheaton College. I appreciated hearing Dr. Butman speak not only because he was an author of our primary text in one of my classes but also because he was an extremely heartfelt speaker who shared the pains of his experiences.

I will hardly do it all justice but I will try and summarize the key points. Despite our great desire to be able to cope with loss and our understanding that suffering produces character and perseverance, we continue to be battered by a life that is filled with frustration and sadness. We Christians often think that the healthy Christian will rebound from painful experiences quickly and see God's purpose in it all. Of course we allow ourselves some time to grieve and be in pain but we expect to recover quickly.

What we will eventually discover is that there will come a time when we are faced with a pain so terrible that it will set us back and cause us to question God. People find themselves asking the great question, why me? Of course many of us, myself included, wonder why calamity doesn't seem to be striking and we ask the equally important question, why not me?

It appears that if we cannot explain it away logically or passively dismiss it, the only positive alternative is to embrace our pain. To be able to grow from it and expand ourselves is the great challenge that we are faced with. We can either become better or bitter.

Finally, I must address the psychology that was presented in the lecture. The predictors of coping with loss are 1) social support, 2) a sense of efficacy, and 3) a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Here we find that God has prepared a faith and a community for us that we might find help in dealing with loss. The Christian church is meant to be social support. The Christian faith believes that God can work through us to help us recover. And the Christian hope is that we have not only eternal life in Heaven to look forward to but a mission of evangelism, restoration, and recovery while we are alive on earth.

On a personal note, some of you may or may not know that in junior high I was severely depressed. Of course it would be nice if I could share that my faith in God saved me from despair. Well it did to some extent because it did keep me from suicide. But I hated that God left me in that state for so long. I was depressed for two and a half long years. I wish I could say that I see God's great purpose in that experience but honestly, as a result of that time I became angrier, more emotionally isolated, and more hypocritical. Basically during my depression I became an ugly and wretched human. It is hard to make sense of all that because I thought God should have brought me out of it all and suddenly I would have been positively changed by my suffering. But I had let my depression make me bitter and resentful.

I do thank God now in a small part because I believe that my experiences will bring hope to those I counsel and understanding to those who want to support those who are depressed. I just pray that I do not waste the lessons in suffering I learned. I also thank God in faith that he has already worked those experiences into my life in mysterious and amazing ways (some of those ways have been revealed to me recently).

What is the takehome message? That depends on the feelings that all of this arose in you. If you read this and felt compassion and hope for the depressed, then the message for you is that you must be humble, you will not be able to fix anyone. If you felt despair and frustration, then your message is to recognize those parts of your own life where you have been wronged which you may be ignoring and grieve the pain you feel. And if you are depressed, then the message for you is grace - simply that God wishes to grow you but is willing to be incredibly patient with you every step of the way.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Narrative Living

I attended a conference at Fuller today called "Redeeming Difficult Hope: Working with Diverse Populations" and one of the lectures was called "Community Narratives and Personal Stories: A Framework for Thinking About the Art of Social and Individual Change." I suppose the reason I attended the conference is because I have recently been discovering the importance of developing "my story." But before I begin I want to clarify what is meant by narrative, at least as proscribed by Dr. Rappaport.

A story is a personal account while a narrative takes place in a community. Narratives occur all the time. It is our way of looking at the world. Psychological research has shown that eyewitnesses will often manufacture details because they have a certain script for events ( i.e. saying you saw a person wearing a sweater when it's cold out, although they in fact weren't). Another example given was that when we look at artwork it often invokes the need to tell a story. What was happening in this picture? By learning about the subjects in the art we can develop a story behind it. We often do this automatically without even thinking about it.

Narratives are also a way of looking at communities. They are composed of stereotypes, scripts, generalizations, and values. The example given in the lecture was that if we were to write a story about a housing project we would probably talk about drug use, blacks, and gangs. However, if we were to write a story on suburban neighborhoods we might write about innocent children, honest living, and perhaps a scandal or two of adultery. But we have narratives about communities that shape the way we think about things.

So what types of communities are there? Of course there are neighborhoods but there are also religious groups (congregational level and small group level), recreational affiliations, peer groups, professional groups, interest groups, sports teams, and plenty of others. And for each community we have a narrative that shapes how we think about them.

But here is where I want to add my own personal thoughts on the matter. I believe that thinking about and telling my story shapes how I view myself. I already have a story about myself. But when I choose to think about my story I end up thinking about the broader picture: my childhood, my mistakes, my successes, my loves, my hates, and my true identity. By choosing to do this we open ourselves up to being corrected by the facts about ourselves. For some this may mean becoming more humble about who we are. For others this may mean being a little more proud. But for both types it gives a truer sense of who you are.

Our lives have been full of positive and negative experiences. One way of empowering ourselves to change is by telling our stories to another person. By doing so, we are freed from the isolation of having a hidden past. It allows us to open up our vulnerabilities. I know nothing more wonderful than exposing your most darkest secrets with someone you trust and being accepted regardless. It is a glimpse of the unconditional love that restores our souls.

I challenge you to write down your autobiography. Maybe it can be limited to how you developed educationally and professionally. Maybe you can limit to how you have been trapped by resentments towards certain people. But however you choose to do it I think you will find it enlightening. And find a person you trust and share your story. Perhaps your pastor or just a trusted friend.

When I wrote about my development I was amazed at how much I learned that I had simply learned bad habits of living while I was depressed in junior high. Writing it down and learning about myself was redemptive and has freed me to see myself for who I really am. As Dr. Rappaport remarked, "Stories create us and we create the stories."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Bono Unplugged

I've been searching the web some to understand blogs and their origin and found out something interesting: they are supposed to be a log of what is occurring on the web. As opposed to online journals, which are personal accounts, blogs write specifically about online news, internet changes, and other stuff that occurs online. Considering all this I've decided my blog is more of a muse than either a blog or an online journal. But since it's officially called a blog I give you this article on Bono to enjoy.

In my opinion, Bono is a real pioneer. The church has lost the vision of caring for the poor but, as the article says, is reviving that interest. If I understand Bono's goal correctly it's that he hopes that there will no longer be people living on less than a dollar a day anywhere in the world. I applaud his vision and his passion. The article writes, "Bono said lately he's been struck by Isaiah 58, and particularly verse 8, which in several translations says if you help the poor, the Lord will be 'your rearguard.' Bono told us, 'God will watch your back. I love the street aspect of that.' Then he quietly added, 'And it's really been true in my own life.'"

Other parts of the article I enjoyed were:
"Asked about his own past criticism of contemporary gospel music, Bono admitted he was referring to what he saw as 'happy clappy' songs that lacked 'grit.' He said such music doesn't mean anything to him 'without a truth telling of where you are and where you live in your life.'"

I share his frustration that Christian songs have lost their honest appraisal of where we really stand before God. Many songs have focused on telling God how much we love him. Well that forgets to mention the precondition for our love for him - that he first loved us.

"With spontaneous eloquence, he said being a worship leader must be 'the highest of all art forms, to worship and call people into the presence of God.'"

Bono really is quite the poet. I consider U2 to be my favorite band largely because of how Bono's lyrics are both honest and hopeful at the same time.

Carry your electric chair

Originally posted January 30th, 2005.

Matthew 18:24-26
24Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

Now I'm not typically the type that tosses scripture around, because I think people often misuse verses, but I heard a sermon on this one and felt it was worth sharing primarily because the verse has become a tad trite but behind it is something truly profound. But let's remind ourselves that "the cross" was not a religious symbol for the 1st century Palestinian Jew. Crucifixion was reserved for insurrectionists and the vilest of criminals and so any association with it, prior to Christ, hinted that you were amongst the worst of the people. The Romans would occasionally crucify thousands of revolutionaries as a public spectacle of anyone that might try to usurp their power. It was very public and for the Jews it was especially heinous because they believe that anyone who "hung from a tree" carried a curse on them.

So why did Jesus say this? I believe that rather than trying to encourage his disciples to endure the rough times in their life, as it commonly used today, he said this in order to inform them of the great embarassment they must suffer as they follow him. This great embarassment is universal to all Christians - it is essentially saying that I am no good at living at my own life so I'm going to live it like Christ did. Admitting that we have done some terrible and vile things in our life. Yes that's embarassing! Why? Because who wants to admit that they are screwing up their lives everyday? Who wants to admit that God is not just a crutch but a wheelchair... and that we are crippled. I know it's not in my nature to do that.

But the truly staggering conclusion that every Christian makes (and continues to make, hopefully) is ... yes, I'm that messed up. I sin that much and I've hurt others that badly. And the "gospel," or the good news in English, is simply that God has readily forgiven us in some spiritual way that we can hardly comprehend through Jesus' execution. But much more than that: God promises us that when we deny the life we were living, we will find it!

I dunno maybe I'm coming off as some high minded preacher who doesn't understand much. But one thing I do understand is that in accepting my faults, rather than hiding them, I have found the freedom to live a "holy" life... and it's not about bible studies or rules and regulations... it's about finding hope and joy and faith and love. That's what I have found and I'd be a fool to let loose of my grip on it. (But I'm a fool so don't expect too much out of me)


Originally posted January 19th, 2006.

Well I wrote a paper on how psychology and spirituality intersect for a scholarship from my school. Anyways if you are a faithful reader of my blog, as more and more people are, you would notice that this is one of my passions. Well maybe I didn't write about it explicitly but it was definitely in there. Anyways, I thought I'd share some quotes from my paper to give you the gist of it. Too long? Well it's a 10 page paper so duh! But read the first few quotes, I think it will catch your interest.

Spiritually integrative living is simply living in a way that reflects your faith in a God who is real, powerful, and perfect.

Spiritual transformation occurs as a result of seeing God’s faithfulness in one area and making a decision, in faith, to follow God in other areas, believing that God will once again prove faithful.... [or in other words] is simply moving towards a spiritually integrated lifestyle.

Now if you would survey a newly converted Christian, I do not think that you will find that they really exude much spiritual “fruit.” The supernatural intervention that we all wish would occur just does not seem to be happening. That is because, in my opinion, spiritual transformation occurs through very ordinary and “unspiritual” means.

By (the church) subjecting it’s members to a weekly sermon, Sunday school for the more devout, and an encouragement to set off a daily quiet time, many believers, myself included for most of my life, have been convinced that spiritual growth came when you have heard the message enough times, as if it did not take intentional implementation.

But if one admits their own inability to manage their own life then they have admitted that they must follow outside advice to get better.

I was often mistaken in my Christian walk to believe that changing myself meant creating a seething hatred within myself over my sins....But part of human nature is that our emotions are merely a signal for us to change and not a solution to our problems. It is crucial to understand that our sickness is incurable by our own power.

I have noticed that the spiritual disciplines are so indoctrinated... that even the mention of them often evokes a great deal of negative feelings.... because along with the spiritual disciplines comes a burden of guilt for not practicing them.

***The person who practices the spiritual disciplines rightly is doing so because they are keenly aware at how their life self-destructs when they try to manage it themselves. ***

When someone begins a relationship with God they have to commit to it or it will ruin them. The guilt produced by living in the awareness of God’s presence without actually changing your lifestyle will simply destroy you.

Once you are there you must learn to take wise counsel, study the Word, and surrender each moment to God. For each negative thought, you must replace it with a positive thought. For each instance where you want to sin, you will find that you must make an action of love. I have learned that you must become aware of your feelings, reactions, and thoughts.

But it seems that each step we take in faith, although we feel like it is the worst way in the world to do things, brings us to a better place where we grow in hope and freedom. That hope and freedom is the ultimate goal of spiritually integrated living.

Comments? Questions? Criticisms?

Intentions and Actions

Originally posted January 04th, 2006.

"He defended the cause of the poor and needy... Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the Lord - Jeremiah 22:16

It really is a dreadful thing to hear that knowing God (or believing in God) is in our actions. I for one would love it if my faith was measured by my good intentions. I often think that, since I THINK about doing good deeds and quitting bad deeds and really want to do both, I am a good Christian. But this quote is just one example that intentions don't equal belief.

My faith only extends as far as my life is transformed. In other words, the measure of a Christian's faith is in how much love he exudes not in how many rules he follows.

Now I promise to put this passage to heart because it is an area in which I am hardly faithful. But I also wish to encourage those who are Christians to consider how they can assist those in need. At the heart of our religion is a movement to help others, for without helping those in distress our faith will die.

Are you a computer addict?

Originally posted December 05th, 2005.

Two finals down, two finals and a project to go...

Once again I find Myspace to be the perfect place to procrastinate. Since I have nothing better to talk about I am going to talk about computer addiction. Some have argued that computer addiction is a rising problem in Western societies. However, the fact that computer usage is generally looked upon as having positive outcomes, unlike other addictions like gambling, the definition of what computer addiction is alludes us. But I believe that computer addiction ought to be have as criterion: behavioral salience, withdrawal, and conflict causation. If computer usage is disrupting the person from normal behaviors such as work or school, the user experiences withdrawal symptoms while not on the computer, and the use of computers has caused interpersonal conflict then they can be considered to be a computer addict. If a person uses the computer many hours a day but does not experience these symptoms they can be considered highly computer engaged. Common symptoms indicative of maleficent addictions that are excluded here are cognitive salience and euphoria. That means that the person is constantly thinking about computer behavior and they experience of sense of pleasure when they are on the computer. Philosophically it is problematic to differentiate addictions simply because of the negative consequences but here it seems that it would be necessary because the number of computer users who experience those symptoms are overwhelming. But quite possibly we will find that computer addicts, those that experience the criterion symptoms, will exhibit unique traits.

Charlton, J.P. (2002). A factor-analytic investigation of computer addiction and engagement. British Journal of Psychology. 93, 329-344.

A selfish blog

Originally posted November 23rd, 2005.

What is the self? Are we bounded inside ourselves by our skin? Does the skin keep others out? Bear with me as I try and share my outlook and insight on the issue.

Apprenticeship is where a master bestows his knowledge and skills to a willing student. But it traditionally constituted more than that. Not only was the apprentice learning the trade, he was also beginning to live like his master. He would eat, sleep, and work the way that the master worked. He became just like his master. The way the master looked at life became the way that the apprentice looked at life. So appreticeship was about more than learning a given trade.

But we hardly look at education, and life in general, in these terms. We think that we can coast along and be unaffected by those around us. But anecdotes and research all suggest that we are strongly influenced by those around us: our parents when young, our teachers as we grow, and our peers as we encounter life. All along we are being shaped by those we have relationships with. I believe that our metaphors of who we are as a self are all wrong because the essence of others is entering us and we are entering others.

Now maybe I like the scandalous but I think sex is a good metaphor of relationship. We are entered into by another and though we are not overtaken by their presence, they leave themselves in us. Graphic I know. But my point is that we often look at others as if they will not affect us. In reality they have a philosophy of living that will be imprinted on us regardless of how hard we fight it. Or to put in more spiritual terms: our souls can touch each other.

In the practical sense this means that we ought to have around us those who have character that we esteem. We ought to avoid those who view life in terms that we do not agree with, particularly if they are funny, articulate, or sarcastic. We feel powerless to those types of people and sometimes don't know why. This is why the moral character of our leaders, teachers, friends, and coworkers does in fact matter.

But the prospect of impacting others through this permeability of self is promising. Simply by being around people we are changing them. Who we are will be bestowed on them without either of our consent. That is why the character of the psychologist one works with is important (which is why the issue came up for me in the first place). Part of my learning requires that I become psychologically healthy because it is in my wholeness others will find their wholeness. I find it absolutely amazing that I could have such an impact on the essence of another person just by relating with them. But it shall certainly prove to be a long and grueling, though hopefully satisfying, road as I try and fix the wrongs of my past. Hopefully those I encounter along the way will direct me to the path of happy destiny.

Based largely on:
Berger, K. Identity and Experience in the New Testament.
See me for the full reference

Rogerian Triad

Originally published November 20th, 2005.

First off I want to say thank you to all my fans. You make blogging so wonderful.

Since I'm studying Psychology, I would like to say a few words about Carl Rogers. For those who do not know Rogers, it is safe to say you have still been affected by him. His humanistic psychology was based upon a triad: unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence. Unconditional positive regard means appreciating the client for their value as a human being regardless of the state they are in or how much (or little) they change. It is akin to agape, which is Greek, for unconditional love. Empathy means feeling the hurts, fears, frustrations, joy, and wonder of the client. This means that you really enter into the world of the other and try to experience life from the way they see it. Finally, congruence means that you are the kind of person on the outside that you are on the inside. If you feel frustrated then you do not try to hide the feeling but rather you accept it.

Now by no means do I agree totally with Rogers view on psychotherapy or life in general but I do believe that he had it right in terms of how we ought to relate to one another. It should be assumed that those who are friends will be ones that we can share our deepest secrets with and by releasing them to another we are set free. But more importantly is that as friends we treat one another as valuable regardless of what the other does wrong. In psychotherapy this is easier because often the relationship is primarilly unilateral and so the client can be accepted without the therapist feeling personally hurt by the client's failures. In real life this is much more difficult because we need to accept our friends who have done us wrong.

But what I really am getting at is that deep down we long to be loved unconditionally regardless of what we have done. We realize how dark our secrets are and feel alone in our secrets that we must put on a facade to hide. But what we need is to experience someone knowing our darkest secrets and loving us, without wanting to change us, in that moment. That is why one of the most therapeutic ways to minister to others is, when they share something painful, just simply to listen without giving advice. You do talk and let them know they are heard but you simply meet them where they are. You will find they usually already know what they should do.

So how does one become a giver of agape, unconditional love? By accepting our own faults. How bizarre that by simply acknowledging and admitting our own mistakes we are set free from them. And by doing so we find a place in our heart that can love others who are in the same place as we are. That is to say, those who have experienced the worst and admitted it freely and openly, will be the ones that will know how to understand others. It is by accepting that we, in a given moment, might be mad or sad or lethargic or anxious and in that moment we decide not to hide it but to expose it, that is when our own healing begins and we find a place in our heart to accept those around us: those who cut us off on the freeways or who treat us as unimportant or make us feel small. (I think that qualifies as a run-on sentence)

Anyways I think that's all I got. But as a post-script I should note that Rogers believes it is our experience that ought to guide us through lfe, as if the ideal human was simply a capable infant - one that followed every urge it felt. I believe that the post-modern thought of today follows this line in how it emphasizes finding our own truth based upon how we experience the world. But we MUST remember that there is ONE truth that none of us know fully and that we must quest to discover the path to truth. Maybe I'll write more about post-modernity someday if my blog actually is read by more than just a few faithful fans ;)

An exposition on curtis

Originally posted November 11th, 2005.

I've decided to detail the great wonder and power that is in the name Curtis. The name itself means "courteous one" but I feel that there are so many poignant variations that I believe it is the greatest English name ever.

Let's start off with Curt - meaning rudely brief or abrupt. Now just the fact that my nickname is an antonym of courteous is interesting enough. But the fact that the name already provides a range of personality traits gives the holder of the name tremendous leeway. He can be a gentleman or a brute and be true to his name.

Then to shorten the name further we get to the word "cur" - which is a derogatory term literally meaning dog. So it takes the range even further by labeling the man a mongrel or a base and cowardly person. I feel this adds character to the name - that a man might be worthless really emphasizes his actual worth when it is present.

Then there is the curtsy, bending the knees as a sign of respect. Amazing, don't you think? The more you stretch out the name, the more civilized one becomes. But still you remain at the core, barbaric.

And who can forget that with a East Coast accent Curtis can easily become Coitus. Like "Hey Coitus wanna play some stickball?" Now for those who do not know Latin, coitus means sexual intercourse. Boy, there's not much to say about that one.

And rather than bore you here are some other highlight versions of my name:
Cutis - dermal, or of the skin
Cutie - a cute person
Cortez - Spanish conqueror
Curtail - to cut short or reduce
Curdy - pertaining to curds, or coagulated milk
Curtain - material that hangs in a window or the end or death (i.e. It shall be curtains for Bernard when I see him again)
Curtana - a pointless sword, the sword of mercy

And finally Curtis in reverse is Sitruc.
Definitions were acquired from dictionary.com
Let me know what you think or other variations I missed.

Freedom from fear

Originally posted September 20th, 2005.

It seems for all the wisdom I claim to have, all I can really say is mine are my experiences. Tonight was sort of a breakthrough for me. I watched the Exorcism of Emily Rose despite my protests that I don't like scary movies. I sorta just fell in and found myself in the theatre. But if you ever watch a scary movie with me (which will be a rare thing since I HATE scary movies) knows that I get quite agitated. I had to close my eyes at several parts in the movie and well... pray. But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about my fear. My fear as I came home to a new room on a dark night separate from everyone.

I want to talk about the immense fear that has controlled my life for the 23 years of it I can remember. I am afraid of: spiders, heights, large crowds, the dark, admitting my defects*, monsters coming out of closets and just about anything else you can imagine. I'm a sad pathetic case I know. And for the longest time I have felt alone because I never sensed that anyone suffered with fear as I do. For those who do suffer, may this be an encouragement and a learning tool for you.

Now the psychologist side in me knows that the most effective technique to deal with phobias is systematic desensitization. But I realize tonight that if I were to undergo that I would be missing a chance at a better type of recovery. Tonight I tried something I have just started learning to do. Recognizing the presence of God and !!!surrendering!!! my right to be afraid. Every logical bone in my body tells me there is really nothing to be afraid of yet I still feel like I MUST be afraid. Instead of fighting the fear I give up my right to be afraid.

What's the difference you ask? Well fighting fear is the attempt to focus on your rational thoughts that there is nothing to be afraid of. I have learned that this is simply not effective as the phobia is more powerful than me and the fear returns soon after and the obsession with fear never dispels. Instead tonight I said that I give up the right to be afraid. Deep down inside me there is a twisted belief that my fear will keep me safe from harm... keep me from being a victim of a power outside of me. In reality the fear inside of me is doing me more harm by taking my life away from me. So I speak directly to the lie and say "I give up the right to be protected from harm by fear. I want to be free from fear even if it kills me."

So I simply prayed that I want to live the full life rather than be protected by some destructive force within me. See the difference? One way relies on your own attention span, focus, desire, focusing on the problem (the irrationality of my fear). The other way gives up your deepest belief and is willing to die rather than stay the same, it focuses on the solution (being free from fear). But who am I to honestly say I'm ready to die?? No at some level I know that I will not really die because God has promised me a life without fear ("perfect love casts out fear"). Therefore I surrender my fear into the hands of God and trust him to make me whole. This is my experience, this is what I must attest to.

*Note as I post this I do it thoughtfully because I am afraid of people knowing my deepest fears. I'm afriad even that my solution will sound crazy. But I do this for myself first and then as a tool to help others. So instead of doing it rashly I am thinking RIGHT NOW about the costs of posting this and how afraid I am to expose my fears. But as I have written down this blog I have felt empowered to surrender. How wonderful it is to write a blog about something that I am currently doing!

Death has been swallowed up in victory

Originally posted August 30th, 2005.

When the persihable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." - Paul in a letter to the Corinthian church.

Meaning for me: the day when we have stopped living for the moment, stopped living for a world that is dying off every day, will be the day of complete victory. It will be the day when death no longer rules over life. The day when all eyes are fixed on eternity will be the day when death begins to be forgotten.

Stop soothing yourself with material goods, physical pleasure, relationships, and the ecstasy of hatred! Start living in the security of faith - living the life God created you for. Not religion, not moral systems, just love and trust. Loving those around you and trusting that God, not you and your broken way of thinking, knows what is best for you. Be aware of God! Live like he is watching!

I'm powerless.
I'm broken.
I don't know how to live right.
I have been sucked under.
My soul is drowning and I am close to death. I have lost hope. I can't do what I want to do. I'm flooded with guilt. I teethe with self-hatred. I've lost touch with who I am.

I give up my way of living.
Even if it kills me.
I give up!
I surrender my life.

God restores! I no longer have to fight for breath. He fills my lungs with air. I no longer have to beg for mercy. He has imparted upon me perfection.

I let God direct my life and he gives life to me.
I give him a shattered and wasted body.
He gives back beauty.
I give him a confused and disoriented mind.
He gives back clarity.

If you admit that you have lost control of your life - that every attempt you make to be liked, to be good, to be happy, to be filled has come back shallow and temporary, then you are faced with the ultimate choice: keep living the way you were in constant fluctuation OR try something new. What is this new thing, this new way of living? Forget all that you have learned in the church. Forget all morality. Forget everything. Simply admit you need help from above. This help is not a different life - you still have yours. It is simply a guidebook to the life you have been living. Live your life as God directs. Learn God's word and put it in action. Live as if God was watching because he is!

Finally, keep doing it! Don't stop admitting that the way you were living left you filled with anger, perverted, destroying yourself, and filled with self-deception in a place that has hardly even a shadow of true reality. Stop the habit of self-medicating with your sexuality, your anger, your inflated self ego, your greed because that is at best only a temporary fix (and at worst eternal destruction). You need to try it a different way.

Princes and Frogs

Originally posted July 21st, 2005.

I was reading in the paper today, it was actually yesterdays paper, that was done about a woman who studies men. She had some good points that really reminded me of some things that I'm going through. She pointed out that men have the capability of being both princes and frogs. She said it really depended on how the woman treated him which is true in part but there is certainly more to it than that. Men can be complete jerks or complete romantics. I believe that this is because men are broken hearted. They have a part of their self which is healthy and good but they have another side which is evil and selfish. Men can be completely different people depending on what part of their heart they are working out of.

How did this divide come about? Personally, I believe that we were born with a good heart but the shame and guilt and hurt that happened to us while we grew up ripped our hearts apart to varying degrees. Some of us felt worthless. Some of us felt like we needed to win the approval of others. But all of us came to believe that only we could satisfy ourselves. That is where the selfishness comes from.

The flipside is that the good side of us fights desperately to believe in the higher good. We believe in morals and love because we believe in something spiritual. That side of us is still present but depending on how much we've been hurt (and how much we have hurt ourselves with faulty thinking) is limited.

So how do we act out of the good part of our heart? By sheer will power. If we pay attention, we can be good people. That is why, early in relationships, both the man and the woman seem to be perfect. But when defects in the relationship come in, it becomes much easier to default back to the selfish mode to protect yourself from getting hurt more.

How do we become better people then? If we can only be good when we have the will power to do so there isn't much hope. When it is a matter of volition then we must have the attention to make the right choice. But I did a project as an undergraduate on multi-tasking that made it clear that the human attention is very limited. We should not be ashamed that our attention is so limited and we revert back to the bad self. But we do have hope to change. By addressing the faulty thinking and the selfishness we can replace the bad part of our hearts with a healthy good side. This is a long process but every step has its own reward. We can not get rid of our selfish side until we have addressed and replaced each broken thought and feeling with a true and good one. Once the good part of our heart is bigger and has a larger share of our heart, we can act out of the good part of our heart more often.

So, I have been a prince on many occassions and a selfish and mean frog on many others. It is an internal battle over my heart to choose to stick with the one I feel safe with, meeting my own needs and blocking others out who might hurt me, or by venturing out and basing my worth on the fact that my creator has found me worth dying for.

C and E

Originally posted July 07th, 2005.

Ok I'm kinda bitter at myspace right now because last night I wrote a long blog and when I tried to post it, it said myspace was down and my entire blog got lost. So now I am going to try again.

So we all know that for every effect there is a cause. Speaking with human action we know that the motivation and the action itself can be wrong at times. Sometimes the cause and the effect can both be wrong. Then sometimes the cause can be wrong but the effect right. An example of this is when you mean to do harm but it turns out for good by accident, certainly a rare incident. But what I want to talk about is when the effect is wrong but the cause is right. Now some people don't believe this is possible because it is the cause that creates the effect. But I have an example to demonstrate otherwise. Say a man became hungry. He went to the fridge which was filled with food. He removes a stick of butter and eats the butter.

Clearly eating a stick of butter is unhealthy. And the cause was his hunger. A fool might say that the reason he did something unhealthy was because he was hungry. But any wise person can see that it was the means the man took to satisfy his hunger which was wrong. Some might say that there were mitigating causes that came in between to cause him to choose to eat butter. But that is just mincing words - whether you call them intermediary causes or "means" - for the ultimate cause was his hunger.

So what is the significance of this? Well I have two points. The first is that some people argue that there can be no Creator God because he created us with an internal state that leads us to do evil. But just like the hungry man example they are wrongly believing the "rightness," or lack thereof, of the effect determines the rightness of the cause. In fact, if the cause can be used in good ways then one can say that it's rightness is preserved. And this leads to my second point.
I believe people, Christians in particular, believe their hearts are bad because their actions are bad. The truth is that God created us with an internal desire to find external perfection. That means we all long to find some form of personal satisfaction with a knowledge that personal satisfaction lies outside of us. This is why people search out material things, education, relationships, etc. (Note that I am not making a judgement on the rightness of these things) But we seem to all know that we can not find satisfaction without something outside of us. I believe God placed this desire within us so that we can search Him out. Otherwise we would be content with dissatisfaction (for of course we lack the capacity for self-satisfaction, that is on the level of the gods). Now this same desire for external perfection can be the cause for many wrongs because we take the wrong means to try and satisfy the desire. But once again I refer you to the hungry man example.

We need to believe that the root of our desires stem from our deep need for God and is nothing to be ashamed of. God created us perfectly by creating us with imperfections. For those imperfections can drive us towards the source of life.

Props to C.S. Lewis for the core of this whole argument. And pardons for myself for anywhere I am unclear.

Eros - the erotic love

Originally posted June 24th, 2005.

Well I'm reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis and right now I'm in the good stuff... being "in love." I guess my subject line might be a little misleading because eroticism is so often tied with being unabashedly sexual. But Lewis defines it in the romantic sense (calling sex Venus instead). He described Eros as the type of love that is most "natural" or fleshly and carnal or instinctive. Now that is neither positive nor negative because though it almost seems most animal, it is also somewhat Biblical because Christ is often described as the bridegroom and the church (or Christians) as the bride. The sexual connotations there are rather blatant - Christ entering our hearts - a spiritual sex.
I was impressed by Lewis on several levels. The first was simply out of pure stereotyping because I supposed Lewis to be a prude but in fact he spoke openly of sex (or Venus) as something to be enjoyed and not taken too seriously. I almost expected him to view sex as necessary for reproduction and pleasure was merely a sidenote but once again he has surprised me. I was also surprised when I read Confessions by St. Augustine and saw the natural desires and conflictions about sex had not changed in the 1600 years since he lived. The second issue that impressed me was that Lewis, who was close friends with many literary giants, like J.R.R. Tolkien, admitted that friendship was both a source of good and evil. Something to the extent of: friendship brings good out of good people and evil out of bad people. But not only that but that a good friendship will rightly ignore some of what is outside of the group but will often wrongly ignore ALL of what is outside the group. The group elitism that is present within gangs and terrorist cells is present within the most "righteous" religious cliques.
The lessons are that first I should have a greater respect for being "in love" which I have often undermined as cheap emotion and wrongly believed that true love is only friendship love. The second is that I should not push others away simply because I am comfortably within a group of friends. There is certainly more that I have learned but it's more than I should share on a blog so I will whet your appetite with what I have shared. Oh and... C.S. Lewis rocks!

And we wept

Originally posted April 26th, 2005.

It was a very sad day today. One of my teammates died Saturday night in a car accident. I don't know any details but I know it's been a solemn reminder of the frailty of life. James Walsh was just a freshman and was so young but his life ended tragically. Our team as a whole truly misses him. It's a real reminder that we must firmly grab on to our lives for as long as we are here.

My faith in God has taught me that we are meant for more than what we see in this world. Some people see the pain and suffering in the world and ask, "Where are you God." I see the pain and suffering and say, "So there you are God." It is in my misery that I find God because he is my comfort. I do not rely on a conception of God or something in my imagination that I use to self-soothe. No - God is real. His strength is real. His comfort is real. His love is real.

We often live in ignorance of God but he is always there. He will always love us. We will always need him. And he will always be there.

James Walsh (6/7/86 - 4/23/05)
May the all-loving God comfort his family and friends.

Issuing in a new era

Originally posted April 14th, 2005.

For my loyal blog readers (and friends in general) I wanted to let you all know that this Fall I will be attending Fuller Theological Seminary in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. En route I will also receive a Masters of Arts in Psychology and a Masters of Arts in Christian Leadership (Yes it is a Christian school). The program takes about 6 years to compete and the average student leaves with $100,000 in debt. It is a serious decision that will hopefully lead me into a fairly well paying job that is personally challenging, emotionally fulfilling, and community-building. I am venturing into a frontier that is quite unknown to me. I personally believe that one "should let no debt remain outstanding except for the continuining debt to love one another." Therefore, I see this experience as an investment which I must faithfully pursue and, all the while, remain cognizant of my financial duties. I appreciate your prayers and look forward to this new era in my life.

Coach Wooden

Originally posted February 20th, 2005.

Well I bought myself a book by John Wooden, coach in the 70s for UCLA's men's basketball team. He's probably considered the best coach of all time. In my mind he beats old Phil (Jackson) anytime. Well the cool thing about him is that he based his coaching on his principles rather than on just trying to win. Interestingly, not trying to win made him one of the most winningest collegiate coaches ever.

Well here are some quotes:
"Do your best. The score cannot make you a loser when you do that; it cannot make you a winner if you do less."

"No player is bigger or better than the team."

"Don't try to be better than somebody else, but never cease trying to be the best you can be."

"Never Lie, Never Cheat, Never Steal.
Don't whine, Don't complain, Don't make excuses."

"I'm not what I ought to be,
Not what I want to be,
Not what I'm going to be,
But I am thankful that I'm better than I used to be."

I believe sport is a microchosm of life and so everything he says can relate to life as well. The amazing thing is that you can stop comparing yourself to others and still achieve greatness. Eric Liddell, from Chariots of Fire, put it great when he said, "Where does the power come from, to see the race to the end? It comes from within." How we motivate ourselves to compete in sports is the same way we motivate ourselves in real life. If we are trying to impress others we will struggle with worrying about what others think about us all our lives. But if it is our goal to achieve greatness of self, giving everything you have, and that being the end - that can bring you much more satisfaction. My goal for this week: my utmost!

From now until eternity

Posted February 09th, 2005.

Ok the meaning of life is..... anyone? no? Well I think I got it figured out. No really, I'm being serious. Does anyone else get frustrated by the fact that we can never be satisfied? We never get to that point where we can say, "ahhh, now I'm set for life" We're constantly searching for more. Case in point: whenever I run I shoot for a goal time and I have hit several goals. But no matter how fast I run I will never be COMPLETELY satisfied cuz I'd always have something to improve or at least in my mind I'd think I could do better. Same goes for school, if you take grades as a priority, that no matter what your GPA is you will always want it to be higher. (magna cum laude baby!! lol) Honestly, I am never satisfied with what I do. So I have come to the conclusion that mankind's lot in life is not to set goals and try to accomplish them but rather to enjoy NOW. To breathe in the beauty of now. To make every single part of your life into art. Writing an essay? Make it the best you can. Doing chores? Take pride in doing your part. Changing your mindset is certainly not easy but its very rewarding. Of course I'm not saying give up making goals and making plans for the future. But finding satisfaction is far more important than reaching goals and so your first priority must be to take the mundane and flower it into something beautiful.
But no matter how hard we try we are tuned in towards eternity. The most existential question we ask is "Where do I go when I die?" because it brings into question whether we have a soul or not. I find it amazing that people refuse to believe in a God but then also believe that there is something special about them, a soul. No, if you refuse to believe in God then you're saying a spritual realm doesn't exist. In that case you only have the physical realm filled with molecules and cells and neurons. And free will? No God means no free will. But I guess that's tangential to the point I'm trying to make lol. I'm so random. Ok so the two most satisfying things to satisfying things to focus on are the present and eternity. The past and the future (while on earth) really just leave us with regrets and worries. But in the security of heaven and the beauty of now, we can find meaning.

By the way, I got invited for a interview at Fuller, so that was a plus in terms of grad school happenings :)

Freedom as we know it

I think there are two ways to categorize what we like to call freedom. The more immature, in my belief, is to consider freedom the ability to do what you want to do. Let's first consider the obvious restriction that our freedom should not infringe on the freedom of others (no murder, stealing, etc). That creates a set of actions that we could refer to as pleasure seeking activity. Now at first glance this term may seem to simply be hedonism but in reality it extends deeper into any self-fulling pleasure action, even emotional or intellectual ones. Now this type of freedom sets us up to satisfy our desire for pleasure. But the shortcoming of this conceptualization of freedom lies in the fact that we, humans, are prone to overindulgence. Now most people don't think of themselves as gluttons but I would argue that we all are. The reason is because we all have a craving for relationships, love if you will, but we will engage in activities that inhibit our ability to relate with others. For example, one who loves sports could become so engaged in his sport that he neglects the social relationships that govern his life. Another example could be the individual who listens to his iPOD to such an extent that he shuts out social cnversation. Now the one argument I have placed forward is based simply on the premise that we all desire social relationships. Some might argue that we desire only limited social engagement, therefore, I will propose my more solid argument now that I have directed your attention.

Take for example the hedonistic man. Now the hedonistic man would want to fulfill all his physical desires like sex, food, and alcohol. Now everyone would agree that overindulgence in these things is dangerous to that person's health. But I would argue that those things are not only bad but enslaving. Some call it addicting but, however you put it, what happens is that the person simply can not imagine living without doing such things. So what was their freedom, doing what they want to do, turned into their slavery because of their humanness. Now true hedonism is quite repulsive to most but lesser forms of it, like binge drinking, sexual promiscuity, drug addiction, etc., are still just as enslaving.

But from the beginning I set out to describe the less common view of freedom: the ability to do what you know you should do. THE ABILITY TO DO WHAT YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD DO. I will let it sink in for a minute because its contrary to everything we seem to believe freedom is about. When a teenager is grounded they appeal to freedom - that they deserve to be allowed to do as they please without regulation. But I say that appeal is unjustified because in reality we are aware of a code of conduct that we know we should obey. Now some believe in following rules or religion. That is not what I'm trying to argue for because rules and religion can be twisted so that it is merely an attempt to find self-fulfilling pleasure from acceptance by others. What I'm trying to argue for is a self-chosen desire to obey certain morals and standards in order to serve others. Why should one choose this type of freedom over pleasure seeking freedom? Because although this seems to put more restrictions on what you can do, it actually frees you up to do what you truly want to do - develop relationships. The reason pleasure seeking is wrong is because it is inherently self-seeking and therefore contrary to human's personal desire for relationship, but it is addicting because it is pleasurable. So it meets our desire for pleasure but misses our need of relationship. But doing what we should do necessitates placing an importance on others (because what we should do always relates to others) and therefore would meet our need for relationship. It would also be satisfying and therefore pleasurable. Although it may not be as pleasurable as hedonistic activity, it would not be met with confusion like the loss of relationship brings about. In conclusion, freedom should be bound by doing what is right because it would meet our needs and satisfy our wants.

Comment what your opinions about this are. I'm probably gonna add some more to simplify and clarify later.

A New Blog

I have blogged for a little over a year now on myspace.com but I wanted to post my blogs here as well where they can be exposed to a larger audience. I'll post some of my old blogs which I thought were good soon.
Check out my Myspace Blog