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Why All the Chaos?


Just got done watching the first 15 minutes of the Today Show. The news from around the world is packed full of death. Three plane crashes. In the Ukraine a reporter pointed out the tiny shoe of a child about two-years-old. Another plane crash in Mali. Then another in Taiwan. Missiles and weather blow aircraft out of the sky.

Images from the Gaza strip–carnage, rubble, innocent children blown to bits and scattered like pieces of a puzzle.

A tornado ripped through a campground in Virginia where a couple hid in their tent only to be crushed to death by a falling tree.

Man walks into a Wellness Center. Shoots and kills one person before being shot by the doctor. What sort of world is it that when a doctor prepares to see patients he needs a stethoscope and a sidearm? Listening to a heart one moment, firing a pistol at a heart the next. Heal. Kill. It’s “all in a day’s work.”

The threat of death is a constant. It is random. Arbitrary. If a terrorist doesn’t get us the weather, or freak accident, or disease, or old age will. We can know we are alive and we can be certain that we will die. Everything in between is a bit sketchy.

The bookends of life happen with a declaration–a birth certificate, a death certificate.

A crib for the freshly born.

A hole for the freshly dead.

Put our life on a bookshelf and the ends are unmistakable–basically the same for all of us. Our stories, spelled out in the books between the bookends, are hidden inside covers. But there’s no debating the simple fact–we are born and a little later we die.

Death is everywhere. How we feel about it is determined by what we believe is going on in the space outside the bookends–the eternity before we existed and the foreverness “after” us. Paul argued that after death there would be a resurrection. Jesus was the first. The rest of us will follow. As ominous and arbitrary as death appears it has already been defeated.

We miss the dead and we often don’t understand why God allows what he allows. Under the weight of suffering the questions come to us. In fact, in a shocking utterance even Jesus cried, Why have your forsaken me?

Sometimes it feels like God has forsaken his earth and the world. We, too, groan–we ask, Why? But the question comes in a package. It admits that he exists, that he fills up the reality on either side of the bookend. We’d never have the courage to ask such an audacious question without trust–trust that he can handle the question without a flinch, and that he knows the answer, that he knows what he’s doing.

At times the best that we can do is simply ask the question. Shaking our fist at the TV, asking each other What’s going on here, as if we’re ever going to make sense of a world and earth warped by sin, will do little except leave us empty and apparently helpless. Better to complain to God. At the very least the indirect assurance inherent in the question will sustain us. Death is caught in a trap. Even when it forces our questioning, it forces us closer to God. The bully has already lost the ultimate battle.

 Ben Overby
http://about.me/ben.overby
© 2014

Power to the Past?


No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…  Ph 3:13

Meaning is the ‘one thing’ a person intends to communicate. If I warn you that there is danger ahead, then that’s the meaning I intend. You either accept the warning or ignore it. But past is not a person. It doesn’t intend to communicate anything. It has no life. Past is like ice cream without flavor. We choose the topping, the ingredients that give it taste. Without our decision, ice cream doesn’t take charge and say, “I am strawberry!”

Past is the ice cream. What it means is actually the one thing we are communicating to ourselves about the past. It is a waste of time to blame our past; after all, it is tasteless. It exists in our memory, waiting for a topping.

Are you giving your past life, giving it a voice? Is your past saying your are doomed to failure? Is it communicating that you are fat, ugly, dumb, and destined for poverty? Maybe it is conveying that you can succeed and only succeed? Is it warning you? Is it encouraging you.

We should accept past for what it is. It is a cluster of events. Nothing more. It can only mean the meaning we give it. If we don’t like chocolate ice cream, then we should reject it and demand strawberry. We can do it because it is in our power alone. We (not past) are literally talking to ourselves. So, take charge–when necessary spare the messenger and kill the message.

© Ben Overby, 2014

 


“You live in terms of what you see and touch. I’m living on other terms.” Jesus, John 8*

Maybe this accounts for the drastic difference between who we want to be (Jesus-like) and who we are. Speaking for myself, this is part of the Jesus vs. Christian gap which I wrestle with constantly.

If our rock bottom belief about what is important or most real, comes down to what we see and touch, then we are critically separated from Jesus’ thought world. And, if I don’t think like him, I cannot become like him.

It works like this: “As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life?” Paul, Romans 6.*

I do have to think about my thinking (the actual meaning of repentance) . And I find it more difficult than it seems. Regardless, I can’t run on automatic, though it’s easier to live enslaved to what I see and touch.

The physical world fits into a vast spiritual reality, an infinite reality with different cravings, different routines, different outcomes. It is a worldview that allowed a man to give his life serving others, to hunger and thirst for God, and to accept as his throne, a cross; a gasping-for-air king who could be seen and touched. But a dying king “living on other terms.”

Ben Overby

*Scriptural references, The Message, by Eugene Petterson


Websters defines hate as: intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury b : extreme dislike or antipathy : loathing

One of the more complicated challenges I face personally as well as many of the peers I mentor is self-hatred. It usually takes the form of self-criticism or self-condemnation. It is that nagging voice that refuses to shut-up.

Aversion is repugnance. It is a desire to turn away. When we avoid someone because we’re angry or afraid of them or sense they’ve injured us it is signaling hatred.

My mom pickled cucumbers when I was a kid. I hated the smell. It was repulsive to me. I had an aversion to it, which explains why I ran outside and refused to return until the coast was clear of the stench. Sometimes we feel that way toward others. And sometimes we feel that way about ourselves.

The trouble is I can’t run away from me. I’m stuck in my own skin. Sometimes the hatred is because I’m afraid of myself. Experience with mania over the 33 years has left deep scars. Though manic experiences are now controlled by medication, the fear remains close by. Sometimes I’m angry at myself. To really complicate things, a lot of the time I’m angry with myself because I’m angry with myself and want to stop being angry with myself but feel powerless. I’m sealed in a room with boiling vinegar, no ventilation, no escape route.

Often fear and anger have self-injury as the source. We can injure ourselves a thousand different ways.

For those raised in a performance-based family this is a particular problem. Did your parents connect their love for you with your performance, your behavior, your goodness however they defined it? When I kept the rules I was a “good boy.” When I violated the rules (some I didn’t know existed until it was too late!) I was bad. Expressions of love came with contingencies. So, if my parents couldn’t love me because I didn’t meet the standard, then it didn’t take long before I didn’t love me for failing my parents. And this failure to love myself was, and still can be, a devastating injury to the self.

A lot of the peers I work with, or people I coach, loath themselves. Sometimes it is countered with substance abuse. Other times it results in attempts to snatch love from anyone who will give it (or at least appear to). There’s a craving for intimacy. At other times the person disconnects from their own emotions, thinking they are escaping the repugnant smell, ignoring the fact that at some point they are going to have to breathe.

The remedy is simple but difficult. It’s love–the prescription that heals hatred. Love does not run away but runs to. It is not angry but is understanding. It puts into context perceived self-injuries, accepts them for what they are, and forgives; lets it go. We get a double benefit because we also stop being angry at other people, cease being afraid, and stop attempting to injure the other.

I’m not an expert on any of this; I’m not a counselor and certainly not a psychologist.  I trust Jesus. He didn’t study human behavior. He knew it. He knew what was real and passed it on to his apprentices. And one of them expressed it better than I can, and I’ll stop with this;

“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God!” from The Message, 1 John.

Ben Overby

 

You’re Not Alone


Long ago. Those two words mark the beginning of the letter known as Hebrews.

Long.

Ago.

This is not a once upon a time fairy tale. It’s a comment about Jesus. The great I am. Always existing.

Imagine long ago. Think back to your childhood long ago. Imagine the childhood of your father, mother, grandparents. Close your eyes and drift back in history. Long ago Christ rose from the dead. Crucifixion. His birth. Israel. Wilderness wandering. Moses, Jacob wrestling God, Issac, Abraham, the great flood, the Fall, the creation of the universe. Then, pre-creation. Nothing. At least nothing that we can get our heads around. Just the God community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Long, long ago. And They will be long into the future, without end.

How long have you been depressed, afflicted with some form of mental distress, mental illness? Put it in the context of the Hebrew letter. Disease can feel like an eternity. Pain slows down time to a crawl. And God has been there with you all along, and with countless others from long ago until now. Meditate on being with Them before anything about you was that is. Lose yourself in that thought before returning to now, and an awareness of his unimaginable never beginning, never-ending nature that has stretched out as long as His love for you. You are not alone.

Ben Overby

Salt. That’s what Jesus said he wanted us to be. Go out and sprinkle the earth. Shake it up!  Eugene Peterson gives the sense of the teaching, writing that we are here to bring out God-flavors. How?

1. As salt reveals the hidden flavors in food think about what you can reveal about the Kingdom that is otherwise hidden. Some God-flavors include humility, kindness, love, graciousness, simple talk–yes and no, forgiveness, or making companions out of competitors. Opportunities abound at work, with our families, in traffic jams, in churches–everywhere.

2. Pray, then go out to deliberately sprinkle the salt. That’s all we can do; whether God is revealed in our doings is beyond our control. We do what we can and God does the rest.

3. Be careful. Revealing God-flavors is the essence of what Jesus taught in Matthew 5. He followed it up with several cautions about turning our saltiness into religious theater. He knows all about our tendency to advertise me-flavors. We like it when we are celebrated for being “virtuous.”

It’s practical teaching from Jesus and it gives a concrete way to practice as apprentices learning from the master craftsman.

Ben Overby

http://about.me/ben.overby

Edit Your Life


Everyone likes a good story. We’re constantly telling stories, mostly short bits like, what happened on the way to work or the latest news headlines. By story I don’t mean plot. When you read a novel or hear a story, plot is just a description of the action–the outside stuff. Story is the emotional response to the action–it is the character’s understanding of the action, the vast inner world. Life would be boring if it were all plot and no story. Story adds meaning to existence.
 
Life would not just be boring without story…it would be alien. We understand ourselves as humans not because of what we do (plot) but what sense we make out of what we do (story) or others do. We are not human-doings. We’re not mere human-beings. To be is to only exist and requires no meaning. And still it is not enough to re-label ourselves as human-meanings. We are all three in this order: human being, doing, meaning, doing, meaning, doing, meaning… .  Once we begin to exist every action (thought or deed) is an occasion for new meaning. From the moment of our first breath we become meaning-making factories.
 
Our lives would be far less difficult if our meaning-making factories made no mistakes. The truth is we often fail to assign the right meaning to events in our lives. If you pass by without speaking and I interpret that as snobbery or rudeness I may be right or wrong. When your plot intersects with my interpretation I can’t really know anything unless I get your story. Why didn’t you speak to me? Maybe you were just told your job was being eliminated or perhaps your mind was a million miles away focused on a problem in need of your attention. When you give me the story I will get much closer to understanding you as a human. Otherwise my assumptions will not, as the saying goes, make an ass out of you and me–just me.
 
But the real tragedy occurs when I make assumptions about myself by assigning meaning to the plot (events of my life both past and potential), telling myself a story about myself without questioning the validity of the conclusions ruminating in between my ears. Here the threat isn’t whether or not I will look like an ass; it is whether or not I’m emotionally and mentally stable.
 
I was speaking with someone recently who was giving me the various plot lines which gave shape to his life. He’d done some terrible things. As a result he developed a story line of self-loathing and failure. He interpreted his actions as failings and assumed that’s the way the plot would continue to work itself out. He was doomed to failing because that was his story; that was the meaning he gave the past and future. But what if there was no such thing as failure, only feedback (NLP presupposition)? Would that not change the story, the meaning of the events? If I stick my finger in the socket I get a shock. Feedback. If I get caught selling drugs, I go to jail. Feedback. If I abuse drugs I risk my good health. Feedback.
 
We can learn from feedback or fail from failure. Learning from an event rather than enhancing our failure story is not in the action but the meaning. It is not in our plot, but our story. In is not in what we’ve done but in who we are.
 
You are not the sum total of your actions. You are the sum total of the meanings associated with the actions and those of others around you. Abused by an alcoholic father? What does that mean? The way you weave your story into that particular plot line will make the difference between hate and self-loathing or love and self-respect.
 
It is said that you cannot change your past. I believe that is only partially true. You can’t change the plot up to this point in your life. But you have power over the story, and you can rewrite it as often as you choose. Since the story-line is optional, why not write something empowering, something resulting in resiliency? Changing your story will determine your plot-line from this point forward. So, our challenge is simple: Will we allow someone else to act as the Editor of our lives or will we step up, take the keyboard and create our own  ”happily ever after” story?
 
Ben Overby
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