Friday, March 30, 2007

Why one must love God above all others

I've seen a number of writings that explain the goodness of loving God above even one's spouse, children, parents, and family, and think during Lent it's always a timely reminder of the reasons why.

When one loves and communes with God whole heartedly and with God loved above all, this increases one's capacity and offering of love to all others. In the secular mind this seems counter intuitive. Insecurity drives many to measure how much love and material attention are given to them, especially compared to others. And people, rightfully, do need and require a great deal of love, especially children and the frail. This is not "being needy", this is the preservation of a flourishing society. The scriptures are very clear about the need for romantic love, charitable love, and respectful love.

When one puts God at "the top of the list", one is able to carry out one's capacity to love to order of magnitudes higher than when God is viewed as a "competitor" for love (or worse, God is not loved and absent by one's choice in their relationships). Here are the reasons that love flourishes when one "loves God more" than even one's spouse or child:

  • Loving God, like exercise, stretches and opens the heart wider in order to carry, give, and receive more love.
  • Loving God teaches a purer form of love, one that like pure oxygen, can heal what ails.
  • Loving God causes the person to embrace the teachings and protective powers of God, which like antibodies in nursing milk, is passed on to the loved one in protection. One's own spiritual health promotes healthy love within the recipients of your love, which can now be viewed as your love's "offspring."
  • Loving God means that you will be the good steward of love in turn, and you will be less likely to allow or worse promote unhealthy love in others.
  • Loving God means that you study God's family, and see role models of those with enormous capacity for love, even in the most dire of circumstances. You can easily translate such love into both stressful times and more secure times.
  • Loving God opens one to the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord) which are of a direct aid in preventing taking a loved one for granted, and works to refresh one's love for others over the years and throughout the circumstances of life. (This is the secret of quite a few of the many- decade marriages of those who lived during "the greatest generation.") One is less likely to stray or to take a love relationship for granted when one allows the Holy Spirit to constantly and continually refresh it.
  • Loving God means that you better understand the reasons for certain choices the Lord made about how humankind should conduct their lives, and the health of those choices. In turn, you can explain what might otherwise be seen as unreasonable boundaries to others, and thus bring them to greater love and understanding of God and life.
  • Loving God changes one's secular perspective of time, and therefore "buys back" more time for love, and less tolerance of love numbing or deadening activities in ones life.
  • Loving God is necessary for the righteous, and empowers them to fulfill in both the long and the short run, more agendas that are social ills, charity, or love of neighbor motivated. One is able to deliver social goods more through putting the love of God first, because love of God is the ultimate quality control and quality assurance, which ensures that you are truly delivering the social benefit that does no harm and only truly helps. For example, one might think that a certain business might benefit the poor, but then when looking through the eyes of God by putting love of God first, one would see potential pitfalls in the idea, and be open to another business that might be of greater practical love and grace for the recipient.

I hope these guidelines help, and God bless!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Further discussion of scruples and OCD

On Aimee's blog she has typed in a wonderful excerpt that defines scruples, and distinguishes it from a tender conscience, very nicely.

I responded to a reader who wrote: "According to MMajor Fan and others, scruples are equivalent to OCD, differing primarily in their object (the object being God, in the scrupulous person's case)."

To gently correct, that's not true. That is why I write "scruples and OCD" not scruples = OCD with differing directions. Scruples is as Aimee found to be defined, directed toward God. OCD is a mental condition that stems from a desperate sense of needing to do something in order to survive. Literally, the person with OCD feels that their physical survival is at risk if they do not perform the activities dictated by the OCD defect. It can get tangled up in scruples if the OCD derives from thinking one is receiving messages from a universal spirit's compulsion for survival. But I do not consider them the same nor tend to them the same way (as I gave in my example of treating a classic "checking the stove" OCD).

Aimee asks if it is a pervasive thing among Catholics. That's a good question and I don't have any statistics about that. Anecdotally I can comment that for those of the faith who are interested in Evangelizing, be aware that secular or New Age forms of scruples, and/or the separate problem of OCD are blockages to Evangelizing. Some are naturally developed and some are Satan's way of hampering the body of the church. So anecdotally, I don't think scruples is a huge problem among Catholics (Catholics have bigger problems in their basic faith, *sigh*), but scruples and related disorders such as OCD are a very real and prevalent obstacle in our mission of conversion. I find that I have to get people "unstuck" from the mire of scruples and/or OCD before the Lord can even get their true attention.

Some additional thoughts to amplify what I'm saying above. When I interned as a psychiatric counselor, I was very moved by the pervasive feeling of struggling to survive that many with OCD and similar compulsions experience. They are so wound up with the OCD rituals and the resultant warped view of some sort of universal (or worse, individualized) punishment and reward system in the universe that they would be incapable of receiving comfort and direction from the Lord even if it were presented on a golden platter (or a how to DVD!) It's a painful condition and few things anger me more than people who through cult beliefs prey upon people who have a tendency toward OCD. While Jesus Christ cures all, I am a hearty believer that OCD must be treated somewhat medically through behavior modification and the building of a personal security system initially, because OCD and related disorders are barriers to true religious experience and expression, and the feeling of being a liberated fully alive person. There is a "short cut" if the person is suffering from a New Age or secular scruples, and can be shown the truth that the scriptures do not endorse or require any of the scrupulous or OCD behaviors that they are conducting. By turning to Jesus Christ and believing that there is no hidden message or compulsive survival requirements, sometimes people experience immediate relief (it is the breakthrough intervention.) For some people, however, a two step approach is needed, that is, to treat the OCD first, removing the barrier between the person and a liberated life, and then they can clearly see and hear the Lord.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Treating scruples and/or OCD

I sent the following comment to Aimee's great Historical Christian blog and since scruples and OCD are such important topics, have posted my thoughts here also.

Dear Aimee,
I think your writings here about vocational discernment and spiritual direction are among the most accurate, beautiful, and balanced I've read on the subject. You are to be praised for your true guidance and your friend for opening the conversation.

Your reader does raise the important challenge of scruples. Priests and spiritual directors are correct to be cautious not to exacerbate a case of scruples. Yes, some of the saints suffered from scruples, but theirs was of a totally different nature than what people suffer from today. (I'm speaking as both a spiritual director and a psychiatric counselor.) Maybe I'll write more at length on my blog because this is an important topic. But for now here are a few differences to discern. In the day of the saints we did not have the high paced technological pace of the present times. So our society encourages scruples, because there is a high penalty for failure in too many situations. A moment of distraction behind the car. The feeling of "it could have been I at that accident" and so forth. And the violent and high stimulation of the surrounding media. These encourage "magical thinking" and "OCD" as kind of extended protective mechanisms. Scruples and OCD are like hyper sensitized radar. When this "radar" is pointed toward God, it is scruples. When it is pointed toward society or magical thinking, it is "OCD" (and sometimes, it is an inflated substitute for God - you see this a lot with New Age magical thinking). I had patients in the hospital who had classic OCD (counting, checking appliances and so forth) and they suffered from what I discussed above - the over stimulation of society by effect of the high potential penalties of failure in a social or technological sense (fire, accidents, so forth). To cure them I taught them how to link between the threat (which is sometimes unconscious) and a close ended way of dealing with the threat (check the stove once and then set up a sign saying that she had done so with time and date stamped, for example).

Religious scruples are similarly, an over extended radar in God's general direction, with the mistaken impression that there are danger signals in every physical and mental manifestation. Aimee very correctly shows how one's spiritual radar should correctly be pointed toward God, in an open flowing but structured by the liturgy way. The saints emblazoned the way with their candor about the pain of scruples (and the error associated with scruples) because there is the danger of Satan using what someone afflicted by scruples is experiencing. If you read about some of the saints with scruples, one would wonder why they, such holy people, experienced sometimes fierce satanic attacks. They should have been immune from those attacks. But by being afflicted by scruples, a door is opened to stimuli that, how shall I put it politely, "are not of God" but are of either humankind's weakness or of Satan's deception. Satan is perfectly capable of suggesting to a vulnerable person that counting one way is of God, and counting another way is not. Likewise a mental illness can suggest this, or overexposure to some societal trend via media. So there can be several sources for thoughts that are excessively scrupulous and tormenting. The saints did those who came after them a great favor by writing of their trials, but I think people do not think about the differences between their environment and the over stimulation of today, in the treatment of scruples.

One other way to look at this is to study those who have experienced a great tragedy and how they deal with it. How many times do we see people who lose a child, for example, establish a foundation, or join a group such as MADD, or the Center for Missing and Exploited Children as a result of their loss? That is a correct response to what could otherwise develop into scruples (looking for some chastisement or message from God in what happened, when it was a flaw of humankind and the nature of life that happened.) So that is an example of directing a high penalty event's outcome into a practical, non-scrupulous direction.

And likewise, the saints are warning people that scruples can UNDO the holy work they have done, and open themselves to attack by demonic forces. That is why priests are so cautious (properly so) about a case of the scruples, because the saints who suffered from scruples are not recommending them and in fact, are warning against scruples. Scruples are like a constantly scratched wound that permits infection to enter, instead of grace. It is also how Satan attempts to rob believers of their love and trust in God, by suggesting that God is setting traps and messages for the believer in their day to day life, which certainly is not true. Scruples drowns out the voice of the Holy Spirit and guardian angels too. As does societally induced OCD (so busy worrying about one obsessive behavior that other risky behavior is ignored or worse).

Monday, March 19, 2007

Quotes to Ponder

I remember the great politician and humanitarian Hubert H. Humphrey, and wish that many of our younger generation could have known him too. While his politics and mine were not always a perfect match (they never are), he was a politician who truly had his heart in the right place. He was the genuine thing, and I think people who are tired of fake politicians should dip in the refreshing water of who Hubert was.

Here are some of his quotes:

This, then, is the test we must set for ourselves; not to march alone but to march in such a way that others will wish to join us.

Unfortunately, our affluent society has also been an effluent society.

There are those who say to you - we are rushing this issue of civil rights. I say we are 172 years late.

The pursuit of peace resembles the building of a great cathedral. It is the work of a generation. In concept it requires a master-architect; in execution, the labors of many.

The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor.

The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.

Oh, my friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left.

Never give up on anybody.

***It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. ***

It is not enough to merely defend democracy. To defend it may be to lose it; to extend it is to strengthen it. Democracy is not property; it is an idea.

Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.

***I learned more about politics during one South Dakota dust storm than in seven years at the university. ***

For the first time in the history of mankind, one generation literally has the power to destroy the past, the present and the future, the power to bring time to an end.

He had so much understanding of the human condition and he was the real deal, as a true and sincere human being. Hence he earned his nickname "The Happy Warrior." All politicians, seculars, and people of faith could learn from him. I miss him!
I hope readers enjoy this quick introduction to a great man.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What I Am Listening To

Avalon, Stand, 2006, Sparrow Records.

Jonathan Butler, The Worship Project, 2004, Maranatha.

Melvin Williams, Crazy Like Love, 2007, Blackberry Records.

Vestal Goodman, A Lifetime of Favorites, 2004, New Haven Records.

Building 429, Rise, 2006, Word Entertainment. (WOW! GREAT SONGS)

Marvin Sapp, diary of a psalmist, 2003, Zomba Recording.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

God's Consolation in Times of Loss

With the loss of life in the recent tornados in the South US, and the tragic loss of life in the baseball team accident in Atlanta, Georgia, people again ask each other what their beliefs are regarding God's love and consolation.

I wrote a little email to a dear commentator, and wanted to share some of what I offer.

Why this is a great question, and opportunity:

You may have noticed that many, many people in media, both believers and not, ask the question of what to think after a tragedy, how could God allow it, and what is the role of faith in the occurrence of a tragedy, and the subsequent consolation. I consider this question to be one of the most important opportunities to address the faith (and indeed, comfort and witness) to a broad audience, and one that is questioning. I think people truly want to hear about God, and not about the psychological aspects, such as the stages of grief, for which there are abundant alternate resources.

God does not "cause" the tragedy:

Start by saying, God does not "cause" the human behavior that triggers the tragedy. God does not put up poor lettering of road signs, poor lighting, shoddy pavement, cause the darkness of the dawn, or create the confusion in a driver's mind. This may seem obvious to you but you must reassure people of this explicitly. Especially in these "new age" and magical thinking secular times, where people are somewhat paranoid. God has given free will for people to invent cars, busses, planes, roads, etc and use them. You could add, and God expects people to use their tools in a "love thy neighbor" way. This means compassion and care on the road. I'm not saying anyone was negligent, but I am saying that you must set the framework that God does not create the circumstances for accident or tragedy.

God working "within" the tragedy:

Then you could say, once a tragedy occurs, there are often signs of supporting faith. For example, people who perform great rescues.... God, through the Holy Spirit primarily, or guardian angels, works to promote rescue, survival, and healing in all circumstances. Sometimes the physical reality is too much (Jesus Christ is not physically present and changing nature's bodily law to perform a miraculous revival of the dead), but you can see that in almost every tragedy, there are ways that God's love (whether the survivor is a believer or not) is working through others, often with miraculous survivals.

What does God "allows" mean?

God does not cause the tragedy or the behavior/actions that contribute to it. The bible explains that these things happen according to "God's will" because all that happens on earth is within God's ultimate control of allowing humandkind to have life at all, and the free will to act. So God allows this to happen because he has not taken away humankind's life and actions.

What does God's plan mean?

Then you can say, yes, when people suffer, they must ultimately trust in the greater plan of God. The plan of God is not that a particular beloved child of God dies in an accident.... but the plan of God is that no life, whether a small baby or an aged man, is ever a waste and for nothing. That is the greater plan... not the causing of a tragedy or death, but how that person moves on into the larger plan of eternal life. Healing people who have survived or experienced a loss comes when they can trust in eternal life (and the thought of their young child in heaven) as the overall plan. And this is why many survivors of tragedy become crime or consumer advocates, because they know that God's will is also that "love thy neighbor" can translate into "I don't want what happened to me to ever happen to someone else".